The Keto (ketogenic) diet is still making waves in the media and with health experts. It has its believers and its skeptics, but it has shown to be a viable solution for various health conditions, which include treatments for epilepsy, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
A keto diet works by depleting the body of its sugar reserves resulting in the breakdown of fat for energy. There are numerous types of keto diets, such as the Standard Ketogenic Diet and the Cyclical Ketogenic Diet.
What is the Ketogenic (Keto) Diet?
The keto diet is focused on consuming high-fat and low-carb foods, the principle behind being that it makes the body burn fat instead of carbohydrates.
The process of ketosis is when your body runs out of carbohydrates to convert to energy and therefore relies on fat for fuel. Contrary to popular belief, you’re not supposed to eat only protein on the keto diet, you are supposed to eat a moderate amount of protein and not go overboard, as too much protein can affect your body negatively. The idea of it is that eating only small amounts of carbohydrates forces the body to turn to other macros and stored fasts for energy, shifting the metabolism into a state of ketosis, where fat burning is optimized and you lose weight.
There are claims that the keto diet will help with weight loss and boost energy levels, however, further research is still required to develop further understanding of these mechanisms. In fact, there is quite a bit of scientific debate on low-carb diets and how they impact the body overall, and the keto diet is still fairly controversial. Nevertheless, the energy benefits of ketone bodies are well-documented, sports coach and nutrition expert Paul Jenkins MSc explains:
“Ketones allow for more efficient energy production relative to glucose, and can therefore be advantageous during a caloric deficit. Furthermore, ketone bodies may also have an energy additional benefit for endurance athletes such as long distance cyclists and marathon runners who struggle to consume foodstuffs while competing.”
Although the keto diet is considered a relatively new fad, it was, in fact, first started in the early 1920s by Dr. Russell Wilder of the Mayo Clinic. The diet was created to help in the treatment of epilepsy. Dr. Wilder’s research proposed that a low carbohydrate diet could cause health benefits of fasting, without needing to fast.
The keto diet is a plan to focus on eating foods that provide healthful fats, proper amounts of protein, and limited carbs. The goal is to get more calories from fat than from carbs.
But how do you know you’re in ketosis? The first thing you should notice is something unceremoniously called ‘keto breathe’. It’s very common once you enter ketosis for your breath to literally smell like nail polish remover. That’s because when your body is breaking down fats to produce ketones, some of them are lost in the urine and exhaled breath. One type of such ketones is acetone.
Although keto breath might sound undesirable, it is 100% temporary and will go away by itself as you continue the diet.
Alternatively, you can determine whether or not your body as entered ketosis by measuring the concentration of ketones in your urine.
However, the most effective way to truly measure your state of ketosis is by performing a ketone blood test. Such tests accurately measure both blood ketone and glucose levels, which is basically all you need to know about your level of ketosis.
So, as promised, here are five science-based facts about the keto diet.
1. A Keto Diet Requires Thorough Planning
Following the keto diet successfully requires consideration and calculation of the amounts of carbs against fat verse protein.
Clinical nutritionists have stated that 5% of your daily calorie intake should come from carbs, and 15% from protein. The rest of the calories should come from fats — which means that the vast majority of your caloric intake will be fats.
In order to achieve sustained nutritional ketosis, it is crucial to stick to the proper nutritional ratios. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all you can eat is meat and avocado, you can (and should) substitute root vegetables for low-carbohydrate vegetables that grow overground.
2. You May Feel Lousy in the Beginning
At the start of your keto diet journey, you may feel lousy. In fact, it is not uncommon to experience fatigue-like symptoms after the first few days of cutting back on carbs, and these symptoms can go on for a while.
These initial side-effects are commonly reported as the “keto flu”, which include such things as headaches, low energy levels, sweet cravings, lethargy, and brain-fog. These can be normal because when you stop eating carbs, the body is subjugated to an energy crisis, and is thus forced to begin to burn fat for fuel instead of glucose.
Within a week or so of being on a ketogenic diet, these symptoms subside as the body adapts and regulates its energy metabolism to ketosis, but if the problems persist, you should be very careful and consider talking to a doctor.
3. You Will Lose Water Weight First
When first starting the keto diet, you may see a quick drop in your weight, but don’t get excited just yet — that isn’t due to fat loss.
Experts have said in the beginning the weight loss is largely water weight but can include some fat and muscle loss too. It takes a couple of weeks before your body starts to burn fat effectively.
It is essential to maintain the proper macronutrient ratios of fat, protein, carbohydrates, and to eat enough calories daily to avoid the unwanted loss of skeletal muscle tissue to ensure that you have a healthy overall diet.
4. It is Not an Excuse to Eat Whatever You Want
Although you can eat a substantial amount of food on the keto diet, it isn’t a free pass to consume endless amounts of foods such as butter and bacon. You still need to properly manage consumption of good fats and quality proteins.
Furthermore, you should avoid eating large amounts of protein on the keto diet. Assistant professor and radiation oncologist, Colin Champ, MD, from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, stated that:
“Overeating protein in the diet could stall the act of ketosis. A successful keto diet needs to support healthy fat sources to support metabolism”.
5. Ketogenic Diets May Help With Type 2 Diabetes
Research has shown that the keto diet is helping to improve blood glucose, which can be a significant benefit to people with type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Saurabh Sethi, who specializes in gastroenterology, hepatology, and advanced interventional endoscopy in San Francisco, has stated that the ketogenic diet has improved blood sugar control for patients with type 2 diabetes.
Other doctors, such as Jason Fung, MD, has been treating patients with type 2 diabetes with a keto diet and fasting. However, long-term research and data are missing.
What Can You Eat on the Keto Diet?
Unlike other fad diets, you can still eat a lot of what you enjoyed before but should focus on good fats such as coconut oil, avocado, olive oil, grass-fed butter, and fatty cuts of meats from organic livestock. On the keto diet, you need to avoid sugar and carb-heavy food, like bread, cakes, cookies, candy, cereal, rice, pasta, ice cream, potatoes, store-bought sauces, and some fruits.
Fruits that can be enjoyed on a keto diet are avocados, raspberries, and lemons when they are eaten in moderation. Fruit can be higher in carbs, and sugar, so you need to be careful to watch what you eat.
The very low carbohydrate keto diet is very restrictive and can be unpleasant, and most people fail to make it through the initial adaptation period. Like any diet, you need to have patience and persevere with it for a couple of weeks you may see meaningful results.
As well as weight loss, the keto diet can help with treating various health conditions and can help you lose weight. However, there is a lack of research regarding the long-term effects of the keto diet and there has been some controversy regarding its potential long-term negative effects.
Before starting any lifestyle-changing diet, you should consult a doctor or nutritionist to make sure it is right for you.