An introduction

The ketogenic diet is one consisting of high-fat but low carb content that can offer a lot of health benefits. Research has shown that a typical ketogenic diet can help in weight loss and a healthy living. Several studies have also outlined the benefits of a ketogenic diet against cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and even epilepsy. This article will extensively focus on the weight loss potential of a ketogenic diet.


What is the ketogenic diet?

The ketogenic diet is known informally as keto. It is a high-fat, low-carb diet. The ketogenic diet emphasizes on drastic reduction in carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat. With the reduction in carbohydrate consumption, the body is placed in a metabolic state known as ketosis.

During ketosis, the body efficiently burns fat for energy. It also converts fats into chemicals known as ketones – this takes place in the liver. Ketones can supply the brain with the energy it requires to perform its work.

Ketogenic diets have the ability to reduce the blood’s sugar levels and also the insulin levels. This has great positive benefits on the person’s health. The bottom line of this is that the ketogenic diet shifts the body’s metabolism towards ketones and fat; away from carbs.


Types of ketogenic diets

Ketogenic diet can be placed into several classes including standard ketogenic diet, cyclical ketogenic diet, targeted ketogenic diet, and high-protein ketogenic diet.

The standard ketogenic diet has a low-carb content. Conversely, the protein content is moderate while fat content is on the high side. It typically contains about 75% fat, 20% protein and just 5% carbohydrate.

Cyclical ketogenic diet: this is much different from the standard ketogenic diet. It involves a mixture of ketogenic diet and carbs. For instance, there may be 5 days for ketogenic diet and two days for high-carb feeding.

Targeted ketogenic diet: Here, carbs can be added around workouts.

High protein ketogenic diet: This is close to the standard ketogenic diet. The only difference is that it contains more protein. The ratio for the high protein diet is 35% protein, 60% fat and 5% carbohydrate.

Only the standard and the high protein ketogenic diet have been extensively studied. Targeted ketogenic diet and cyclical ketogenic diet seem to be more advanced and are mainly used by athletes or body builders.


General health benefits of a ketogenic diet

Ketogenic diets have been controversial for decades. Initially, they were discriminated against by health professionals and the media. There was the general belief that these diets had the potential to raise the blood cholesterol level and cause cardiovascular disorders due to its high fat content. But….the times are changing

A lot of research has been conducted on the health effects of low-carb; high-fat diets. The end results of all of these studies showed that low-carb diets had greater health benefits than the other diets they were compared to.

Aside weight loss, low-carb diet also improves a lot of health risk factors such as cholesterol levels.

This section will discuss 10 verified health benefits of ketogenic and low fat diet.

