The ketogenic diet, also known as the keto diet, is one of the most popular diets in the United States and beyond right now, and that’s for a reason. All you have to do is talk to someone who you know that’s trying it to see the results they’ve had. So, what’s the skinny on the keto diet?
Many keto fans hold it up as a magic bullet for healthy weight loss. In some ways, it’s hacks your body to make it better at losing weight, which sounds perfect for many prospective dieters. While there has been some controversy surrounding the diet, it remains incredibly popular. Is it the weight loss miracle many claim it to be, or is the hype overblown?
The Basics of Keto
An easy way to think of the keto diet is as a simpler version of the Atkins diet. Both use the same science to help you lose weight. Being keto means following a high-fat, medium-protein, low-carb diet.
Originally developed by the Mayo Clinic in the 20s to help treat patients with epilepsy, keto diet meal plans follow a basic equation of 60 to 75 percent fat, 15 to 30 percent protein, and 5 to 10 percent carbs. Keto fans will boast about the diet’s ability to allow for bacon, burgers (without the buns), and steaks, and other foods other diets typically ban. That’s because, for many, this is a prime benefit of following the keto diet and helps individuals stay on course.
A general meal plan for a keto dieter would include lots of healthy fats, like olive oil and avocados, and proteins, like seafood and poultry.
A general meal plan for a keto dieter would include lots of healthy fats and proteins. Some examples of healthy fats are nuts, avocados, and certain oils like olive oil. Ideal proteins for someone on the keto diet include seafood, poultry, and fresh (non-processed) meat. Eggs are also excellent sources of both protein and fat, making them awesome in the keto world. Low-carb vegetables and fruits are also important to keeping a ketogenic diet well-rounded and balanced. You can even indulge, occasionally, in keto-friendly desserts like chocolate, keto-cookies, and certain cocktails that may help keto feel less like a diet.
The Science Behind Keto
How does the keto diet work? In short, it changes the way our body gets the energy it needs to work on a day-to-day basis. By reducing carbohydrate-intake and upping fat-intake, the diet induces ketosis. This is the process that kicks in if your body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates to fuel the body. To make up the deficit, your body switches over to burning fat, instead of carbs, for energy. This is the secret to keto’s weight loss ability. Ketosis also has the added benefits of allowing you to maintain your muscle and curbing your hunger.
The diet induces ketosis, which burns fat, instead of carbs, for energy, helping you lose weight from fat loss.
Generally, ketosis kicks in after roughly three to four days of eating under 50 grams of carbs per day. When your body enters into ketosis, it’s pretty easy to tell. For those familiar with the keto diet, they’ll likely be familiar with the keto flu. This is the stage of symptoms dieters undergo as their body transitions into ketosis. Headaches tend to be a common symptom, along with bad breath. Exhaustion is also a common complaint associated with the keto flu, since the low level of carbs can mess with your electrolyte-mineral balance. Additionally, dehydration and muscle cramps are often experienced as a result of water loss due to having higher ketone levels. Staying hydrated, getting the right amount of sleep, and slowly transitioning into the keto diet, instead of cutting out almost all carbs, can all help avoid or lower the severity of keto flu symptoms.
The Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet
Along with weight loss, a keto lifestyle may have a few other notable benefits. Some dieticians recommend keto for patients with type 2 diabetes, since it focuses on lowering your intake of carbs (a common goal of many diabetes-friendly diets). Going keto may also help improve your levels of healthy cholesterol (HDL) and cardiovascular health (through weight loss).
In addition, there’s some evidence that it may help with mild Alzheimer’s, but more research is needed before it’s considered more than just promising findings. As it stands, more research is needed before professionals can say for certain what the benefits are outside of weight loss.
The Potential Downsides of Keto
The keto diet isn’t without controversy. This makes sense for a diet that we mentioned earlier essentially “hacks” your body to lose weight. We don’t really know the long-term effects of going keto, either.
From The American Heart Association and Mayo Clinic
The American Heart Association is a bit skeptical that keto can improve one’s cardiovascular health, noting that diets like keto have been linked with early death in some studies. Instead, they suggest going with proven diets that are rich in plants and healthy proteins, like the Mediterranean diet. The Mayo Clinic also believes that the diet may have long-term concerns related to heart health. In fact, they’ve called the keto diet “more hype than help for most people.” These are people from the same organization that came up with the diet initially!
From Celebrity Trainer Jillian Michaels
Celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels made waves earlier in 2019 by taking a strong, public stance against the diet, calling it “bad for your overall health and wellness.” Michaels has been a vocal critic of keto, writing on her blog her views on the truth about the keto diet in 2018. In roughly 1175 words, she breaks down the diet and where it’s possible to go wrong with it. For example, she states that putting your body into ketosis for a long time isn’t safe, since it’s your body going into a state of emergency. Your body isn’t made to stay in ketosis for a long time. According to Michaels, the lack of a calorie restriction and the vague descriptions about what proteins or fats to indulge in can also lead dieters astray. Much of what she notes has started being echoed and expanded upon by other dietary experts.
Hard to Maintain
It doesn’t help that many people find the keto diet nearly impossible to maintain. All it takes is one cheat day to take your body out of ketosis. In fact, a cheat day on the keto diet can be even more unhealthy than expected, with studies showing that one dose of 75 grams of glucose (the sugar from carbs) while on a diet like keto can damage your blood vessels! This means that not only can it be difficult to maintain, but by introducing cheat days, you may actively be hurting yourself and undoing many of the benefits. And while you may lose weight quickly on keto, you can also regain it quickly if you start indulging in carbs again.
Keto can also lead to a dangerous condition known as ketoacidosis in extreme cases. This occurs when there’s too many ketones in your body. This condition causes your blood to become acidic and can lead to a coma or even death. So, while you may lose weight very quickly on keto, there’s a chance you can hurt yourself in the process.
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Does all this mean that there’s no value to going keto and that everyone who follows it is wrong? No, even in her “The Truth About Keto” post, Jillian Michaels notes in that there are potential benefits to keto, in some forms. It all comes down to balance and sense. While you can lose a lot of weight on keto, you should still strive for a balanced diet, working in healthy sources of fat and proteins.
If you’re healthy and take a sensible approach to keto, the keto diet may work for you. Regardless, before starting any new diet, especially one like keto that’s heavily restrictive, speak with your doctor or a dietician to ensure that it’s healthy for you, specifically. If you’ve started the keto diet without talking to your primary care physician or a dietician, now’s a great time to check in with them. In the end, while they may not have you shedding pounds like keto, more well-rounded diets, like the Mediterranean, CICO, or 80/20 diets, are probably healthier overall.