The Ketogenic Diet and How It Can Work For You

Updated: Jan 17, 2020

Over 93 million adults in the United States are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Many people want to lose weight, but struggle to do so. Eating healthier and exercising more are nice ideas, but sometimes you need more structure, more detail or more guidance in order to really make progress.

One option that has been growing in popularity in recent years is the ketogenic diet, commonly referred to as keto.

What Is Keto?

A more familiar term for some people that is somewhat relatable to keto is the Atkins diet. Popularized in the 1970s, the Atkins diet encouraged its participants to cut carbohydrates. Its general ideas and concepts have been incorporated into many other dietary plans in the years since.

The ketogenic diet calls for a very low amount of carbohydrates to be consumed and replaced with lots of proteins and good fats such as meat, eggs, cheese, fish, nuts, butter, oils and seeds. Participants should also consume a high amount of vegetables. Keto is intended to be a short-term diet focused on weight loss rather than overall health benefits.

Outside of being used as a weight-loss method, keto has also been shown to reduce seizures in children.

How Does It Work?

In short, keto aims to help you lose weight by having your body burn stored fat for energy due to the absence of carbohydrates. Most cells in your body prefer to use blood sugar, which comes from carbohydrates, as their main source of energy. But, with a reduced supply of daily carbohydrates, your body eventually runs out of its preferred fuel source and has to draw from somewhere else.

Without the necessary carbohydrates, your body will start to break down protein and stored fat to fuel itself. The fat is broken down into molecules called ketone bodies in a process called ketosis.

Reaching ketosis generally takes two to four days, but the process can vary quite a bit for each individual. Some people might need an even more restrictive diet in order to reach this step.

Many people who try the keto diet are not selective enough about their food choices and tend to eat large amounts of poor-quality fats from processed foods without balancing their meals with fruits and vegetables.

Aside from simply losing weight and inches off your waistline, benefits of the keto diet can include:

  • Increased metabolism

  • Less time spent feeling hungry

  • Increased muscle mass

  • Improved blood pressure

  • Decreased risk for heart disease

What’s the Catch?

During the keto diet, especially in the first week, you may have a number of side effects, which some doctors believe is due to sugar or carbohydrate withdrawal. These issues are sometimes referred to as the keto flu. Side effects include:

  • Headache

  • Fatigue

  • Brain fog

  • Irritability

  • Constipation

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Nausea

  • Stomachache

  • Dizziness

  • Sugar cravings

  • Cramps

  • Muscle soreness

  • Bad breath

People with diabetes should be careful when using the keto diet, as ketosis can be dangerous. The build-up of ketones can change the chemical balance of your blood, causing it to become acidic and leading to possible coma or even death. This disorder is called ketoacidosis or diabetic ketoacidosis.

If you have diabetes, make sure that you take enough insulin, stay hydrated and be particularly careful using the keto diet if you are sick or injured. Those without diabetes can still get ketoacidosis, as it is caused by alcoholism, starvation or an overactive thyroid.

Contact your doctor if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Thirstiness or dry mouth

  • Excessive urination

  • Feeling tired

  • Dry or flushed skin

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Trouble breathing

  • Confusion

  • Fruity-smelling breath

  • Stomach pain

Those with kidney problems should also be careful about the keto diet, as it can cause kidney stones. Keto can also be dangerous for women who are pregnant or nursing.

What We Don’t Know Yet

With the ketogenic diet being relatively new, there are still many aspects to it that we don’t understand and require more research.

Keto is generally used as a short-term diet, and research is still unclear on the potential effects of using it for an extended period of time.

Industry experts are also still in the process of researching the possibility that keto causes your body to need, and therefore make, less insulin. If true, it is possible that keto could help protect you against some types of cancer and even slow the growth of cancer cells.

Other possible benefits of keto currently being explored include reducing acne, lowering the risk of heart disease and even helping with certain brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

The Road to a Healthier You

While there are multiple possible benefits to keto, some of which we are still learning more about, most people who use keto do so to lose weight.

Regardless of your motivation or goals, the diet can be complex. Talk to your doctor and work together to find out if keto might be the correct path for you to take toward a healthier life.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. For further information, please consult a medical professional.

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