Does the controversial Ketogenic Diet REALLY work?

Does the controversial Ketogenic Diet REALLY work? Dietitians give their verdict on the low carb high fat program beloved by celebrities.

  • The Ketogenic Diet is favored by a host of Hollywood A-listers
  • It involves eating high-fat foods and minimal carbohydrates
  • The Dietitians Association of Australia recently shared their thoughts on the diet.

Favored by the likes of Kim Kardashian and Gwyneth Paltrow for its rapid results, the Ketogenic Diet has been making headlines non-stop over the past 12 months. The low carbohydrate, the high fat program sees participants eat moderate protein and receive the majority of their energy intake from fat.

In a recent media alert, the DAA first explained the thinking behind the program and how it works.
‘As fat is the main source of energy being consumed, the body must then use this (that is, break it down) as its main energy source or “fuel,” ‘ they explained.

‘When dietary fat is metabolized for energy, by-products called “ketone bodies” (molecules that are made by the liver from fatty acids) are produced which are used up by the body’s tissues, muscles, and the brain. This process is known as “ketosis.”
‘The body can enter ketosis during times of severe energy restriction (such as during fasting or starvation) or prolonged intense exercise, or when carbohydrate intake is reduced to around 50g per day, or less – the equivalent of around two slices of bread, and a banana.’

While there are many low carbs, high-fat diets available, the Keto Diet remains ‘proportionately lower in carbohydrates’ at around 20 to 50 grams per day to keep the body ‘in a state of ketosis.’

When it comes to weight loss, the DAA says those who follow a Keto Diet will ‘undoubtedly result in short-term weight loss.’
This, they explain, probably comes down to ‘a reduction in total energy (kilojoule) intake, the depletion of liver and muscle glycogen stores and associated water, and a reduced appetite.’

Despite this short-term weight loss, it is important to maintain a healthy weight by following a sustainable eating pattern long-term.

‘With this in mind, dietary recommendations should always be tailored to an individual – as everyone is unique, and what works for one person, may not work for another. That is, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight,’ they said.

The diet has a number of limitations, with the DAA admitting it is ‘undoubtedly difficult to stick to because it drastically reduces the intake of some food groups.’

These food groups include fruit and vegetables, dairy foods, and grain foods and carbohydrate-containing foods, such as bread, cereals, rice, pasta, legumes, fruit, and starchy vegetables (like pumpkin, peas, and potato) must all be limited.
Because the diet is also low in fiber, gastrointestinal symptoms can also show including constipation. According to the DAA, this could also mean an increased risk of bowel cancer in the long term. Other challenges include those relating to the social aspects of eating.

The low amount of whole grains, fruits and vegetables are also concerning as whole grains are linked with a reduced risk of health conditions and fruits and vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
‘The fiber in whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and legumes supports the growth of “good” bacteria, which keeps the lining of the bowel healthy,’ the DAA explained.

‘On average, we eat only half the recommended daily amounts of at least 25g of fiber for women and 30g for men – and being on a ketogenic diet will make it harder to meet these targets.’
All in all, the DAA agree that the diet does offer some metabolic benefits when followed in the short term and poses as ‘a novel treatment for certain medical conditions.’

Despite this, they say the diet is not recommended for the general population ‘as the long term efficacy and safety of the diet are unknown, having only been studied in the short term.’


What to consider before trying the Keto Diet?

You will be missing out on some seriously healthy foods
A ketogenic diet is based around a very low carbohydrate diet, which means nutritious foods like vegetables and fruit, whole grains and dairy foods will need to be limited. In fact, the 20-50g of carbohydrates allowed in a ketogenic diet is equivalent (in carbohydrate terms) to just a small tub of yogurt, an apple, and half a medium potato over a day.

It might affect your gut health

As well as filling us up, fiber from fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains is vital for a healthy gut – such as to support the growth of ‘good’ bacteria and to keep the lining of the bowel healthy. On average, we eat only half the recommended daily amounts of at least 25g of fiber for women and 30g for men – and being on a ketogenic diet will make it harder to meet these targets.

You may find it hard to stick with

The best ‘diet’ is one that ticks off all your nutritional needs, fits with your lifestyle and that you enjoy. If you get these right – you’re onto a winner over the long-haul! Many studies show those on a ketogenic diet find it difficult to sustain, due to its restrictive nature (which can also make family meal times and outings with friends more complicated).

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