Nowadays, a lot of people swear that a keto diet is most effective. It is a diet that includes a very low amount of carbohydrates. But is it really that much of a miracle diet?
What is a Keto Diet?
A keto diet is a food regiment that requires most of the calorie intake (about 80%) to come from fats. This means that the amount of carbohydrates and proteins adds up to about 20%, which is quite low. This diet therefore focuses primarily on the intake of fats as an energy source.
Generally, carbohydrates get broken down into glucose. This than enters the blood stream, after which it is transported to cells. Because of the fact that a keto diet cuts a lot of the carb intake, the blood glucose levels will drop.
This will cause the body to not receive enough energy from glucose to execute the primary body functions. For example: the brain cannot use fats as a fuel source. This forces the liver to break down fats into ketones, which can than be used as an energy source.
A high enough blood ketone concentration is called ketosis. This ketogenic state in which low carb intake causes a caloric deficit. Followers of keto diets often want their bodies to reach a ketogenic state as quickly as possible.
To achieve this, some choose to ingest even more fats, up to 90%. The carb intake should stay as low as possible, though. This means that the only carb holding foods that can be eaten, are green vegetables. Foods like eggs, nuts, oils, bacon and other fatty meats are also often found in a keto diet.
There are Multiple Keto Diets
The Classic Keto Diet
Fats make up 80% of the daily intake through this keto diet. Furthermore, about a gram of protein per pound of body weight is consumed. The remaining energy can than be extracted from carbs. Someone that weighs 135 lbs and has a base metabolism of 1800 calories for example, must eat about 160 grams of fat, 60 grams of protein and 30 grams of carbs.
MCT Keto Diet
MCT’s (medium chain triglycerides) are fats that are found in palm and coconut oils. These fats differ from LCT’s (long chain triglycerides), which are most often found in animal products. The MCT keto diet makes the daily calorie intake consist of 70% fat, 10% protein and 20% carbs.
Because of the intake of MCT’s, fewer fats are needed to reach a ketogenic state, as they are absorbed differently to LCT’s. This allows for a greater intake of protein and carbs.
Cyclic Keto Diet
From Monday through Friday, one follows the classic keto diet, while the weekends allow for more carb intake. This allows for the reloading of muscular glycogen deposits. This will allow for more powerful workouts without fatiguing too fast.
Yes, strength might decrease, but not as much as through a ‘normal’ classic keto diet. When starting a cyclic keto diet, one must follow the classic keto diet for about two weeks first, before reloading carbs in the weekends. This is because a ketogenic state must be reached.
Targeted Keto Diet
This diet looks like the cyclic keto diet. The difference though, is that on training days, about 25-50 extra grams of carbs may be consumed. This is enough to supplement a ‘regular’ workout but not for high intensity endurance workouts.
Do Keto Diets Cause Weight Loss?
A lot of diets are based on the principle of keto or low carb diets.
Losing weight is absolutely possible through the use of a carb limiting diet. It is often found that this is short term, though.
You are losing weight by leaving out foods and thus creating a negative energy balance. The first thing that will cause a drop in weight, is the simple fact that you are losing water.
This is because saved glycogen often retains water. When the body isn’t getting enough carbs, this glycogen is starting to get used as fuel. With it, a lot of water mass will disappear.
Unfortunately, only a small group manages to maintain weight loss. The rest will eventually fall back to their old weight and habits. People tend to be too optimistic about the new magical diet they have found on the internet, but once a plateau is reached because they’ve lost all the glycogen and water in their muscles, these people get demotivated.
And for good reason!
Losing weight is one thing, but you shouldn’t just be looking at the number that you scale shows. Instead, try to measure your actual body fat percentage. It says a lot more about you than just your weight.
In short: a keto or low carb diet is not suitable for being overweight.
Pros vs. Cons
This table gives you an overview of the pros and cons of low carb diets.
The difference between a keto diet and a low carb diet, is that keto diets focus on a lower protein intake and a higher fat intake.
A recent study of 17 overweight adults, looked at the effect of a keto diet on muscle mass. The results showed that their keto diet resulted in less fat loss, while at the same time increasing muscle breakdown.
Muscle mass increases energy needs and therefore the amount of calories you burn. Loss of muscle mass is therefore highly unwanted. This may lead to the infamous yoyo-effect: heavy shifts in weight over a short period, which will eventually make it even harder to lose real, tangible weight.
This is one of the main reasons why I prefer a carb limiting diet, rather than a keto diet.
Combining Keto and Training
In general carbs are a more effective energy source than fats. This is because carbs need less oxygen to be broken down, causing energy supply to happen at a faster rate.
At this very moment, there is a lot of discussion among scientists regarding low carb diets and workout performance. If I would get my say in this discussion, I would recommend to keep eating enough carbs.
The keto diet has been developed in the 1920s in order to help victims of epilepsy. About 30% of patients didn’t experience enough effects from their medicine.
Coincidentally, it was discovered that maintaining a very low carb intake while at the same time increasing fat intake, had a positive effect on their health complaints.
The keto diet is most effective with children that suffer from epilepsy. This has to do with the fact that the brains of young ones are still developing at a fast rate.
Following a keto diet may lead to one or multiple of the following side effects.
- Feeling absent
- Poorly functioning bowel movements (due to not ingesting a lot of fiber)
- Nutrient deficits
- Kidney stones
Please note that it is not a given that said side effects will occur.
Especially at the start of a keto diet, the body will have to get used to your new way of life. This might cause symptoms such as nausea, feeling lightheaded, fatigue, feeling cold, diarrhea and headaches.
Finally, it’s important to not confuse ketosis (ketogenic state) with ketoacidosis. This is a dangerous state the body can experience, in which the concentration of blood ketones is too high. This will cause the pH of blood to decrease, i.e. the blood will get more acid.
This may occur with diabetes type 1 patients with insulin shortages. Healthy people won’t nearly experience this as much.
Yes, a keto diet might prove to be effective when it comes to fast weight loss. However, most of this loss in weight comes from water retention and a decrease in muscular glycogen levels.
A lot of people tend to give up once this form of weight loss has reached a plateau. In the long run, keto diets may result in the loss of muscle mass and therefore your base metabolic rate, which finally can lead to a yoyo-effect of your body weight.
If you want to learn more on how to lose weight effectively, healthy and aimed for the long run, click here.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What is a keto diet?
Keto diets require most of the calorie intake to come from fats. Therefore, carbohydrates get drastically cut. The liver will now be forced to break down fats into ketones, which will become the new primary fuel source for your body.
How effective is a keto diet?
On the short term: very. You will lose weight in the forms of glycogen stores and the water that it retains. When it comes to burning fat consistently in the long run, a keto diet can be difficult to sustain.
Is a keto diet healthy?
While keto diets haven’t been proven to be unhealthy, it may lead to side effects which include but are not limited to nutrient deficits and poorly functioning bowels.
Are there alternatives to keto diets?
Yes, although most ‘diets’ are short term. If you keep the long term in mind, just eating less might be more effective, because excluding certain foods will only cause you to think about them more, which might lead to a fallback.