What is the keto diet?
First things first...what even is the keto diet?
The ketogenic or “keto” diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet plan that has been around for a long time, but not as a weight-loss diet. It was primarily focused on treating specific medical conditions. In its early stages, the keto diet was commonly prescribed to help people with controlling their diabetes.
As the effectiveness of the diet grew, it was then used as a treatment for epilepsy in children in whom medication was ineffective. More beneficial evidence kept the keto diet growing in popularity as well as it’s spread to test and use closely in monitored settings for Alzheimer’s disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, and cancer.
When the excess weight gain epidemic began in the 1970s, several low-carb diet approaches began to take hold – with the most popular being the Atkins diet (similar to keto, but with a focus on higher-protein intake). From there, many other low-carb diets quickly gained popularity – South Beach, Paleo, and others. Again, the primary difference with keto vs. some of the other low-carb diets is the amount of protein intake and fat intake.
All diets have three primary macronutrients that serve a different purpose in the body – carbs, fats, and proteins. Some will argue that carbs do not serve a purpose, but they still serve as the most common of all macronutrients used as a fuel source to provide sustained energy for endurance over longer periods of time.
How does the keto diet actually work?
The assumption of the keto diet for losing weight is based on depriving the body of its main source of energy which is glucose. Eating foods that are typically higher in carbs provide the body with higher levels of glucose which then brings energy for all cells in the body
You can also obtain fuel from stored fat called ketones (hence the name – “keto”). Many people incorporate some form of fasting along with the keto diet (typically intermittent fasting). When fasting, the body will pull glucose that is stored in the liver and will temporarily break down muscle in order to release glucose. I will talk more about fasting in another article...
When this process continues over the course of a few days, glucose stores become fully depleted, insulin decreases, and fat becomes a primary source for fuel. When ketone bodies accumulate in the blood, this is called ketosis. Individuals who are healthy will naturally produce ketosis while fasting as well as when they engage in high-intensity exercise programming.
What foods are recommended on the keto diet?
Just about all low-carb diets restrict or greatly reduce the intake of many high-carb foods. Foods like – breads, pastas, rice, cereal, and many other grains – as well as fruit juices and many fruits. So yeah…no doughnuts allowed. The major difference with keto vs. some of the other diets mentioned earlier is the moderate level of protein intake and high level of fat intake.
Most of the other diets that focus on low-carb intake, suggest a high level of protein – specifically, lean proteins and moderate to low-fat intake (especially unsaturated fats). The keto diet takes a different approach. The fats are the stars with this diet – both saturated fats and unsaturated fats.
A wide variety of meats, butter, lard – and other foods that are high in saturated fat are not only welcomed with this diet, but they are celebrated. Foods that are high in unsaturated fats are welcome just as well (avocado, plant-based oils, nuts, seed, and fish).
How do you know if the keto diet is right for you?
There are plenty of keto-zealots out there who swear by the diet and have had tremendous success with it (which is why many of them seem over-the-top and insist everyone should try it). I personally have tried it and incorporated intermittent fasting with it (4 years ago) and lost 40 pounds in a little less than 3-months. I also began an intense workout program at the same time so there are many factors at play, and I am not (nor would I ever) guarantee anyone would see the same type of success. That being said, it worked very effectively for me at the time.
(the photo on the left was me at the beginning of my mission toward improving health)
There is plenty of evidence that shows the keto diet produces beneficial metabolic changes in the short-term. Along with weight loss, health parameters associated with carrying excess weight have improved, such as insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol and triglycerides†.
Aside from the obvious results of losing weight, there are other benefits that have occurred in many people who have been successful in maintaining a keto diet.
Those benefits include:
· High-fat content foods create a higher satiating effect – reducing cravings shortly after eating a meal
· Once steady-state ketosis begins, calorie expenditure increases – based on the conversion of fat and protein to glucose
· Similar to the first point – when you restrict/reduce carbs, you decrease the hormones that stimulate appetite (insulin and ghrelin)
· As insulin levels decrease, there is a higher level of fat loss promotion vs. lean body mass
What are some of the downsides of a keto-based diet?
Just like any major change in nutrition intake, maintaining a “diet” (especially over the long-term) is not easy. There are several other factors to consider that others have dealt with when starting the keto diet:
· If you are or have been a “carb-lover” for any extended period of time, then start to restrict carbs – you might experience (at least in the initial stages) hunger, moodiness, constipation, fatigue, headaches, and brain “fog”
· Limitations of food choices (sticking with a high-fat diet and low/no carbs can be highly restrictive)
· Depending upon which foods you choose and/or omit, you could miss out on certain micronutrients (key vitamins and minerals)
How do I know if keto is right for me?
Although there is a ton of information out there on keto diets – cookbooks, articles, meal plan services, videos, and – ahem…blogs, there is still a limited amount research on the long-term effects of sticking with the keto diet. Many of the documented studies have had small groups of participants and the studies were very short-term.
As with starting any new habit, sticking with a restrictive diet plan can be very challenging. Yes – there has been plenty of evidence (myself included) of the effectiveness of losing weight while on the keto diet. However, this doesn’t mean it is for everyone. The absolute best approach when taking on any new or significant change in nutrition is to partner with a Registered Dietician to build a specific, individualized plan that will be designed with a greater level of detail and information.
If that isn’t a feasible option, then do your own research and see if trying the keto diet is the right approach for you – especially if you are looking to lose weight in the short-term. No matter what approach you take – aim your habits toward good health and working toward becoming the best version of you!
If you are interested in giving the keto diet a go, and would like a FREE keto 7-day plan to get started, click this link to learn more.
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The contents of this post are for information and educational purposes only and are not intended to offer personal or any medical advice. It is recommended that you seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. It is also recommended to never disregard advice that comes directly from a medical professional, nor should you delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.
†The data and other relevant information pulled to prepare this article was from the Harvard School of Public health website. For more information, visit the site at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/