Is the ketogenic diet recommended for older adults?

The ketogenic diet involves greatly reducing carbohydrate intake while increasing fat. Is it suitable for older adults? Find out!

Last update: 07 March, 2022

Diet and lifestyle are crucial to achieving a healthy old age. It is known that aging is an unstoppable process with changes in body functions. However, well-structured eating plans can slow the deterioration of this stage of life. Hence, the effectiveness of the ketogenic diet for older adults has been proven.

This eating pattern is quite popular and is defined as a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. Specifically, its implementation produces substances known as “ketone bodies”, which replace blood sugar as an energy source. Thus, it could be beneficial for the elderly. Why? Next, all the details.

Characteristics of the ketogenic diet

The ketogenic diet, “keto diet” or “KD”, is characterized by being high in fat, moderate in protein and low in carbohydrates. It is designed to mimic the biochemical changes associated with fasting. and achieve the effects that this causes, but without affecting muscle mass.

As it is a type of low carbohydrate diet, there is not enough glucose available as an energy source. In its replacement, the body creates ketone bodies. Hence its name.

The ketogenic diet is characterized by being high in fat and low in carbohydrates.

How does it act?

During fasting, the human body breaks down fat stores and produces different types of ketone bodies — or ketones — as a source of energy. Experts comment that the ketogenic diet stimulates the formation of these ketones to keep us active.

This process is known as “nutritional ketosis” and occurs by restricting carbohydrates to less than 50 grams daily. It usually takes 1-4 weeks to get into ketosis. Now, it is worth mentioning that this diet is associated with the following benefits:

  • Neuroprotection.
  • Weightloss.
  • Blood sugar control.
  • cardiovascular protection.

There is a high probability that such diseases will appear in old age. This is why the keto diet is studied as a possible option to prevent and control the chronic disorders of old age. Of course, its implementation must be done carefully and under professional advice.

How are calories distributed on the ketogenic diet?

In practice, the ketogenic diet uses ratios of 3 to 4 grams of fat for every gram of protein plus carbohydrates. This equates to 70-80% of total energy from fat. Of course, this must be healthy. From 30 to 20% of the energy is complemented by the sum of proteins and carbohydrates.

That is, if the diet is 1800 calories, 140 grams correspond to fat, 67 grams to protein and 36 grams to carbohydrates. In general, these nutrients are obtained from foods such as seeds, nuts, cheese, yogurt, vegetables, eggs, meat and fish in small proportions.

On the other hand, it is recommended to limit the consumption of fruits, whole and refined grains such as pasta and bread. Foods such as legumes and ultra-processed foods should be avoided.

Nutritional needs of older adults

Dr. López Luengo establishes that the diet for an older adult must be varied, sufficient, complete and balanced. However, health problems may occur that require nutritional adjustments. Food should be palatable, easy to prepare, stimulating the appetite, easy to chew, and light on digestion.


In old age, the rate of basal metabolism and physical activity decrease, so the energy need becomes less. For men over 60 years of age, around 2,400 kilocalories are suggested, while for women, around 2,000 kilocalories are estimated.


In a typical diet for older adults, carbohydrates range from 45 to 60% of total calories. On low-carb diets like keto, these values ​​can be less than 10% of total energy intake.


The protein requirements of the elderly are similar to those of the adult population. That is, they range from 0.8 to 1 gram per kilo per day. These should cover between 10 and 15% of the total calories. 60% of the proteins must be of animal origin and the remaining 40% from legumes and nuts.


In normal diets, the percentage of fat should range between 25 and 35% of the caloric value of the diet. In ketogenic, the caloric percentage is greater than 70%. It is recommended to limit the intake of saturated fat and trans fat, while increasing the intake of omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.


The most common vitamin deficiencies that have been observed in older adults are vitamin C, group B and vitamin D. For this reason, its consumption should be increased.


Attention must be paid to some micronutrients such as calcium, iron and zinc, since their deficit is frequent in this group of the population. It is recommended between 800 to 1200 milligrams of calcium a day accompanied by vitamin D.

A consumption of 8 milligrams of iron per day is also established, through meat, eggs or fish, and not through the use of supplements. Zinc intake will range from 12 to 15 milligrams per day.

