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If you are health-minded and active on the internet, you have most likely heard about the hottest new diet trend around: the ketogenic diet. The ketogenic diet, also known as the “keto-diet”, is essentially a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet that is gaining massively in popularity among dieters and fitness enthusiasts alike. It’s no secret that trendy diets come and go. With all the wonder workouts, miracle pills, and sexy superfoods it’s hard to keep up. To help you sort out fact from fad, I am going to break down this new trend and explain why this may be one diet worth considering.
Ketosis – An Evolutionary Back-up Plan
Our ancestors lived and evolved for thousands of years without McDonald’s. That’s right; no fast food, no pre-packaged meals, no loaves of bread from the supermarket. Agriculture didn’t even begin until about 12,000 years ago and only in very recent years has the consumption of processed, high-calorie, high-carbohydrate foods exploded. Our ancestors couldn’t swing by a 7-11 for a slurpee or even pick up a vegan quinoa chickpea bowl on a whim. Fortunately, human bodies are well equipped to face the inevitable periods of fasting. No Big Mac in sight? No alternative glucose supply on hand? No problem. Our body burns ketones instead, which are made from the breakdown of fatty acids in the liver, a process referred to as ketosis.
The ketogenic diet is designed to induce ketosis in the body, resulting in the utilization of fat for energy. While most commonly known for its significant weight loss effects, the ketogenic diet also results in a plethora of other notable health benefits. Read on to learn how the ketogenic diet could positively impact your mental and physical health.
11 Reasons to Try a Ketogenic Diet
1. Improved Glucose Homeostasis
Metabolic disorders are on the rise. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention approximately 86 million Americans have prediabetes. That equates to 1 in every 3 adults. The dangers of imbalanced glucose levels and the development of diabetes are immense and steps need to be taken to change this alarming trend. According to some studies, the ketogenic diet may help regulate glucose levels and prevent metabolic disorders.
In one study, mice consuming a very low-carbohydrate diet experienced improved glucose homeostasis, i.e. a better balance of insulin and glucagon to maintain glucose levels in the blood. They also weighed less and had less fat mass than mice fed conventional diets. Furthermore, even lifelong adherence to a ketogenic diet had no effect on morbidity or mortality, thus challenging previous concerns about the diet’s long term safety. The authors of this study noted that the diet induced significant long term metabolic changes, most of which they considered to be “health-promoting”.
2. Improved Insulin Sensitivity
A very interesting study in humans found that obese individuals with diabetes or a similar metabolic syndrome reaped benefits from a ketogenic diet. After six months on a low carbohydrate diet, they lost more weight than on a calorie- and fat-restricted diet. Furthermore, they also experienced a relative improvement in triglyceride levels and insulin sensitivity; a measurement for how sensitive the body is to the effects of insulin, even after adjustment for the amount of weight lost. If you suffer from diabetes you should certainly seek out guidance from a health professional, but it may be worth asking your doctor if a form of the ketogenic diet might be safe and beneficial for you.
On a similar note, a low carb diet in another study also led to notable improvements in glycemic control; the maintenance of normal blood sugar levels, and a greater reduction in medication use than a low glycemic index diet.
3. Cardiovascular Benefits
For decades the belief that fat consumption contributes to heart disease has remained widespread and robust. In recent years, however, scientists have begun to question the validity behind these claims. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, for example, have called for the de-emphasis of cholesterol and saturated fat as nutrients of concern for the development of heart disease. The evidence that consumption of these may contribute to heart disease is controversial and inconclusive.
Data from the Nurses’ Health Study analyzing 82,802 women over the course of 20 years suggest that ketogenic diets are in fact safe in regards to heart disease concerns. Researchers observed that women who consumed diets lower in carbohydrate and higher in protein and fat did not have an increased risk for heart disease. Moreover, diets rich in fat and protein from vegetable sources may even moderately reduce the risk of heart disease.
4. Improved LDL-HDL Cholesterol Ratio
You have probably heard a lot about bad and good cholesterol. LDL or “bad” cholesterol can adhere to artery walls and contribute to heart disease while HDL or “good” cholesterol actually helps to reduce the amount of detrimental LDL in the blood. A ketogenic diet may help to sway the cholesterol ratio in a healthier direction. In one study, obese patients who consumed a ketogenic diet for 24-weeks had decreased blood triglycerides, glucose and LDL cholesterol, and increased levels of HDL cholesterol.
