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Ketogenic diet and weight loss

A ketogenic diet to lose weight and fight metabolic disease

A ketogenic diet has been proven to help you lose weight and fight metabolic disease. Here’s an evidence-based look at how it works.

Evidence-based
This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
We look at both sides of the argument and strive to be objective, unbiased, and honest.
Last updated on November 2, 2022, and last reviewed by an expert on September 29, 2022.
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Obesity and metabolic diseases are major health problems worldwide.

In 2016, obesity affected 13% of adults globally.

Obesity is a risk factor of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of metabolic abnormalities, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high waist-to-hip ratio, and low HDL (good) cholesterol.

To combat this, many diets have emerged, including the ketogenic diet, in which a person consumes a very limited amount of carbohydrates. Some research suggests this diet may have benefits for people with obesity.

However, some experts have questioned the health benefits of the keto diet and called for more research. While it may help you lose weight, there may also be complications.

This article explains how the keto diet may help people lose weight and manage the metabolic disease. It also discusses some of the possible drawbacks.

What is a ketogenic diet?

A ketogenic diet is high in fat, moderate in protein, and low in carbs.

As carbs are reduced and fat increases, the body enters a metabolic state called ketosis. Then the body starts turning fats into ketones, molecules that can supply energy for the brain.

After a few days or weeks on such a diet, the body and brain become very efficient at burning fat and ketones for fuel instead of carbs.

The ketogenic diet also lowers insulin levels, which can be beneficial for improving insulin sensitivity and blood sugar management.

Staple foods on a ketogenic diet include:

In contrast, nearly all carb sources are eliminated, including:

Summary: A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carb diet. It primarily works by lowering insulin levels, producing ketones, and increasing fat burning.

Ketogenic diets and weight loss

There’s evidence that ketogenic diets can help with weight loss.

10 health benefits of low-carb and ketogenic diets
Suggested read: 10 health benefits of low-carb and ketogenic diets

They may help you lose fat, preserve muscle mass, and improve many disease markers.

Some studies have suggested that a ketogenic diet may be more effective than a low-fat diet for weight loss, even after matching the total calorie intake.

In one older study, people on a ketogenic diet lost 2.2 times more weight than those on a low-calorie, low-fat diet. Triglyceride and HDL (good) cholesterol levels also improved.

However, both groups reduced calorie consumption by a comparable amount, which may have increased weight loss.

Another 2007 study compared a low-carb diet to the Diabetes UK’s dietary guidelines. It found the low-carb group lost 15.2 pounds (6.9 kg), while the low-fat group lost only 4.6 pounds (2.1 kg). Over three months, the low-carb diet caused three times more weight loss.

However, the groups had no difference in HbA1c, ketone, or lipid levels. Also, those on the low-carb diet also decreased their calorie intake. Finally, the two groups had no difference in fat or protein intake. This is important to note if people are increasing their fat intake because they are following a keto diet.

However, there are contrasting theories for these findings. Some researchers argue the results are simply due to a higher protein intake, and others think there’s a distinct “metabolic advantage” to ketogenic diets.

Suggested read: 16 foods to eat on a ketogenic diet

Other ketogenic diet studies have found that the ketogenic diet may lead to reductions in appetite and food intake. This is extremely important when applying the research to a real-life setting.

The data suggests a ketogenic diet may be a good option if you dislike counting calories. You can eliminate certain foods and don’t have to track calories.

If you follow the keto diet, you still have to check labels and track your total grams of carbs daily, which requires paying attention to food choices.

However, remember that many of the studies mentioned above had small sample sizes and only evaluated the short-term effects of the diet.

Additional research is needed to determine how the diet may impact weight loss in the long run and whether weight is regained once a regular diet is resumed.

Summary: The ketogenic diet is an effective weight loss diet supported by evidence. It is very filling and usually does not require calorie counting.

How do ketogenic diets promote weight loss?

Here’s how ketogenic diets promote weight loss:

In these ways, a ketogenic diet can be effective at helping you lose weight.

Suggested read: Low glycemic diet: What to eat and avoid, and more

However, note that it’s essential to ensure that you meet your calorie needs when following the ketogenic diet. Cutting calories too much can slow your metabolism, making it harder to lose weight in the long run.

