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Keto Diet: the Effectiveness and Popularity of Consuming Carbs

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“It’s not a short term diet plan. It’s a long term lifestyle change.” A quote that is popular when it comes to starting and maintaining a diet. However, does this quote apply to all diets such as Keto? The Ketogenic diet is a popular one in the health world as it focuses on consuming high-fat, adequate-protein, and low-carbohydrates which in turn burns fats rather than carbohydrates. While Keto was primarily used to treat patients with epilepsy, it is widely being used as a weight loss diet. While there are some concerns of the effects of the diet, there are also others that say it is a healthy diet that works. When looking at the Keto diet and its effectiveness, a question that can be asked is, to what extent does Keto serve as a long term diet plan?

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So what exactly is this diet? The Ketogenic diet or better known as Keto, is a diet that focuses on, “a group of high-fat, moderate-protein, and very low-carbohydrate diets . This was originally given to treat children and adolescents with epilepsy, and some adults with epilepsy along with other diseases. The name Ketogenic refers to the increased production of Ketone bodies. These Ketone bodies are the result of this special diet. Ketone bodies are three compounds that are formed during the metabolism of fats and are excreted in the urine. A high level of Ketone bodies is called ketosis, which is the main goal of the Ketogenic diet” (Longe). It is said that it takes about two to four days to enter this state of ketosis. Once in this state, the body begins to burn fat for energy because it does not have enough carbohydrates to use as energy. By avoiding carbohydrates and minimizing the amount of protein consumed in a day, it can effectively lower both blood sugar and insulin levels, which promotes weight loss. Weight loss is usually the primary reason why people use the Ketogenic diet. Previous research shows evidence of faster weight loss when people go on a Ketogenic or very low carb diet compared to other people who use a more traditional low-fat diet, or even a Mediterranean diet. 

A Ketogenic diet also has been shown to improve blood sugar control for some with type 2 diabetes, at least in the short term. Joshua Shadle, founder and CEO of Fuelary. Shadle did the Keto diet while training for a triathlon. 'I had to really focus for the first few months while my body transitioned into fat burning because I experienced flu-like symptoms. But then I was instructed to add extra sodium [to help with the water loss you experience on the diet], and that helped,' he says. Once the temporary symptoms passed, Shadle says he eventually noticed a big increase in energy, which helped contribute to his losing 10 pounds”(Castro). While this diet can result in weight loss, for some people the diet is a struggle to continue for a longer period of time. An interview was done with a former Fairmont High School student, Zak Vorhees, about the Keto diet and his experiences, “At around a month I had lost about 15 lbs. I could tell that I had lost a little bit of fat but not that noticeable. While I was satisfied with the results I just could not continue doing this diet. I was not able to go out and eat with my friends as often because I most likely wouldn't be able to get something there.” When the diet is discontinued, it is possible that the person that was doing the diet could gain all of the weight that they lost back, “A month after I stopped doing the Keto Diet I had gained 15 lbs back that I had lost. Overall I was disappointed with my experience because the month of the diet was not fun and I wasn’t able to maintain the weight that I lost”(Vorhees). This experience demonstrates what the ketogenic diet really is and how it works.

As the Keto diet is being spread around the world as a popular weight loss diet, that is not originally what the diet was intended for. Interest in the ketogenic diet was stirred back up in the 1990s, when the father of a 2-year-old that was experiencing seizures that had not responded to any medications or surgical procedures read about the diet in medical textbooks. They decided to start the ketogenic diet in home of good results. Eventually the child began to not have seizures and was able to discontinue his medications. The Charlie Foundation was later established by the father. The Charley Foundation continues to provide information and guidance about the ketogenic diet to parents, dietitians, and other health care professionals. Since 1994, the diet has been generally accepted by doctors. It is used in about 40 countries around the world for the treatment of childhood epilepsy (Longe). According to Paul Salter, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., “before the Keto diet was introduced most epileptic patients were advised to fast, but that proved to be difficult for many. It was found that by eating high-fat and low-carb, it produced the same metabolic changes as a fasted approach, which meant increased liver production of three molecules (Ketone bodies) acetone, β-hydroxybutyrate, and acetoacetate,' says Salter (Castro). Written in a Harvard Health Publishing showed evidence that a Ketogenic diet has the potential to reduce seizures in children, sometimes even as effective as medication. Questions began to rise about the possible benefits for other brain disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, sleep disorders, autism, and even brain cancer.

