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The ketogenic (keto) diet started to gain popularity in the 1990s, but the interest has really spiked in the last couple of years. This eating pattern was originally developed and used to treat severe epilepsy in infants and children under medical supervision. Today, the diet is gaining attention because of its promise for quick weight loss without the nagging feeling of hunger.
Keto refers to any diet that creates the metabolic state of ketosis, which is when the body burns fat for fuel instead of glucose. In normal metabolism, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and absorbed through the small intestine, then they travel to the liver and are stored as glycogen where the body uses this for fuel as needed. In order for your body to burn fat instead of glucose, a high-fat low-carbohydrate diet is emphasized.
Read on to learn more about the keto diet and if it’s right for you.
The Keto Diet Details
A clinical keto diet limits carbs to 20-50g per day, primarily from non-starchy vegetables, and protein is kept high enough to maintain lean body mass, but low enough to kick your body into ketosis (typically around 1 gram per kilogram of body weight) and 75 percent or more of total calories from fat. For a 150-pound woman following a 1500 calorie diet, this might break down to 140g of fat, 69g protein, and 27g of carbohydrates per day. However, now that the keto diet has gone mainstream, this nutrient distribution varies widely. Despite the differences in percentages, these are some common foods that fit in the high-fat category and are popular among people who follow a keto diet:
- Cheese, yogurt, milk and cream
- Butter and various oils (olive, coconut, avocado, etc.)
- Nuts and seeds
- Meat and poultry
- Fatty fish (such as salmon)
Pros and Cons to the Keto Diet
The popularity of keto is not without merit; it is a diet that is often touted as easy to stick to especially when compared with low-fat diets. This is attributed to the satiety (feeling of fullness) that likely comes from the fat and protein in the diet. There is also some evidence that there are changes in hormones while following the diet that result in appetite-suppression. A 2014 meta-analysis found that individuals who followed a keto diet experienced less hunger and reduced desire to eat, even as they continued to lose weight. Other studies have found reduced triglycerides and blood pressure along with weight loss. For those with diabetes, the keto way of eating could improve insulin sensitivity and glycemic control, according to some studies.
One of the main reasons nutrition experts are not sold on the diet is because avoiding carbohydrates causes you to miss out on the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in fruits, whole grains, and starchy vegetables. Therefore, there is a concern for vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies. Whole grains and fruits are also a great source of fiber which is an important nutrient that helps with gut regularity, reducing cholesterol, and weight loss. Long term studies on the ketogenic diet are limited at this time.
Interestingly, both high (<70 percent) and low carbohydrate (<40 percent) diets were shown to increase the risk of death in a recent meta-analysis over a follow-up period of 25 years.
The bottom line is that the keto diet is a good diet to consider for weight loss. But if you are pregnant, have kidney disease, or any fat malabsorption issue, you will want to discuss this diet with your doctor first. If you decide to follow this diet, know that all fat is not created equal. Saturated and trans fat can increase bad cholesterol levels, so be sure to make most of your fat calorie intake from healthier sources of fat from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These include avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. Don’t forget to consider other diets that have been shown to promote health while helping with weight loss, such as the Mediterranean diet.