You have probably heard of the recent diet trend Ketogenics, or perhaps are familiar with the very popular diet Atkins. Both of these diets are known for their strict limitation of carbohydrates and heavy presence of fat. Essentially they are a high-fat, low-carb diet, with a moderate amount of protein. You may be wondering what the rewards are to this diet, is it better than a balanced Macronutrient based diet? Could you lose more weight even quicker than you would on any other diet? Will practically eliminating carbohydrates from your diet serve any purpose to your health? Here's what we know.
Carbs can be good or bad, it's all about how you use them
First things first, there tends to be a negative connotation around carbohydrates. So many people relate a presence of carbs to a weight gain. Why is that? Why is there such a bad connotation around carbs. It's likely the USDA retraction and the surge of the Paleo movement along with other heavy anti-carb movements.
Carbohydrates produce glucose and insulin in your bloodstream. Glucose is the easiest molecule for your body to process and use as energy so it will be chosen over any other energy source. Insulin is then produced to process the glucose in your bloodstream by taking it around the body. So yes carbs are the easiest thing for your body to convert into energy and if you are not using the energy your body will store it as fat.
However when carbs are worked into a healthy balanced diet they will NOT make you fat. Eating too many calories, too quickly, without being able to burn off those calories will lead to the energy not used being stored as fat.
So what's the deal with low carb diets?
Low carb diets come with a lot of promise of weight loss. So why is that? Well, naturally you will lose a lot of water weight on a low carb diet because your body will not be storing additional water. Carbohydrates cause your body to retain additonal water that is stored in your muscles with glyocen as energy. For every gram of glycogen stored, your body stores an additional 2.7 grams of water to make up for the sodium your kidneys are holding onto with the addition of carbohydrates.
The deal with low carb diets is that initally you may lose a lot of weight, water weight. This weight loss shouldn't be confused with fat loss. Fat loss occurs when your body is constantly using all of your calories in as energy and then digging into stored fat to use as energy as well. That is when you start burning fat. So calories in versus calories out is still the most essential policy to follow when dieting.
However, ketogenic diets trick the body to react differently. A ketogenic diet says that <5% of your daily calories should come from carbs. Heres why.
(Chart from: My Keto Kitchen)
How does the Keto Diet work?
Ketogenics is a diet that practically eliminates carbohydrates. The objective of this diet is to eat such a low amount of carbs that your body is not using them to create energy but rather producing ketones in your liver because your body is noonverting fat to energy versus carbs to energy. Which sounds ideal right? Not really.
Either way your body is not going to simply dig into reserved fat storage and use it as energy unless you are in a caloric deficit and your body needs to use that stored fat for energy. The reality is your body will process the fat you are eating from this high fat diet and use it as energy. It will only dig into that storage when it needs to.
There is much more to ketogenics than just that. There are some precautions you may want to look out for when pursuing this diet.
Why the Keto Diet may be bad for you
Ketogenics has been found as a way of tricking your body into what is called nutritional starvation, originally ketogenics was formed as an alternative to fasting. Keto diets can help you lose some additional water weight in the short term but in the long run it may cause you to lose muscle mass, become extremely fatigued, and eventually throw your body into starvation mode which makes it significantly harder for you to keep the weight off.
"Keto diets should only be used under clinical supervision and only for brief periods,” Francine Blinten, R.D., a certified clinical nutritionist and public health consultant in Old Greenwich, Connecticut
Ketogenic diets practically eliminate an essential food group from your diet, which means you are not going to be getting all of your daily nutritional needs from this diet. This diet is also very low in fiber, which can cause your digestive system to slow down. It is recommended that you take supplements or vitamins to hit your daily needs that you will not be getting from a ketogenic diet.
In the recent years many studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of a ketogenic diet. The results of these studies have found many adverse effects which should be taken into account before starting this diet.
Short-term effects included:
Increased LDL Cholesterol
Anxiety and/or irritability
There haven't been very many long-run studies successfully conducted around ketogenic diets since it is a relatively new popular diet.
Fat Loss vs Weight Loss
Ultimately a keto diet is probably not the best for someone trying to maintain or gain muscle mass and lose fat. A keto diet is a water flushing diet that makes it easy to not retain any additional water weight. However higher carb diets are water retaining diets which store additional water due to the carb intake. If your goal is to gain or maintain muscle mass, carbs are pretty essential.
Your body needs glyocen to fuel your muscles which come directly from carbs. In order to keep or build muscle mass your body will need carbohydrates.
What We Suggest
While diets work differently for everyone, we typically suggest that you don't take on a highly restricitive diet such as ketogenics. We think keeping a diet balanced between proteins, fats, and carbs is essential to living a healthy lifestyle.
We think the healthiest type of diet to follow involves a variety of whole, nutritious foods. In order for your body to gain the nutrients it needs in the most natural way possible you should look to include as many whole foods as possible.
We recommend checking out our meal plans or Trifecta Templates to find a healthy balance that works for your life.