  1. Low-carb diet inhibit the appetite (positively): One of the demerits of dieting is hunger. This is the major reason why most dieters give up on their diets. One of the major benefits of a low-carb diet is that it reduces the appetite automatically (1). Studies have shown that when people reduce their carb intake and eat more fat and protein, they consume much fewer calories. As a matter of fact, when studies are being conducted on low-fat and low-carb diets, researchers restrict the calorie consumption in the low-fat group so the results could be easily compared (2).
  2. Weight loss: This is one of the most effective ways to cut down on fat buildup. Studies have shown that people who take lesser carbs tend to lose weight more efficiently and much faster than people who are placed on low-fat diet. This occurs even when those on low fat diet restrict their calorie count. Why does this happen? The truth is that low-carb diets have the ability to rid the body of excess water. Low carb diet can reduce the levels of insulin in the blood. When this happens, the kidneys excrete excess sodium, resulting in osmosis of water and accompanying weight loss in a week or two (3, 4). Some studies have compared weight loss between low-carb dieters and low-fat dieters. It was discovered that low-carb dieters lost weight 2-3 times higher than the low-fat dieters without any hunger sensation (5, 6). Low carb diets may last for as long as six months, but then the fat starts coming back. The reason for this is that the dieters give up easily and then go back to eating what’s not right (7). Frankly, the low-carb diet is a lifestyle and not a diet as the name implies. Success is only possible when you stick to it in the long term. Once you’ve reached your goal weight, you may begin to include some healthy carbs in your diet.
  3. Fat from the abdominal cavity is lost: Fat is distributed across body regions and organs. Our risk of disease and health status is determined by the location where the fat is stored. Two types of fat are important in health and disease – the visceral fat (present in the abdominal cavity) and the subcutaneous fat (lies under the skin). In many cases, visceral fat surround the internal organs. When there is a lot of fat around the body organs, it may result in insulin resistance and inflammation. Resistance to insulin causes metabolic dysfunction – a condition that is very common in developed countries of the world (8). Low-carb diet drastically reduce the fat present in the abdominal cavity (9). With time, this leads to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
  4. Reduction in triglyceride content: Triglycerides are simply fat molecules. Fasting triglycerides contribute greatly to heart disease (10). It is a paradox that high consumption of carbohydrate (most especially fructose) is the major factor that drives an elevated level of triglycerides (11). A reduction in carb consumption drastically reduces the level of triglycerides in the blood (12). Conversely, low-fat diets causes an astronomic increase in triglyceride concentration (13).
  5. Increases the levels of high-density lipoprotein: High-density lipoprotein is also known as the “good cholesterol.” High-density lipoprotein and low-density lipoprotein carries cholesterol in the blood. The difference between both is that while low-density lipoprotein carries cholesterol from the liver to other parts of the body, high-density lipoprotein carries cholesterol to the liver. Here, it can be excreted or reused. People with high levels of HDL have very low risk of a heart disease (14). HDL can best be increased by consuming low-carb foods. This is not surprising as studies have proven this (15). Another predictor of heart disease risk is the ratio of triglycerides to high-density lipoprotein. The higher the ratio, the greater your chances of getting a heart disease (16). Low carb diets improve this ratio by reducing the levels of triglycerides in the body and also increasing the levels of high-density lipoprotein.
  6. Improvement in type 2 diabetes: Carbs are broken down into simple sugars when eaten. After digestion in the gastrointestinal tract, they are sent into the blood stream from where they raise the blood sugar levels. When the level of sugar in the blood is higher than normal, it becomes toxic. To prevent this, the beta cells of the pancreas secrete a hormone called insulin. Insulin facilitates the uptake of the glucose by the body’s cells. In people who are healthy, this quick action of insulin minimizes what we would call the “sugar spike.” However, some persons are not sensitive to insulin. This means that the insulin is secreted but for some reason, the cells cannot sense it. This makes it more difficult for the cells to take in the glucose from the blood (17). This can result in type 2 diabetes. About 300 million people are affected globally by this ailment (18). The solution to this problem is simple. All you need do is cut down on the intake of carbohydrate. This will reduce the need for insulin and the blood sugar itself will go way down (19).
  7. Reduction in blood pressure: hypertension is one of the risk factors for many diseases. Such include stroke, heart disease and kidney failure. Blood pressure can be effectively reduced by low-carb diets. This reduces the risk of these diseases and prolongs life (20).
  8. Ketogenic diets treat against metabolic syndrome: Metabolic syndrome is associated with diabetes and heart disease. It comprises many symptoms such as abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low levels of high-density lipoprotein and elevated fasting blood sugar levels. It is relieving to known that all these symptoms improve when one is placed on a low carb diet such as the ketogenic diet (21).
  9. Low carb diet improves the pattern of low density lipoprotein cholesterol: Studies have shown that people with high low-density lipoprotein are at risk of heart attacks. However, not all LDL causes heart attacks. In this regard, much importance is attached to the size of the particles. People with small particles are at a much higher risk than those with large particles (22). Low carb diets (ketogenic diets) increases the size of LDL particles and also reduces the number of these particles floating in the blood stream (23).
  10. Ketogenic diets are therapeutic for some brain disorders: Glucose is essential for optimal brain function. Some parts of the brain can burn only glucose. This explains why the liver synthesizes glucose from protein if we are deprived of carbs. The brain can also burn ketones. Ketones are formed when we starve or have a very low intake of carbohydrate. This is the mechanism behind the action of ketogenic diet which has been used in the treatment of epilepsy in children (24). This diet can cure children of epilepsy. A study has shown that over 50 percent of epileptic children placed on a ketogenic diet had more than 50 percent reduction in seizures. Seizures were completely gone in 16 percent of the children (25).