There are a number of cons that can occur while using this diet. Because the 4:1 Ketogenic diet is an unnatural way to obtain nutrition, it has some potential side effects. One of the most common side effects of the Keto diet is dehydration. Dehydration can cause nausea, vomiting, and even constipation. This is because if carbs are restricted, they are excreted, which means that the body retains less water. Compared to other diets, drinking a lot of water is a huge must to avoid dehydration. An inflamed pancreas can also result from the Keto diet. The pancreas primary responsibility is to break down fat. In some people, the pancreas can not handle the increased fat of the Ketogenic diet. In these instances, the pancreas becomes swollen or inflamed and the entire gastrointestinal (GI) system stops working. There has been a report of a nine year old child who died from acute pancreatitis while she was on the Keto diet. “A postmortem examination confirmed hemorrhagic pancreatitis. Hypertriglyceridemia is a risk factor for developing acute pancreatitis. The high fat content of the Ketogenic diet often causes hyperlipidemia. The outcome for this patient raises concern regarding a potential consequence of the Ketogenic diet” (Neurol). Another con of the Keto diet is that developing kidney stones and gallstones are a possibility. For children that are using this diet for epilepsy, parents should be taught to monitor the child’s urine for blood as well as ketone levels. Blood in the urine is often an early sign of kidney stone formation. The amount of fat that is consumed on this diet can cause kidney stones along with not drinking enough water. Fatty food options like butter and meat can cause an increase in blood pressure while a higher protein intake can put extra stress on the kidneys. This is because it adds more acid to the kidneys and affects the calcium in the body. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also occur while on this diet. “Folate (B9), biotin (B7), selenium, choline, vitamins A, E, D, chromium, iodine, magnesium, and molybdenum are among the most common deficiencies that can develop while on a restricted diet like the Ketogenic diet” (Popa). These deficiencies are caused by the extreme restrictions that come with this diet. Foods like almonds, bananas, and whole wheat bread are high in magnesium. While you can eat almonds on the Keto diet, it is not recommended to consume a lot as it can lead to an increase in carbohydrates in the diet. It is recommended that while you are on this died that you take supplements to help with these vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Some examples of these supplements are magnesium, MCT oil, Omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D. Since this diet is hard for some to continue, there may be a point to where a person decides to go off of the diet completely. This could lead to abnormally high levels of blood lipids after discontinuation of the diet. Several studies have suggested that the Keto diet can affect cholesterol levels. When people consume low amounts of carbohydrates, the liver produces fewer triglycerides, which may be involved in raising HDL cholesterol levels.

There are also a number of pros to using this diet. The greatest pro and also the greatest reason for individuals to start this diet is weight loss. When carbohydrates are cut to a minimum, the body begins to use fat as the main energy source in the body. This causes weight loss and ultimately is said to not leave the body hungry since the diet does consist of high protein foods. Weight loss can contribute to many other good things such as reducing strain on blood vessels, increase flow to the brain, and boost overall brain function. Cholesterol is another instance where something is improved from the diet. Cholesterol is reduced and it is even found that good cholesterol (HDL) is increased significantly while bad cholesterol (LDL) is decreased significantly (Gotter). The Keto diet can also assist in reducing acne and is better for your skin in general. Many things cause acne such as foods. Refined grains and sugars are two of the biggest contributors to acne when looking at food. Foods such as bread, crackers, pasta, soda, and foods/drinks with high levels of sugar in general. This is because your blood sugar and insulin levels rise which causes a lot of inflammation throughout the body. Too much sugar in your diet can also cause dark circles under your eyes, puffy loose skin, more notable wrinkles, and dim skin tone. It is also said that the Keto diet increases focus and energy levels. These are usually effects later on when the body is more adapted to such a change. In the beginning of the diet, it is likely that effects such as fatigue, brain fog, and feeling sick could occur. “When you start a low-carb diet, your body must adapt to burning more fat for fuel, instead of carbs” (Mawer). 

These symptoms are what is called the “Keto flu” and is something that is said can be experiences when someone is new to the diet. However, long term keto diet users often report increased focus and energy (Mawer). “Many long-term ketogenic dieters report improved brain function and more stable energy levels, likely due to the rise in ketones and more stable blood sugar levels” (Mawer). The last pro for the Keto diet is also what the Keto diet was intended for in the first place when it was created in the 1920’s. This intention of the Keto diet was to help people with epilepsy and seizures. The Keto diet is usually “prescribed by a physician and carefully monitored by a dietitian. It is usually used in children with seizures that do not respond to medications” (Kossoff). Several studies show that the diet does help children with epilepsy and does either reduce or prevent seizures. It is said that, “Over half of children who go on the diet have at least a 50% reduction in the number of their seizures...some children, usually 10-15%, even become seizure-free” (Kossoff). The Ketogenic diet is used for many things such as a weight loss diet, better energy and focus levels, obtaining better looking skin, and even a diet for seizure prevention or reduction.

