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Ketogenic Diet: Is it worth the hype?

What do the Atkins, Ketogenic, South Beach, and Paleo diets all have in common? They are fad diets low in carbohydrates that people turn to, in hopes of losing weight. However, many people either do not lose weight, or, they lose the weight quickly and then gain it all back again shortly after. Carbohydrates play an important role in the body’s ability to function, yet it is also the nutrient people cut out when weight loss is their goal.

First, let’s all get on the same page:

What are carbohydrates, and why are they necessary for our body?

Simply put, a carbohydrate is a macronutrient used by the body as a source of fuel. The brain in particular, relies heavily on glucose (a form of carbohydrate) as its primary source of fuel. Most Americans consume around 300 grams of carbohydrate per day from sources like bread, pasta, rice, fruits, vegetables, dairy, beans, and sweets (1).

I want to turn the focus to a diet that seems to be gaining a lot of attention lately, called the ketogenic (keto) diet. The intention of this diet is to put the body into a state known as “ketosis.” Ketosis occurs when your body switches from using carbohydrates as the primary fuel source to using body fat as its source (1). When the body burns fat, by-products called ketones are produced, and ketones take over as a fuel source for the body (1). In order to reach a state of ketosis, the diet focuses on having 70-80% of calories coming from fat, a moderate intake of protein, and very low intake of carbohydrates (20 grams per day).

Downfalls to this diet include nutrient deficiencies such as magnesium and B vitamins (2). Lack of focus is common because there is not enough glucose coming from carbohydrate sources for the brain, and the brain is not as effective running on ketones (1). While a person may lose weight, it is not typically sustainable because cutting out a macronutrient leaves few food options, making the diet hard to adhere to long term. Poor kidney function is also possible because high levels of nitrogen from protein need to be excreted by the kidneys, making them work harder, and decreasing function over time (2).

With new fad diets coming out each year, it can be hard to determine on your own which diets are good, and which ones will not lead to success. Red flags to look out for include: diets that are restrictive and require you to cut out an entire food group, diets that reduce calorie intake to under 1200 calories, diets that consist of drinking your calories for every meal of the day, and if someone other than your primary care physician is trying to sell you a weight loss pill, you can be sure it will not help you lose weight long term.  You might be wondering what diet to follow, if not a low carb diet. Qualities of a healthy diet include a plant based diet limited in saturated fats, high in fiber, and all food groups should be included. It all comes down to eating real food, getting exercise each day, drinking enough fluids, and sleeping seven to eight hours per night.

Sources:

  1. Paoli A. Ketogenic Diet for Obesity: Friend or Foe? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2014; 11(2):2092-2107.
  2. Amidor, T. (2017, September). Ask the Expert: Ketosis for Weight Loss – Today’s Dietitian Magazine. Retrievedfrom:https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0917p12.shtml

My name is Sara Turner-Smith and I am currently a dietetic intern and graduate student at Bowling Green State University. I love all things related to nutrition and have a passion for helping people reach their full potential.

Sara Turner- Smith, BGSU Dietetic Intern


I played two years of volleyball at Owens Community College, and have continued to play sand volleyball in the summer. I enjoy yoga, painting, meditation, and watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix, as well as spending time with my family and dog, Bailey. I hope you enjoyed my article and were able to take something away from it to create a healthier lifestyle!   

Sara Turner-Smith

(Sara is currently spending 4 weeks of internship time at Ohio State University-Wood County and wrote this article.)

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