Ketosis: Why ketogenic diets might not be your best weight-loss solution
When you hear a science-y word linked with weight loss, your ears can’t help but prick.
The latest one to get the attention of shredders is ketosis, a metabolic state achieved when you go on a low carbohydrate, high-fat diet that sees the body rely on “ketones” in the blood instead of glucose for energy.
Ketosis is caused when the body starts to break down body fat for energy, and is a sought-after state for people who want to blitz body fat.
Shifting your body into a ketogenic state is no easy feat given you have to subsist on a diet that’s comprised of 20 percent protein, 75 percent fat and five percent carbohydrate.
Sports scientist Ben Greenfield says it takes the body anywhere from two weeks to six months to move into a ketogenic state.
“Once done, it’s done, and you have achieved fat-burning status that can stick with you for life,” writes Greenfield, who says the ketogenic diet improved his triathlon performance, reduced hunger, improved mental clarity, reduced gas and bloating, and lowered inflammation markers.
Pretty convincing stuff — however Melanie McGrice, a leading dietitian who runs online weight loss programs, told Coach that widespread studies into healthy weight people following ketogenic diets are lacking.
The keto lifestyle also puts you at risk of some pretty significant side effects.
“There is a risk of constipation because sometimes you are not getting as much fibre, and there is a risk of calcium deficiency as people often cut out dairy,” she says.
“There is also concern about what low-carb diets will do to our gut microbiome [bacteria] because most prebiotic foods are really rich in carbohydrates.”
Diabetes UK warns that actively trying to get your body into ketosis is potentially dangerous because high levels of ketones can make the blood acidic.
Greenfield also notes that a ketogenic diet can lead to high cholesterol, triglycerides and thyroid issues.
“Some people feel they have reduced energy although report having increased energy,” McGrice says.
“It’s very difficult to follow such a strict diet in today’s culture – especially anybody who wants to have a social life. Going out for dinner or to a wedding or somebody’s house for dinner is very difficult.”
Greenfield recommends using ketogenic supplements to help your body thrive in a ketogenic state. They contain ingredients such as beta-hydroxybutric acid (BHB), healthy fats and sometimes caffeine.
But McGrice is skeptical that they could work – and says it’s likely the caffeine or calories that are giving you energy.
“I haven’t seen any research that suggests that there’s any benefits to providing the body with additional ketones, and physiologically, I can’t imagine why it would as they are more of a byproduct,” she says.
There is a place for ketosis – McGrice says it’s a good state to aim for if you are overweight with insulin resistance or Type 2 diabetes, but she wouldn’t recommend it for a healthy weight person who just wants to drop a few kilos.
“I feel that there is not enough research [into whether] people of a healthy weight should be trying ketogenic diets,” she says.
“I don’t think there is any benefit for them but there can be some benefit sometimes for some people who are trying to lose weight.
“But it would only work for somebody who finds it suits their lifestyle – like they don’t have a family to cook for and are not an emotional or binge eater.”
McGrice adds that, if you are thinking about going keto, you should first speak to a dietitian experienced in this kind of diet. (Unsurprisingly, relying solely on blogs and Facebook pages for your ketosis knowledge isn’t the best idea…)
Correction: The headline of this article initially misspelled “ketogenic” as “ketogenetic”.