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Is The Keto Diet A Real Thing For Weight Loss?

A science-based review by registered dietitians


The keto diet has been around for a while now and we have seen enough cases and reviewed the science to give you unbiased education about this trendy diet that promises weight loss for those motivated to try new approaches. Excess weight is a real health issue with 62% of Canadian adults being overweight or obese. While bodyweight is one marker of overall health, we also have to take into consideration other markers, like cholesterol levels. When we adopt a diet to help with weight loss, it needs to result in sustained weight loss AND improvement in other markers of health. Should you start the keto diet for weight loss? Keep reading to learn more.

How Does The Keto Diet Work?

The ketogenic diet or, as it is commonly called, the keto diet is a carbohydrate restrictive diet, specifically limiting your daily carbohydrate intake to less than 50 grams, or 10% daily calories. This small amount of carbohydrates quickly adds up from low-carbohydrate vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Say goodbye to bread, pasta, rice, beans, starchy vegetables, and fruits. As the diet restricts carbohydrates, the focus is on moderate protein and high fat, though a true keto diet is composed of about 80% of calories from fat.

The body’s preferred source of fuel is glucose, which is mainly derived from carbohydrates. When you significantly restrict your intake of carbohydrates, glucose reserves become insufficient. The body instead utilizes ketones, derived from the breakdown of fat, as an alternative fuel source. This shift places the body in a metabolic state called ketosis, hence the name ‘the ketogenic diet’.

Is There Science To Back Up Keto Diet for Weight Loss?

The keto diet has been used since the 1920s as a therapy for severe childhood epilepsy. Today it is commonly known as a weight loss diet. Science does demonstrate weight loss effects when initially following this diet, however, the long-term effects are unknown. When following a restrictive diet that eliminates entire food groups, weight loss will likely occur as a result of an overall decreased intake of calories. The increase in fat and protein intake on the keto diet also tends to be more satiating leading to decreased hunger and therefore greater ease in calorie restriction.

Another theory as to why the keto diet may result in weight loss relates to the increase in energy expenditure. The process of digesting fat and protein for fuel causes the body to work harder, resulting in the increase in calories burned for the digestion. Additionally, ‘ketones’ produced while in ketosis, are lost through urine and can also increase calorie expenditure. Interestingly, these same ketones are responsible for both decreased appetite and what’s known as the ‘keto flu.’ While these are some valid points as to why the keto diet may result in weight loss, human research has not yet proven if the keto diet is more beneficial than any other calorie-restricted diet.

In addition to the current gap in research on the long-term effects of following a keto diet on our overall health, it can also be a challenging and often unsustainable diet in and of itself. Your overall nutritional intake needs to be closely monitored in order to ensure nutritional deficiencies do not occur. The elimination of fibre-rich grains and starchy vegetables may also lead to constipation or an imbalanced gut microbiome as many prebiotic foods include carbohydrates. Potentially due to high saturated fat intake from high animal fat eating, a keto diet may also increase cholesterol levels, a marker of heart disease. Like most restrictive diets, the keto diet may also negatively impact your overall relationship with food leading to behaviours such as emotional or binge eating.

Ultimately, a diet that is going to be sustainable and effective for long-term weight loss is the best choice – and one that provides all your nutritional needs for a healthy and happy life. There is no one size fits all approach to weight loss and your diet should be geared to your specific needs. Some contraindications do exist in following this diet including individuals with impaired kidney or liver function, who should take additional precautions. If you do choose to try the keto diet as a weight loss approach, it is important that your nutritional status is monitored closely. This can be done with the help of a Dietitian, who will ensure you are taking a safe and healthy approach to the keto diet.

Nutrition Tips For The Keto Diet:

  • Choose healthy quality fats including fatty fish, extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds. Adequate fat intake is necessary for hormone health and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Avoid highly processed or refined fats and limit saturated fats.
  • Focus on filling at least half your plate with non-starchy vegetables to promote adequate fibre and essential vitamin and mineral intake. Don’t just fill your plate with fat and protein sources – depending on the quality, this may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Nutrition Tips For A More Individualized Diet:

  • Improve the quality of your carbohydrate intake. Choose more high-fibre and nutrient-dense carbohydrates such as whole foods (starchy vegetables, fruits, whole grains) vs. refined processed foods (sugar, flours, packaged foods).
  • Continue to focus on filling at least half your plate with non-starchy vegetables to promote adequate fibre and essential vitamin and mineral intake.
  • Make changes that will promote long-term weight loss. Avoid restrictions that are unsustainable.

Do You Have Questions About The Keto Diet Or Weight Loss?

  • For additional recommendations, speak with a Registered Dietitian(RD) to ensure you are reaching your nutrient requirements, whether you choose the keto diet or a more individualized lifestyle approach to weight loss.
  • Contact NutriProCan for a complimentary 20-minute call to ask a question: https://nutriprocan.ca/20min-consultation 

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