In this very low-carb, high-fat diet, fat is back. Find out what you can eat on the keto diet, if it might work for you, and what you can expect if you cut back on carbs and eat more fat.
The ketogenic diet, which most people just call the “keto diet,” is back as one of the biggest diet trends in America. For years, it was only used in hospitals for healing purposes.
The keto diet was first used in the 1920s to treat epilepsy in children. Because it works so well—people on a keto diet have 30% to 40% fewer seizures—it’s still used in that field today.
But how could it help people who are healthy but want to lose weight or get more out of life? Let’s take this high-fat, low-carb diet apart piece by piece.
Check out: I Tried the Ketogenic Diet for a Month, and Here’s What Happened.
What is the Ketonic Diet?
The ketogenic diet is very high in fat (about 80% of your daily calories), very low in carbs (less than 5% of your calories), and reasonable in protein (usually 15% to 20% of your calories). This is a big change from the way macronutrients are usually split up, which is 20% to 35% protein, 45% to 65% carbs, and 10% to 35% fat.
The process called ketosis is the most important part of the keto diet. Most of the time, glucose is a good fuel for the body. The body turns carbs into glucose when it breaks them down. It’s very easy, which is why it’s the body’s favorite way to make energy.
When you eat less carbs or haven’t eaten in a while, your body looks for other ways to get energy. Most of the time, fat is that source. When you don’t eat carbs, your blood sugar drops. When this happens, fat is released from your cells and floods the liver. The liver turns the fat into ketone bodies, which the body uses as its second choice for energy.
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What Foods Can You Eat on the Keto Diet Plan?
Most of the foods on a normal keto diet plan are meat, fish, butter, eggs, cheese, heavy cream, oils, nuts, avocados, seeds, and low-carb green veggies.
Carb-heavy foods like grains, rice, beans, potatoes, sweets, milk, cereals, fruits, and even some veggies are not on this shortlist.
What Are the Potential Benefits of the Keto Diet?
Even though the keto diet isn’t easy, study shows that it might have some other health benefits besides being used to treat seizures.
Here are a few areas of study that show how the keto diet can help promise:
A study published in 2019 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences shows that when Alzheimer’s patients eat a ketogenic diet, their brain function gets much better. It is thought that this has something to do with giving the brain new food and helping the mitochondria work better.
One of the most important things about Parkinson’s disease is that an abnormal amount of a protein called alpha-synuclein builds up. The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research has paid for studies to find out if a ketogenic diet helps break down these proteins, which would reduce the amount of alpha-synuclein in the brain.
Patients with recurrent multiple sclerosis (MS) were put on a ketogenic diet in a small study reported in Neurology in 2022. After six months, they said that their quality of life and physical and mental health had both gotten better. Before doctors or experts can figure out if there is a link between keto and MS, they need to do more studies and test a larger number of people. Still, the early results are very interesting.
This is a confusing and controversial point since most people think that eating a lot of meat and fat will raise your blood cholesterol and cause heart problems. But some things point to the fact that this may not be true. In fact, the keto diet may help raise HDL and LDL levels and lower cholesterol levels. Nutrients released a review in 2022 that looked at all the data about the ketogenic diet and heart health. The review found that the diet may be linked to some changes in risk factors for heart disease. Mind you, the writers also worried about how long people would stay on the diet, and they suggested that these effects might not last. To fill this gap, it’s clear that we need long-term studies.
Type 2 Diabetes
Since the keto diet is as low in carbs as it gets, a lot of research has been done on this group. Even though study has only been done on very small groups of people so far, there is proof that an ultra-low-carb diet (like the keto diet) may help lower A1C levels and increase insulin sensitivity by as much as 75%. In fact, a 2020 study published in Nutrition & Diabetes found that a keto diet was linked to better glucose and fat control as well as weight loss. Still, more study needs to be done.
Early study shows that the keto diet may help fight tumors, probably because it cuts down on overall calorie intake and the amount of glucose in the blood, both of which are needed for tumor growth. But, according to the Current Opinion of Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care in 2019, not all tumors respond to the benefits of a ketogenic diet.
Other studies, like the randomized controlled trial with rats that was released in 2018 in the journal Cancers, showed that the ketogenic diet had little effect on the growth of tumors in the liver. There need to be more studies on people with bigger sample sizes, but this is definitely something to think about.
Can the Ketogenic diet help you lose weight?
Proponents of the keto diet say that you can lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time. This is one of the main things that makes the keto diet so popular. But can that really be true?
Several studies, including one published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2018, found that following a low-carbohydrate diet (like the keto diet) may help people lose weight without hurting their physical ability.
Sounds good, right? Well, weight loss is only good if the progress can be kept up over time, which isn’t always clear.
According to a 2020 study by Cureus, people who followed the ketogenic diet may have lost weight and had better blood pressure, triglyceride, and good (HDL) cholesterol readings. But these changes were not seen after 12 months, which suggests that more long-term studies are needed to show that the diet works.
Still, let’s look at a few reasons why the keto diet may help some people lose weight.
• Limiting calories: You’re likely to lose weight if you seriously limit what you eat by cutting out a lot of different kinds of food.
