Ketogenic Diet: Pros And Cons

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Do you know about the ketogenic diet? Contrary to many other diets , it is increasingly popular in the West. It turns out to be very effective in weight loss, but also has many advantages for athletes. Due to its special nature, this diet should ideally be accompanied by medical monitoring. So what should you know about the ketogenic diet?

What is the ketogenic diet?

The ketogenic diet is a diet that targets weight loss and the gain of athletic performance, including endurance. It has been around for almost a hundred years. Originally, the ketogenic diet was devised for patients with epilepsy. Today, and since the 1980s, it has come back into fashion with the Paleo diet ( 1 ). Many believe that the ketogenic diet is a close cousin of the low-carb diet. It is interesting to note that the ketogenic diet is neither more nor less than the daily and ancestral food practice of certain peoples, still perpetuated today by the Inuit, the Mayans or certain Native American tribes.

The ketogenic diet was invented in 1921 by Dr. Russell Wilder in Minnesota ( 2 ). He wanted to reproduce the effects of fasting in a diet that could be maintained indefinitely. Fasting had had beneficial results in patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy ( 3 ). Indeed, depriving the brain of sugar seemed to protect it from seizures. When the body lacks glucose, it goes into a state of « ketosis » and then converts fat into energy.

While for several decades, the food industry has presented us with a pyramid of food needs with carbohydrates at the base of the latter, the ketogenic diet has completely challenged this mode of eating. What are its principles?

The principles of the ketogenic diet 

The ketogenic diet consists in favoring very largely lipids in its diet, leaving room for some proteins and especially very few carbohydrates. However, we know that the body’s fuel comes first from carbohydrates, then from lipids, and finally from proteins. This diet is therefore inspired by fasting to force the body to draw its energy from our fat reserves. It forces him to produce « ketones », a source of energy from fat stored in the body ( 4 ). This is to replace carbohydrates as fuel. 

As part of a ketone diet, you greatly reduce your intake of carbohydrates. Fat intake is increased to prevent muscle wasting and promote ketosis. If the body drew on protein, there would be a catabolic effect with the risk of muscle atrophy. In ketosis, the metabolism uses ketones for its energy needs instead of glucose.

Ketones are created from fatty acids. It is a more stable source of energy than glucose, which is derived from carbohydrates. People who follow this diet enter ketosis after 3-7 days. But for this, they must consume less than 30 grams of sugar per day.

How to start a ketogenic diet?

Ideally, you should start with basic nutritional rehabilitation. Replace processed foods as much as possible with healthy foods and stop snacking on sugary foods. 

Ketogenic Diet: Prohibited and Permitted Foods

List of foods to avoid

  • Cereals, pasta, breads, rice, croissants, pancakes, wraps, potatoes, corn, wheat, flour and even quinoa.
  • Starched vegetables: beans, peas and lentils.
  • Limit omega-6, pro-inflammatory, contained in sunflower, grape seed and corn oils. Favor monounsaturated fatty acids (omega 3) such as olive oil.
  • Processed fats, such as margarine.
  • Sweets: desserts, milk chocolate, pastries, snack bars, confectionery …
ketogenic diet

Authorized foods

It’s time to discover foods that are high in good fat and that don’t make you fat .

  • Meat, fish and eggs. Choose organic meat and wild fish, rich in omega 3 . Eat as many eggs as you want, preferably organic and free range hens fed on flax seeds. 
  • Vegetables without starch: mushrooms, broccoli, cucumbers, asparagus, salad, peppers, cabbage, tomatoes, garlic, onions, etc. Avocado is low in carbohydrates and high in good fat, making it ideal for the ketogenic diet.
  • Dairy products. In any case, it is recommended to limit dairy products. Overuse presents risks for hormonal dependent cancers. As part of the diet, choose natural cheese which contains protein and fat, but no sugar. Choose dairy products that are very fatty and low in lactose. In addition to cheese, mascarpone, cream cheese, crème fraîche, Greek yogurt, Isigny cream… Always choose organic products from healthy-fed animals. This allows you to avoid pesticides, hormones, antibiotics… Also think of vegetable alternatives such as cream or coconut milk.
coconut oil

In setting up your ketogenic diet, you can also consume: 

  • Lots of water ;
  • Unsweetened coffee or tea;
  • Of coconut oil, a flagship of the ketogenic diet food  ;
  • Natural sweeteners: stevia and erythritol in limited quantities;
  • Some sauces such as mayonnaise, mustard or pesto can be preserved;
  • Chicken or beef broths are excellent for rebalancing your sodium doses and filling a gap.
  • Pickles and other pickled vegetables;
  • Seeds and nuts: chia seeds, pecans, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts …

What are the benefits of the ketogenic diet?

How can the ketogenic diet be good? And what are its limits?

The benefits of the ketogenic diet on the practice of sport

The ketogenic diet has been shown to have positive effects for weight loss ( 5 ). As it causes our body to draw energy from our fat reserves, it considerably reduces the fat mass that composes it. It is a diet followed by many people in weight loss.

After a period of adaptation to the change in diet, the cravings disappear. The blood tests are improving. People who follow this ketogenic diet experience a real improvement in their fitness ( 6 ). And they practice it precisely to improve their athletic performance ( 7 ).

The ketogenic diet can improve the body’s ability to control systemic inflammation. This type of inflammation occurs after intensive sports practice. Ketones, present in optimal amounts in the body, are found to be beneficial in reducing fatigue after exercise ( 8 ).

