Lately, I can’t read any nutrition or wellness article, or scroll through social media feeds, without hearing about the ketogenic, or “keto,” diet. As interest grows on both the pro and con side of the keto diet for weight loss, more research will hopefully become available. While this diet can prove successful for shedding unwanted pounds, like many new (and old) fad diets, it teeters on the tightrope of extremism. There are also questions regarding its sustainability and its suitability for the general public. That’s why I sat down with registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator Lori Lehnert* to help me be more in the know about keto.
Q: Can you explain what the ketogenic diet is?
A: A “classic ketogenic diet” is 80 to 90 percent of calories from fat, 6 to 15 percent from protein and 4 to 5 percent from carbohydrates. What this means is that, for an average adult, you would be limited to about 15-20 grams of carbohydrate a day. There are various modifications of the ketogenic diet as well that are not quite as restrictive, but the basics are the same – high in fat, moderate in protein very low in carbohydrate. The idea behind the diet is to change the way you eat to force your body to use ketones from fats as your go-to energy source instead of glucose from carbohydrates. People on the diet have high intake of fats from cream, oil, butter and fats in meats. They’re restricted to smaller amounts of some vegetables and eliminate all starches, fruits (with the exception of avocado and small amounts of some berries) and all root vegetables.
Q: Can you share a little history about the ketogenic diet?
A: The diet was used to treat epilepsy in the 1920s and 1930s, but fell out of favor when medications were developed for this disorder. The diet has had a resurgence in the last few decades in the field of epilepsy, as many people find that they’re able to either reduce their seizures or, in some cases, eliminate their seizures on the diet. People are typically on the diet for two years, and then weaned off slowly. Many studies are being done to see how the ketogenic diet can be beneficial when used to treat other medical conditions, including autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease as well as certain types of cancer. And, of course, more recently, variations of the ketogenic diet and ketogenic products are being promoted for weight loss.
Q: What factors should be considered before starting this type of diet?
A: It’s always recommended to consult with your physician prior to making any drastic changes to your diet. People who have any stage of kidney disease, are pregnant or nursing or have carnitine deficiencies are not recommended to follow this type of diet. Also, this diet can be very difficult for some people to follow since it’s so restrictive. It’s always important to remember that because certain things work for one person does not mean they are safe, or will work, for you.
There can also be side effects when starting the diet. People typically describe what they call “keto flu” for the first two to four weeks. Symptoms include decreased energy, bad breath, dry mouth, muscle cramps and increased hunger. Initially, there is a large weight loss due to loss of fluid. Our glucose stores in our bodies hold on to water and, as you use up all your glucose stores, you also lose those water stores. This leads to increased urination and, if you do not take in enough replacement fluids, you can get dehydrated.
Q: Are there potential dangers or drawbacks to following the ketogenic diet in the long term?
A: There is currently very limited research or long-term studies on the ketogenic diet, particularly for the sole purpose of weight loss. We do know that, if someone is not trained and monitored properly on the diet, he or she can be at risk for certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies which can cause other health problems.
Q: Are there any other important points you’d like people to know?
A: The most important thing to consider in making changes to your diet is to find healthy changes that are true, long-term lifestyle changes! For most people, changes such as cutting out processed sugars, reducing the portions of carbohydrate foods, focusing on fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats/proteins instead of processed ones, will make a huge difference and will be changes they can stick with for the long run.
When it comes to nutrition, there is no one-size-fits-all plan or diet that works for everyone. At TOPS, we encourage members to navigate nutrition trends very carefully and always check with their healthcare professional.
*Lori was introduced to the ketogenic diet by a neurologist who needed assistance starting a dietary program for patients with epilepsy. Through many hours of independent research review, and attending seminars and symposiums by leading experts, they began to develop their program. She received official training on the ketogenic diet through the Charlie Foundation, which is a leader in education and promotion of the therapeutic benefits of this diet.
