Quinn on Nutrition: Pros and cons of Ketogenic diets

July 3, 2017

I was amused with two breakfast items offered at our California hotel during a recent stay: Cowgirls Mexican Casserole (scrambled eggs, cheese and peppers) and Peace, Love and Granola (yogurt, fruit and whole grain cereal). Both sounded good. But forget the peace, love and granola if youíre on a ketogenic diet. 

Very low carbohydrate "ketogenic" diets severely limit the intake of sugars and starches (carbs) which are mostly found in plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, legumes (beans) and grains. The idea is to force the body into ketosis ó the build-up of acids in the blood called ketones that happens when the body is starved of carbohydrates and is forced to break down fat for energy.

Many popular ketogenic diets limit carbohydrates (the primary source of glucose which powers our muscles, nerves and brain) to less than 50 grams a day. But just because we limit carbs does not change our need for glucose. The brain, for example, needs more than 100 grams of glucose a day to function. 

Fortunately, our amazingly adaptable bodies can make glucose out of protein, although the chemical pathway is costly and inefficient. 

On the plus side, ketogenic diets have been shown to be effective therapies for certain neurological disorders such as severe epilepsy in children. And in the short term, they may be an effective way to jump start weight loss. Because low carb diets are high in protein and fat (when you cut the carbs, you rely on protein and fat for fuel) they tend to curb a dieterís appetite. Studies have shown that, for the first six months, low carbohydrate diets produce greater weight loss than other dieting methods. After a year, however, the overall success of low carb diets is similar to other plans, possibly because the diet is so difficult to maintain.

On the down side, when carbohydrates from plant-based foods are restricted, the lack of dietary fiber results in constipation and less good bacteria in our guts. (Remember that beneficial bacteria or probiotics feed off certain types of dietary fiber.) Besides restricting calories from carbohydrate-containing foods, low carb diets also restrict essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants associated with foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. And, experts warn, extremely low carb diets are not appropriate for everyone and may even be harmful for some people with certain medical conditions.

So yes, we certainly can fuel these bodies from sources other than carbohydrates, namely proteins and fats. Question is, should we? 

No one would argue that we would all be well to cut back on nutritionally empty carbs such as added sugar. Yet as adaptable as these bodies are, they still have basic nutritional needs. For lifeís long haul, I still like to enjoy fruit and granola along with my cowgirl casserole. 




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