In today’s culture, information on dieting and fitness is widespread across both traditional and social media. It is a popular topic of conversation and many people are persuaded by the promise of one fad diet or another in order to trim off those five pounds that accumulated over last Christmas. These diets may seem particularly convincing when they are coupled with pictures of ordinary people that lost unfathomable amounts of weight in a short amount of time. Who wouldn’t be roped into trying whatever they did to look so good? However, these anecdotes may have inaccurate promises or may require a commitment to an unhealthy lifestyle change that causes extreme effects of the body. So, what kind of diet actually works, not just in the short term, but produces positive effects over the course of a lifetime?
Ketogenic diets, in a recent study, were found to increase longevity and healthspan. A ketogenic diet requires drastically reducing the amount of carbohydrates, and replacing the lost calories with fat. When a person begins to limit the amount of carbohydrates they are ingesting, the body begins to make a switch from metabolizing carbohydrates to breaking down fats instead. This induces a state of ketosis, where your body becomes increasingly efficient at burning fat to supply the rest of the body with energy. Some popular foods for ketogenic diets that are high in fat and low in carbohydrates are avocados, peanut butter and eggs. In addition, because high fat foods tend to be more filling, this diet is helpful for those that often become increasingly hungry when carbohydrate consumption is reduced.
In the study, researchers compared mice that had been raised on three different diets. These diets all differed in the amount of fats and carbohydrates were present. The low carbohydrate diet (LCD) consisted of food where 70% of the calories consumed were from fat. The ketogenic diet (KD) consisted of food where 89% of the calories consumed were from fat; this is obviously a very high fat diet. Finally, the control diet consisted of food where 65% of the calories were from carbohydrates and fats were in the minority.
Overall, a myriad of positive outcomes were associated with the mice that consumed a ketogenic diet. The mice on a KD lived the longest and had the longest average lifespan compared to the other groups of mice. In addition, the old mice that had been fed a KD had better memories, more muscle mass, greater grip strength in hanging tests, were faster in speed tests, and held better control of muscle coordination in their old age. Finally, the mice fed a KD weighed less and had significantly lower fat mass, even though they were all fed the same amount of calories. Changes in body composition such as these suggest that a ketogenic diet affects lean and fat mass, even when calories are not being restricted in order to lose weight.
With all the varying accounts of weight loss experiences, “miracle” products, or potentially magical fitness routines, it is imperative that any new lifestyle change should be backed by science. Otherwise, a drastic lifestyle change may lead to short term discomfort or permanent bodily harm. The benefits of a ketogenic diet both in short term weight loss and in longevity and overall health in old age are firmly backed by research. A ketogenic diet would be an incredibly health conscious choice, even for someone who is not trying to lose weight, but is merely trying to improve their quality of life!