The Ketogenic Diet Exposed
The "Keto Diet" is an extremely high-fat, ultra low-carbohydrate diet. It reached a wide audience first in the 1920s and 1930s. The original reason the diet became popular, was it's ability to reduce the number and severity of seizures suffered by epileptics. Although doctors don't really know why it works, several studies show a 50% or greater reduction in the number of seizures. Approximately 10% of children on the diet actually become seizure-free.
The reason the keto diet fell out of favor was the introduction of anti-convulsant drugs in the 1930s. (Those are medications that prevent seizures.) Around 60% of patients were able to control their epilepsy with the use of these new drugs, and they could ditch the restrictions the keto diet required.
The resurgence of the diet today can be traced to the Hollywood producer Jim Abrahams and his son Charlie. In 1993 Charlie's severe epilepsy was effectively controlled by the keto diet and his father setup Charlie's Foundation to promote it.
It's important to note that Charlie's Foundation claims Charlie's epilepsy was “cured” by the diet, not just controlled. But for the majority of epileptics, going off the diet, even for a single meal, can cause the seizures to return.
The crossover into mainstream dieting happened as other low-carbohydrate diets fell out of favor. In the 1970s it was the Last Chance Diet, followed by Sugar Busters and Atkins in the late 1990s, and the South Beach Diet starting in 2003. Each of these low-carb diets helped people achieve rapid weight loss by eliminating an entire food group.
Surprise! It wasn't the removal of carbs that caused the weight loss. All those low-carb diets are low in calories, which is the essential ingredient you need to lose weight.
Here's how the keto diet is supposed to work. Our bodies typically use carbohydrates for energy. It's easy for us to convert bread, sugar and pasta into fuel. But if you severely restrict how many carbs you eat, your body starts using fat as it's primary fuel. Ketones are what's formed when our bodies use that fat for energy.
The term ketogenic literally means ketone producing. So a ketogenic diet is one that restricts carbs, causes our bodies to start burning fat as fuel and produce ketones. It's believed the elevated levels of ketones in a body are what help epileptics with seizure control.
What you can eat, is a little complicated. The original keto diet was formulated in the 1920s by pediatrician Mynie Gustav Peterman. It allows one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight in children, along with 10-15 grams of carbs and the rest of the calories from fat. To start the diet, you were required to fast for 18-24 hours and restrict fluids. People were typically admitted to a hospital or care center so a doctor could monitor their responses and results.
Here's an example of a typical keto diet day (from Wikipedia).
- Breakfast: egg with bacon
28 g egg, 11 g bacon, 37 g of 36% heavy whipping cream, 23 g butter, and a 9-g apple
- Snack: peanut butter ball
6 g peanut butter and 9 g butter
- Lunch: tuna salad
28 g tuna fish, 30 g mayonnaise, 10 g celery, 36 g of 36% heavy whipping cream, and 15 g lettuce
- Snack: keto yogurt
18 g of 36% heavy whipping cream, 17 g sour cream, 4 g strawberries, and artificial sweetener
- Dinner: cheeseburger (no bun)
22 g minced (ground) beef, 10 g American cheese, 26 g butter, 38 g cream, 10 g lettuce, and 11 g green beans
- Snack: keto custard
25 g of 36% heavy whipping cream, 9 g egg, and pure vanilla flavouring
There were several problems with that original version. Acidosis, constipation, elevated cholesterol levels, slowing of growth, kidney stones, vitamin and mineral deficiencies were all side effects. Over the years the fasting portion was removed because it wasn't really beneficial. Fluid restrictions were lifted. Those changes made it less difficult to start and reduced some of the side effects, but the others remained.
Once a persons body enters into ketosis, fatigue and muscle loss follow because your body thinks it's starving. That makes it even harder to lose weight because a starving body hangs onto every ounce.
Long-term, bone fractures are more common in keto dieters because of the reduction in minerals. Doctors are also concerned about the dramatic drop in fiber (because fiber is a carbohydrate) which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
The keto diet is an option for epileptics with uncontrolled seizures; as long as it's done under the guidance of a medical professional. For the typical person trying to lose weight, the risks are too great. It should only be considered in extreme cases, and then only when under a doctor's supervision.
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