Is the Ketogenic Diet Really Healthy?

Monday, 22. June 2020

Is the Ketogenic Diet Really Healthy?

Over the last year, we've heard a lot of hype about the "Keto Diet". This diet avoids carbohydrates in favour of food with a high protein content and a high fat content. We've seen lots of different diet trends over the last couple years, and based on the hype around them, all of them work miracles. Is everything we've seen published about the keto diet true? We're taking a deeper look.

History

People have been researching ketogenic diets for decades; the oldest know study dates back to the 1920s. In 1921, an American doctor studied whether or not a ketogenic diet could be used to treat epilepsy in children. As the ketogenic diet is very low in carbs, it essentially mimics a stage of fasting. The study was a success and today this type of diet is a recognised form of therapy for pharmacoresistant epilepsy in childhood. The diet is also used to treat various rare metabolic disorders, especially for people with problems digesting carbohydrates.

Could this diet be beneficial for everyone?

What is the keto diet?

Ketogenic diets avoid carbohydrates, forcing the body to burn fat instead of carbs, skyrocketing how much fat your body burns in a day. There are many different types of ketogenic diets, some of which are considered low-carb, and some that are more extreme.

Does burning more fat mean that you'll be healthier? Unfortunately, no, because not only are you increasing the fat you burn, you're also increasing the amount of fat that you consume, which means that your overall fat loss slows down. So how do people actually lose weight on the keto diet?

The keto diet and weight loss

If you're only looking at the scale, a low-carbohydrate diet seems to be a success. What happens inside the body is a different story. On a ketogenic diet, fat loss can slow down by more than half, so most of the weight lost is water weight. The reason why less fat is burned is similar to why people who fast burn less fat: without carbohydrates, our body's preferred fuel, it starts to burn more of its own protein. This is not good news for people who want to lose fat or lose weight.

Negative health consequences

Unfortunately, that's not the only bad news for people on the ketogenic diet. A number of studies have identified other problems, including:

  • People who eat a strictly ketogenic diet have an insufficient intake of 17 micronutrients. 1
  • Children who have followed a ketogenic diet have gotten scurvy. 2 Others even died due to a lack of the mineral selenium. 3 (A selenium deficiency can lead to sudden cardiac death.) This can lead to growth disorders in children.
  • Broken bones 4 , kidney stones 5 and constipation 6 are more common on a ketogenic diet.
  • The keto diets reduce the amount and diversity of our intestinal flora. 7
  • People who eat a ketogenic diet consume a lot of saturated fatty acids. All of these saturated fats can have a profound impact on the heart. A meta-analysis of four studies on the diet, diseases and deaths of more than a quarter of a million people showed that those who eat low-carb diets live significantly shorter lives on average. 8 A ketogenic diet can also lead to reduced arterial function. 9
  • A ketogenic diet can also have negative effects on muscle growth during exercise. 10th

Conclusion

A ketogenic diet can help people who have specific health issues like epilepsy. Up to 30% of all people do not respond to conventional medication and could really benefit from the diet. However, a cost-benefit analysis shows that the ketogenic diet is suitable for everyone, so think twice before hopping on this trend.

Sources

1 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20537171/
2 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18793598/
3 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19027591/
4 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17109786/
5 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1198735/
6 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25649120/
7 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30007242/
8 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23372809/
9 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19328268/
10 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28012184/