The ketogenic diet, also known as the keto diet, is one of the most popular diets in the world.
You’ve probably come across social media posts where celebrities and influencers swear by the keto diet and its impact on their weight loss and good health.
If you’re wondering how the keto diet works and whether it’s the right path for you, this article will help you out.
Scroll down to learn everything you need to know about the keto diet.
What is the keto diet?
The Keto diet, similar to the Atkins diet, is a low-carb, high-fat, and adequate-protein diet whose main objective is to lead the body into the state of ketosis, where the primary source of energy is fat.
What most people usually don’t realize is that there are several types of the keto diet.
- SKD (standard keto diet) – very low-carb, high-fat such as saturated fat, and moderate-protein diet. A person who follows the standard keto diet usually eats 10% of net carbs, 70% of fat, and 20% of protein during the day.
- CKD (cyclical keto diet) – includes periods of refeeding with high carbs. In most cases, a person has five keto days followed by two high-carb days.
- TKD (targeted keto diet) – allows for adding carbs around workout sessions.
- High-protein keto diet – similar to SKD, but involves more protein. The ratio of carbs, fat, and protein here is 5%, 60%, and 35%, respectively.
Despite several approaches to a keto diet, studies have usually focused on standard and high-protein keto diets. As this diet is becoming more popular, it’s vital to carry out further research. This is particularly the case as many people combine the keto diet with other approaches such as intermittent fasting.
What is ketosis?
Ketosis is defined as a natural metabolic state wherein the body uses fat to produce ketones and uses them for energy rather than carbohydrates. Ketones are produced by the liver from fat you eat or fat stored in the body. Three types of ketone bodies include acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), and acetone.
To the human body, the preferred source of energy is carbohydrates. So, if a person significantly reduces carb intake, the body will use up glucose it has stored.
Since no glucose is “arriving,” the body is kind of forced to look for other sources of energy. This is when nutritional ketosis occurs because this new source of energy is fat.
The breakdown of triglycerides releases a certain level of glucose which can be used to fuel the body. This process leads to the release of byproducts, i.e., the ketone body. Ketones are eliminated via the urine.
Once the body reaches ketosis, a person needs to consistently follow a Ketogenic diet to maintain this metabolic state. More precisely, if you consume a sufficient amount of carbs, the body will abandon ketosis and go back to the old way where glucose is used for energy. Not only will it stop breaking down fat, but it will no longer produce ketone bodies in sufficient amounts.
You see, the liver produces ketones even if you eat a high-carb diet. But this production is minimal and doesn’t yield the effects of ketosis.
4 health benefits of a keto diet
The Keto diet is not just trendy; it can be beneficial for some people. Below, we’re going to focus on the health benefits of this diet.
1) Weight loss
Probably the most common reason people start with the keto diet today is to lose weight.
Evidence confirms the ketogenic diet is an effective weight-loss method, and it can lower risk factors or various diseases. A ketogenic diet could be effective for weight loss like a low-fat diet.
Most people can lose weight with the keto diet without counting calories or dramatically restricting their intake because this diet is filling. Not only does the ketogenic diet help you lose weight, but it can also reduce diastolic blood pressure, triglycerides, and improve insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin resistance.
2) Diabetes management
Diabetes mellitus is complicated to manage. This condition can lead to a wide range of problems and complications. Plus, it is tricky to slim down or maintain weight in a healthy range when you have diabetes.
A Keto diet helps you lose excess fat and promotes weight loss, as seen above. This is important because excess fat is related to metabolic syndrome, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes. Interestingly, the ketogenic diet can improve insulin sensitivity by 75%.
3) Epilepsy management
A doctor may recommend the keto diet for children whose seizures fail to respond to seizure medicines.
The restrictive nature of the keto diet is why doctors usually don’t recommend it to adult patients. It can be difficult to stick to keto.
A ketogenic diet could be helpful for following epilepsy conditions:
- Infantile spasms
- Dravet syndrome
- Rett syndrome
- Tuberous sclerosis complex
- GLUT-1 deficiency
- Doose syndrome
The Ketogenic diet works well for children with focal seizures.
4) Better heart health
Following a keto diet could be beneficial for the heart and cardiovascular system. A growing body of evidence confirms the ketogenic diet can improve risk factors of heart disease such as blood glucose levels, blood pressure, HDL (good) cholesterol, and body fat.
Other benefits of the keto diet
Besides the abovementioned health effects, a low-carb diet such as keto can also:
- Slow tumor growth
- Improve the outcome of traumatic brain injuries
- Aid management of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) by decreasing insulin levels
- Improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease
- Treat or prevent metabolic syndrome
- Reduce the number of LDL (bad) cholesterol particles in the blood
- Improve acne
- Reduce the risk of certain cancers
- Aid treatment of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
10 foods to eat
A Keto diet can be quite restrictive, meaning you need to pay close attention to the food choices you make. The success of keto dieting depends on whether you eat and avoid the right foods.
Foods you should include into your keto diet menu are:
- Healthy fat: avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, MCT oil
- Meat: red meat, sausage, ham, steak, poultry
- Condiments: salt and pepper, herbs and spices
- Grass-fed butter and heavy cream
- Low-carb vegetables: tomatoes, green vegetables, peppers, onions, cucumbers, eggplant.