5. Lowered Blood Pressure
According to the CDC, 32% of American adults suffer from high blood pressure. Furthermore, high blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, both leading causes of death in the United States. Interestingly, a recent study compared a low-carbohydrate diet with the weight loss drug orlistat in overweight and obese people. The diet was equally as effective as the drug at helping obese people lose weight, but people who followed the low-carb diet also experienced a healthy drop in blood pressure. Fact? If you suffer from high blood pressure and want to drop weight simultaneously, a ketogenic diet might be an effective option.
6. Slimmer Waist
In recent years, research has indicated that visceral fat; i.e. fat stored in the abdominal region, is more of a threat to health than subcutaneous fat on other parts of the body. According to an article by Harvard Health Publications, visceral fat has been linked to metabolic disorders, increased risk for heart disease, and diabetes.
As stated previously, many studies have observed the robust weight loss benefits of a ketogenic diet. One such study, which noted a distinct benefit of a very low carbohydrate ketogenic diet over a low fat diet for short-term body weight and fat loss, also demonstrated a preferential loss of fat in the trunk region with the low carb ketogenic diet.
7. Effective Weight Loss
I already mentioned that the ketogenic diet is a powerful tool, but some scientists wanted to see how ketogenic diets stacks up when compared to other popular diets. In this fascinating study, overweight and obese women who followed the Atkins diet, which had the lowest carbohydrate intake, lost more weight and experienced the more significant beneficial metabolic effects after 12 months than women assigned to follow the Zone, Ornish, or LEARN diets. Women adhering to the Atkins diet (the most similar diet to the ketogenic diet) lost on average 4.7 kg, while those on the Zone, LEARN, and Ornish diets lost a mere 1.6 kg, 2.6 kg, and 2.2 kg, respectively .
8. Less Hunger
One of the main reasons why weight loss attempts fail is many diet foods fail to satiate and people can only ignore hunger cravings for so long. Too often, we grow tired of feeling hungry or faint and within just a few days our diet plans are tossed in the bin. The ketogenic diet may be one successful way of circumventing this common pitfall. Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have been shown to be associated with a suppression of appetite, which may contribute to improved compliance and ultimate success of weight loss attempts.
9. Better Skin
Acne, rosacea, and eczema sufferers may reap additional benefits from sticking to a ketogenic diet. A recent article in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment reviewed numerous scientific papers pertaining to the ketogenic diet and inflammatory skin diseases. The reviewers deduced that a ketogenic state might aid in the treatment of inflammatory skin diseases through multiple mechanisms including enhanced anti-oxidation against reactive oxygen species.
10. Deeper Sleep
The effects of sleep on overall health are often underestimated. Lack of sleep can lead to psychological disturbances, learning disorders, and can even contribute to serious health conditions and mortality.
One study found that a very low carbohydrate diet over the short-term increases the percentage of deep sleep and reduces the percentage of REM sleep (‘dreaming’ sleep) when compared to a control mixed diet. Researchers believe that specific processes during the metabolism of fat in the low carbohydrate diet may contribute to the increase in deep sleep.
11. Better Cognitive Function
Way back in the 1920s, the Ketogenic Diet was recognized to have neuroprotective effects, similar to effects seen following intermittent fasting. These observations actually lead to the creation of an extreme form of the ketogenic diet for patients with epilepsy and is still a commonly used treatment for this disease today. Due to its use at a treatment in neurological disorders, the effects of a ketogenic diet on neurological function have been well studied. The ketogenic diet and ketone bodies have been shown to protect neurons from various diseases and to promote growth and survival of neurons and neuronal tissue.
Furthermore, the diet may even impact disease activity in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, although more research is needed to confirm these findings.
Keto in a Nutshell
The ketogenic diet has the potential to provide numerous health benefits including weight loss, decreased metabolic syndrome, and decreased risk for various other diseases. However, certain side effects cannot be ruled out and you should always consult your physician before beginning such a diet to ensure it is a safe option for you. I hope this article was helpful, informative, and that you enjoyed learning about the ketogenic diet.