Advantages of the ketogenic diet in older adults

Followers of the ketogenic diet claim that this diet program has many benefits for older adults. We review them below.

Greater chance of weight loss

As aging progresses, weight loss becomes more difficult. But by reaching the ideal weight, longevity is promoted and the possibility of developing other health problems is reduced.

Nutritional ketosis is capable of using fat for fuel, including your own body fat. In this sense, this diet is superior to those that are restrictive in calories, since removes stored fat faster.

Could reduce cardiovascular diseases

The weight loss achieved with ketogenic diets helps reduce the risk of developing heart disease. This is because blood lipids return to normal values.

In this sense, science has shown that the risk of heart disorders was reduced by 23% in an observational study over 20 years. This was achieved in people who lost weight, controlled blood lipids and consumed plant-based fats and proteins.

Improves energy for activity

At the beginning of the ketogenic diet, it is very likely that the older adult will feel low in energy and with a kind of “mental fog”. However, after overcoming this first phase of adaptation, you can increase concentration and energy.

When the body relies on ketones for energy, there are fewer spikes and crashes in blood sugar. This allows you to maintain good energy levels throughout the 24 hours.

Allows retention of body mass

With the aging process, muscle mass is lost. However, the ketogenic diet can help maintain muscle. This occurs because it provides the necessary energy and maintains adequate protein intake, which prevents the use of lean reserves as an energy source.

Could improve neurodegenerative diseases

Research in mice shows positive changes in the functions of brain cells and their blood vessels. In addition, it contributes to the reduction of free radicals that accelerate neuronal and mental deterioration.

On the other hand, the Johns Hopkins Institute published the results of a study on older adults who followed a ketogenic diet. He determined that such an eating plan can improve brain function and memory. Even, could prevent the progression of Alzheimer’s and other mental disorders.

Disadvantages of the ketogenic diet in older adults

Other experts in the field are a little more careful about the application of the ketogenic diet in older adults. In fact, they consider that it has some disadvantages.

Maintenance of the diet over time

Health experts are still not sure how effective the keto diet is in promoting long-term health. One of the reasons is that is very restrictive in the consumption of carbohydrates, which is difficult for those people who consume them frequently.

Side effects

The keto diet can be accompanied by some health disorders secondary to its application. However, most of these effects disappear within a few weeks. This includes the following:

  • Flu-like symptoms.
  • Bad breath.
  • Muscle cramps,.
  • Low energy and fatigue.
  • Insomnia.
  • Constipation and other digestive problems.

Nutrient deficiency may occur

The main sources of minerals and vitamins are found in fruits and vegetables, which are restricted on the keto diet. Therefore, before implementing it, it is recommended to speak with a nutritionist to ensure a balanced and healthy diet, especially in terms of the consumption of the following nutrients:

  • Iron.
  • Zinc.
  • Vitamin C.
  • Vitamin D.
  • B12 vitamin.

How to apply the ketogenic diet in older adults?

So that the side effects of the ketogenic diet do not affect the elderly, it is advised to slowly decrease the net amount of carbohydrates during the first few months.

In this way, the body gradually adapts to the lack of this macronutrient and older adults become more aware of the foods they can select.

To safely implement the ketogenic diet, it is best to make gradual dietary changes.

When to consult the professional?

If the older adult suffers from pancreatic disease, thyroid problems, eating disorders, kidney failure, inflammation, stones or gallbladder removal, they should consult a health professional. In such cases, This type of feeding may not be the most indicated.

It is also necessary to consult if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The nutritionist and the endocrinologist will be in charge of determining how the diet should be to control these diseases.

Ketogenic Diet Recommended for Older Adults

Just as aging is a natural and inevitable process, “how we take care of it” is key to leading a healthy old age and increasing our life expectancy. The ketogenic diet has several advantages to control and even prevent diseases of old age.

Also, he should be promoted with a diet plan before entering this stage of life. In this way, we avoid further damage to the body. The nutritionist and the treating physician must have the last word regarding the indication and control of the ketogenic diet in case of diseases of the elderly.

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