The keto diet (short for ketogenic diet) is a wildly popular weight loss diet. It is also controversial as it inverts the traditional balanced food pyramid. Instead of carbohydrate forming the bulk of one’s calorie intake, it drastically restricts daily carbohydrate consumption to between 20g and 50g (less than a bowl of rice), and replaces it with protein and fat.
How the keto diet affects the body
When the body’s first source of energy – carbohydrate – becomes unavailable, it then taps into the 500g of glycogen – a form of glucose that serves as energy storage – stored in the liver and muscles. Once that too is depleted, it turns to fat stores.
“With a lot of weight loss attempts, the body fights back with hunger-adaptive hormones, which makes us want to eat more. That is why people regain weight. However, when your body breaks down fat, ketones are produced. These counteract hunger hormones and suppress hunger pangs,” explained the Department of Endocrinology from Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.
Effects of the keto diet on weight loss
Short-term studies have shown that people on this diet lose weight faster initially – an average of 7 per cent of their weight in six months – as compared to other low-fat diets. This can have a positive psychological effect on many dieters.
One problem, though, is people may over-indulge in processed meats like sausages or fatty cuts of meat, when they should go for lean types like fish and chicken, pick poly- and monounsaturated fat such as olive oil and avocado, and complex carbohydrates such as quinoa and oats.
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Dangers of a high fat, high protein diet
A diet high in saturated fat has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, a low-fibre diet increases the risk of cancer, and a high-protein diet of meat and dairies has negative long-term effects on the kidney.
Those on the keto diet also run the risk of lacking important nutrients like vitamin B when they cut out carbohydrate or grains. So a multivitamin supplement is necessary.
When these guidelines are followed, the ketogenic diet is generally safe for most dieters in the short term. Whether such a diet is safe if followed over a long period is unclear as longer-term studies on its benefits and effects are not yet available.
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Is there such a thing as a 'best diet plan'?
“The best [dietary] intervention for weight loss is a sustained one with both short-term and long-term health benefits,” advised the SGH Endocrinology department. This involves a slow transition period of reintroducing some complex carbohydrates, learning new healthy eating habits, and exercising regularly to reduce sugar levels and hunger pangs.
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