Many of us will have heard of the term ketogenic – but what actually is it? Put at its simplest, a ketogenic diet is one that is high in fat and low in carbohydrates. The science behind it is that when your body can’t use carbohydrates for its energy it goes into a state known as ketosis. This means that it then burns fat instead; producing ketones in your liver. A ketone is a type of molecule which is also produced when someone is fasting, (or actually starving) or after a very long period of intense exercise. Producing ketones often means that someone has a sweetish fruity small on their breath and in their urine. The positive effects of producing these ketones is that you can see a big reduction in both your blood sugar level and your weight.
The key ingredient of a ketogenic diet is that the carbohydrates you consume are way below what a normal person would take in. Most of us would think that cutting down on bread, pasta and potatoes might be a good way to lose some weight – but a ketogenic diet doesn’t merely reduce carbs – it virtually eliminates them altogether. So a typical ketogenic diet would contain 75% fat, 20% protein and only 5% carbs. Some people prefer to change the ratios of protein and fat– so maybe eating 60% fat and 35% protein; but the proportion of carbohydrate is always extremely small.
Is following a ketogenic diet a good idea? Very low-carb diets have always been controversial. One of the most popular version of a ketogenic diet was the Atkins Diet, which came into fashion in a massive way in 2003 and 2004. During that time one in every eleven Americans claimed to be on a low-carb diet. One early problem with assessing the effectiveness of ketogenic diets was that there were no studies to evaluate their effect beyond a few months. Many scientists and doctors originally believed that eating more fat would raise your cholesterol and cause heart disease. However, this theory was always disapproved by those nations who ate lots of fat (e.g. those living in the Mediterranean who consume a lot of olive oil) but still seemed to have healthy hearts. There is now more much research which does appear to show that reducing your carbohydrate intake might well be a better way to diet (and improve your overall health) than reducing your fat intake.
One of the benefits of a ketogenic diet seems to be that it is much more enjoyable to follow, because eating plenty of fat means you don’t feel hungry. Hunger is one of the main reasons most people give up on a diet and studies have consistently shown that when people cut out carbs and eat more protein and fat, they don’t feel hungry although in fact they are usually eating fewer calories. A high fat diet seems to lead to a reduction in appetite and research shows that a ketogenic diet is effective at reducing visceral fat from your stomach – where is most harmful. The high fat level of a ketogenic diet can also lead to an impressive increase in blood levels of HDL; sometimes referred to as “good” cholesterol. Other health issues that a ketogenic diet has been shown to address are heart disease, diabetes, epilepsy and even cancer.
However, cutting out carbohydrates to such a drastic degree is very hard to stick to forever, unless you are well organised, as even healthy foods like brown bread or rice are totally off limits as well as some starchy fruits and vegetables.