If losing body fat is on your to-do list, a low-carb keto diet is something you should consider. A new study shows that cutting carbohydrates in favor of fat can help older adults lose significantly greater body fat than a low-fat diet. This study was noteworthy because it debunks the popular concern that keto diets raise LDL cholesterol and aren’t appropriate for older adults who need to worry about cardiovascular health.
It also highlights why keto diets are so effective for fat loss:
They improve the body’s use of fat for energy, tapping into fat stores that surround the abdominal area, and
They blunt hunger and appetite, leading people to automatically eat fewer calories rendering “dieting” unnecessary.
This 8-week study used 34 obese men and women with an average age of 71 and put them onto one of two nutrition plans that provided sufficient calories to maintain body weight:
A low-fat diet designed around whole foods that supplied 55 percent of calories form carbs, 25 percent from protein and 20 percent from fat. The diet emphasized whole foods, including lean meats, low-fat dairy, whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
A low-carb keto diet designed around whole foods that supplied 10 percent of calories from carbs, 65 percent from fat, and 25 percent from protein. Participants were asked to consume 3 whole eggs a day as well as other protein sources (meat, fish, pork, poultry), leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables, some fruits, and limited high-fiber grains. Fat-containing foods such as oils, butter, nuts, cream, cheese, and avocado were also emphasized.
Results showed that the low-carb keto group lost an average of 4.1 kg of body fat, which translated into a 9.7 percent decrease in total fat mass. They also had a 22.8 percent decrease in visceral belly fat, which is associated with health problems and cardiovascular disease.
The low-fat group lost an average of 0.9 kg of body fat, equaling a 2 percent decrease in total fat mass. They had a 1 percent decrease in belly fat.
The keto group also had significantly greater improvements in metabolic and cholesterol markers with an increase in “good” HDL cholesterol from 53.9 to 61.0, a decrease in the “bad” LDL cholesterol from 108.6 to 98.4, and significant reduction in insulin resistance and triglycerides (a 40 point improvement).
The low-fat group had no change in cholesterol or insulin resistance but did decease triglycerides by 21 points.
It should be noted that the keto diet led to greater fat loss because participants naturally ate fewer calories than the low-fat dieters, likely due to the appetite suppressing-effects of ketones. When you cut out carbs, your body shifts from relying on glucose from carbohydrates to burning fat, which is metabolized into ketones and serves as the energy source in cells. Studies indicate that ketones blunt hunger, making it possible to achieve an energy deficit without trying.
The appetite suppressing effect in this study was large:
Nutrition plans were designed to maintain body weight and look at the impact of macronutrient makeup on metabolic health markers and visceral fat. Thus, the low-carb keto group was instructed to eat an average of 2248 calories and the low-fat group was prescribed 2137 calories.
Self-reported food diets showed that the keto dieters ate 1114 calories daily over the course of the study, while the low-fat dieters ate 1535 calories, which accounts for the greater fat loss in the keto group.
Researchers emphasize that a low-carb keto diet is an important tool for older adults who need to reduce body fat. The 3-fold greater loss of visceral belly fat leads to significant improvements in metabolic and cardiovascular health. Older adults don’t need to be scared of common myths around keto diets and can safely use a low-carb keto diet to achieve rapid fat loss without the misery of calorie counting.
Get Started With Keto
Perhaps more challenging than following a low-carb keto diet is starting one. Keto requires a reset of your eating habits so that you think about food in a different way. Gone are the days when breakfast is cereal, lunch is a sandwich, and dinner is pizza or pasta. You have to design meals around high-quality protein, healthy fat, and low-carb vegetables.
This approach will allow blood glucose levels to drop and kick you into ketosis so that your body is burning fat. Unfortunately, fat burning requires an adaptation processes of a few days during which energy levels may be reduced. During this time you have to stay the course and stick with low-carb eating while your body upregulates enzymes that allow you to efficiently use fat for energy.
For an overview of how to get started with keto, check out this article that covers seven steps to the keto diet for beginners. For a more in-depth guide to going keto, check out our Keto Diet Handbook that includes recipes and summarizes additional health benefits of going low-carb, as well as long-term strategies for weight loss success.
Goss, A., et al. Effects of weight loss during a very low carbohydrate diet on specific adipose tissue depots and insulin sensitivity in older adults with obesity: a randomized clinical trial. Nutrition and Metabolism. 2020. 17(64).