Ketogenic, Atkins, South Beach: call it what you like, low-carbohydrate diets have existed for over 40 years.
Their perennial appeal lies in the promise of quick, effective weight loss, while still allowing ‘treat’ foods such as butter, cream and bacon. Simple carbohydrates – i.e. refined sugars and white bread – are banished.
With sugar becoming such a dirty word in the last 10 years, it’s no surprise these diets have captured the popular imagination. But are they all they’re hyped up to be, or are they simply another quick fix?
What is the ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic diet, whose eating plan consists of 70% fats, 25% proteins and 5% carbohydrates, is the latest incarnation of the low-carb diet.
Ketogenic is derived from ketosis – the state the body enters when in starvation mode.
When the body can no longer make glucose from its usual carbohydrate sources, it resorts to using stored fat.
The Ketogenic diet forces the body to enter into ketosis, thus eating into fat reserves and, in theory, helping you lose weight quickly.
Also read: Can You Overdo Avocados?
Pros of the ketogenic diet
1. You eliminate simple carbohydrates
This is a big one. Simple carbohydrates from refined sugars are known to spike blood sugar levels, leaving you exhausted and fatigued a short time after consumption (think: that 3pm sugar-induced slump).
Simple carbohydrates can also convert quickly to fat in the body, particularly around arteries and organs.
2. You’ll feel ‘fuller’ for longer
Protein and fats promote increased satiety. For example, eating a spoonful of sugar-free peanut butter will keep you satisfied for longer than a spoonful of Nutella (energy-wise, at least!)
Another perk of feeling full is that you won’t be tempted to snack. This will bring your overall daily calorie count down.
3. Fats are good for skin, tissue and hair
Fatty acids, particularly those from oily fish, are great for promoting healthy hair, younger-looking skin and tissue recovery.
Cons of the ketogenic diet
1. The body’s preferred fuel is carbohydrates
In cutting out carbs, you’re cutting out the brain’s favourite fuel. There’s no better proven way to refuel the body and regulate energy levels and hormone production.
There’s not enough evidence yet to support protein and fats as a preferred long-term fuel source for the body.
2. You’ll put your health at risk
Consuming more protein than you need can lead to increased levels of uric acid in the blood, raising your risk of gout.
The kidneys filter excess protein, turn it into nitrogen and then we pee it all out, so having too much protein can cause serious kidney issues in the long term as well.
Too much protein can also lead to higher cholesterol levels.
While cutting out refined carbohydrates – or too many carbs – is a good thing, there’s no substitute for a balanced diet full of complex carbohydrates, fats, proteins and fibre.
The key is to determine what’s right for your body type. Any diet that promotes an extreme ‘either/or’ philosophy is a potential risk.