No matter what your diet has been before now, keto will be a big change. If you're coming from a standard American diet (SAD), your carbs will go way down, your protein may either go up or down, and your fat will go way up. If you're coming from a bodybuilding-style diet, your fat intake will jump to alarming levels, and your protein will likely drop significantly.
The ketogenic diet for weight loss is based on the idea that driving the body into ketosis will maximize fat loss. Ketosis is a normal metabolic process that occurs when the body does not have enough glucose stores for energy. When these stores are depleted, the body resorts to burning stored fat for energy instead of carbs. This process produces acids called ketones, which build up in the body and can be used for energy. (2)
Achieving optimal ketosis hinges on finding the right balance of macronutrients (or “macros” in keto-speak); these are the elements in your diet that account for the majority of your calories, a.k.a. energy—namely, fat, protein, and carbohydrates. By the way, it’s often “net grams” of carbohydrates that are counted toward your daily intake; “net” deducts the amount of fiber in a food from its carbohydrate total.
Ketosis is a metabolic state where your liver produces raised levels of "ketones" through healthy fats. Typically, glucose is the primary fuel source of the body and brain, but it can be replaced by these ketones. In this state of ketosis, your body optimizes fat as fuel and can lead to many health benefits. Because the fat is coming from high quality sources, it also leads to improved lipid labs (triglycerides, LDL, HDL, and more).
If you’ve decided to move forward in trying the keto diet, you will want to stick to the parameters of the eating plan. Roughly 60 to 80 percent of your calories will come from fats. That means you’ll eat meats, fats, and oils, and a very limited amount of nonstarchy vegetables, she says. (This is different from a traditional low-carb diet, as even fewer carbs are allowed on the keto diet.)
Lots of apps and website offer keto diet challenges—basically, a blueprint for the keto diet with a fixed starting and ending point (they typically last for a week to a month, though some may be longer). Speaking of apps, plenty of keto-centric ones are right at your fingertips (a.k.a., your smartphone), like the KetoDiet app, which can help you calculate your macros and track your keto diet effectively.
A small Feb. 20, 2017, study looked at the impact of a six-week ketogenic diet on physical fitness and body composition in 42 healthy adults. The study, published in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism, found a mildly negative impact on physical performance in terms of endurance capacity, peak power and faster exhaustion. Overall, researchers concluded, “Our findings lead us to assume that a [ketogenic diet] does not impact physical fitness in a clinically relevant manner that would impair activities of daily living and aerobic training.” The “significant” weight loss of about 4.4 pounds, on average, did not affect muscle mass or function.
This means that to achieve ketosis, you have to limit your carb intake to less than 50 grams per day (most people should reach ketosis within a week of following the diet). To put this in perspective, the low-carb diet you’re most familiar with—the Atkins Diet—recommends about 130 grams of carbs per day. Also for reference, one bagel has about 55 grams of carbs.
I actually went on a ketogenic diet last year to see if it would help my migraines. I have a history of chronic migraines which would usually last 3 days, sometimes longer. Triptans help a lot but I don’t like having to take them. I stayed in ketosis for about 8 months and experienced a significant reduction in migraines, from feeling some type of headache (mild o r severe) almost everyday to 1 or 2x per month while in ketosis. Although I’m very healthy otherwise, I do think my migraines may have something to do with blood sugar fluctuations (despite previously eating a whole foods diet and no refined carbs), and keto totally stabilized this. I eventually came off of Keto because I’m not really a meat lover. When I came off, but remained low carb, my migraines stayed under control for the most part. When I increase carbs, they do return.
A systematic review in 2016 found and analysed seven randomized controlled trials of ketogenic diet in children and young people with epilepsy. The trials were done among children and young people for whom drugs failed to control their seizures, and only one of the trials compared a group assigned to ketogenic diet with a group not assigned to one. The other trials compared types of diets or ways of introducing them to make them more tolerable. Nearly 40% of the children and young people had half or fewer seizures with the diet compared with the group not assigned to the diet. Only about 10% were still on the diet after a few years. Adverse effects such as hunger and loss of energy in that trial were common, with about 30% experiencing constipation.
What's more, it's especially important to make sure your diet is well-planned when you're eating keto-style, because the foods you can choose from are limited. In addition to checking in with a dietitian if you're able, Stefanski recommends that you "talk to your doctor and make sure she or he is aware that you'll be starting a diet that completely changes how your body metabolizes energy." You might also want to check your most recent bloodwork levels for things such as cholesterol, vitamin D, and other indicators of health because these can change while on keto. That's because for some people, a prolonged keto diet can result in certain nutritional deficiencies or even high cholesterol. But most experts will tell you that the ketogenic diet is not a permanent lifestyle change (as could be the case for something like the 80/20 approach to eating or a Mediterranean eating style).
On a ketogenic diet, your entire body switches its fuel supply to run mostly on fat, burning fat 24-7. Insulin levels become very low, and fat burning increases dramatically. It becomes easy to access your fat stores to burn them off. This is great if you’re trying to lose weight, but there are also other less obvious benefits, such as less hunger and a steady supply of energy. This may help keep you alert and focused.