[Article updated on 19/09/2023]
We talk about it more and more often online: the ketogenic diet is praised by many, criticized by others. But what are its real benefits and contraindications? When can it be useful and what foods can be eaten? In the following lines, I tell you everything about the ketogenic diet.
Before reading on
I’m not an expert in this field, but I am passionate about nutrition and health.
The articles you’ll find on my site are the result of in-depth research that I’d like to share with you. However, I would like to stress that I am not a health professional and that my advice should in no way replace that of a qualified physician. I’m here to guide you, but it’s important that you consult a professional for specific questions or medical concerns. Your well-being is important. So be sure to consult the appropriate experts and take the best possible care of yourself.
What is the ketogenic diet?
The typical diet largely includes the following foods: wheat, rice, potatoes, corn, cassava. These are all carbohydrate-rich foods that our bodies convert into glucose to be used as energy. The ketogenic diet, for its part, consists of implementing a nutritional strategy based on the reduction of carbohydrates, resulting in the activation of ketosis.
For ketosis to work, the body needs to burn its glucose stores, thus using fat as an energy source. When the body is able to burn more fat, a more effective weight loss process occurs. You then get the lean physique you desire so much. To activate ketosis, you must follow a balanced and structured diet based on rules to follow carefully. But it’s not just nutrition that affects the metabolic state in question. Age and motor activity also play an important role.
There is no one type of ketogenic diet and all eating styles that provide fewer calories, carbohydrates and sometimes protein are ketogenic. The Atkins diet and the LCHF diet are examples of ketogenic diets. Certain types of ketogenic diet are used in clinical settings for drug-unresponsive epilepsy and severe obesity associated with certain metabolic pathologies.
How was the ketogenic diet born?
Originally, the ketogenic diet was mainly used to relieve people suffering from epilepsy. Weight loss was not his goal. But patients on this diet noticed that they lost weight. The explanation is simple: when you ingest carbohydrates, your body needs a large amount of fluid to store the carbohydrates for energy purposes. When the amount of circulating carbohydrates in your blood is low, these fluids are excreted and you lose weight. If we add to this the fact that ketosis boosts fat metabolism, it is easy to understand why weight loss is so spectacular with this diet.
The three phases of the ketogenic diet
Typically, this is a 3-step approach. In the first phase called the “activation phase”, which lasts approximately 48-72 hours, the reduction of carbohydrates puts the subject into ketosis. The second phase called the “attack phase” which must last at least 14 days, is that linked to the consumption of fat mass. Because the body, deprived of its natural fuel, which is sugar, begins to attack lipid reserves. The third phase known as the “attenuation phase” is a slow transition towards a more traditional and balanced diet, but always with a careful eye on the glycemic indexes.
How does the ketogenic diet work?
The body needs around 180 grams of glucose per day to properly carry out its vital functions. When the body lacks this supply, it begins to obtain it on its own, by breaking down proteins and lipids: this is ketosis. Ketosis is a laborious process, effective fat burner and energy-intensive which leads to weight loss, while preserving lean mass and muscles.
For those who wish to follow a diet of this type, it is recommended to consume: eggs, poultry, sausage, lamb, turkey, meat, fish, cheeses, cold meats, pistachios, nuts and almonds. The only carbohydrate food allowed is rye bread. You will need to eat plenty of vegetables (500 grams per day) such as asparagus, mushrooms and broccoli. As a condiment, extra virgin olive oil is better than butter.
Definitely avoid pasta, bread, rice, sugary drinks, pizza, ice cream and vegetables like potatoes, carrots and peas, as they contain a lot of carbohydrates.
Advantages: the advantages of the ketogenic diet
The ketogenic diet has various benefits. These include, among others:
- Anorexigenic effect
- Reduction of symptoms of unresponsive epilepsy, especially in children.
Risks: the disadvantages of the ketogenic diet
The ketogenic diet can also have several disadvantages, most of which depend on the levels of ketone bodies present in the blood:
- increased renal filtration and diuresis
- tendency to dehydration
- increased workload of the kidneys
- possible hypoglycemia
- possible hypotension
- slight nausea
Indications and contraindications of the ketogenic diet
In addition to people with epilepsy, the ketogenic diet is indicated for athletes who need to “refuel”. People suffering from severe obesity, migraine, sleep apnea, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia and hypertriglyceridemia will find this diet a valuable ally. The reduced presence of carbohydrates in the diet actually inhibits the synthesis of cholesterol.
The increased introduction of dietary proteins contraindicates this diet in subjects with renal insufficiency, arterial hypertension, hepatic insufficiency, type I diabetes and constipation. Pregnant women should also not resort to this diet.
In order not to have deficiencies, it is necessary to resort to supplements to cover the daily vitamin needs.
What to eat on the ketogenic diet?
While the most common diets consist of carbohydrates (50%), fat (30%) and protein (20%), the ketogenic diet relies on providing a high percentage of fat at the expense of carbohydrates. It is therefore rich in lipids and proteins.
