Ask the Expert: Should I go on the ketogenic diet to lose weight?


By Julie Riopel-Meunier, MBA, M.Sc., RD.

Q: I’ve been hearing a lot about ketogenic diet. Is this something I should try for losing weight? Etienne

A: Dear Etienne, there has definitely been a lot of buzz about the ketogenic diet which was first introduced in 1920 as a treatment to treat epilepsy in children. Today, it is a very popular method for losing weight. Here are some highlights about the diet.

What is the ketogenic diet?

The ketogenic diet is a low-carbohydrate diet where only 5% – 10% of a person’s daily caloric intake comes from carbohydrates, another 75% – 80% from fat, and the rest from protein.

In comparison, Health Canada recommends that 45% – 65% of your caloric intake should come from carbohydrates, another 10% – 35% from protein and 20% – 35% from fat.

What do people eat?

Individuals who follow the ketogenic diet prefer eating foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, fish, hard cheese, high-fat yogurt, nuts, butter, vegetable oils, coconut oil, avocado and vegetables that are low in carbohydrates such as lettuce, kale and spinach. Certain fruits and vegetables that have higher amounts of sugar such as beets, corn, carrots, apples and oranges are avoided along with bread, potatoes, legumes (peas, beans, lentils), cereals and sweetened processed products such as cookies and pastries. For most people, the ketogenic diet requires them to make a considerable shift in the type of food that they usually eat.

What’s going on in the body?

The body naturally uses carbohydrates as its main source of energy. However, when a person’s carbohydrate stores are low, the body will use fat as an alternate energy source. Fats are converted to “ketone bodies” which may help produce weight loss. Ketone bodies reduce the feeling of hunger, which is why people on this diet say they are less hungry. It is important to know though that the weight loss often experienced in the first two weeks of being on a ketogenic diet, is mainly due to water loss.

Risks of the ketogenic diet

If you choose to follow a ketogenic diet you should keep in mind that over the short term, you may experience problems such as bad breath, headaches, muscle cramps, weakness, nausea, constipation, fatigue and sleep disorders.

There are few studies that have evaluated the safety and effectiveness of this diet over the long term, however, it is has been associated with lower intake and subsequent deficiencies in important nutrients such as antioxidants, fibre, B vitamins, vitamin C and calcium. As well, the drop-out rate with this diet is very high, as it involves dietary restrictions that are difficult to sustain over a long period of time.

What does Strengthening the Forces think?

There is no miracle diet.

The one common factor in all weight loss studies is the reduction of daily caloric intake.

In order to maintain a healthy weight or to lose weight over the long term, it is recommended that you adopt eating habits that you can follow that are consistent with your lifestyle.

Here are some tips for healthy eating:

  • Choose good carbs, not no carbs. Whole grains are your best bet.
  • Go Lean & Alternative. Fish, poultry, nuts, and beans are the best choices.
  • Choose healthier fats. Limit foods high in saturated fat, and avoid foods with trans-fat. Plant oils, nuts, and fish are the healthiest sources of fat.
  • Load Up on Vegetables and Fruit. Go for colour and variety – dark green, yellow, orange, and red.
  • Water is best to quench your thirst.

Here are some suggestions on foods which are a healthy source of carbohydrates:

  • Vegetables: Spinach, kale, mixed greens, tomatoes, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, carrots, Brussels sprouts, artichokes, squash.
  • Grains and legumes: Black beans, kidney beans, lentils, brown rice, barley, quinoa,
    whole-grain breads and pasta.
  • Fruits : apples, pears, oranges, mangoes, peaches, berries.

If you want to start a ketogenic diet, we recommend that you consider the pros and cons first and consult with a health professional, to obtain advice on effective methods to support weight loss.

Strengthening the Forces is the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) healthy lifestyles promotion program providing expert information, skills and tools for promoting and improving CAF members’ health and well-being. Contact your local health promotion office for more information and take advantage of what they have to offer.

Julie Riopel-Meunier is a registered dietitian. As part of the Strengthening the Forces team, she is the Acting Nutrition Wellness Educator, and focuses on nutrition programming for the CAF.