What is a Ketogenic Diet?

A ketogenic diet is very low carb and high fat. Yes high fat! This low carb diet puts your body into ketosis, which is a metabolic state that helps you burn fat for energy.

While I have seen this diet help my clients shed weight, I wanted to dig deeper into what the research says. So lets take a look at what I found.

Will this high fat diet increase heart disease?

Here is one of the best studies I found examining heart disease and a ketogenic diet. This study was conducted to examine the effects of a ketogenic diet over 24 weeks in obese patients. One of the important things to note about this study is the participants had 20% of their fat intake from saturated fat and 80% of their fat intake from poly and monounsaturated fats (remember quality is essential to any diet).

The study was relatively large with 83 obese patients, 39 men and 44 women. All of the participants struggled with high blood sugar and high cholesterol levels. The researchers studied a number of blood test before and every 8 weeks over the 24 week intervention. Here are the markers they assessed:

  • body weight
  • body mass index
  • total cholesterol
  • low density lipoprotein (LDL, think “Lousy” cholesterol)
  • high density lipoprotein (HDL, thin “Healthy” cholesterol)
  • triglycerides
  • fasting blood sugar
  • urea and creatinine levels (kidney function)

This study found significant decreases in weight, body mass, triglycerides, blood sugar, and total cholesterol; AND if that is not enough they found the participants healthy cholesterol increased and their lousy cholesterol decreased all while maintaining adequate kidney function.

The researchers did not find any significant side effects with a ketogenic diet over 24 weeks within the 83 participants.

This study validates the work of Dr. Mark Hyman with his book Eat Fat, Get Thin. 

Will this diet decrease muscle mass?

Since this diet is so high in fat and moderate in protein, I was curious if muscle mass would decline over time. However, this study found that in 20 participants following a ketogenic diet over 4 months their muscle mass and strength was preserved. This is great news! It seems that the ketogenic diet targets specifically body fat and visceral fat mass (the dangerous fat around organs).

Who else can benefit?

This diet has become an adjunct therapy for a number of disease states including cancer  (additional sources and research), epilepsy, diabetes mellitus type 2, and autism spectrum disorder. While research is relatively limited, I do believe we are going to see more and more research emerge in these areas. As I was doing my literature review, there seems to be the most research supporting a ketogenic diet and epilepsy. It appears a ketogenic diet has been used for decades in patients with epilepsy. Boston Children’s Hospital has found the ketogenic diet to help control seizures in about 30% of their children with epilepsy.

What does a ketogenic diet look like?

Obviously fat is the staple of a ketogenic diet. I always encourage healthier fats include olive oil, avocado, almonds, walnuts, ground flaxseed, sprouted pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, omega 3 eggs, grassfed butter or ghee, MCT oil, coconut oil, unprocessed cheeses (if you are able to tolerate dairy), fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout), and meats in moderation (grassfed red meat, chicken, turkey).  Veggies are a great way to fill up your plate, while maintaining low carb.

It is important to measure whether you are in ketosis while on a ketogenic diet for best results. Total carb counts vary depending on the individual. Some achieve ketosis when consuming carbs under 50-60 grams per day, while others require closer to 20-30 grams per day.

Here are some ways to measure ketosis:

Additional Resources: 

Have you tried a ketogenic diet? What was your experience? I would love to hear from you!

In good health,

Kristin Oja, DNP, FNP-C, PT-C


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