- Nuts and seeds: walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, chia seeds
- Cheese: cheddar, mozzarella, goat cheese, cream cheese, blue cheese, feta, Swiss cheese.
- Fatty fish abundant in Omega-3 fatty acid: tuna, salmon, mackerel, trout
10 foods to avoid
Besides enriching your daily menu with the abovementioned foods, here’s what you should avoid if you want to follow the keto diet plan properly:
- Unhealthy fats: mayonnaise, processed vegetable oils
- Fruit: except berries and strawberries in small portions
- Root vegetables or tubers, i.e., starchy vegetables: sweet potatoes, carrots, potatoes
- Legumes: beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils
- Sugary foods: soda, ice cream, candies, cakes
- Grains or starchy foods: rice, pasta, cereals
- Low-fat products: low-fat mayonnaise and other diet products
- Sugar-free foods: sugar-free candies and other items
- Some sauces or condiments: teriyaki sauce, honey mustard, ketchup, barbecue sauce
Tips and tricks
The whole keto diet process may seem complicated, especially if you’ve never followed a strict diet before.
These tips and tricks can make it easier to start with the ketogenic diet and make your journey easier:
- Get informed and learn as much as possible about the ketogenic diet before you even start following this eating regimen.
- Read food labels when grocery shopping and always check how many grams of fat, carbs, and fiber the item contains.
- When in a hurry, you can opt for a healthy frozen keto meal.
- Start meal prepping so that you have delicious and healthy meals throughout the week, but also to save time.
- Create a meal plan and determine when to make those meals (for most people, Sunday is a prepping meal day).
- Look for keto-friendly recipes online or invest in a good cookbook with easy and delicious keto recipes.
- Stock up on keto-friendly foods and keto products.
- Rearrange all foods that are not keto-friendly from your pantry or kitchen i.e.; they shouldn’t be the first thing you see (this is important if your household has several members and not everyone can or wants to start with ketogenic diet).
- Reevaluate your relationship with fat, it’s been demonized for a long time, and yet not all fat is equal.
- Track your macros.
- Connect with other keto dieters.
Possible side effects and how to minimize them
A Ketogenic diet is generally safe, but some adverse reactions may occur as the body adjusts to the new regimen. The term keto flu is used to describe these effects, and it lasts a few days up to a week.
Symptoms that are associated with keto flu include:
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Lack of energy and poor mental function
- Impaired exercise performance
- Bigger appetite
- Sleep problems
- Discomfort in the digestive tract
A Ketogenic diet may also cause dehydration-like side effects ranging from dizziness and fatigue to muscle soreness.
Some people may also experience the following side effects of the keto diet:
- Sugar cravings
- Brain fog
- Difficulty concentrating
How to minimize the side effects
The most useful way to minimize the abovementioned side effects is to try following a standard low-carb diet for a few weeks before starting with keto.
Why? A regular low-carb diet is a good way to encourage the body to burn more fat before stopping with carbohydrate intake entirely. You can consider it an interlude to the main event.
You may want to add more salt or mineral supplements to your diet to maintain water and mineral balance. This is important because the ketogenic diet can impair this delicate balance in the body.
To reduce the impact of the keto diet, you may want to avoid calorie restriction. Try to eat until you’re satiated. Most people who lose weight with the ketogenic diet achieve this without severely restricting calorie intake.
Some people take exogenous ketones or other keto supplements to achieve the state of ketosis more effectively.
Although the ketogenic diet has a wide range of health benefits, it has some risks too. Before you decide whether to give this eating pattern a try, you should also consider the keto diet risks.
- Micronutrient deficiencies
- Excess fat in the liver
- Low protein levels in the blood
- Kidney stones
The Keto diet is not safe for persons with type 2 diabetes who are taking sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors. Combining this medication with a ketogenic diet could increase the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis.
Diabetic ketoacidosis is more common in patients with type 1 diabetes, but it can also occur in persons with type 2 diabetes. Basically, diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when blood sugar is high and ketone levels accumulate to dangerously high.
Risks of the keto diet also extend to heart damage. The levels of electrolytes and fluid can be lower on the ketogenic diet in addition to more frequent urination.
The loss of sodium, potassium, and magnesium, all of which are electrolytes, can make a person prone to acute kidney injury. This puts a person at a higher risk of cardiac arrhythmia. In other words, imbalances of electrolytes can cause irregular heartbeat.
While the keto diet can be healthy for some people, it can lead to yo-yo dieting in others. A person who follows the keto diet to slim down may gain more weight once they stop with keto. It’s difficult to adhere to this restrictive eating pattern for the long term.
Other risks associated with the keto diet include:
- Changes in gut bacteria
- Dangerously low blood sugar levels
- Decreased bone strength due to loss in bone mineral density
You were probably intrigued by the keto diet. Who wouldn’t be? This diet has been praised so much that we feel encouraged to give it a try.
Indeed, the keto diet can be beneficial for some people. But, keep in mind that the keto diet isn’t for everyone.
If you have some specific health problem and are taking medications, you should consult the doctor before starting with the keto diet. Your doctor will inform you whether it’s safe to do so or not.
Remember, the keto diet is not a replacement for a healthy lifestyle and regular exercise. All in all, this diet has strong advantages, but also some potential risks. Whether or not you should follow the keto diet depends on your preferences.