It seems that every week there are new recommendations for the best type of diet to follow. First it is paleo, then it is plant-based; sometimes you hear high fat, other times low fat, and then it is low carbohydrate. And don’t forget about the high protein diet recommendations.
But at some point, we need to cut through all of the noise and understand the diet, not based on trend, but based on the scientific support behind it. It is only when we are presented and understand the facts that we can understand if it is the best diet to help us as an individual. If this is where you are – hunting for the facts and some practical, science-based advice – on your quest for weight loss, lean in as we discuss the evidence and information behind the ketogenic diet.
Defining the Ketogenic Diet
You have likely been privy to the likes of this diet floating around on social media, demarcated by its low carbohydrate content and higher intake of protein and fat. The premise behind the diet is simple: reduce the intake of carbohydrates in the diet such that the body reverts to using fat as its main energy source and burns fat for fuel. When the body burns fat for energy, it eventually becomes a more efficient energy burning machine, whereby you require fewer calories to get the same amount of energy, and where you don’t feel hungry as often. Indeed, many people report being able to go for several hours without food on the ketogenic diet. This diet is a sharp contrast to the body’s default energy system, which is carbohydrate based, and which derives its energy from a typical energy conversion path of sugar to fuel. While incredibly effective when the proper energy is put in, so often we do not consume the proper types of fuel sources to generate the energy we want and as a result are hungry more often and feel sluggish and lethargic.
Many people seek to adopt the ketogenic diet not only to lose weight and help solve these issues of lethargy and low energy, but as a means to ensure they are running on the most optimal amount of energy their body can provide. While it is certainly possible, it is also important to remember that the ketosis method of energy creation is not the body’s default system, and as such it takes work and dedication to adopt and remain in a ketogenic state within the body.
Mechanism of Function
Researchers believe this diet helps individual lose weight for several reasons:
- Alter the body’s levels of triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol
- Offers appetite suppressing properties
- Affects satiety
- Contributes to overall level of calories needed for sustenance
Understanding these a little further, the ketogenic diet has been shown to decrease the level of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, while simultaneously increasing the levels of HDL cholesterol. Higher levels of HDL have been shown to aid in weight loss, while LDL increases interfere with successful weight loss and fat elimination within the body.
Another contributing factor that supports weight loss, stemming from the ketogenic diet is that it offers appetite suppressing properties. Research has shown that fat and protein are more filling and offer higher levels of satiety than carbohydrates. The body processes these former macronutrients more slowly than carbohydrates, and hence they offer a longer, more sustainable fuel source. In the case of individuals who are on the ketogenic diet and trying to lose weight, feeling fuller for longer, means they eat less, and a lower overall caloric intake is at the root of weight loss. Furthermore, adapting the body to use fat for fuel and to feel fuller on less, improves metabolic efficiency and allows this new way of eating and new level of satiety to become more normalized. This in turn allows the user to adopt the diet long term.
Ketogenic vs. Other Diets
Finally, a study exploring very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets (VLCKD), as compared to low fat diets (LFD), showed that individuals following the VLCKD achieved a greater weight loss long term than those assigned to the LFD. Researchers speculate this is due to the body’s natural alteration in resting energy expenditure, where it becomes more efficient at burning fat and extracting energy from fat. Overtime, the requires less fat, less protein and a lower overall energy (caloric) intake to support basal metabolic rate and day-to-day functioning.
While the mechanisms of the ketogenic diet, and its ability to support individuals in weight loss may not be conclusively agreed upon, one thing certainly is: when followed properly and consistently, the ketogenic diet is a sustainable lifestyle change which allows individuals to adopt and maintain a healthy diet, seeing weight loss as a result. On that same note though, even scientists don’t know everything, and they certainly don’t know your specific, individual body: only you can choose, based on the facts, if this diet is the best solution to help you reach your goals. From there, armed with the knowledge you need, talk to your doctor about making changes, and then dive straight in!
Victor Chapela is Co-founder & CEO of Suggestic, a Silicon Valley-based company whose mission is to
help individuals make optimal food choices for weight loss, disease prevention and health improvement by
using artificial intelligence to combine personal preferences with behavioral cues and the latest nutrition