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The big Keto Fad — the myths, the facts.

By Anino Aganbi & Chris Onuoha

As far as diets go, the Keto diet is the one fad that has taken a hold of the Nigerian trendy folks more than any other before it. Strangely enough, the recipes involved bear very little resemblance to our local diet which is rich in carbohydrates and meats.

On the contrary, the Keto diet virtually abhors carbohydrates, and places emphasis on fats of all types, with a little protein incorporated. All kinds of new recipes have surfaced, featuring coconuts, cauliflowers, almonds, cheeses and butters, avocado pears and eggs. Nigerian ladies swear it is the best thing since sliced bread, and are even placing their husbands on it.

•Oguntona, Popoola & Ogunmoyela

WHAT is it about?

According to proponents, the goal of a ketogenic diet plan is to improve wellbeing through a metabolic change in which the primary cellular fuel source switches from carbohydrate based fuels (glucose) to fat fuels and fat metabolism products called ketones. This is achieved through a metabolic process called ketogenesis, and a body state called ketosis.

Ketosis is simply a normal metabolic pathway in which the body cells utilize ketones to make energy, instead of relying on sugar or carbohydrate. Ketone bodies have some very beneficial effects on the human body, and elevating one’s blood levels of ketone bodies is an effective treatment for many disease conditions because it improves the function of cellular energy pathways and mitochondrial health.

Ketogenic diets are now being used to treat medical conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, autism, Alzheimer’s, cancer and others and much of the success of these treatments is rooted in these cellular effects.

How does it work?

The nutrient intake on a ketogenic diet typically works out to about 70-75% of calories from fat, 20-25% from protein, and 5-10% from carbohydrate on a daily basis.

Demographics: There seems not to be any clear demographics indulging in what is now commonly referred to as the Keto lifestyle apart from the fact that women with better economic power indulge more often, and for obvious reasons. The various flours and concoctions attract a sturdy price range. The meals are also rather laborious to prepare, meaning adherents are ladies who have a lot of leisure time.

The facts: This diet fad that is sweeping over the Nigerian trend landscape with much rave reviews is definitely new in our climes. WO speaks to Nutrition experts to throw more light on the good, the hidden and the bogey.

Speaking to Women’s Own, Profesor Olugbenga Ogunmoyela, a nutritionist says “A ketogenic diet is essentially a low-carbohydrate (referred to as low-carb), high-fat diet. Rather than the normal production of glucose for energy, the absence of adequate carbohydrates in the diet makes the body turn to the fat which is then broken down into ketone in the liver for energy.

The body is said to be in ketosis when this happens, a state in which the body is burning fat rather than sugar which normally produces glucose for energy. It has been found  useful for those who are on weight loss programmes although there are some common side effects associated with the programme especially at the early stage of the programme such as excessive thirst,  leg cramps, headaches, nausea, lethargy, irritability, constipation, bad breath, increased heart rate, as well as sometimes elevated cholesterol, hair loss, reduced physical performance, etc

Ogunmoyela also said “Kitogenic diet works and has been practiced for almost a century. Many people get discouraged when they experience some of the side effects listed above but generally, when practiced with high water and adequate protein intake, the initial side effects can be minimized.

It is only becoming more popular especially amongst the elite in Nigeria in recent years. The social media has also helped in creating the awareness as people share their experiences. Traditional African diets are usually high in carbohydrates mainly from cereals and tubers which are common staples such as cassava, yams, coco yams, Maize, Rice, Sorghum, Millet, etc. By the time a change to low-carb diet becomes popular and becomes a way of life,  certainly it will have implications for the economy which will be both positive and negative. For example, in recent years, the increasing popularity of wheat semolina and brown flour for “amala” has affected the local consumption of traditional yam products.

So while it is desirable for nutritional reasons if our diets contain less carbohydrates, it will affect subsistence lives and government will need to ensure a better focus on value addition programs to preserve such food products and make them available and affordable in lean seasons.

“ In addition to the implications already highlighted before, such diets will ultimately create a more active population and help to reduce the challenges of carbohydrate-induced obesity which is not just a challenge in many developed countries, but is rapidly growing in Nigeria amongst other associated non-communicable diseases.

There are many associated adverse side effects in the literature, but each individual must watch out for any of the symptoms earlier listed especially in the early stages of starting such a diet plan.  Knowledge of what to look out for will help and many of the side effects will gradually disappear, including temporary hair loss, constipation, impaired physical activity, excessive thirst and bad breath.

