Does the Keto diet really work?

A lot of people highly value a slim waist and a healthy diet. For this reason, new food trends and alternative diets are becoming more and more popular. As soon as Spring starts, the media releases numerous articles about new "Superfoods" and "miracle diets" - always promising easy and long-lasting weight loss, as well as positive side effects for our health. Yet the example of the popular "Atkins diet" from a few years ago reminds us that dietary trends should always be scrutinized.

Currently, the ketogenic or keto diet is experiencing a renaissance. Developed in the 1920s as a therapy for childhood epilepsy, many people now consider it to be the ultimate diet for rapid weight loss and enhancing athletic performance. In addition, this diet is said to have a positive influence on various diseases - including tumor suppressive effects. Based on a high-fat and protein-rich diet, it minimizes the intake of carbohydrates. However, carbohydrates usually cover a large part of our daily energy requirement and are the main source of energy for our brain. But what happens if, as with the ketogenic diet, carbohydrates are only available in insufficient quantities?

As with any abstinence from certain foods or with diabetes mellitus, the body's carbohydrate stores exhaust quickly. In response, higher amounts of fatty acids are mobilized within the adipose tissue. However, glucose deficiency also affects the lipometabolism, causing the released fatty acids to pass through an alternative pathway in the liver cells. They are converted into so-called ketones, which can replace glucose to a large extent as an energy substrate. The diet gets its name from this metabolic pathway known as ketogenesis. The conversion to a ketone-based metabolism is referred to as ketosis and is the goal of the diet. This condition is only achieved if the daily carbohydrate intake stays below 50 g. Accordingly, the energy requirements are covered mainly by fats and proteins. The exact ratio of fat, protein and carbohydrate varies between the different ketogenic diets, but what they all have in common is that they reduce the total calorie intake and rely on high-quality fats from fish, nuts and healthy oils.

Especially at the beginning, this diet results in a fast weight loss. This is likely based on a reduction in satiety, as well as an increased fat loss and heightened energy requirements. Athletes are also often relying on the ketogenic diet more and more, as they rely on a weight reduction without muscle loss, dewatering their bodies as well as increasing their performance. However, the diet is not beneficial for all athletes. Although the high protein intake prevents the loss of muscle mass and muscle strength, the body enters into a form of starvation, which has a negative effect on further muscle growth. Especially in weight training, it is rather counterproductive. For endurance athletes, current publications show mixed results for this diet, reporting positive as well as negative effects on performance.

In certain cases the keto diet is warranted from a medical point of view. It continues to be used to treat therapy-resistant childhood epilepsy and can significantly reduce the frequency of seizures. Studies also show an anti-inflammatory effect inside the brain, while a positive effect on tumor diseases has not yet been proven beyond a doubt. Overall, this diet is not compatible for the masses. It carries the risk of a one-sided diet and the emergence of deficiencies. It also involves other risks. For example, the resulting ketones can lead to hyperacidity of the body and a so-called ketoacidosis can occur. Following this diet properly therefore requires a lot of specialist knowledge or the support of experts. Despite the positive short-term effects, the keto diet is not a permanently healthy diet, particularly because the long-term effects have not yet been sufficiently investigated. Because of this, nutritionists and doctors generally recommend a balanced diet with adequate physical exercise, in order for healthy weight loss.

Image 1 © “sewcream” / Fotolia.com