Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. He’s the author of the books “Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems,” “Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine” and the upcoming “Keto Diet: Your 30-Day Plan to Lose Weight, Balance Hormones, Boost Brain Health, and Reverse Disease” (February 2019, published by Little, Brown Spark). He’s a co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health company where the mission is to restore health, strength and vitality by providing history’s healthiest whole food nutrients to the modern world.
The classic ketogenic diet is not a balanced diet and only contains tiny portions of fresh fruit and vegetables, fortified cereals, and calcium-rich foods. In particular, the B vitamins, calcium, and vitamin D must be artificially supplemented. This is achieved by taking two sugar-free supplements designed for the patient's age: a multivitamin with minerals and calcium with vitamin D. A typical day of food for a child on a 4:1 ratio, 1,500 kcal (6,300 kJ) ketogenic diet comprises three small meals and three small snacks:
First, don’t mistake a ketogenic diet (or the upgraded Bulletproof Diet) for the Atkins Diet. Whereas the Atkins Diet is extremely high in protein, a keto diet contains moderate amounts of protein. On a keto diet, large amounts of protein can turn into glucose in a process called gluconeogenesis, thus taking you out of ketosis. That’s why fatty cuts of meat are better than, say, chicken breast, which is high in protein and low in fat. Vast amounts of protein also tax the liver and lead to inflammation. By contrast, a ketogenic diet is anti-inflammatory; burning fat for fuel creates far less inflammation than burning sugar does, and ketones themselves turn off inflammatory pathways. Because of this, ketogenic diets may in fact help prevent chronic diseases that are caused by inflammation. (Fun fact: The ketogenic diet is used to keep epileptic patients from having seizures.)
Ketosis was determined by measuring ketone bodies, specifically B-hydroxybutyrate (B-OHB), in capillary blood using a portable meter (GlucoMen LX Sensor, A. Menarini Diagnostics, Neuss, Germany) before measurements of anthropometric parameters. As with anthropometric assessments, all of the determinations of capillary ketonemia were made after an overnight fast of 8 to 10 hours. These measurements were performed daily by each patient during the entire VLCK diet, and the corresponding values were reviewed on the machine’s memory by the research team for managing adherence. Additionally, B-OHB levels were determined at each complete visit by the physician in charge of the patient. The measurements reported as “low value” (≤ 0.2 mmol/L) by the meter were assumed to be zero for purposes of statistical analyses.
Diet is the most important lifestyle factor for weight loss. In order to effect significant loss of weight it is necessary to create a consistent caloric deficit. This has the rather obvious side effect of leaving individuals feeling hungry and as though they are in a constant state of deprivation. Dieting is based upon this basic concept, which is the most likely reason why dieting is very likely to fail in the long-term. The ketogenic diet, while controversial and a highly polarizing subject, has demonstrated promise as an alternative dietary strategy for weight management. The KD may hold an advantage over traditional calorie-restricted diets, in that nutritional ketosis may enhance appetite control, and subsequently improve dietary adherence and long-term success. Nevertheless, the KD should be approached with caution, as there are both short- and long-term potential negative side effects. More research into this unique dietary strategy is warranted to fully investigate all potentially positive and negative aspects.
It was recently reported that the consumption of diets with low percentages of carbohydrates over a long period of time (>25 years) are associated with higher mortality . This association was mitigated when the substitutions were plant-based . In the current study, patients were exposed to a low carbohydrate intake during less than 90 days and the source of carbohydrate was from vegetables. Moreover, the strong weight loss induced a decrease in the burden of obesity-related disease . Thus, the strength of the current study is reinforced with the consistence of the results with that of previous research, regardless of the strong dietary energy restrictions induced by a VLCK diet.
Very low calorie diets are designed to bring on a mild form of ketosis, which means your body shifts from using primarily carbohydrates to fat as an energy source. The relative safety of ketosis is a hotly debated topic. In very low calorie diets, which are medically supervised diets, ketosis is supported for a short period of time to produce rapid weight loss in people who are extremely obese. It's not something you try at home simply because you want to lose a few pounds. Very low calorie diets and ketosis in people who are simply overweight can be dangerous.
