While the discussion around the ketogenic or keto diet seems to be heating up, the diet concept is not new. In fact, it has been used as a treatment for epilepsy since the 1920s and came back into the spotlight in the 1990s when Dateline aired a segment highlighting it as a treatment option. But how did it go from an epilepsy treatment to a weight loss method? Well, for starters, a growing number of celebrities – including Vanessa Hudgens and Halle Berry – have recently publicly praised its weight loss benefits.
What Is It?
“Ketogenic” is a term for a low-carb diet (like the Atkins diet). The idea is for you to get more calories from protein and fat and fewer calories from carbohydrates. You reduce the most easily digestible carbohydrates, such as sugar, soda, pastries and white bread.
How A Ketogenic Diet Works
To understand why you might burn fat better on a keto diet or while in ketosis, think of your body as a car. Glucose is your body’s gasoline. Your body breaks down food into glucose for energy.
But what happens when your body doesn’t have enough glucose to use? After all, your car can’t run without gasoline.
Fortunately, this does not happen to your body. You have a backup fuel called ketones that your liver produces from fat, which puts your body in a state called ketosis.
On a keto diet, you restrict carbohydrates and protein, which means you consume a high-fat diet. Not having enough carbohydrates or protein means you don’t have much glucose to use as fuel. Your body uses this backup fuel to convert the fat and body fat you eat into ketones.
You are actually burning fat for fuel!
You’re always making ketones. But when you eat a ketogenic diet, these ketones replace glucose as your body’s primary fuel, and you enter ketosis.
The transition from glucose to ketones can take days or weeks, and maintaining that state can be just as challenging. Even small amounts of carbohydrates or excess protein can prevent your body from maintaining ketosis.
This makes ketosis a fairly strict diet. Maintaining this program requires:
- Keep your fat intake high. In order to get and stay in ketosis, your diet is going to be about 80-90% fat. In other words, the majority of your diet will consist of fat in your diet.
- Monitor protein intake. Excess protein can be converted to glucose, which suppresses ketosis. You will limit the amount of protein you eat on a keto diet.
- Keep carbohydrates low. To maintain ketosis, you need to keep your carbohydrate intake to about 20-50 grams per day. To put this in perspective. An apple has about 25 grams of carbohydrates.
- Test to see if you are in ketosis. You don’t have to do this, but you can use blood, urine or breath tests to measure the level of ketone bodies your body produces.
The keto diet can be challenging, at least in the beginning. But some believers swear by their benefits for weight loss and more.
Keto Diet Benefits
What benefits might you experience by switching to a keto diet? Quite a few, possibly.
Weight loss without hunger
Science shows keto and low-carb diets are often effective for losing weight. In fact, more than 35 high-quality scientific studies show that, when compared to other diets, low-carb and keto diets lead to greater weight loss.
Why do keto diets work so well for losing weight? Being in ketosis lowers insulin levels, which can help you access your body fat stores more easily. Another reason may be that keto diets help people naturally eat less, as a result of feeling more satisfied.
Control or reverse type 2 diabetes
Keto and low-carb diets can provide strong glycemic control for people with type 2 diabetes. Why? Because carbohydrates raise blood sugar more than protein or fat. To lower blood sugar – and potentially reverse type 2 diabetes – eat fewer carbohydrates. It’s that simple.
Improve metabolic health & blood pressure
The ketogenic diet may play a powerful role in improving several markers of metabolic health, including blood pressure, blood glucose, HDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Control type 1 diabetes
People with type 1 diabetes need insulin injections regardless of the type of diet they eat. However, low-carbohydrate diets tend to improve glycemic control and reduce the risk of hypoglycemia (dangerously low blood sugar).
Improve fatty liver disease
In non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), excess fat is stored in the liver. Recent studies suggest that a keto or low-carbohydrate diet may help reduce or even reverse NAFLD.
Other potential benefits
While there is less high-quality research on the benefits of the keto diet for other diseases, emerging evidence suggests that it may be helpful for some people – and for many, it’s certainly worth trying.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Mental health
- Physical endurance
Dangers of a Keto Diet
Can the body be overproducing ketones? Yes, this is called ketoacidosis. Is it possible under normal conditions? Not at all. For most people, it is a challenge to get into the optimal range of ketosis. Getting into areas that require medical intervention is not possible.
Note: The main exception to ketoacidosis is in people with type 1 diabetes – it occurs when insulin levels are severely low, which is rare in people with a normal functioning pancreas. Dangerously high ketone levels can lead to insulin secretion.
There are many misconceptions about low-carb diets, which contribute to the notorious perception of ketosis. Over the past 30 years, there has been a great deal of studies showing that a lot of fat and a little carbohydrate is beneficial.
People sometimes confuse ketosis for a high-fat, high-carb diet, which can be terrible for your body. Of course, you can get yourself into trouble when you eat a lot of fatty foods that are high in sugar.
Have you been thinking about going on a low-fat diet? The ketogenic diet has been proven to be healthier and more effective than a low-fat diet.
As a precautionary measure, you should always check with your doctor if you have any concerns about starting a keto diet. You should especially be wary if you are currently taking medication for a pre-existing condition, as additional monitoring may be required. Be careful when breastfeeding, as you may need to increase your carbohydrate intake.