Recommended foods are:
- Meat, fish products and eggs
- Fats and oils for seasoning
- Foods not recommended, on the other hand, are:
- Sweet drinks, various sweets, beer, etc.
Generally, it is recommended to maintain a carbohydrate intake of less than or equal to 50g/day, ideally organized in 3 portions of 20g each. A fairly strict guideline for a proper ketogenic diet calls for an energy breakdown of 10% carbohydrates, 15-25% protein, and 70% or more fat.
For snacks, you can opt for nuts, pistachios and almonds, parmesan, bacon rolls with cheese and many other fatty and protein treats. For seasonings, extra virgin olive oil is perfect, but this diet also allows butter. Attention must be paid to the quantities of foods which must be established by a nutrition professional.
What science says
For over 100 years, the ketogenic diet has been used to manage seizures in epileptic patients. More recent studies have shown its potential in the management of obesity and diabetes. It must nevertheless be recognized that studies on the use of the ketogenic diet for the management of health problems are rather limited. These studies have, for the most part, been carried out on very small samples. Others have only been carried out on laboratory animals. In order to fully assess the effectiveness and harm of this diet, it is necessary to conduct further studies.
Patients’ body mass index (BMI) affects how quickly they produce ketones. This means that two people following the same diet will not necessarily have the same results. Some will lose weight quickly, while others will see meager results. For the second group, the ketogenic diet can be a source of frustration and can impact patient motivation. Likewise, for various reasons, a number of people simply cannot follow the ketogenic diet.
Are ketogenic diets effective?
A ketogenic diet can effectively help you lose weight. It can also help you by reducing the risk factors that trigger certain diseases. Studies show that the ketogenic diet provides better results than low-fat diets. Additionally, the goal of the diet is that you can lose weight without tracking calorie intake.
One study found that people following ketogenic diets lost 3 times more weight than those following traditional diets. There are many reasons why the ketogenic diet outperforms low-fat diets. Improving insulin sensitivity, lowering sugar levels, and increasing ketones are just a few of these factors. People who follow the ketogenic diet see an improvement in their HDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
How long should a ketogenic diet last?
According to most authors, the minimum duration is 3 to 4 weeks, renewable. Specialists advise taking a few days of rest with a more balanced diet to replenish glycogen reserves. After which, you can renew the ketogenic diet. You should not follow this slimming diet for more than 12 months, even if you observe a rest period. But there is a relatively sustainable variation: the Atkins diet.
How many pounds can you lose in a week on the ketogenic diet?
If ketosis is induced correctly, with a responsive metabolism, the body enters ketosis after three days of carbohydrate deprivation. So in the next 4-5 days it starts burning fat as a source of energy. When this circuit works correctly, you can lose on average 2 to 4 kg in the first week.
Typical day, weekly menus and special recipes for the ketogenic diet
|Whole yogurt (2 jars)
Small cooked ham sandwich
Roasted eggplant (about 300 grams)
1 small apple
|Chicken (200 gr)
1 small fruit
|Whole cow’s milk (200 ml)
1 slice of buttered bread
|Pork chop (200 grams)
Zucchini (300 gr)
1 small fruit
|Turkey (250 gr)
Mixed tomato salad
1 small fruit
|Bowl of whole milk
|Prawns (250 grams)
|Full fat yogurt with muesli and dried fruits
|Tomato salad (200 grams)
Ricotta cheese (about 150 gr.)
|Chia seed pudding (1 serving)
Extra virgin olive oil
|Scallops with lemon
|Full fat yogurt with fresh red fruits
|Veal loin with mushrooms
Opinion of health professionals
Looking carefully and comparing the list of pros and cons, it seems that the ketogenic diet is not a real “bargain”. In fact, it is a contraindicated method in several situations. It also requires a certain “individual sensitivity”.
It requires the use of analysis tools that ensure that the patient fits perfectly into “ideal ketosis”. This is undoubtedly a fairly cumbersome and unspontaneous strategy. But this diet is still widely used in the field of weight loss and dietary therapy for chronic hyperglycemia.
Scientific research suggests that the ketogenic diet may be helpful for losing weight quickly. She also suggests that this diet helps reverse some of the damage caused by high-carb diets. These damages are obesity, type 2 diabetes and hypertriglyceridemia, among others.
According to practitioners, a ketogenic diet is effective for losing weight quickly. Hunger is almost non-existent because this diet works like a powerful appetite suppressant. But disorders like ketogenic flu can occur in the first weeks. The reason: deprived of carbohydrates, the body reacts because it does not know how to burn stored fats or those ingested. Many people give up because of these disorders, which are considered very difficult to bear. To succeed, it is important to opt for a strict ketogenic diet. The result is keto-adaptation: the body is able to better obtain its energy from fat. No more keto flu and many other disorders. At least that’s what people who have successfully followed a ketogenic diet for several months say.