The ketogenic diet had been gaining popularity over the past few years within the dieting industry. What exactly is a ketogenic diet (or keto), and what are its pros and cons?
Keto is a very high fat diet with low protein and carbohydrate. There are several variations of this diet, but its original variation has a ratio of fat to protein and carbohydrate of 4:1. This means for every 4 calories from fat, you’re getting 1 calories from both carbohydrate and protein. This diet was use in the hospital setting to help children with epilepsy. What happens while you’re on the ketogenic diet is this: A normal person’s main source of energy is glucose, when blood glucose (blood sugar) runs low, your body will have to break down the fat reserves to make glucose to keep organs functioning. A byproduct of this fat storage breakdown is the ketone body. The ketone body changes the balance of neurotransmitters resulting in an anticonvulsant effect. Therefore, anti-seizure is the most popular use of the ketogenic diet in a healthcare setting.
In the recent years, the keto diet had been made popular in the mainstream media for its weight loss ability. Beside weight loss, here are 3 other less talked about benefits of keto: improve effectiveness of cancer treatment, improve cognitive function, and improve insulin sensitivity.
Cancer treatment: Studies have shown that a ketogenic diet can be effective as an adjuvant to cancer treatment. Cancer cells uses glucose as its main source of energy. If we were to switch our eating habit to consume mainly fat with little protein and carbohydrate, the cancer cell will be starved off, or stunt in growth, which makes chemo and radiation treatments more effective.
Cognitive function: Beside stabilizing children with epilepsy, recent studies also show that keto can protect our cognitive functions as we age. Ketones has therapeutic and antioxidant effects on the brain. Specifically, keto had been associated with positive effects on working memory, visual attention, and motor control in non-demented elderly.
Improve insulin sensitivity: When the body uses ketones as energy instead of glucose, insulin sensitivity is enhanced.
High intake of carbohydrate (or sugar of any kind) is a big source of inflammation. Moreover, a constant stream of insulin circulating the blood will lead to insulin abuse. By using ketone body as energy instead of blood sugar, the cell receptors become less inflamed which leads to higher insulin sensitivity. Ideally, a patient who has diabetes can manage their condition by following a ketogenic type diet. However, since most patients with diabetes are on insulin, cutting back on carbohydrate while on these medications can cause a big drop in blood sugar and can be deadly. Is not advisable to do keto without the medical supervision of your endocrinologist and a registered dietitian.

Weight loss:
One of the most popular uses of the keto diet in the recent years is for its weight lost effect. With keto, our body is forced to breakdown the fat reserve to use as energy. Therefore, people who follow this diet pattern will see a weight loss effect in the long run. Moreover, consuming less carbohydrate in general will be less inflammatory which can also aid in weight loss. However, a big factor to consider is that fat carries more calories in weight than carbohydrate and protein. Fat yields 9 calories per gram, versus carbohydrate and protein yields 4 calories per gram. To reap the positive effects of keto, you must be in ketosis, which is the metabolic state where the body shifts to use ketone as energy instead of glucose. If you are not in ketosis, and still eat a high fat diet, this means you will consume excess calories which will result in weight gain. For your body to be in ketosis, you will have to limit your carbohydrate intake to anywhere from 25-35g a day, depending on your individual needs, for at least 72 hours. 25 grams of carb would be the equivalent of a medium size banana and about 2/3 slice of bread. If you consume too much protein on this diet, the excess protein will be convert to sugar and that will kick you out of ketosis. You will need another 72 hours of strict carbohydrate restriction to be back in ketosis. To make sure you stay in ketosis, you can test your ketones level through a urine strip or use a ketone meter.
Is keto an appropriate diet for everyone? We can discuss the pitfall of the keto diet in another blog post, but the short answer is no. People who might not be appropriate for this diet are: those who has type 1 diabetes, pancreas conditions, steatorrhea or fatty stool from fat malabsorption, people who are recovering from an eating disorders, just to name a few.
While this diet has some great clinical uses, it can also be very restrictive. Our body does rely on carbohydrate for some critical functions in the body, especially to support healthy hormone production. Consuming too little or too high carbohydrate will have negative health impact. This diet must be monitored by a medical professional if you want to achieve any sustainable result and to avoid potential health risks. If you have any keto or nutrition related question, we would love to hear from you. Please contact our outpatient dietitian services office today and schedule an appointment with one of our registered dietitian. We are looking to expand our service hours to provide more flexibility for those with dietary needs and can’t meet with us during the week days. Ask about our Saturday appointments starting in late April!
Thao Vo
Registered Dietitian
OakBend Medical Center
Disclaimer: The contents of this article, including text and images, are for informational purposes only and do not constitute a medical service. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.

Leave a reply