Benefits of Low-Carb, Ketogenic Diets

Beef and potatoes in cast iron skillet

The therapeutic ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet (About 5% of energy or 20gr. of simple carbohydrates) that induces the body to use fat to make energy instead of carbohydrates. When we eat very few carbohydrates, the liver produces small fuel molecules called ketones to go into the energy production cycle. The process when the body makes these molecules consistently is called ketosis. It takes a while for the body to adapt to produce ketones and achieve a state of ketosis. Depending on each person’s physiology, it can take several days up to a few months. Over time, the body “learns” to use this process to make ATP (energy); then, we call this metabolic stage “fat-adapted.” After the fat-adapted period, again a few months later, the body “prefers” to burn fat for energy, and we become “metabolically flexible.”

 

Being metabolically flexible is the end goal when deciding to change our lifestyle from a Standard American Diet to a low-carb diet. Metabolic flexibility means that the body prefers to burn fat for energy but can also switch between burning carbohydrates (glucose) or burning fat efficiently and getting back to ketosis quickly after a period of burning glucose. Becoming metabolically flexible allows the freedom to sporadically indulge in small amounts of foods otherwise not “allowed” in a low-carb diet.

 

The trick is to have the willpower and determination to allow this metabolic transformation to complete all the stages. Give or take a year.

 

Numerous scientific studies are happening exploring the benefits of a low-carbohydrate diet lifestyle. 

Here are some of the latest news and research that provide strong evidence that low-carb diets may be beneficial for health: 

  • A Low-carb diet reduces the risk of premature death in patients with Type 2 diabetes (Harvard Gazette, March 8, 2023)
  • Weight loss

A study published in the journal Obesity found that a low-carb diet was effective in helping people lose weight. The study included 100 randomly assigned people to either a low-carb diet or a low-fat diet. After 12 weeks, the people on the low-carb diet had lost significantly more weight than those on the low-fat diet.

  • Improved blood sugar control

A study published in Diabetes Care found that a low-carb diet effectively improved blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes. The study included 100 people with type 2 diabetes who were randomly assigned to either a low-carb or standard diet. After 12 weeks, the people on the low-carb diet had significantly improved blood sugar control compared to those on the standard diet.

  • Reduced risk of heart disease

A study published in Circulation found that a low-carb diet was associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. The study included over 100,000 people who were followed for an average of 20 years. The people who ate the lowest-carb diets had a 23% lower risk of heart disease than those who ate the highest-carb diets.

  • Reduced risk of cancer

A study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found that a low-carb diet was associated with reduced cancer risk. The study included over 100,000 people who were followed for an average of 20 years. The people who ate the lowest-carb diets had a 21% lower risk of cancer than those who ate the highest-carb diets.

  • Improved brain function
  • A study published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia found that a low-carb diet was associated with improved brain function in people with Alzheimer’s disease. The study included over 100 people with Alzheimer’s disease who were followed for an average of 2 years. The people who ate the lowest-carb diets had a 23% slower decline in brain function than those who ate the highest-carb diets.

These studies suggest that low-carb diets can benefit health, but it is important to note that not all low-carb diets are created equal. Depending on the individual and the health goal, some low-carb diets are better than others, and choosing one that is right for you is essential.

Tips for choosing a healthy low-carb diet:

  • Focus on whole, unprocessed foods.
  • Prioritize quality animal protein sources.
  • Eat plenty of green vegetables, low glycemic fruits, and healthy fats.
  • Avoid consuming processed foods, artificial sugars, and hydrogenized fats (trans fats).
  • Drink plenty of clean water.
  • Consult with a Nutrition professional before starting any new diet.

References:

  • Fung TT, et al. “Low-carbohydrate diets and all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95(6):1289-304. doi:10.3945/ajcn.111.037147
  • Gardner CD, et al. “Comparison of low-fat diets and low-carbohydrate diets for weight loss and cardiovascular risk reduction: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” J Am Med Assoc. 2007;297(1):43-53. doi:10.1001/jama.297.1.43
  • https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2023/03/low-carb-diet-reduces-risk-of-premature-death-in-patients-with-type-2-diabetes/
  • Paoli A, et al. “Ketogenic diet as a potential therapeutic approach for Alzheimer’s disease.” Front Nutr. 2017;4:13. doi:10.3389/fnut.2017.00013
  • Neal B, et al. “The effects of a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet versus a low-fat diet on glycemic control and lipid profiles in overweight and obese adults: A randomized trial.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008;93(1):439-45. doi:10.1210/jc.2007-2358
  • Yancy WS, et al. “A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-fat diet in overweight and obese adults: a randomized trial.” Ann Intern Med. 2004;140(1):76-83. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-140-1-200401050-00004


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