Chances are in the past few years you have come across the Ketogenic
or ‘Keto’ Diet – which is nothing but a reincarnation of the super low
carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins & South Beach diets. Credit
where credit’s due – the proponents of this dietary framework have been
extremely clever with their marketing strategy which has resulted in a
wide circulation of their message. Keto proponents claim that this diet
can effectively turn a body into an efficient ‘fat-burning’ machine that
is also better at regulating blood glucose. These are certainly
attractive claims for anyone wanting to stay thin (which, let’s be
honest, includes most of us) and particularly anyone who suffers from
any type of Diabetes, so I completely understand why many of us are
turning to this diet as some form of panacea. After all, as a society,
we have never been more overweight, and rates of Type 2 Diabetes – which
is a lifestyle disease
– are soaring across the world. But being the science nerd that I am – I
really wanted to separate fact from fiction and understand where the
science lies. Are these claims supported by the literature? Beyond
marketing and agenda-setting, what is the truth about the Keto Diet? To
do this, I set out to answer 4 questions:
The othoge lose weight,
which I actually think is a positive aspect, is that by encouraging the
consumption of an extremely limited amount of carbohydrates per day, it
means that by default people cannot eat their favourite refined junk
foods. All of a sudden, chocolate bars, doughnuts, pastries and fried
potato chips are categorically off the menu. This is likely going to
result in a significant calorie deficit for a lot of people. But it’s
important to appreciate that this isn’t some magic weight loss process
and you can in fact remove heavily refined junk foods (e.g jelly beans),
whilst still keeping healthful carbohydrate-rich foods in the game (e.g
black beans), and also lose weight.
2 – Is the Kt esistance than other diets?
Perhaps the mosclponents is
the idea of “reversing insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes.”
Addressing the totality of the science surrounding Type 2 Diabetes is
beyond of the scope of this article (this topic was addressed in an article I wrote with Dr Michelle McMacken) however, in short, to reverse insulin resistance or Type 2 Diabetes it is necessary to improve one’s someone’s ability to tolerate carbohydrates.
Two of the major ways we can achieve this is by changing the types of
food someone eats with or without the presence of weight loss. A
ketogenic diet may help control blood glucose, however, without weight
loss, it will not improve insulin sensitivity. What’s the problem with
this? It means one would need to continue to eat a low-carbohydrate
diet for the rest of their life as the underlying cause of their disease
has not been addressed, and in fact, is likely to have been made worse
by higher amounts of ectopic fat stores in muscle and liver cells.
On the other hand, unli lnt-based diet has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity even without
weight loss. By merely changing the food one eats it is possible to
achieve an almost instant change in insulin sensitivity. In fact,
several trials have been published where Type 2 Diabetics who adopt a
low-fat plant-based diet have been able to completely come off their
It’s also important to keep in mind that the #1 cause of death for
diabetics is cardiovascular disease and that the lowest levels of
cardiovascular disease are consistently found among populations that get
the majority of their calories from wholefood plant sources of
carbohydrates such as the Indigenous Tsimané people in Bolivia and
plant-based Seventh Day Adventist’s in California & Canada [7,8].
3 – Does the Ketogenic diet redon– /wp:heading –>
The evidence is clear: across the woondrate diet fares well in terms of longevity, and in fact,
research suggests that in the long-term, people who adopt such diets
have a higher risk of premature death .
Low carb proponents often point to the ‘Inuit Eskimos’, a population
who consume a very high-fat diet made up of almost exclusively animal
products, to defend their position. However, it’s been well-documented
that the original claims of this population experiencing a low incidence
of cardiovascular disease were based on anecdotal rather than empirical
scientific evidence .
In fact, compared to non-Eskimos from nearby populations, the Inuit
population actually have the same risk of heart disease, twice the risk
of stroke and a shorter life expectancy of around 10 years . Studies going back over 1,000 years have also reported the presence of heart disease in frozen Eskimo mummies .
This is likely because a high-fat diet msi contains foods associated with increased LDL cholesterol
and cardiovascular disease risk and that’s exactly what we see in the
A recent study compared a ketogenic style diet (less than 20g of
carbohydrates per day) to a control diet and in just 3 weeks found that
the subjects on the low-carbohydrate diet experienced a 44% increase in
LDL cholesterol .
Overall, basing recommendations for a low caeche Inuits ignores what we know about high-fat
diets and cholesterol as well as a plethora of evidence that we have on
how the longest living populations in the world eat. We know that people
who consume higher amounts of dietary fibre, a nutrient found in
carbohydrate-rich plant foods, and lower amounts of total dietary fat,
particularly saturated fat, experience a significantly reduced risk of
developing major chronic diseases . Adopting a ketogenic diet, and therefore restricting your dietary fibre intake, is risky business.
4 – Is the Ketogenic Diet sustainable?One of the biggest problems with low carbohydrat nd that in the long run, they almost always lead to weight gain. On the other hand, we know from several studies, randomised trials and population studies that adopting a wholefood plant-focused or exclusive diet helps people maintain a healthy body weight without having to count and track calories [2,17].
Finally, when talking about sustainability we heypically, a ketogenic diet is made up of a large
number of animal products (fatty cuts of meat, full-fat dairy and eggs)
which we know require far greater water inputs and produce significantly
more greenhouse gas emissions than plant-based foods .
For example, for an equal amount of protein, the production of cheese
produces approximately 14 x more greenhouse gas emissions than that of
My recommendation is to look past the sexy headloh plant-focused or exclusive diet that is sustainable for both you and the planet and at the same time will help you achieve the health & performance goals you desire. To help identify what this might look like, I have developed a science-based Healthy Plant-Based Food Pyramid so you can easily construct countless delicious meals while making sure you are fueling your body the right way.