Ketogenic diet is a very low carbohydrate and high fat diet.  The idea is to reduce the daily consumption of carbohydrates to about 20 to 50 grams. For perspective, according to the Mayo Clinic, 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates.  That is equal to 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates if you eat a 2,000 calorie diet a day.

The reduced carbohydrate intake of the ketogenic diet leads to lower blood sugar levels.  In the absence of sugar, the body turns to burning fat for energy and in the process, produces what are called ketone bodies.   Hence the name ketogenic diet.

Ketogenic diets appear to be making a come-back.  They were very popular in the early 1990s when the Atkin’s diet was quite the craze.  Ketogenic diets however go even farther back.  They were used in clinical medicine in the 1920s as a treatment for seizure disorder.

Benefits of ketogenic diet.  

A review of the ketogenic diet done by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition pointed to several areas where the ketogenic diet is beneficial.  The review suggests there is strong evidence to support the usefulness of the ketogenic diet in:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Epilepsy.

Other Benefits:  It also suggests that there is emerging evidence that the ketogenic diet could be useful in:

  • Acne
  • Neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and ALS
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Cancer.

Weight Loss:

Specifically, for weight loss, studies show that people who follow a very low carbohydrate ketogenic diet lose more weight during the first 3-6 months compared to those who followed a balanced diet.  The ketogenic diet is thought to work by;

  • Reducing appetite.
  • Decrease in lipogenesis or fat production.
  • Increase in lipolysis or fat burn.
  • Increased metabolic energy spent to produce glucose from non-carbohydrate sources.
  • Increased energy spent to process the high amount of protein foods consumed on the diet.

What can you eat on the ketogenic diet? 

The diet is very restricting and requires a lot of discipline to succeed.  It is rather high in fat, moderate in protein and very low in carbohydrate.  It only works if you can restrict the carbohydrate.  If not, your body will produce too much insulin in response to the increased carbohydrate.  In the presence of insulin, instead of burning the fat consumed, it will be stored in tissue resulting in weight gain. The foods that are allowed include:

Protein Sources:

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Fish
  • Turkey
  • Duck
  • Bacon
  • Sausages
  • Hamburger
  • Hot dogs

Fat Sources:

  • Cheese
  • Butter
  • Full cream
  • Avocado
  • Nuts and nut butter
  • Coconut butter
  • Olives and olive oil

Limited Carb Sources:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Very limited non-starchy vegetables

Foods to Avoid:

  • Grains
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Fruits and fruits juices
  • Breads
  • Cereals

Potential Problems:

  • Increased risk of kidney stones
  • Constipation
  • Dehydration.

The ketogenic diet is a tool that may work for some people.  It is very restricting.  Risk of rebound weight gain is high if you start to eat more carbohydrates.  If you want to lose weight long term, focus on a change in lifestyle and find a meal plan you can follow for the long haul.

Dr. Ife Ojugbeli, MD, MBA