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Benefits and Cautions of a Ketogenic Diet



Move over Atkins and Paleo, the new kid on the diet block is Keto and it seems like it’s all the rage with proponents claiming it to be the way forward to turn your body into a fat burning machine.


So what exactly is a Ketogenic Diet?


A ketogenic diet is high in fat (65-80%), moderate in protein and very low in carbohydrate. The way it works is it changes the way your body uses energy. For most people the body’s main source of energy is derived from the breakdown of carbohydrates to glucose. By switching to a very low carbohydrate there is an absence of glucose so our body enters a metabolic state known as ketosis where our tissues and brain are forced to use fat, or more specifically ketones, as fuel.


Ketosis is actually a natural bodily process that helps us to survive when food is scarce, and many would argue that it is not dissimilar to how our ancestors ate when they would have had long periods of food scarcity. While the fastest way to get into ketosis is by fasting the aim of the keto diet is to force the body into this state by starvation of carbohydrates as opposed to calories.


How much fat, protein and carbohydrate to eat?


Carbs: In order for the body to switch to ketosis, carbohydrate intake needs to be low e.g below 50 g per day of carbs. Some people may achieve mild ketosis at a higher level of carbohydrate than this, others may need to go lower initially, for example, people who are overweight or with metabolic syndrome may need to reduce to below 20 g per.  This translates to about 10% of your total energy intake for the day from carbs


Fat: A rough guideline is to consume 70% of your daily intake from fat although there is no limit on the amount of healthy fats, although appetite tends to decrease once in ketosis.  However you have to continue to eat plenty of fat in order to stay in ketosis.   Foods such as avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, oily fish and eggs are all good sources of fat.


Medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil is often used in ketogenic diets. MCTs are a type of fat that can be rapidly and easily converted to ketone bodies in the liver and can be found in coconut oil.  However pure MCT oil contains these at higher concentration.


Protein: Protein needs to be kept low as it can be converted to carbohydrates by the body.  A typical recommendation is between 15-25% of your daily energy intake from  protein depending on the level of activity (ie higher level for those who are very active / undertaking strenuous exercise and weight training on most days of the week).


Fasting is often recommended with the diet, for example a 14 hour overnight fast, in order to achieve ketosis. 


Benefits of a ketogenic diet:


Ketogenic diets have being used therapeutically for a number of health conditions specifically  epilepsy for some time and more recently Alzheimer’s, cancer and obesity.  Furthermore, when we eat carbohydrate our blood sugar increases and this creates some level of inflammation in the body. The theory is that keto diets, if done properly, can be anti-inflammatory.   Further benefits may include:

  • Control appetite – ketosis affects ‘hunger’ hormones and allows us to feel full for longer. In contrast, eating a lot of carbohydrates can have the opposite effect

  • Help with weight loss

  • Lower blood sugar (and thus lower inflammation) and reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and diseases associated with it

  • Support memory – research is showing the benefit of ketogenic diets in symptomatic relief from Alzheimer’s and  cognitive decline. 

  • Improve physical stamina – ketogenic diets are used by some sportsmen for endurance events

  • Epilepsy – a keto diet has been used since the 1920’s to help children with uncontrolled epilepsy. More recently studies have shown that adults also benefit from it and it may reduce the need to take anti-epileptic drugs.

Is a ketogenic diet safe?


This is the million dollar question. People with serious medical conditions should not undertake the keto diet  (or any other diet for that matter) without being under the supervision of a qualified health professional or doctor.   It may not be appropriate for people with thyroid conditions, diabetes or liver conditions and they too should seek further advice.


Those exceptions aside, so long as the diet is well planned the majority of people can safely go on a keto diet.


A word of warning... Some people can initially suffer from the Keto Flu, a feeling of general malaise. Furthermore, increasing fat in the diet particularly  the addition of MCT oil can lead to intestinal symptoms (including diarrhoea), so its best done slowly, starting with 1 teaspoon of MCT oil per day with food and increasing gradually.


Eating a high fat diet without restricting carbohydrate sufficiently may lead to weight gain and other health problems.



Long term use  of the diet


  • Long periods of ketosis can result in loss of muscle, due to very low insulin levels which causes protein to be broken down to glucose) , and increased fat.

  • The brain does operate on ketones it does continue to need a small amount of glucose. So after a few weeks of being in ketosis, it may be useful to eat more carbohydrates a few times a week.

  • There has also been concern a keto diet raise cortisol levels and therefore is not suitable for people under a lot of stress (short or long-term). A 2012 study that compared  3 different diets (low fat, low carb, low glycaemic index) showed that the low carbohydrate diet produced the best effects overall but it did raise cortisol levels, which can lead to insulin resistance. On the other hand keto diets have also been shown to reverse symptoms of metabolic syndrome – so the question of cortisol is obviously an area that requires further research.


The Nourished Tribe Take Home on Keto...A carefully thought out keto diet can be useful in the short term but long term is not recommended.  If undertaking it we would highly recommend taking an all-round multivitamin/mineral daily.  It is also not suitable for people with certain health conditions and they should always consult their medical practitioner.  Please contact us if you would like us to help you with a keto diet. 

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