Is the Ketogenic diet here to stay, or just another soon-to-be-dead unhealthy fad of the past?

If you’re confused about the ketogenic diet and whether or not it’s a good option for you, I don’t blame you. 

You have likely heard it’s the best way to help you lose fat, lean up, decrease your appetite, combat diabetes and inflammation, and maybe even enhance your athletic performance. And you have probably also heard it’s not a sustainable way to eat, that your body needs carbs, that it causes cancer, and that too much fat is bad for your long-term health.

Which one is it then?

I’m not here to preach the ketogenic diet one way or another, but I’m here to give you a closer look at what the ‘yes’ side and the ‘no’ side are saying.

But first: 

What is the ketogenic diet:

Simply put, eating a ketogenic diet means you’re eating close to 75% fat, 20% protein and just 5% carbs. A true ketogenic diet would mean eating under 50 grams of carbs per day. Basically this means no sugar, no processed foods, little to no fruit, and just a whole lot of healthy fats, animal products and some vegetables. Read more about exactly what you can and can’t eat on a ketogenic diet here.

What are ketones and what is ketosis?

Ketones are a group of organic compounds, two of which can be used as energy sources in our bodies: acetoacetate and β-hydroxybutyrate. Our body can also make its own ketones under certain circumstances: when we’re fasting, during starvation, or when carbohydrates aren’t present (if carb levels are super low). These ketones are then released by the liver into the blood to be used as energy by our body.

More specifically, ketosis occurs when ketones in your blood are higher than normal (and blood glucose is very low).

How fast you go into ketosis varies a lot by age. Interestingly, human beings go into ketosis a lot faster than other mammals—as we know, bears can hibernate for an entire winter without hitting ketosis. Meanwhile, young human babies will go into ketosis in just a few hours. Experts believe this has to do with how developed the human brain is; ketosis happens in humans to give our brains energy during times of starvation or fasting. 

So basically, the ketosis diet then cuts off our body’s glucose supply, forcing our bodies to use fat as energy, as opposed to glucose.

What the ‘YES’ TEAM says:

  • Helps metabolic diseases

There’s certainly some evidence that fasting is a short-term treatment for some metabolic diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes or chronic inflammation, and that ketosis can even help the body return to a normal, well-regulated state. This makes a ton of sense for the diabetes argument: less sugar is sure to improve insulin sensitivity and combat insulin resistance. 

Check out this study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism for more on the topic.

  • Improves brain injuries and degenerative brain diseases

Some research suggests that brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as brain injuries, seem to be improved by the presence of ketones, but it’s important to note that most of the research in this area hasn’t been done on humans.

  • Best way to lose fat

No doubt about it, people report they lean up when they’re following a ketogenic diet. However, this could be due to eating whole foods and avoiding processed foods as much as it is about eating all the fat and none of the carbs. 

Check out this study for more.

What the ‘NO’ TEAM says

  • Not a sustainable fat loss strategy

Contrary to many success stories, there’s a school of thought that doesn’t think such a high-fat diet is helpful for long-term weight loss. The reputable Precision Nutrition, for example, says this: “For women in particular, lowering carbohydrate intake seems to have negative effects…Women’s bodies go on high alert faster when they sense less energy and fewer nutrients coming in. Many women have found that the low-carb diet that worked great for their husband not only didn’t work for them, but it knocked out their menstrual cycle on the way out the door.”

As a result, “We don’t recommend the ketogenic diet for sustainable fat loss,” reported Krista Scott-Dixon, Ph.D. and Helen Kollias, Ph.D in their article, “The Ketogenic Diet: Does it live up to the hype?”

  • Unhealthy in the long term

Critics often argue it’s not healthy for long periods of time because it causes you to lose muscle and eventually become chronically fatigued, and can even do long term damage to the heart.

However, this study that looked at obese patients who switched to the ketogenic diet suggests it’s perfectly healthy in the long term.

Then again, this study suggests the maximum time you should stay on a ketogenic diet is 6 to 12 months.

  • Cancer, cancer cancer

Critics argue that the ketogenic diet doesn’t include enough plant-based foods, and that consuming too many animal products leads to various health problems down the road—all sorts of chronic diseases, cancer, and ultimately premature death. 

Read more here.

After all that conflicting information, where does that leave us? It’s hard to say. What do you think? Are you on the yes side or the no side? And why?