Ketogenic Diet – Fad Diet or Weight Loss Miracle?

The ketogenic diet has gained popularity recently and many are interested in following this diet for weight loss. The diet relies heavily on high fat foods, while nixing carbohydrates. Though the end result is enticing, read along to learn the science behind the ketogenic diet and found out if it is right for your lifestyle.

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet was originally created in the 1920s to help treat epilepsy, a neurological condition that causes seizures in patients. The diet is used as a “last resort†for patients who do not respond well to anti-epileptic medications. Ketogenic dieters follow a strict high fat, very low carbohydrate regimen, usually with a ratio around 3-4 grams of fat per 1 gram of carbohydrate. An example of a typical ketogenic meal would include 2 whole eggs, scrambled with onions in 2 TBSP of heavy cream and 1 TBSP of butter, served with 4 slices of bacon — sounds like a lot of fat, right?

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, this diet may be helpful for children with epilepsy, if prescribed by a physician, but it is not recommended for adults. The diet requires precise measuring of calories, fluids, and proteins, and therefore, can be extremely restrictive.

What are the claims?
Those who utilize the ketogenic diet for weight loss claim that by putting the body into a state of ketosis — utilizing ketones, made from fat, instead of carbohydrates for fuel — it will lead to weight loss.

Because carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuel, without them, it will theoretically turn to fat to burn for energy. Many claim without carbohydrates, dieters will also gain greater lean mass and an overall improved workout performance.

Is this a good way to lose weight?
Ultimately, the ketogenic diet is another highly restrictive form of eating. If prescribed by a physician for epilepsy, the patient is also under the care of a dietitian to ensure careful measuring of nutrients.

Although fat may not be the problem nutrient once believed, it is still a dense source of calories. Fat is 9 calories per gram, while carbohydrates and protein are both 4 calories per gram. If consuming fat in overabundance, this will lead to too many calories and therefore, weight gain. While eating fewer simple carbohydrates may be advantageous for weight loss, extreme measures like the ketogenic diet are complicated and may cause long term effects, including kidney damage and cardiovascular risks, as noted in some studies.

As for the increased lean body mass claims, evidence-based studies find inadequate carbohydrates actually hinder strength training. When incorporating appropriate amounts of carbohydrates, athletes report improved performance due to reduced glycogen depletion — the stored carbohydrates in muscles used for energy in long workouts. Without adequate carbohydrate intake, these stores deplete at a faster rate, leading to fatigue and impaired performance.

Additionally, without a balanced nutritional profile, the ketogenic diet is deficient in several essential nutrients. The diet is also notoriously low in fiber and therefore may result in GI distress, too.

The bottom line? We recommend a balanced approach to nutrition and weight loss, including all three macronutrients: fat, protein and carbohydrates. Not only is this a more sustainable, realistic approach to nutrition, but also a more complete and healthful way of eating. When following proper portions and using nutrient-rich sources of all macronutrients, healthful weight loss is possible.

Lara Field MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian and Specialist in Pediatrics with over a decade of clinical and client experience planning healthy diets. When she’s not actively working to keep her clients healthy, she’s a busy mother of two active and healthy boys and a love for testing new recipes in her kitchen.