By Debby Thacker June 6, 2018
My husband and I have been in the Ketogenic Lifestyle Diet since Nov 2017, 7 months. We love it. I listen to Dr. David Jockers for information on the lifestyle. My husband’s bad cholesterol has went from very high to being in the perfect range!!! He has not been on his cholesterol medication since before we started Keto. He has lost 60 pounds and I have lost 45.
By Maggie June 6, 2018
Congratulations on your weight-loss success, Debby!
By Cari Clark June 6, 2018
Hubby & I have been on the Keto/Dr. Atkin’s lifestyle for 17 years. It’s basically real food. I will eat carbs on the weekend. So I am able to maintain this healthy lifestyle for years to come. When ‘they’ take out the fat, ‘they’ add sugar. That is why we are sick and overweight. We aren’t overweight from eating butter, cheese, and meat. I lost 28 lb and have kept it off.
By Maggie June 6, 2018
Glad to hear that you have found something that works for you, Cari. 🙂
By Cari Clark June 6, 2018
I forgot to mention. I lowered my triglycerides from 322 to 153 in 4 months. Then they continued to lower until now I average 80. If your triglycerides are below 100, you are doing great. My cholesterol numbers improved also.
By Rosettia wood June 10, 2018
I hear stories and this may work for some. I am afraid to try it and I try to eat according to current guidelines and I don’t like a lot of fat. I think my family think they can eat a lot of meat and I see that protein also has to be limited but in Atkins protein is unlimited so this is confusing.
By Maggie June 11, 2018
Thanks for writing, Rosettia! I’m important to note that, while the ketogenic diet is similar to Atkins in many respects, it restricts protein to the 6-15% range which is not done on Atkins. As always, it’s important to play it safe and check with your doctor or a registered dietitian before embarking on any new diet. Hope this helps!
By Robin @rkosully June 10, 2018
People seem pretty fanatical about being pro-keto or anti-keto these days. So, I appreciate your balanced presentation here, Maggie.
By Maggie June 11, 2018
Thank you for that, Robin!
By Aimee Newell July 16, 2018
I appreciate your information on this topic. After reading this, I would never try to eat keto-style, because it sounds as if it goes against the advice from my Dr. What happened to eating a variety of fruits, veg’s and protein? I try all foods in moderation, portion control really is key for me. Drinking a gallon of water a day and exercise (walking an hour) have me on the path to my goal weight. I enjoy all the topics you present, as there is always one more thing to try/learn. Thank you!
By Maggie July 16, 2018
Thanks for sharing, Aimee! 🙂
By Rosanna Cannon September 10, 2018
Thank you Maggie, those are good information to share with my Chapter.
By Maggie September 10, 2018
Thank you for reading, Rosanna 🙂
By Anne Jones October 8, 2018
I’m not sure what purpose the ratios in the article are used for but my understanding is that “classic” keto for weight loss would involve something more along the line of 65-70% fat/25-30% protein/5-10% carbs. Keto calculators are available online to more individually tailor the ratios. My doctor actually approved my use of the keto diet and it seems to be going well but I don’t think he would have gone along with the numbers in the article at all. Good luck to all of you in your own eating plans!
By Maggie October 8, 2018
Thanks for reading, Anne! The ratios included in this article are based on the medical definition of The Classic Ketogenic Diet. This is the original “keto” diet which was (and often still is) used for epilepsy. There are a number of variations of this diet used for weight loss, but the basics are the same: high fat, moderate protein and very low carbohydrate. Thanks again for checking out my blog!
By Maimie Parker November 8, 2018
I have met a number of people who used (as you notice, the word is “used” not “use”) the “High Protein, Low -To -No carbs diet”. I believe in the Canada’s Food Guide & US Food Guide…. we need a variety from the Food Groups available to have a balanced diet… even vegetarians can find fat, protein, and carbohydrates in their diet, and are successful when they find the right balance!
By Bella Hardy @ Healthnerdy.com July 23, 2019
When I started the keto diet and stick to it for a while, I started to notice multiple health benefits. Some of these benefits include improvement of brain function, better heart health, lower blood pressure, less acne, and more.
By Jill Roberts @ Wellnessgeeky.com August 8, 2019
Thanks for the explanation and advice, you helped a lot.