Twenty-five or 30 years ago – at the height of the low-fat era – a “crazy” diet captured people’s imaginations. This radical diet said you could burn more fat and lose more weight by eating more fat.
The “ketogenic” diet was based on an interesting idea. You can train your body to burn fat instead of glucose for energy. Look at the Inuit and other Arctic cultures, the diet’s supporters said. They eat a high fat diet and enjoy remarkably good health.
Like most fads, ketogenic diets lost popularity after a few years. But they’ve been making a big comeback. Partly because high-fat diets appear to have a positive impact on people with seizure disorders.
So what is a ketogenic die… is it safe… and does it work? As with so many health issues, the answer is “It depends.”
What Is a Ketogenic Diet, Anyway?
In simple terms, nutritional ketosis is when your body burns fat as its primary fuel. A ketogenic diet helps your body transition to – and maintain – this fat-burning state.
Most people burn glucose – derived from carbs – as their primary fuel. Their bodies primarily use fat as an energy store.
By switching to burning fat, the idea is that your body can more easily used stored fat for energy. Cut back on calories, and you literally burn through extra weight more easily.
A ketogenic diet includes eating high fat, very few carbs, and an “adequate” amount of protein. Sugars and starches should make up a small percentage of calories. And the fats should be balanced heavily towards healthy fats.
Healthy fats include coconut oil and other medium-chain triglycerides, olives and avocados, marine Omega-3s, seeds and nuts, and a limited amount of fat from grass-fed meats.
Ideally, each meal would include two fat servings. Half an avocado or two tablespoons of olive oil would each count as a “serving.”
Do Ketogenic Diets Work?
The people who seem to get the best results from ketogenic diets seem to be those who are very active. But that’s true for almost any diet.
Brand-new research from the Ohio State University looked at elite endurance athletes. They found even top performers did very well on a ketogenic-type diet… and burned fat faster and more efficiently than athletes eating a traditional high-carb diet.
The results were so dramatic, one of the researchers said, “Maybe we’ve got it all backwards and we need to re-examine everything we’ve been telling athletes for the last 40 years about loading up on carbs…”
Even though the high-carb athletes were efficient fat burners, they couldn’t touch the ketogenic athletes. These high-fat athletes burned fat at more than twice the rate of the high-carb group!
In 2014, Polish scientists tested a ketogenic diet vs. a traditional high-carb diet on endurance cyclists. The ketogenic diet resulted in greater loss of fat mass and better body composition, as well as a better cholesterol profile. On the ketogenic diet, cyclists also improved their VO2Max – the maximum amount of oxygen their lungs can process.
But that’s not all ketogenic diets seem to do.
Curbing Appetite and More
A plain donut has about 160 calories. Eat one every day on the way to work, and that’s 800 calories a week. Over a year – taking two weeks’ vacation – that’s 40,000 calories. That’s almost 11-1/2 pounds.
Now, imagine if you could just skip that one donut every day. Without feeling hungry. That’s either 11-1/2 pounds you won’t gain… or 11-1/2 pounds you could lose.
A ketogenic diet could help. (Besides the fact those donuts wouldn’t be on your diet anyway.)
According to Australian researchers, the bulk of studies show a ketogenic diet suppresses appetite. Considering that hunger is the #1 reason for “cheating” on diets, being able to cut back on even one donut – or its equivalent – per day could make a big difference.
Burn more fat, lose weight, feel less hungry… how about defending against oxidative stress, too?
Combat Free Radical Damage From Workouts
All that energy you burn when you’re working out has a side effect. It creates lots of free radicals. That’s because your mitochondria – your cells’ energy factories – make free radicals as a byproduct of energy production.
A Korean study looked at a group of high school Tae kwon do athletes. Some ate a traditional high-carb diet. The scientists gave others a ketogenic diet.
After three weeks, the ketogenic group showed lower signs of oxidative stress. They also had higher HDL (good) cholesterol, while LDL (bad) cholesterol went up in the high-carb group.
So, is a ketogenic diet for you? It could be. But keep a few things in mind…
- You’re not just swapping carbs for fat. You’re dropping unhealthy carbs for healthy fats.
- Get enough high-quality protein. Weight loss can include the loss of lean muscle. Getting enough protein helps you hold on to muscle.
It takes time to transition from burning glucose to burning fat. Be patient. It could be two or three months before you’re fully adjusted.
About the Author: Jason Kennedy is a celebrated investigative health writer and the author of The X-Factor Revolution and Beyond the Blue Zone. With over 10 years of experience working with today’s leading alternative and anti-aging doctors, Jason shares his insider status and access to the latest breakthroughs with thousands of readers from around world.
Caldwell, E., “Endurance athletes who ‘go against the grain’ become incredible fat-burners,” The Ohio State University. Nov 16, 2015.
Zajac, A., et al, “The effects of a ketogenic diet on exercise metabolism and physical performance in off-road cyclists,” Nutrients. Jun 27, 2014; 6(7): 2493-2508.
Gibson, A.A., et al, “Do ketogenic diets really suppress appetite? A systematic review and meta-analysis,” Obes Rev. Jan 2015; 16(1): 64-76.
Rhyu, H.S., et al, “The effects of ketogenic diet on oxidative stress and antioxidative capacity markers of Taekwondo athletes,” J Exerc Rehabil. Dec 31, 2014; 10(6): 362-366.
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