• Water loss: There is some evidence that higher-protein foods, like the keto diet, may help you lose weight. This is because both fat and protein make you feel full, so you don’t feel hungry, and also because your glycogen stores get smaller. Glycogen is the body’s energy store that is linked to water. When glycogen is used up, our water storage is also used up. If you lose a lot of water, you’ll lose weight quickly.
• Controlling your appetite: In addition to fat and protein’s ability to make you feel full, a study released in 2021 in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care shows that the keto diet may help suppress the hunger hormone ghrelin. People who are always hungry may be able to lose weight by doing this.
What are some bad things about the Keto diet?
We can have nothing but flowers and horses, though. Here are some possible risks and side effects of eating a keto diet.
Problems with Athletic Performance
For people who work out hard and often, going keto might get in the way. As important as protein is for building muscle, carbs are just as important because they make insulin, which gets protein into muscles faster. It also helps us store glycogen so we can train, run, or walk for longer periods of time.
One study of the sports nutrition literature found that there isn’t enough research on the long-term effects of the keto diet, but that in the short term, the keto diet is worse than other diet plans on measures of anaerobic, aerobic, and in some cases even strength performance.
Since your body isn’t used to using ketones regularly, you tend to feel sick when you make the switch. A 2019 study in the journal Nutrients shows that the keto diet may also affect the balance of electrolytes, which can cause brain fog, headaches, sickness, and tiredness. People on the keto diet also often say that their breath, sweat, and urine smell bad because acetone, a waste product of fat breakdown, leaks out. This effect only lasts for a short time, so don’t worry that you’ll always smell bad.
No one likes to feel backed up, but if you don’t watch what you eat when you’re on the keto diet, it could become a regular problem. Since you’re giving up whole grains and fruit, two of the most popular sources of fibre, try to eat more vegetables that are high in fiber and think about taking a supplement.
When you stop eating, it’s likely you’ll miss out on something big, just like when you follow a very strict plan. Here’s what you should look out for.
Depending on what you eat, you may not believe it, but you may be low on salt. When you eat few carbs and don’t release insulin, your kidneys receive less salt and potassium and release more waste. This makes you feel dizzy, tired, and cranky. Instead of looking for more prepared food, try putting a little more sea salt on your food.
Because the list of things you can eat on keto is so short, you might not eat enough fruits and vegetables. One of the most important effects? A lack of potassium, with all the nausea and muscle cramps that come with it. To get enough potassium, try to eat more spinach, avocado, peppers, kale, and mushrooms.
Most of the vitamin C we get comes from fruits, so if you stop eating fruits, you’ll need to make sure you eat enough vegetables to make up for it. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage are all good ways to make sure you eat enough.
Problems with eating
As with any eating plan that limits what you can eat, the keto diet can change your relationship with food. When you cut out too many foods or whole food groups from your diet, it can lead to orthorexic habits and a dangerous fixation on what to eat.
Given how limited it is, it also gets in the way of some of the social parts of food. No party cake for you. No pie on Thanksgiving. On Valentine’s Day, there are no chocolate hearts. No thanks! If you think of yourself as someone who loves to eat and gets a lot of pleasure from sharing a good meal with others, this diet may not be good for your mental health.
Who shouldn’t follow the Keto diet plan?
Before you start a new diet, you should always talk to your doctor or nurse about it first. This is especially true for some groups of people who may not be good candidates for the keto diet. Some of these are, but are not limited to:
• People with problems with their gallbladder or pancreas: Fat is harder for the body to absorb than other macronutrients, so this may be hard on people with liver or pancreatic disease.
• Women who are pregnant or who are nursing: Even though research is just getting started, early animal models in a 2020 study published in Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, and Obesity show some of the metabolic changes that happen during ketosis that may affect fetal growth. This is not the time to risk not getting enough food, because not getting enough nutrients or losing a lot of weight can hurt your milk production and slow your baby’s growth.
• Healthy kids: Dieting is never a good idea for kids, especially not a strict diet like the ketogenic diet.
• People with kidney problems: People who get kidney stones often may want to stay away from the keto diet because it changes the balance of salt, potassium, and fluids.
• People with a history of disordered eating: As we’ve already said, the keto diet is very strict, and any plan that seriously limits or restricts foods can make disordered eating thoughts worse.
• People who have had bariatric or gastric surgery: People who have trouble digesting fat should not go on the keto diet because fat is hard for the body to break down.
From what I’ve read about the study and writing on the keto diet, it looks like we’re just beginning to understand some of the possible healing uses of the keto diet. Even though it’s not clear if it’s better or worse than other diets for weight loss, there is no one-size-fits-all diet plan. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that most diets don’t really work. Even though experts can’t agree on a specific number, it’s generally agreed that most people who go on the keto diet will gain back the weight they lost and often gain more. The keto diet probably won’t be any different in the long run, especially since it’s hard to stick to and has a lot of rules.
Our advice? Don’t say you’ll never eat carbs again if you like them. Choose healthy carbs more often and learn how to pick the ones that will keep you full the longest. If you want to try the keto diet, you should talk to a trained dietitian who can help you do it in a healthy way.