We live in a world overloaded with diets and eating plans that are all preaching miracle, long term results for weight loss and reducing risks of developing illnesses and diseases.
But, with so many different plans out there all claiming to produce the best results, it’s hard to know which one to recommend to your patients. The Paleo, the Atkins, the Pritikin Principle, the South Beach, WeightWatchers, The Zone Diet… the list goes on and on. Recently, many doctors are leaning more towards THE KETO DIET as a recommendation for not only their overweight patients; but patients that suffer from various illnesses and ailments.
WHAT IS A KETO DIET?
To put it simply, a ‘keto’ or ‘ketogenic’ diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet.
A reduction in carbohydrates puts the body into a metabolic state called ketosis. This is when the body produces small fuel molecules called ketones. Carbs are broken down into glucose and used for energy. So when someone deprives themselves of carbs, the body has no choice but to switch its fuel supply from glucose (blood sugar) to ketones found in body fat.
Therefore, as long as carbs are restricted, the body is constantly burning fat.
Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD told WebMD that a ketogenic diet is often used for losing weight, but it can help manage certain medical conditions such as epilepsy, heart disease, diabetes type 2, brain diseases and IBS.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN BENEFITS OF A KETO DIET?
Weight Loss & Appetite Suppression
The biggest benefit of the keto diet and the one most dieters are striving for is weight loss and suppression of appetite.
Typically, the body takes their fuel from our stores of glycogen, but with the reduction of carbohydrates in a keto diet, glucose levels are lowered and the body is forced to obtain its energy from body fat. This results in patients experiencing weight loss.
Food cravings and hunger is often the reason that our patients are failing at dieting. Another key reason why medical professionals have found the keto diet to be so successful is because of the effects it has on reducing cravings and tackling hunger.
Studies have proven that participants that follow a low-carb diet have reported a decrease in appetite and cravings compared to individuals following a low-fat diet. This is possibly down to high-fat foods slowing down the process of gastric emptying. Food that is high in fat passes through the gut at a much slower pace, leaviing the individual feeling satisfied for longer.
Diabetes Type 2
Diabetes Type 2 is triggered by spikes occurring in the patient’s blood sugar levels. Insulin is used to regulate and control these spikes. When a patient with type 2 diabetes follows a keto diet, the amount of glucose they are consuming dramatically decreases due to the lower intake of carbohydrates.
So the lower intake of glucose found in high carb food = the lower intake of insulin.
A study of 21 overweight men with type 2 diabetes who were put on a keto diet showed that most participants saw a reduction in their insulin medication or were taken off diabetes medication completely as a result of controlling their glucose levels by following a keto diet.
A keto diet has been used to treat epilepsy since the 1920s and during a recent study, seventy percent of epileptic patients have reported less and more controlled seizures and a reduction in their medication since implementing a keto diet.
Epileptic seizures occur when a network of neurons fire unexpectedly due to the overexcitement of brain cells releasing neurotransmitters, like glutamate. The brain is then not able to suppress the spread of excitability like in non-epileptic people using inhibitory neurotransmitters like gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA.
What a keto diet can do to control seizures is to reduce the amount of glutamate in the brain and enhance the synthesis of GABA.
Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia
A ketogenic diet can contribute towards keeping the brain young and healthy and reduce the risk of developing degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Findings from a study found that keto diets can protect neurovascular function against cognitive decline by clearing out beta-amyloid protein in the brain. Beta-amyloid creates toxic plaques that interfere with neuronal signaling that results in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Improvements to blood flow to the brain, which contributes to healthy cognitive function, were also noted.
IBS & Other Gastronomical Conditions
Fifteen percent of the general population claim to suffer from IBS. It is one of the most common complaints taken to doctors. A lot of research has been undertaken in recent years around the effect that carbohydrates have on the gastrointestinal system.
Studies have found that when sufferers consume carbohydrates, they tend to ferment in the small intestine and causes gas and bloating. For IBS sufferers, carbs are poorly absorbed by the gut wall, causing fluid to remain in the intestinal space, resulting in diarrhea.
Therefore, when IBS sufferers follow a keto diet and reduce their intake of carbohydrates, they report significant improvements to their condition.
All these amazing results from consuming low-carb, high-fat foods sounds promising, right?
Medical professions at Harvard Medical School are urging medical professionals to be wary of recommending the keto diet to their patients. They have identified numerous risks associated with following a ketogenic diet.
Not only is the body being deprived of an essential food group – carbohydrates, but a keto diet is typically high in saturated fat. High levels of saturated fat can lead to high cholesterol and heart disease.
Other risks they have been identified with following a keto diet is:
A deficiency in micronutrients including selenium, magnesium, and vitamins B and C which are found in most of the fruit and vegetables that are restricted in a keto diet.
Liver problems due to the amount of fat the body needs to metabolize. This can cause existing liver problems to worsen.
Kidney problems due to the amount of protein the body needs to metabolize. A keto diet can put strain on the kidneys and make exisitng conditions worse.
Constipation. The keto diet is low in fibrous foods like grains and legumes. The digestive system relies on a steady flow of fiber to break down foods and get rid of body waste.
“The Keto Flu” is a term for the mood swings, body aches and brain fuzz that people experience when following a keto diet. The brain needs glucose to function and when it is deprived of this, it can cause irritability and tiredness.