Surely, the latter can be a very strong embarrassment to anyone who is sensitive to smell and is unaccustomed to offensive odours produced by the ketones as the fat is being broken down by the body, particularly when such odours come from you or from close neighbours” says Ogunmoyela.

Family meal time

Also sharing her opinion is another nutritionist Kemi Popoola who is doing her Ph.D in community nutrition. “Ketogenic diet works for a some of people. If you are talking short term then it is something I might advise people to do. But it cannot be sustained long term. I talked to my mother about it and she calls it a diet for rich people.

Basically, you would be cooking different sets of meals for yourself and your family at different times of the day. Where then is the family meal time? Your body needs carbohydrate to sustain it.

So by the time you cut out all forms of carbohydrate from your diets, your body feeds on the fat. It is true that it is effective to some point, but in the long run is it something a lot of people can afford to maintain?  With the way our climate is, you need a lot of energy which is what you get from your carbohydrate but by the time you get into a ketogenic diet, you would probably be weak for a couple of days and your body adjusts to your new diet plan.”

“For me, the ketogenic diet is not really helping the economy. There is always going to be someone trying to sell her own products for you to use telling you it is better. By the time you do a ketogenic diet for three months and you want to go back to your normal diet, it becomes difficult.

How do you now find a balance with your regular meals? Your body might even shut down due to withdrawal symptom. If you are the type of person who binges even while dieting, then you are not helping matters. There is nothing wrong with you taking a spoon of cake but you would find it difficult if you are the type who must take a slice and on a regular basis.

“I usually tell people who come to me for nutritional advice to change their lifestyle and not their diet. Eat less of anything that contains unprocessed sugar. Personally, I avoid drinks like coca cola because of their sugar content. People should also take time to check the contents of what they buy from the shelves as it might contain sugar.

When I talk to people about nutrition, I advise people to draw up a dietary plan. They should list down the things they usually cannot do without and try to cut down on those,” said Popoola. Professor Babatunde Oguntona was of the opinion that ketogenic diet is not a healthy way of dieting.

Reproductive systems

“What is in vogue is astonishing. Ketogenic diet is not a healthy way of dieting. The body is a remarkable organ. It has its laws, principles and its code by which it functions.

At the end of the day, the whole system works together. The digestive system, reproductive systems have part ways by which they work together.  Somebody who is fat could not have gotten fat over night. It would have taken a period of time for the person to have added that weight.

During that period of time, it may lead to a system that will result in weight accumulation, fat deposit. It is not just fat that are deposited, tissues are needed to anchor the fat, even the bones are strengthened to be able to carry the excess weight.

All these systems work together so the person becomes fat. It might take a year,  five years, ten years or more. Now with a single magical diet, you want to change all that in a short period of time. The body does not work like that. People who are designing these diets are designing it in such a way that it will affect one particular part of the body.

Infact the micro-system of the body. You want to reduce the fat content over night. Because of advancement in chemistry, it is possible to target a particular tissue in the body. But in the overall interest of the system, it is traumatic.

Overall interest of the system

Because you are giving all these system that have come to build the fat a shock. This is why some times, some people say it leads to a mental situation when you get to a system where the individual who is trying to lose weight abruptly loses control, then it becomes a problem.

It becomes a problem. He cannot coordinate properly.”

Oguntona also said “It is not possible for the body to function without carbohydrate. The fuel your brain uses is carbohydrate. How does the brain function without glucose. Getting the body to function without carbohydrate is a misinterpretation of nutrition.

The primary fuel for the body is carbohydrate. The body resorts to fat when there is a shortage or when there are shortage with carbohydrate. The digestive system is manufactured to work on carbohydrate. At the end of the day, if there is shortage of carbohydrate or fat, then the body resorts to protein. It starts to metaphormize the protein in the body.

There are so many programmes on weight loss and the best ones are the ones that takes a holistic view  of the human physiology and those ones work on the standard equation of input versus output. In other words it will have an equation of what you consume(input) and what you expend ( output). Input is not just what you consume but the beverages also, the balance of that is very important.

The output of it is how much you burn.i.e. exercise. The people who are efficient are those who convert every gram they eat into fat. The ones that are not efficient are those that eat and never get fat but that could be genetic.

The programmes I am talking about takes care of the input and output and involves managing the diet in such a way that no part of the body is ignored. At the same time it takes care of the out put in terms of exercise.

These are the types of programmes that can help rather than resorting to the fantasy diet that you expect to make you lose weight over night.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.