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What is a ketogenic diet? Should you do it?

A ketogenic diet is a popular diet that triggers some extreme reactions in the fitness community. It has great benefits for certain people while it is not recommended or suitable for others.

If you want to know basic information about this diet and its origin etc, here’s a link to help you understand it.

It basically requires that you partition your total calories such that you consume high fat (65-75% of total energy intake), moderate protein (25-30% of total energy intake) and the remaining ~5% is left to carbs. These 5% carbs get easily filled up with vegetables which are an important nutrient dense and fibre dense part of any diet. So you naturally have to cut out all traces of grain, lentil, bread, and of course all forms of sugar. Among fruits, berries can be accommodated but not a lot of the rest of the fruits.

Things to consider: What is the goal?

If you have a clinical reason to do it, and your doctor recommended it for a specific medical condition, please go ahead. Keto diet can help in certain medical conditions like seizures, neurodegenerative diseases, etc.

If your goal is just general health or fat-loss or muscle-gain, research shows there is no big reason to do it. Cutting out an entire macronutrient is not easy in day-to-day life. The Ketogenic diet is strict and going on/off diet has some discomforts associated with it. If you are a person who really likes bread, pasta, rice, noodles, and various store-bought desserts, it is unnecessary torture to go on this diet. If you love cooking, you can find amazing keto-friendly substitutes for almost anything though.

You might try it if your goal in fat loss, and you fit a couple or more of the following lists:

  • you are a person who just loves high-fat foods like cheese, egg, bacon etc
  • don’t mind forgoing or substituting the bread/rice as long as your plate is filled with steak and cheese
  • you have trouble feeling satiated with a regular diet with a calorie deficit
  • you are a person who has trouble eating carbs in moderation but is desperate to make it work

In some of these cases, it may help you to experiment with the ketogenic diet. However, if you do want to try it, please be prepared to strictly follow it for a month at least. The adaptations of the body to this diet itself take a strict adherence with zero cheats for 2 weeks. People who quit during this phase cannot really claim to have tried it. It is not an easy shift. However, until the adaptations are complete, you don’t experience most of the benefits such as satiety.

The ketogenic diet has no magical effect on fat loss. The initial weight loss experienced in the first week is mainly water weight(due to carb restriction). That weight will come back on the moment you switch back to carbs. So don’t get too excited.

The main benefit in terms of fat loss is satiety that might come from high-fat foods (common in obese people who have a degree of insulin resistance).

Another psychological benefit may be actually the strictness required in this diet. Because a bite of a cookie or a piece of bread can kick you out of ketosis, you may follow the regimen strictly. Strict adherence to any diet brings a huge benefit in practical terms for fat loss.

A person who loves desserts can have a great time on keto if they cook because high-fat foods like cream, eggs and nuts when combined with sugar-substitutes can create amazing desserts in the diet. It can spark a love of cooking and baking as well.

Note: The principle of calories still applies. Do not undereat and fall sick or overeat and gain fat. A ketogenic diet is not an escape from the fundamental laws of physics.

Things to take note before you embark on it

  • Check carbohydrate contents of your favourite drinks, sauces and spreads. Don’t forget to align everything you put into your mouth with this diet.
  • Check that your meals are balanced as high fat (especially during the adaptation phase) Often, beginners overdo their protein in their meals which hampers the adaptation phase.
  • Check your vegetable and fibre intake. Don’t forgo it and end up with severe constipation. Take support of multivitamins and fibre(psyllium husk or Isabgol) supplements if needed.
  • Check your water and salt intake. Typically, the ketogenic adaptation is harder and longer if you do not drink sufficient water or consume enough salt.
  • Check your fat sources. Being on a high-fat diet, it is imperative that you eat healthy fats.
  • Check that you are not pregnant, breastfeeding or suffering from diabetes. People with diabetes type 2 may do well with this diet, but please get approval from your doctor and understand how to monitor your blood sugar and medication.

Common Myths about the Ketogenic diet

People are very gullible when it comes to fitness and nutrition. Fitness coaches and mentors often have a difficult time addressing the keto related myths with their clients. Any diet that is not sustainable for you is not a good one for you. There is no magical diet that will give you a shortcut to your goals. Google search or YouTube videos are not “research”. Popular people working with celebrities, identifying themselves as Dr, looking good and speaking very eloquently may still be really giving you wrong nutrition information to sell their books and hocus pocus supplements.

  • “It makes you a “Fat burning machine”.” Well, it does make you a “dietary fat burning machine” because fat is mostly what you are eating. That doesn’t mean you become a “body fat burning machine”.
  • “You can eat as much as you want and still lose weight.” People who feel easily satiated on high-fat foods may find this true just because they naturally stop eating below maintenance calories. That does not mean the laws of thermodynamics cease to exist in the keto world. Satiety varies from person to person and also changes as per body composition. An obese person on keto and the same person at the normal weight on keto may have different satiety.
  • “Your cells are “starving” though you are fat due to high insulin from carbohydrates. Insulin is what makes you fat.” No, it doesn’t. Please don’t believe everything Dr Eric Berg or Thomas DeLauer tells you.
  • “Inflammation is bad and keto cures it.” Chronic inflammation is bad and causes a lot of lifestyle diseases but inflammation is just the body’s response to a threat. Losing fat by any healthy diet will improve your blood markers and reduce inflammation. You do not need to be on the ketogenic diet for that.
  • “Keto diet is a cure for diabetes and cholesterol.” Any healthy diet that improves your body composition (losing fat and gaining muscle) will improve your blood markers, it cannot be termed as a reversal. Reverting to an unhealthy lifestyle can set you back where you started. Choose sustainable means and change lifestyle to gain control over health.
  • “Keto is a fad diet and causes cholesterol or health problems over time.” No, there is no such thing found. There are communities which have been on such a diet culturally. There are people who have been on this diet for years. A fad diet deprives you of essential nutrients and protein. Keto diet doesn’t do so.
  • “The brain runs on sugar and any diet eliminating sugar is bad.” No, it isn’t. The brain runs on glucose but on a keto diet, it runs on ketones too. Our bodies are really smart and adapted for survival and we don’t die just because we stop eating carbohydrates. Sugar(white/brown or whatever) is not essential for any tissue in our body.

Are you still on the wall? There are many zealous videos about Keto diet and also some really good scientific information. However, unfortunately, for the general population, the good scientific videos are hard to understand. So looking for something people can actually understand, with speakers who are on long-term keto diet but aren’t zealots, this is what I found. Hope it helps you get a well-rounded perspective!

What is a ketogenic diet? Should you do it?

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