Letting your blood sugar drop too low when following low-calorie diets -- often containing 1,000 to 1,200 calories daily for women and 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day for men -- can lead to headaches. Low blood sugar, which happens when too little glucose is in your bloodstream, can occur if you skip meals to reach your weight-loss calorie allotment. To help prevent headaches during weight loss, eat regular meals and snacks every few hours or so.
With funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, in 2012 Taubes co-founded the Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI), with the aim of raising over $200 million to undertake a "Manhattan Project for nutrition" and validate the hypothesis. Intermediate results, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition did not provide convincing evidence of any advantage to a low-carbohydrate diet as compared to diets of other composition – ultimately a very low-calorie, ketogenic diet (of 5% carbohydrate) "was not associated with significant loss of fat mass" compared to a non-specialized diet with the same calories; there was no useful "metabolic advantage". In 2017 Kevin Hall, a NIH researcher hired to assist with the project, wrote that the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis had been falsified by experiment. Hall wrote "the rise in obesity prevalence may be primarily due to increased consumption of refined carbohydrates, but the mechanisms are likely to be quite different from those proposed by the carbohydrate–insulin model".
The key to hitting my number was to plan, plan, plan. I worked out all three meals, down to the condiments, plus snacks on the weekends. If I knew what I was having and what I was "allowed" to have while staying under my carb goal, I found managing the infrequent cravings and hunger pangs easier. I can't stress enough the importance of planning for a keto diet.
Some previous studies have suggested that very-low-calorie ketogenic (VLCK) diets may be effective tools to manage overweight and obesity (10, 11, 13). VLCK diets are a nutritional intervention that emulate fasting by restricting carbohydrates and fat with a relative increase in protein intake (6). The increased protein content may be partially responsible for the muscle mass preservation (12–14). Importantly, the weight-reducing action of these diets is rapid, and despite the fact that the ketosis state lasts only 60 to 90 days at the start of treatment, the weight reduction remains for up to 2 years (13). Therefore, VLCK diets operate by potent mechanisms to induce weight loss, and various body compartments might be altered. To the best of our knowledge, no studies have exhaustively assessed the changes in body composition associated with this type of diet, and variations in muscle strength have been only assessed in athletes (15).
Total body composition was first measured by iDXA (GE Healthcare Lunar, Madison, WI). Daily quality control scans were acquired during the study period. No hardware or software changes were made during the course of the trial. Subjects were scanned using standard imaging and positioning protocols, while wearing only light clothing. For the current study, bone mineral density, lean body mass, and FM values, which are directly measured by the GE Lunar Body Composition Software (GE Healthcare), were used. Some derivative values, such as bone mineral content, regional lean mass, ALM, FFM, and FM percentage (FM%), as well as android and gynoid fat (%), were also calculated. The android/gynoid ratio was automatically generated and analyzed using enCORE software, version 13.6 (GE Healthcare). For measuring android fat, a region of interest was automatically defined as the caudal limit placed at the top of the iliac crest, and its high was set to 20% of the distance from the top of the iliac crest to the base of the skull to define the cephalic limit of abdominal subcutaneous adipose tissue. The scanner was calibrated daily against the calibration block supplied by the manufacturer.
Although the KD has shown promise as an alternative dietary strategy for weight management, it should be approached with caution. Acutely, the KD causes physiological changes which may manifest as the “keto flu,” a set of symptoms which commonly includes headache, nausea, gastrointestinal upset and fatigue. A recent study by Urbain et al. (22) illustrates this point, as they state, “Consistent with other studies, our subjects complained about headache, gastrointestinal symptoms, and general weakness mainly during the 1-week metabolic adaptation phase to a KD.” While these symptoms typically resolve within the first one to two weeks, this may present an unpleasant barrier for many individuals to overcome.
This content is strictly the opinion of Dr. Josh Axe and is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Axe nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.
I recently applied for life insurance after following the ketogenic diet for about six months. I was initially quoted the lowest rate based on the fact that I have no health issues whatsoever. However, my cholesterol readings were very high so they came back and said that I had elevated total cholesterol readings of 378 which alarmed me. They have now doubled my life insurance rates because of it. Even though my total cholesterol was high everything else seems good according to this article. LDL – 272, HDL – 92, Triclycerides – 70. This all translates to an LDL/HDL ratio of slightly under 3:1 and a Triglyceride/HDL ratio of close to 1:1. I don’t know if I should be concerned that my total is well over the 300 that is sited in this article. Does anyone know?
