It seems we are in a bit of a period of carb shaming lately, especially with the ketogenic diet.
Countless times, I’ve been approached by individuals looking to make a change through diet and ask about the ketogenic diet or what I think about it and if I would recommend it.
Fact of the matter is, the ketogenic diet can be an incredibly useful resource for a lot of people. My parents live by it and love it. They love eating that much fat and very little carbs, claiming that carbohydrates spike their insulin levels and make them feel, “sleepy.”
They’re not alone either. I know plenty of people who report feeling groggy or tired after a high-carbohydrate meal. There is reasons for it.
However, if anyone ever asks me about this diet, my first question is why you want to do this diet?
For A LOT of people, the thought this is that this diet will allow them to lose more weight. Up until earlier this year, many people actually believed it and there was little scientific evidence to refute it. That was until April this year. Researchers studying 609 overweight adults for a period of 12 months found that there was no statistical significance in weight loss between a low-carb high fat diet compared to that of a high-carb-low-fat diet when total calories were controlled.
Now, that doesn’t mean you aren’t a unicorn and have different physiological adaptations to the general population but it is a good indicator. For many who have tried the ketogenic diet, they report rapid weight loss in a week or two, thinking, “hell ya, this truly is the answer!”
Unfortunately, what most of that is, is water loss as you go from what was likely a higher carbohydrate diet to little to no carbs at all. The thing with carbohydrates is that they hold water in your body unlike fats so when you drop the carbs, take a guess what happens to all the water that was stored in those glycogen (carb) stores in your body?
The other question I would bring up to someone who is looking to use the ketogenic from a purely fat loss perspective is, what will happen when you hit your target weight?
Usually, it’s a return back to the way they were eating, which if they are from North America and haven’t done a purely macronutrient based diet, is a high carb, moderate protein and low-fat diet. Guess what happens next? We are right back to stage 1, trying to figure out an approach for finding that physique you want again. If you can't live with that diet forever, and don't want to, it's probably not the right diet choice for you.
The answer to what is the best diet equals the one that works for you. It’s the one that you could do under the absolute worst circumstances. If you were getting married, your father was in the hospital and your pet was sick, you’d still be able to somewhat follow your diet. So, if you can’t do the ketogenic diet beyond 30-60 days or whatever time frame for your transformation, guess what diet you shouldn’t be doing?
Yes, that means that if you enjoy things like alcohol, sweets, date nights enjoying cake or popcorn, you should not being doing the ketogenic diet. Any time you have any of these aforementioned foods, you will be kicked out of ketosis and have to spend the next 8-36 hours (sometimes even longer) for your body to become fat adapted once again and use fat as an energy source.
If you are someone who is a performance athlete (CrossFit athlete whose primary concern is Open performance not aesthetics, powerlifter, endurance athlete) that is highly central nervous system regulated, you will also not benefit from a ketogenic diet and could suffer other negative consequences such as adrenal dysregulation. The nervous system’s preferred fuel source is carbohydrates, which convert to glucose for the body to use as energy and the body cannot create glucose from fat.
Now that I’ve covered who shouldn’t use it, what about who should?
Well, looking at the triangle of awareness (health, performance, aesthetics), people who are concerned from a longevity perspective may best be suited towards a ketogenic diet. One thing this diet will do is control blood sugar levels for diabetic or prediabetic individuals. According to Diabetes Canada, 3.4 million people were diagnosed diabetics in 2015 with many more who are considered insulin resistant and on their way to becoming diabetic in the next decade without dietary intervention. Myself, after doing a long bout of CrossFit where I increased my carbohydrate intake to stimulate recovery found that my blood sugar was getting out of control. For this reason, I too underwent a short-term ketogenic diet so that I could bring those levels back to normal where I could leverage insulin (sugar) the way my body needed to.
What the ketogenic diet will do for these people is regulate their blood sugar because of the near elimination of the hormone insulin in their diet. For diabetics and prediabetics, they have become insulin resistant meaning that their bodies can no longer respond to the anabolic hormone and are thus storing all those carbohydrates as body fat. Put simple, lose insulin sensitivity and you can quite easily lose your waistline.
A ketogenic diet allows those people to reset their insulin sensitivity so that they are properly able to use insulin for muscle growth and other anabolic factors.
The other population that can seriously benefit from a ketogenic approach is those who are susceptible to or already have cancer. To oversimplify, cancer feeds on sugar which comes from carbohydrates. Therefore, in some cases, if you remove the sugar you can starve any cancer cells as the normal cells in our bodies can use fat as an energy source. This is what makes this approach a valuable resource for fighting or eliminating cancer.
At the end of the day, the conversation and internal dialogue needs to happen as to why you want to do this particular diet or any diet. If you love bacon and eggs and simply don’t like carbs, great, let’s go for this diet. But if it’s because you think carbohydrates will make you fat etc, you should probably examine your relationship with food a little more.
Otherwise, you’re going to get on the diet train and eliminate all the foods you would enjoy at get-togethers and other events and simply not enjoy your life the way you should. When you inevitably reach for that savoury treat, you’ll be back at square one, reinforcing the negative association you have with that food to begin with.
It doesn’t have to be that if you don’t want to. You can eat the things you want, while feeling and looking the way you want.
A former journalist and sports blogger, I've turned my writing prowess and love of fitness and nutrition into a personal blog where you can find anything you are looking for on the world of health, nutrition and fitness.