Some experts also note that, while the keto diet may lead to weight loss in the short term, the loss is unlikely to continue. It can also be hard to follow the diet for a long time.

Summary: A ketogenic diet may help burn fat, reduce calorie intake, and increase feelings of fullness compared to other weight-loss diets.

A ketogenic diet and metabolic diseases

Metabolic syndrome describes five common risk factors for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease:

Many of these risk factors can be improved — or even eliminated — with nutritional and lifestyle changes.

Insulin also plays a vital role in diabetes and metabolic disease. Ketogenic diets are highly effective for lowering insulin levels, especially for people with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes.

One older study found that after only two weeks on a ketogenic diet, insulin sensitivity improved by 75%, and blood sugar dropped from 7.5 mmol/l to 6.2 mmol/l.

A 16-week study also found a 16% reduction in blood sugar levels. Additionally, 7 of the 21 participants could stop all diabetic medication completely.

Moreover, some studies in humans and animals have also found that the ketogenic diet could reduce levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides.

However, note that most available research only focuses on the short-term effects of the ketogenic diet.

Some older studies suggest that the ketogenic diet may negatively affect heart health, particularly in children.

Additionally, although research shows that saturated fat intake is not directly linked to a higher risk of heart disease, it may increase levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease.

Furthermore, several studies also show that consuming high amounts of some types of fat may be associated with a higher risk of certain types of cancer.

Therefore, more research is needed to determine how the ketogenic diet may affect long-term health and disease.

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Suggested read: 9 health benefits of eating whole grains

Summary: Ketogenic diets can improve many aspects of the metabolic syndrome, a significant risk factor for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Impact on metabolic disease

Several key factors explain the drastic effects of the ketogenic diet on markers of metabolic disease. These include:

As you can see, the combination of these factors plays a rather remarkable and important role in health and protection against disease.

Summary: Ketogenic diets may improve metabolic health by improving insulin function, lowering inflammation, and promoting fat loss.

How to follow a ketogenic diet

If you want to try a ketogenic diet, follow these basic rules:

You may also wish to monitor ketone levels in either urine or blood since these let you know whether you’re keeping carb levels down sufficiently to achieve ketosis.

Suggested read: Tips to lose belly fat

Based on current research, studies at my lab, and continuous testing with clients, anything over 0.5–1.0 mmol/l demonstrates sufficient nutritional ketosis.

Before switching to this type of diet or using any type of supplement, ask your doctor or a dietitian for advice.

Summary: Base most of your meals on low-carb veggies, high-fat meats, fish, or eggs. You may also wish to monitor your ketone levels.

Should you try a ketogenic diet?

No single diet is suitable for everyone, mainly since individual metabolism, genes, body types, lifestyles, taste buds, and personal preferences differ.

It can benefit people with obesity or who have a higher chance of developing metabolic syndrome, but it’s not suitable for everyone. For example, it’s not suitable for people with the following conditions:

There may also be some adverse effects. When you first start the diet, you may experience flu-like symptoms, known as “keto flu.”

This may include poor energy and mental function, increased hunger, sleep issues, nausea, digestive discomfort, and poor exercise performance.

Researchers have not yet done enough long-term investigation to determine precisely the long-term effects, but there may be a risk of kidney or liver problems.

There’s also a risk of dehydration, so you must drink plenty of fluids, especially water, while following this diet.

Always speak to a doctor before starting a ketogenic diet to ensure that it’s safe and suitable for you.

A ketogenic diet can also be hard to stick to. If you can’t follow it but still like the idea of a low-carb diet, then carb cycling or a standard low-carb diet may be a better option for you.

A ketogenic diet may also not be the best option for elite athletes or those wishing to build large amounts of muscle.

Suggested read: How to get into ketosis: 7 tips to enter ketosis fast

Additionally, vegetarians or vegans may struggle with this diet due to the key role meats, eggs, fish, and dairy play.

Summary: The ketogenic diet can provide excellent results if you stick to it. However, it may not be the best option for everyone.

Summary

To get the most out of a ketogenic diet, you must eat high-fat foods and limit your carb intake to fewer than 30–50 grams daily.

If you follow a ketogenic diet with medical supervision, it can help you lose weight, and it may enhance your overall health.

It may reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other aspects of metabolic disease.

Before starting any new diet, remember to ask your doctor if it’s a suitable option for you.

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