If at one point you’ve looked up anything related to weight loss in the last few years or so, then there’s a high chance that you’ve come across the ketogenic (or keto) diet. Social media spread its supposed effectiveness like wildfire, with before-and-after photos serving as ~receipts~ about how fast it really works. Even celebs gave it their seal of approval by posting perfectly curated photos of their keto meal plans on their feeds.
But just like many other diets, the ketogenic lifestyle has its fair share of detractors as well. After all, taking up a dietary approach that drops the carbs but focuses on increased consumption of fat DOES sound a bit dangerous.
So what’s the real deal about this diet? Is it really a safe and effective way of losing weight or is it just a fad? Let’s find out.
What’s the keto diet and how does it work?
The keto diet basically restricts the consumption of carbohydrates and sugar, which are commonly used by the body as sources of energy. It was originally designed for people suffering from epilepsy after physicians discovered that they suffered from fewer seizures when given a diet that is low in carbohydrates and high in fat.
In terms of weight loss, it works by forcing the body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates. The high amount of fat and the restriction of carbs make the liver oxidize the fatty acids and produce ketones as an alternative source of energy. A body in ketosis is also considered to be in prime weight loss mode. The reported initial rapid weight loss of people who follow the diet—some claim to lose as much as seven pounds in a week!—however, is hugely attributed to the shedding of water weight since the lack of carbohydrates leads to a reaction called gluconeogenesis which causes the body to flush water.
Is the keto diet safe?
This is where most of the debate comes in. Some testimonials say that not only did the keto diet help them lose weight—and keep it off—it also improved their lipid profiles and, ironically enough, their good cholesterol, and blood pressure. But then there’s the other side of the debate claiming that this diet is far from being a magical shortcut to losing weight because of how differently it can affect our bodies.
So what’s the real deal about this diet regimen, once and for all? We asked for professionals what they think of the keto diet:
When it comes to weight loss, there’s no doubt that following the keto lifestyle does help in shedding those unwanted pounds. However, the safety of this diet when used for weight loss is something that is not yet sufficiently backed by scientific studies. “The diet has been designed to manage epilepsy as supported by scientific evidence but it is not intended for weight loss or any other purposes,” says Izaak Reyes, an RND Clinical Nutritionist-Dietitian. “A diet designed for losing weight should be tailored for each person—a professional would have to tailor a balanced diet depending on a person’s health and physical activities to avoid any possible complications.”
But what about the other reported health benefits of the diet?
“There are recent researches that have shown promising but still inconclusive data about the other benefits of a ketogenic diet,” says RND, RN, and RDN Cheshire Que. “There are findings about the diet helping patients with brain tumors, and also people who have hypertension, and those with a history of heart disease. There are even researches claiming that it has anti-cancer benefits, but again, these need further studies.”
Reyes agrees and says that there are not enough scientific evidence or extensive clinical studies that would currently support individual claims. “A nutrition regimen or diet with positive feedback from several people does not necessarily mean that it is effective and safe for the entire population.”
As for its cons, Que shares that there are studies showing people with plaque buildups on their arteries after being on the diet for months. This condition, also known as atherosclerosis, increases the risk factor for stroke and heart attack. Reyes adds that a person can also suffer from nutritional deficiencies if they get into the diet without consulting with a professional first.
So is there a right or wrong way to do the keto diet?
Que says that at the end of the day, it will all depend on the purpose for doing it. “If it is to treat an existing medical condition like epilepsy and done with the guidance of a registered dietitian nutritionist, then it will be the right way. But if you just get bits and pieces of information from the internet without assessing risk factors and monitoring with a health professional, then it could really go wrong, even if it’s effective in achieving weight loss.”
Reyes adds, “A patient who wants to try keto should be strictly assessed and supervised by a registered nutritionist-dietitian and a medical doctor to make sure that the diet is effective and safe in relation to the patient’s current medical condition and nutritional status.”
What does a healthy keto meal plan look like?
Here’s an example Que shared for reference.
For lunch or dinner:
- 90 grams of fried chicken (use unsaturated fat for cooking like vegetable oil, pure olive oil or canola oil)
- 1 1/2 cups of sauteed mixed non-starchy vegetables (use unsaturated fat for cooking)
- 2 squares of dark chocolate
- Water with 1 tablespoon of chia seeds
For snacks: a handful of nuts
What's the verdict on the keto diet?
YES, the keto diet can be effective for weight loss, but that doesn’t make it ideal for everyone and anyone, especially since it is originally designed for other medical conditions. While it has other health benefits that recent studies have supported, more data and research are needed to entirely clear off this diet from the doubts thrown its way. If you really are set on using it as a method to lose weight fast, however, you should consult with a registered nutritionist dietitian first to make sure that you are provided with a healthy meal plan that won’t come biting at you later on.
Special thanks to Jake Andal, former Clinical Dietitian and PR Officer of the Philippine Society of Nutritionist-Dietitian, Inc. for the extra research provided for this article.