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[5 min read] Does the keto diet work for weight loss?

You may have noticed more patients mentioning the ketogenic (or keto) diet in the past few years. It is a low-carb, high-fat eating pattern that has become increasingly popular. But does it work for weight loss?

While some research supports the idea that the keto diet can help reduce body fat, long-term studies into its effectiveness are lacking.

Can the keto diet promote weight loss?

A patient’s carb intake when following the keto diet is typically less than five to 10 per cent of their total daily calorie intake. This promotes a state of ketosis in which the body uses fat instead of carbs as its energy source, and the liver produces ketones. The patient’s fat intake is increased to around 70-90 per cent of calories, along with around 20 per cent protein.

There are some possible weight loss mechanisms associated with the diet, though long-term studies are lacking.

  • The keto diet may reduce hunger. It has been linked to decreased levels of ghrelin, the body’s main hunger hormone, which may help patients to eat fewer calories and lose weight.
  • The keto diet may help reduce water weight. Carbs in their stored form in the body hold water, so when patients reduce their carb intake, stored carbs are released along with additional fluid, which may result in weight loss.
  • The keto diet may achieve a calorie deficit.

Keto supplements such as MCT oil and exogenous ketones can also help patients reach ketosis quicker, reduce appetite, and avoid side effects. However, it is not recommended to use them as weight loss supplements.

What else might affect weight loss?

When patients follow the keto diet to lose weight, other factors need to be considered.

  • The patient’s exact carb intake. Patients who enter ketosis quickly can avoid some of the symptoms of “keto flu” which include headaches and vomiting. Eating less than 50 grams of carbs per day should be enough for most people to stimulate ketosis.
  • Sleep patterns. Lack of sleep can impact weight loss and hunger hormones such as ghrelin and leptin, increasing appetite.
  • Physical activity. Any weight loss diet should be combined with a proper exercise regimen.

How sustainable is the keto diet?

Because the keto diet is so restrictive, many people find it difficult to stick to. For example, it can interfere with social interactions when dining out. Studies on the long-term health effects of the keto diet are also lacking.

Want to learn more about managing your patients’ nutrition concerns in general practice? Upskill in Medical Nutrition Management.

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