The ketogenic diet, otherwise known across the internet as the “keto” diet, attempts to keep the body in a state of ketosis. This is a state of being where the body burns fat for energy rather than sugar, which is more common.
Essentially, keto is low in calories and high in fat. Those who succeed on this diet claim they have a lower appetite, increased amounts of energy, and see immediate weight loss results. This is met with a great amount of skepticism, and rightly so. How can such a high fat diet lead to weight loss?
In a traditional ketosis diet, only 10% of your total daily calories would come from carbohydrates, which the body burns for energy. Another 20% of your calories are from protein, but the largest amount (70%) comes from fats. The body is forced into finding an alternative source for energy and finds it within the fat tissue in the body.
Water weight is the immediate loss. When the body resorts to using the stored fat in the body, the body loses a lot of excess water. There is a key difference between water weight and “real” weight loss; you are much more likely to put water weight back on than you are to put back on real weight loss.
Carbs are essential for proper digestion. They contain a large amount of water and fiber, and there will be considerable side effects to removing these from your diet almost completely. The immediate effects are usually as simple as constipation, but the long-term effects are increased risk of cancers in the gastrointestinal tract as well as decreased immune function.
However, the keto diet has not been well studied over the long term. Doctors do assume that increasing your fat levels and cutting your carbs to such extremes can lead to negative effects. One of the most common cases in keto dieters followed for a year is an increase in bad forms of cholesterol, though there is more to be studied.
There are also risks of forming kidney stones, low blood sugar, higher than normal levels of acid in the blood, muscle degeneration, and fatigue. These are relatively common in the early stages of the diet, as the body takes time to adjust to the lack of carbs.
It should be noted that your body has a preference for getting its carbs from sugar and carbohydrates. While the keto diet is not an ideal, sustainable diet for the long term, it can help you “reset” your body and “kick start” a weight loss journey.
While there are significant downsides to the diet, there are a few upsides as well.
Your diet and acne are often correlated. By reducing your intake of carbs and sugars, you can also decrease your skin problems. A diet that is higher in carbs causes more changes in blood sugar which affects skin health but removing this helps clear some cases of acne.
When the keto diet is followed with a healthy theme in mind, the diet can also improve heart health. When the fats that are consumed are “good” fats, like avocados rather than hydrogenated oils, cholesterol levels can be altered. There have been cases where the keto diet was followed healthfully, and levels of good cholesterol increased while bad levels dropped.
The keto diet can also potentially aid in brain function. There has been evidence that it offers protection to neurons in the brain. This can help treat or prevent Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and some sleep illnesses.
While there are a lot of foods that keto dieters avoid, there is a long list of foods they can eat.
It goes without saying that most meats and poultry are principal foods in a keto diet, but seafood is also quite common. Most varieties of fish as well as some variations of shellfish are free of carbs, but are full of good nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. However, there are certain types of seafood that do have more carbs, so research is key.
Certain types of vegetables have a low carb count as well. While things like yams, potatoes, and beets must be avoided while on the keto diet, vegetables with a low starch content, like spinach and Brussels sprouts, are an excellent choice. Veggies such as these are also high in antioxidants and reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer.
Eggs are popular among ketogenic dieters. Eggs also tend to be a healthy choice for just about anyone, and they are versatile as well. Eggs are low in carbs and high in protein which is practically perfect for a keto diet. However, it is important to eat the entire egg, as most of the nutrients are stored in the yolk rather than the white.
Most varieties of nuts and seeds provide a high fat and low carb option for the followers of the keto diet. They are also a reliable source of fiber, which is helpful in making the body feel full for a longer period of time as well as helping it to absorb fewer overall calories. Flaxseeds, pecans, and Brazil nuts are good choices when following a keto diet, as they have the lowest amount of net carbohydrates.
Any dramatic change to your diet and lifestyle can have consequences as well as benefits. If you have prior health concerns such as diabetes, heart problems, or hypoglycemia, it is particularly important to speak with your doctor before embarking on a diet change, but it is recommended to talk to your doctor regardless of your current health. Additionally, since ketosis is not a long-term weight loss solution, you will want to also discuss different longstanding options for your situation.
Not all carbs are identical. While there are benefits to eliminating them, a healthy diet is usually well-rounded, and carbohydrates are full of nutrients and fiber that the body needs; they are not evil.