The health benefits of the ketogenic diet

But there is a lot of talk about this dietary solution in the context of certain chronic diseases ( 9 ). As in the fight against certain cancers ( 10 ). According to several studies, it would reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, diabetes, heart attack, stroke, etc. Thanks to ketones, the body would deliver energy to healthy cells and neurons. This source of energy then helps to counter certain diseases such as cancer for the former, and Alzheimer’s for the latter ( 11 ) ( 12 ).

It seems that healthy cells mainly eat fat. Cancer cells feed mainly on sugars, including complex sugars (including glycogen). By depriving them of their favorite source of energy, and by boosting healthy cells, the diet high in fat and very low in glucose would help the body to defend itself better ( 13 ). Finally, the ketogenic diet is known to be great for suppressing oxidative stress ( 14 ).

The health benefits of good fats

Fat is not bad for you, according to dozens of studies of over 900,000 people. It is even necessary. But you still have to know how to choose them! Indeed, some are dangerous for health. This is the case with trans fatty acids found in industrial products. In contrast, some fat sources such as saturated and monounsaturated fat do not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease ( 15 ). On the contrary, these sources of lipids generate important improvements for cardiometabolism: insulin, glycemia, storage of ectopic fat, blood pressure and blood lipids.

The cons of the keto diet

What are the limits and risks of this particular diet?

What are the risks and dangers of the ketogenic diet?

Following the ketogenic diet is very difficult, especially in the first few weeks. The drastic changes that it implies require a fairly long adaptation period, and often very difficult. Many people give up very quickly when they have flu-like symptoms. But rest assured: with appropriate medical monitoring, you will quickly feel the benefits of this diet. Likewise, you should not be too demanding with your body during this period: the practice of sport can be difficult, even impossible for a few days or weeks.

Contraindications to this diet

However, some people are contraindicated to this drastic diet. This is the case with patients with type 1 diabetes, for example. The same goes for all those who are prone to metabolic abnormalities concerning the oxidation of fatty acids. People with hepatocellular insufficiency or respiratory deficits also cannot deprive themselves of carbohydrates.

In any case, it is essential to consult your doctor and / or a nutritionist before considering a ketogenic diet. Indeed, it can be dangerous to make such changes in your diet without benefiting from personalized follow-up. There is a real risk of deficiencies, in particular. Dietary supplementation may be necessary!

Tips for better living the transition phase to ketogenic

Going into « ketosis » is not without consequences. To do this, you have to endure great upheavals in your habits and in your body. The period of adaptation to this specific diet lasts on average fifteen days.

Support the keto flu

This is the most difficult phase of the ketogenic diet and one that most serious people encounter… It is called “ketogenic flu”, or “low-carb flu” (low = low, carbs = carbohydrates). ), or even “keto-flu”. When the fat / sugar ratio forces the body to derive its energy from fat, in addition to sometimes consuming hunger pangs, flu-like symptoms can appear. These symptoms are: fatigue, cough, stuffy nose, headache, irritability, nausea, etc.

They can last a day or two, rarely more. They are the body’s natural reaction when it has to change from one mode of energy production to another. It is the result of the “detox” of the sugar compensated by the transformation of fatty acids into ketone bodies.

What is actually happening is that the body lacks electrolytes, especially sodium. By starting the diet, you drastically reduce processed food and replace it with natural food, which causes a large drop in sodium.

Over time, depriving yourself of carbohydrates will lower insulin levels. This will reduce the level of sodium stored in the kidneys. Your body will then rebalance its own needs. It is said to be « keto-friendly ». But, until then, your level of sodium and other electrolytes remains low.

Better support the sodium drop

From the first days of your diet, consume beef or chicken broth every evening, for a week to ten days. You can drink more when you start to feel woozy to warm up your body and boost sodium. For a while, put more salt in your food. You can also increase your salt doses from the start of the diet in anticipation of this period in order to avoid it or pass it as quickly as possible and finally take advantage of your new bodily dispositions. Eat more foods that are high in salt, such as anchovies or pickled vegetables.

From junk food to the ketogenic diet

It would be counterproductive to try to switch from a diet that is heavily unbalanced, with lots of sugars, carbonated drinks, foods high in carbohydrates and trans fats, to a diet as drastic as a ketogenic diet. Symptoms of detoxification of the body would be difficult to bear, similar to detoxification. As crazy as it sounds, some forms of foods including sugar can have the effect of a hard drug. To switch to the ketogenic diet in these cases, start by replacing sugary drinks with water and fruit and sharply cut back on foods high in carbohydrates. After a few weeks of moderation, you can then embark on the adventure.

ketogenic diet

Read product labels carefully

As a general rule of thumb, if possible, avoid products with long ingredient lists. Nitrites and preservatives are camouflaged under the barbaric names based on « E »! In nutritional values, beware of those indicated per serving which rarely correspond to those served. Always look at the values ​​per 100 grams and avoid all products high in carbohydrates and sugar.

So, is the ketogenic diet miraculous or dangerous?

Not to mention a miracle, one cannot help but be excited about the results offered by the ketogenic diet. But it must be taken into account that it must be followed for life. It is no longer possible to return to a savage diet after that. Otherwise, these benefits wear off along with it.

The ketogenic diet can actually promote weight loss and improved athletic performance. However, for this, it must be correctly carried out and always adapted to the nutritional needs of each individual. Unfortunately, embarking on such dietary changes on your own is risky. Therefore, we strongly advise you to seek quality medical follow-up with a doctor and / or a nutritionist. The establishment of a personalized food program should be considered.

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