The Ketogenic Diet: A Superior Approach to Weight Loss

When you are in ketosis, the body begins to burn stored fats for energy, which causes acids, known as ketones, to build up in your blood. A person who follows the ketogenic diet aims to pressure the body to rely on fat, not carbohydrates, for energy. Unlike caloric restriction, the ketogenic diet helps you lose weight by putting your body into ketosis. When you eat minimal carbs, your body produces ketones for energy.

Ketones are produced in the liver from fatty acids found in food or from body fat itself. Therefore, the liver burns fat to produce ketones. Ketones are used for energy instead of carbohydrates. During ketosis, the body becomes very efficient at burning fat and using it instead of glucose for energy.

This fat burning makes the ketogenic diet a popular choice for people looking to lose weight. Studies show that ketogenic diets may help patients lose about 2 kg more than low-fat diets a year, but higher-quality studies show no difference. Weight loss peaks at 5 months, but it is often not sustained. Individual weight change can range from losing 30 kg to gaining 10 kg with any diet.

Models, athletes and celebrities rely on the ketogenic “keto” diet to help shed those unwanted pounds. The ketogenic diet encourages eating more cheese, butter and bacon; it is a low-carb, high-fat diet similar to the Atkins diet created in 1972 by cardiologist Robert C. The latest fad diet has amassed a devoted following, including Tim Tebow, LeBron James and Kim Kardashian, but does it really work? Carol Johnston, professor and associate director of the nutrition program at the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion at Arizona State University explains why the low-carb, high-fat diet is so popular, how it works and what dieters should eat to lose weight. Overwhelmingly, the most important factor for successful weight loss is compliance with a healthy lifestyle change.

In research trials, most people who lose weight regain most of it within a year, regardless of the diet they were on. The disadvantage of many of the fad diets seen today is the lack of emphasis on long-term lifestyle changes, which are necessary for long-term weight loss success. Carbohydrates are important for the health of our brain and muscles. Our brains are completely dependent on glucose for energy production; they cannot get it from fat, which makes it necessary to consume some carbohydrates.

Our muscles can use glucose or fat as energy, but during high-intensity exercise they prefer glucose. When we eat more carbohydrates than we need they turn into body fat which contributes to obesity. In general average Americans who have a relatively sedentary lifestyle consume more carbohydrates and calories than they actually need. Athletes on the other hand need to keep their carbohydrate intake high to support their energy production.

Balancing energy intake and production is key to maintaining a healthy weight. Rather than providing your body with glucose from carbohydrates, the ketogenic diet relies on the liver to break down stored fat into molecules called ketones. This is important to consider if people are increasing their fat intake because they are on a ketogenic diet. In the end both groups shed almost the same amount on average around 12 to 13 pounds according to the randomized clinical trial that examined a less restrictive low-carb diet than the ketogenic diet.

A ketogenic diet or “keto” for short is a low-carb high-fat diet that can provide a number of health benefits. For the first two to six months there is evidence that a very low carb diet can help you lose more weight than the standard high-carb low-fat diet according to a new literature review on low-carb diets by the National Lipid Association. The 21-day smoothie diet is a weight loss plan that is touted as an easy and effective alternative to fad diets. Stone a preventive cardiologist at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine worries about this having seen some of his patients' bad cholesterol levels on the ketogenic diet rise dramatically.

That doesn't mean the diet is superior according to a study that followed 609 overweight adults on a low-carb or low-fat diet for a year. Some experts also point out that while the ketogenic diet can lead to short-term weight loss the loss is unlikely to continue. Hard alcohols such as gin and vodka are lower in carbs meaning they are generally acceptable on a ketogenic diet. Anyone who is unable to lose weight despite following the ketogenic diet and exercising regularly may consider talking to a doctor or dietitian.

For people with type 2 diabetes a low-carb diet seems to improve average blood sugar levels better during the first year than a high-carb low-fat diet. If you try a ketogenic diet to start weight reduction choose healthier sources of fat and protein such as olive oil avocados and walnuts (almonds walnuts). Today other low-carb diets including Paleo South Beach and Dukan diets are high in protein but moderate in fat. If you take any medications or have any medical problems consult a doctor or dietitian before starting a ketogenic diet.

While low-fat diets are traditionally recommended for those looking to lose weight research shows that the ketogenic diet is in fact a superior approach to losing weight.

Bruce Chen
Bruce Chen

Medical & health reporter. Award-winning internet evangelist. Embraced the low-carb keto diet and lost 9 pounds.