It seems like everyone these days is talking about the keto, or ketogenic, diet. It may be your co-workers or your best friend, but someone you know is probably trying out the diet.
So what’s with all the hype about this new diet, and does it really work?
What Is a Ketogenic Diet?
A ketogenic diet is essentially a low-carb diet, focused on the release of ketones into the bloodstream rather than blood sugar.
Traditionally, the cells in our body use blood sugar from the carbohydrates we eat to fuel our bodies. When those cells don’t have access to blood sugar, such as in the instance of a low-carb diet like keto, our bodies revert to breaking down stored fat for energy, in a process called ketosis.
This shift of using stored fat rather than blood sugar usually happens after a couple of days of eating fewer than 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates and continues to work until we consume more carbohydrates again.
So What Do You Eat on a Ketogenic Diet?
A keto diet basically consists of everything other than carbs, including meat, eggs, sausage, cheese, fish, nuts, oil, butter, and fibrous vegetables.
People on a keto diet often consume foods like eggs, nut butter, wild-caught fish, chicken and meat (fattier cuts preferred), root vegetables (squash, parsnip, etc.), avocados, and berries. Other kinds of fruits and vegetables tend to be limited as they can be high in carbohydrates.
Those who are on the keto diet are to avoid all grains, factory-farmed pork and fish, artificial sweeteners, low-fat dairy, alcoholic, sweet beverages, tropical fruit, and dried fruit.
A couple of the foods that one may typically enjoy, such as coffee or chocolate, can still be consumed on the keto diet, so long as the coffee is unsweetened and the chocolate is dark.
A keto diet can prove to be difficult, especially for Americans whose diets typically consist of at least 50% carbohydrates. During a long period of time, it can become trying to maintain this sort of restrictive diet. The limitations of the diet are often what cause people to discontinue this regimen after an extended period of time.
The Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet
For many years, doctors have been using the keto diet to help reduce seizures in children. The neuroprotective effects of the diet are sometimes equivalent to that of medication in treating these seizures.
That said, most people these days are adopting the keto diet for weight loss purposes. Research has shown quicker weight loss results in patients who go on a keto diet compared to other, more traditional diets like a low-fat diet or the Mediterranean diet.
More research, however, needs to be done on how effective this weight loss is over time, particularly in comparison to other types of diets. Based on what is known so far, it seems as though the difference in weight loss from a keto diet, as compared to other diets, eventually disappears over time.
The keto diet can be very helpful for patients who suffer from type 2 diabetes, at least in the short run. Whether the diet, in turn, negatively affects cholesterol levels is a debated topic. In either case, there is no existing research on what the long-term benefits and effects of the keto diet are on diabetes or cholesterol levels.
Some of the most common adverse effects of the keto diet that are reported include symptoms of hypoglycemia (excessive thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, hunger, lightheadedness, irritability), constipation and changes in bowel movements, as well as kidney stones.
Kidney stones tend to occur when the keto diet is continued for a long period of time. It’s believed that low pH in the urine, resulting from the diet, can cause the formation of crystals, and eventually kidney stones.
So Does the Keto Diet Work?
For some people, the keto diet has proven to be an effective strategy for losing weight and treating certain conditions. The long-term effectiveness of the keto-diet, however, is hard to know until more research is done.
For many people, the keto diet will prove to be a difficult diet to keep up with. Because it is highly restrictive and can tend to focus on meat and other fatty foods, the keto diet can be unrealistic and unhealthy for some.
If you’re considering trying out the keto diet, please consult your physician first, like you would with any new dietary regimen, to discuss whether the keto diet is right for you.