It has thus been established that the ketogenic and low carb diets have a lot of benefits on the human health.



The world is being plagued by obesity and metabolic diseases. Research has shown that at least 2.8 million adults die annually from obesity-related causes (26). To combat obesity, so many diets have emerged. Only few of these diets are backed up by research (27). On the other hand, the benefits of the ketogenic diet are scientifically supported (28, 29). This section explains how the weight loss potential of the ketogenic diet.

Strong evidence exists to show that ketogenic diets are effective for weight loss (30). They can help in fat loss, preservation of muscle mass and improve many disease markers (31). As a matter of fact, many studies have compared the ketogenic diet to the recommended low-fat diet for weight loss. Results have shown that the ketogenic diet is much more effective (32).

In a particular study, participants who were placed on a ketogenic diet recorded a weight loss 2.2 times higher than those placed on a low-fat, low-calorie diet. There was also a significant improvement in HDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels (33).

Further research also compared the low-carb diet to the dietary guidelines of the Diabetes UK. It was discovered that the low-carb group had a weight loss of 15.2 lbs (6.9kg). Conversely, the low-fat group lost just 4.6 lbs (2.1kg). Within three months, the low-carb diet caused a weight loss three times higher than that recorded in the other group (34).

Theories for these findings are however very contrasting. Some experts have put up the argument that the results may be due to differences in protein intake. Others think that ketogenic diets have a distinct metabolic advantage over other diets (35).

Other studies have found that there could be fat loss when food intake is not controlled (such as in binge eating).

Below are the mechanisms behind ketogenic diet and weight loss

  • Higher intake of protein: With ketogenic diet, there is an accompanying increase in protein intake. Intake of protein has many benefits to weight loss (36).
  • Gluconeogenesis: When one is placed on a ketogenic diet, the body converts protein and fat into carbs for fuel. This process is known as gluconeogenesis. It involves burning of extra calories which facilitates weight loss (37).
  • Elimination of food: When one is placed on a ketogenic diet, food options are limited. This can cause a reduction in calorie intake, which is essential for fat loss (39).
  • Appetite suppressant: Ketogenic diet gives this feeling of fullness and satiety. This is enhanced by changes in hunger hormones, including ghrelin and leptin (40).
  • Improved sensitivity to insulin: Ketogenic diets can improve the sensitivity of the cells to insulin. This helps in metabolism and improvement in utilization of fuel (41).
  • Decreased fat storage: Studies have suggested that ketogenic diet may inhibit lipogenesis. Lipogenesis is the process by which sugar is converted into fat. With this, the excess glucose in the blood will not be converted into fat (42).
  • Increased burning of fat: The amount of fats burned each day is rapidly increased when one is placed on a ketogenic diet. Fat is burnt during rest, exercise and daily activity (43).

Ketogenic diet is an effective weight loss tool when compared to low-protein, low-fats diet.


What can we make of the above research?

A greater part of the research has shown that ketogenic diet plays a very essential role in weight loss and is more effective than the conventional diets. The following assertions can therefore be made:

  • Weight loss in ketogenic diets is not caused only by a loss of “water weight.’ Weight loss studies measuring changes in body fat showed that subjects who took ketogenic diet had a greater loss of body fat compared to those who took only low-fat diets. Also, ketogenic diet is associated with a decrease in waist circumference, an important indicator of harmful abdominal fat.
  • The effectiveness of a ketogenic diet in weight loss is enhanced when it is backed up by regular exercise and physical activities. The effectiveness of ketogenic diets can also be enhanced by adding fatty fish and low-carbohydrate vegetables.
  • There are no meta-analyses of literature neither are there research studies suggesting that low-carb diets do not help in weight loss. Many studies suggest that it is more effective in weight loss compared to low-fat diets.
  • For the best results, consistency is necessary. Most studies with good results happened because the participants recorded their calorie intake and made healthy choices in lifestyle.

Before embarking on a ketogenic diet, it is best that you consult your physician and dietitian to be sure that it is the best plan for you. The decision will be made based on your medical history. Do not fail to make healthy diet choices to get the best results. Eat foods such as vegetables high in fiber, and fatty fish. Back it up with exercise and physical activities and you’ll have the best output.



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