There has been a lot of hype about the ketogenic diet in recent years. Carbohydrates are largely avoided and foods that have a high protein and fat content are consumed instead. In recent years this form of nutrition has developed into an extreme hype and if you believe the advertising messages, then it can work wonders. But are all of the positive things ascribed to a ketogenic diet really true? Let’s take a closer look at the study situation.
Research on the ketogenic diet has been around for decades, the oldest going back to the 20s of the last century. In 1921, an American doctor did a study trying a ketogenic diet to treat pediatric epilepsy, that is, epilepsy in children. The ketogenic diet should be so low in carbohydrates that it effectively mimicked the fasting state. The study was a success and today this form of nutrition is a recognized form of therapy for drug-resistant epilepsy in childhood and various rare metabolic disorders, in particular carbohydrate metabolism disorders.
Over time, however, the success of this diet in certain diseases has been twisted by proponents of the keto diet to the point that it is now touted as a beneficial diet for all.
What is the Keto Diet?
In the ketogenic diet, carbohydrates are practically completely avoided. This forces the body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates. And that’s exactly what happens. The amount of fat that is burned skyrockets on the keto diet. Today there are various ketogenic diets, which are also known under the name of low-carb.
So is it all good because more fat is just being burned? Unfortunately not, because it not only increases fat burning, but also the amount of fat that is consumed. The result is that the loss of body fat slows down overall. But how can that be when many people lose weight with this diet?
Ketogenic Diet and Weight Loss
If you just look at the scales, a low-carbohydrate diet seems to be a success. What happens inside the body tells a different story. A ketogenic diet can slow fat loss by more than half, so most of what is lost is water. The reason less fat is burned is believed to be the same that people who start fasting burn less fat: Without carbohydrates, our bodies’ preferred fuel, it begins to burn more of its own protein. Not good news for people who want to lose fat or lose weight with this diet.
Negative health consequences
Unfortunately, that’s not the only bad news for people on a strictly ketogenic diet. A number of studies have highlighted other problems. Including the following:
- People on a strictly ketogenic diet have an insufficient intake of 17 micronutrients.
- Children who followed a ketogenic diet developed scurvy. Others even died due to a lack of the mineral selenium. (A selenium deficiency can lead to sudden cardiac death.) This can lead to growth disorders in children.
- The ketogenic diet is more likely to have broken bones, kidney stones, and constipation.
- Keto diets have also been shown to decrease the abundance and diversity of our intestinal flora.
- People on the ketogenic diet consume a lot of saturated fat. All of these saturated fats can have a profound impact on the heart: A meta-analysis of four cohort studies of the diet, illnesses, and deaths of more than a quarter of a million people found that those on a low-carb diet were at significantly higher risk of all-cause mortality, which means that, on average, they lead a significantly shorter life. For example, a ketogenic diet leads to decreased arterial function.
- A ketogenic diet has also been shown to have negative effects on muscle growth during exercise.
A ketogenic diet can help people who have specific problems (such as epilepsy). Up to 30% of all people do not react to the drugs that are available against them. However, a cost-benefit analysis must always be made. The greatly reduced number of seizures associated with a ketogenic diet and the benefits that come with it outweigh the risk that can be associated with a ketogenic diet. But that doesn’t mean that the ketogenic diet is suitable for all people. The study situation is clear: a low-calorie diet creates problems in healthy people who do not practice this diet in a medical form and entails long-term health risks. So you should think twice about stopping carbohydrates.