Some negative side effects of a long-term ketogenic diet have been suggested, including increased risk of kidney stones and osteoporosis, and increased blood levels of uric acid (a risk factor for gout). Possible nutrient deficiencies may arise if a variety of recommended foods on the ketogenic diet are not included. It is important to not solely focus on eating high-fat foods, but to include a daily variety of the allowed meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds to ensure adequate intakes of fiber, B vitamins, and minerals (iron, magnesium, zinc)—nutrients typically found in foods like whole grains that are restricted from the diet. Because whole food groups are excluded, assistance from a registered dietitian may be beneficial in creating a ketogenic diet that minimizes nutrient deficiencies.
My point here is that the warnings about the ketogenic principles are well taken and well documented. My concern is implications that this is a fad. I don’t use the word diet with my patients and I’m concerned that the principles behind the label and the real results that these readers have commented on might get minimized. I have found it best to encourage patients to read authors like: Stephen Phinney, Jeff Volek, Patricia Daly, and Charles Gant and the be partners with their doctors and check blood work as they move along. I am not for or against the article. If ketogenic principles offer people enduring, satisfying, and cohesive change then why not read about its potential and flexilbity?
A systematic review of 26 short-term intervention trials (varying from 4-12 weeks) evaluated the appetites of overweight and obese individuals on either a very low calorie (~800 calories daily) or ketogenic diet (no calorie restriction but ≤50 gm carbohydrate daily) using a standardized and validated appetite scale. None of the studies compared the two diets with each other; rather, the participants’ appetites were compared at baseline before starting the diet and at the end. Despite losing a significant amount of weight on both diets, participants reported less hunger and a reduced desire to eat compared with baseline measures. The authors noted the lack of increased hunger despite extreme restrictions of both diets, which they theorized were due to changes in appetite hormones such as ghrelin and leptin, ketone bodies, and increased fat and protein intakes. The authors suggested further studies exploring a threshold of ketone levels needed to suppress appetite; in other words, can a higher amount of carbohydrate be eaten with a milder level of ketosis that might still produce a satiating effect? This could allow inclusion of healthful higher carbohydrate foods like whole grains, legumes, and fruit. 
The main limitations of our study are its small sample size, short duration, and lack of control group. That the main outcome, hemoglobin A1c, improved significantly despite the small sample size and short duration of follow-up speaks to the dramatic and consistent effect of the LCKD on glycemia. For other effects, however, such as the rises in serum LDL and HDL cholesterol, the small sample size might be the reason statistical significance was not reached. Future studies of larger samples and containing a control group are needed to better address questions about the effect of the LCKD on serum lipids in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Instead of making your own cereal, you can always have a low-carb alternative. Try out chia seed pudding, flax granola sprinkled into coconut or almond milk, salted caramel pork rind cereal, or just mix together toasted nuts that are crushed and crispy. It’s quite easy to find a crunchy alternative to cereal (or just a low-carb replacement in general) so keep on the lookout and experiment for yourself to see which you like best.
“I've always been the big girl. That was my thing. I was the big girl. Turns out, being the big girl means excessive sweating and heart problems. Things needed to change. I tried it the old fashioned way, but nothing really helped. I saw something about in a magazine, so I started doing research. I talked to my doctor, he suggested I try . And honestly, it's been a life changer. I'm down over a hundred pounds and still losing! ” - Stella Bitters
In steps 4 or 5, the ketogenic phases were ended by the physician in charge of the patient based on the amount of weight lost, and the patient started a low-calorie diet (800–1500 kcal/day). At this point, the patients underwent a progressive incorporation of different food groups and participated in a program of alimentary re-education to guarantee the long-term maintenance of the weight loss. The maintenance diet consisted of an eating plan balanced in carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Depending on the individual, the calories consumed ranged between 1500 and 2000 kcal/day, and the target was to maintain the weight lost and promote a healthy lifestyle.