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Ketogenic diet: More benefit or harm?

Rama Satya and Alvin Surjadi
Rama Satya and Alvin Surjadi

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Jakarta | Wed, March 28, 2018 | 04:19 pm
Ketogenic diet: More benefit or harm?

The ketogenic diet is skyrocketing in terms of popularity, slipping past a number of other notable approaches to dieting. (Shutterstock/File)

The ketogenic diet is skyrocketing in terms of popularity, slipping past quite a number of other notable approaches to dieting. This diet itself has been utilized by a spectrum of practitioners ranging from people who simply want to lose some weight and retain muscles, to people who suffer from diabetes. It also treats people suffering from epilepsypain, and many more.

So, what is the ketogenic diet?

Normally, the body runs on carbohydrates that it converts into glucose for energy. For the ketogenic diet, carbohydrate consumption is kept low to force the body to utilize fatty acids to convert into ketone bodies as an energy source. This process is known as ketosis, which is the main objective in a ketogenic diet.

Ketosis is a natural body function that happens when a person is starving, where the body is forced to use reserve energy and "switches" the energy source from sugar to fat. This means eating a lot of fat, up to 70 to 80 percent, followed by 20 to 25 percent proteins and only 5 to 10 percent carbohydrates. What better way is there to be fit and healthy while enjoying lots of delicious fatty foods?

Having the mechanisms of the ketogenic diet understood, then how do you determine whether the diet is working for you? 

When the body first adapts to ketosis, it may be difficult. But, being consistent will allow the body to start preferring fat as an energy source and become keto-adaptive or a fat-burning machine. The only way to know whether your body has entered and remained in ketosis is through testing ketone levels. So, when the body starts burning fat, ketone will be produced and be present in urine, blood and even your breath. It is possible to test for each of these in their specific areas.

The best way will be to test your blood. Using a blood glucose meter, ketone levels can be monitored using blood strips. However, this method is much more expensive compared to using urine strips and a breath meter, which are only reliable at first due to the body’s inability to regulate ketone in the body.

It is essential that a moderate amount of protein is consumed. If protein intake is too high when carbohydrates are very low, instead of breaking down fat, the body will break down protein instead. This process, known as gluconeogenesis, needs to be avoided as it wastes away precious lean muscle mass. This can also raise insulin and blood sugar levels.

To avoid this, an online calculator based on caloric intake can help find the perfect balance for your ketogenic diet. This is essential as these ratios vary and are specific for every individual. In case of eating too much protein, exogenous ketones can be consumed to help get back to ketosis.

There are myriads of benefits for applying this ketogenic diet approach to your lifestyle, ranging from aesthetics, cognitive performance and overall health of the body. The original purpose of ketogenic was to prevent epilepsy, first developed in the 1920s. The ketogenic diet can help in epilepsy as the ketone bodies support the shifting of amino acid metabolism, which prevents calcium flow that are responsible for epilepsy.

Weight loss is made easier with this diet, as more work is needed to convert fat into energy compared to carbohydrates. Consuming fat also helps to make intake of daily macronutrients easier as 1 gram of fat is equivalent to nine calories, while 1 g of carbohydrate/protein is equal to four calories.

The ketogenic diet encourages consumption of healthy fats including high-density lipoprotein (HDL), reducing cholesterol and ultimately decreasing the chance of getting heart diseases. The diet is also protects cognitive abilities as they possess neuroprotective attributes, which help in the prevention of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

The disadvantages of the ketogenic diet are more psychological and social compared to the medical aspects. This diet is quite hard to maintain, as it takes quite a long time to adjust and get used to it. About two weeks are normally required when starting this diet, as the keto phase is newly introduced to the body and it needs to get its metabolic machinery to the level needed.

This type of diet can be classified as a restriction diet, where carbohydrates -- which are normally the macronutrient that is consumed the most -- are reduced to the minimum compared to the other two macronutrients. Therefore, this can be quite inconvenient for people that consume a lot of carbohydrates. Maintenance of this diet is also quite hard to accomplish, as there is some drastic difference in the reduction of carbohydrates and might not suit food or meals outside the home.

Energy production-wise, the ketogenic diet is quite at a disadvantage because athlete's and people's sports performance may decrease in terms of energy that is produced. The maximum rate of energy re-synthesis derived from ketones is only 0.40 mol/min, when compared to aerobic or anaerobic breakdown of glycogen that could re-synthesize energy at a maximum rate of 1.0 to 2.0 mol/min, which is quite significant.

 In conclusion, there are definitely many advantages to the ketogenic diet. Not only does it control sugar intake, it also helps reduce fat deposits, creating perhaps what could be the ideal body mechanism for you. On the other hand, the ketogenic diet comes with certain risks, which may include a higher risk of failure, lower energy production and leaning more towards the psychological and social sides. Some may consider that the advantages outweigh the risk, or perhaps vice versa, as it all depends on the eye of the beholder. (dev/mut)

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The writers are students at the Indonesian Institute for Life Sciences (i3L), majoring in Food Technology and Biomedicine. Rama and Alvin are very interested in health and believe that a healthy lifestyle and nutritional habit goes a long way, as we feel that preventive measures are better than any curative measures.

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