While Keto is a very popular low carb diet for people who are trying to lose weight, it is not the only diet that is out there. Many other diets in the health world are very similar to the Keto diet and may even work better for some individuals. Others diets may even be healthier or easier for someone to stay on for a longer period of time. An example of one of these diets is the Paleo diet. This diet has some alternative names such as the caveman diet, Paleolithic diet, Stone Age diet, and hunter-gatherer diet. “A paleo diet is a dietary plan based on foods similar to what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic era, which dates from approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago” (Mayo Clinic). This consists of foods that would generally be able to be obtained through hunting and gathering. Most of the foods that are consumed in this diet are lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. The foods that are avoided on this diet are foods such as dairy products, legumes, and grains. “The aim of a paleo diet is to return to a way of eating that's more like what early humans ate. The diet's reasoning is that the human body is genetically mismatched to the modern diet that emerged with farming practices” (Mayo Clinic). Some reasons for following this diet could be to lose weight or even that someone just wants to have an easy meal plan. Some benefits of the diet include weight loss, improved glucose tolerance, better blood pressure control, lower triglycerides, and better appetite management (Mayo Clinic). The main difference between the Keto diet and the paleo diet comes down to food choice. The Keto diet focuses on high fat, and protein while limiting carbs while the Paleo diet comes down to focusing more on what is being eaten such as most fruits and natural sweeteners that are able to be consumed. When looking at the benefits of the Paleo diet and comparing it to the Keto diet, it can be seen that the Paleo diet has a wider range of foods that are able to be consumed, making it easier to stay on over time. 

While the Paleo diet does consist of a good amount of fat and protein, it is not to the extreme level as the Keto diet. This means that it is less likely to develop kidney or heart disease or have issues with cholesterol as it is when on the Keto diet. This diet can also help in the same ways as keto such as increased energy and focus levels, better skin care, and also losing weight. Another diet that could be used as an alternative to the Ketogenic Diet is the Mediterranean diet. “The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating based on the traditional cuisine of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. While there is no single definition of the Mediterranean diet, it is typically high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and olive oil” (Mayo Clinic). Foods that are normally consumed while on the Mediterranean diet are foods such as whole grain breads, cereals and pastas, fish such as salmon and tuna, and dairy such as Greek yogurt. Things to stay away from are unhealthy fats, butter, and reducing red meats. “The Mediterranean diet is one of the healthy eating plans recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to promote health and prevent chronic disease” (Mayo Clinic). When comparing the Mediterranean diet to the Ketogenic diet, the Mediterranean diet does not focus on such high fat and high protein consumption as Keto. This makes it better for the heart and kidneys. Cholesterol is also not affected as much. While there are some differences in the diets, they do somewhat serve the same purpose. They are both diets that are used to lose weight along with many other reasons. When comparing Keto and other diets, many things can play a factor in what the best diet is for someone.

The Ketogenic diet is a hot topic in the health world recently and many people are turning to it to lose weight, and fast. It focuses on using fat as opposed to carbohydrates as a fuel source which in turn causes weight loss. While many people are using the diet, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it serves as a good long term weight loss diet. When looking at the Keto diet and its effectiveness, a question that can be asked is, to what extent does Keto serve as a long term diet plan? It is said that Keto is a good diet for those who suffer with epilepsy. Physicians even recommend that some of their patients should go on the diet for a longer period of time. Many different factors play a role in whether or not the keto diet is good long term such as the amount of fat and protein that is consumed while on the diet. Over time health issues may arise such as cholesterol and heart problems. While this isn’t true for everyone, it is still a factor to consider. The diet also can help with more than just weight loss, it can also help with acne and it can also increase energy and focus levels. Some athletes even use the diet to help with their performance. It is said that the Keto diet can aid with endurance athletes but it is also shown that team and sprint athletes may see a drop in performance. 

There are also many other diets that can be considered when trying to find the perfect diet for you. Other diets that are similar to the Keto diet are other low carb diets, the Paleo Diet, and the Mediterranean Diet. These diets are similar in what is allowed to be consumed but there are differences such as being able to consume whole grain items in the Mediterranean Diet and being able to eat natural sweetener in the Paleo diet. The Mediterranean and the Paleo diets don’t focus on as much fat and protein intake which in turn can be better for the kidneys and the heart. That being said, whether or not the Keto diet serves as a long term diet plan boils down to what exactly an individual is looking for in a diet. Choosing the right diet for someone is an important issue that could affect their future. Making the right choice and following a healthy diet could mean the difference between living a long and healthy life as opposed to a life of suffering from health issues. 

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