Recently, many of my patients have been asking about a ketogenic diet. Is a ketogenic diet safe? Would you recommend it? Despite the recent hype, a ketogenic diet is not something new. In medicine, we have been using it for almost 100 years to treat drug-resistant epilepsy, especially in children. In the 1970s, Dr. Atkins popularized his very-low-carbohydrate diet for weight loss that began with a very strict two-week ketogenic phase. Over the years, other fad diets incorporated a similar approach for weight loss.
Early studies reported high success rates: in one study in 1925, 60% of patients became seizure-free, and another 35% of patients had a 50% reduction in seizure frequency. These studies generally examined a cohort of patients recently treated by the physician (what is known as a retrospective study) and selected patients who had successfully maintained the dietary restrictions. However, these studies are difficult to compare to modern trials. One reason is that these older trials suffered from selection bias, as they excluded patients who were unable to start or maintain the diet and thereby selected from patients who would generate better results. In an attempt to control for this bias, modern study design prefers a prospective cohort (the patients in the study are chosen before therapy begins) in which the results are presented for all patients regardless of whether they started or completed the treatment (known as intent-to-treat analysis).
Some research suggests that ketogenic diets might help lower your risk of heart disease. Other studies show specific very-low-carb diets help people with metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. Researchers are also studying the effects of these diets on acne, cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and nervous system diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Lou Gehrig's disease.
Protein will induce an insulin response in the body, if consumed in high amounts. The most intuitive way to start a keto diet for most people is by removing all of the carbs they have been eating. Typically people will replace those calories by increasing their lean meat consumption. That's a recipe for disaster! Keeping protein moderate is an often overlooked, but very important part of a keto diet. Most people need around 0.6g to 1.0g of protein per pound of lean body mass.
Con: Results can vary depending on how much fluid you drink. By drinking more water, you dilute the concentration of ketones in the urine and thus a lower level of ketones will be detected on the strips. The strips don’t show a precise ketone level. Finally, and most importantly, as you become increasingly keto-adapted and your body reabsorbs ketones from the urine, urine strips may become unreliable, even if you’re in ketosis.
Keto is not hard to follow at all. See, this is why I took my diet and nutrition into my own hands. I have PCOS and the ketogenic diet has worked wonders for me. I’m finally pregnant at the age of 32 and after 11 years of marriage because the ketogenic diet made me lose over 100 lbs and brought my insulin resistance under control. I feel better than I’ve ever felt. Sometimes doctors don’t seem to know as much as they should, or as much as they assume they do, and that’s pretty disturbing. Just like they’re still using the old school and very inaccurate BMI charts that are just pure bs. I’ll just take care of myself outside of certain situations involving illness or injury. I’m doing great on my own.
These types of back-and-forth weight fluctuations can contribute to disordered eating, Kizer says, or can worsen an already unhealthy relationship with food. “I think this diet appeals to people who have issues with portion control and with binge eating,” she says. "And in many cases, what they really need is a lifestyle coach or a professional counselor to help them get to the bottom of those issues."
And although in the short term, ketogenic diets seem safe for healthy people, we also lack long-term data on the diet, so it’s hard to confirm long-term safety with certainty. Complications seen with kids maintaining a ketogenic diet for epilepsy, for example, included kidney stones, constipation, gastrointestinal issues, pancreatitis, and vitamin D and calcium deficiencies.
The low glycaemic index treatment (LGIT) is an attempt to achieve the stable blood glucose levels seen in children on the classic ketogenic diet while using a much less restrictive regimen. The hypothesis is that stable blood glucose may be one of the mechanisms of action involved in the ketogenic diet, which occurs because the absorption of the limited carbohydrates is slowed by the high fat content. Although it is also a high-fat diet (with approximately 60% calories from fat), the LGIT allows more carbohydrate than either the classic ketogenic diet or the modified Atkins diet, approximately 40–60 g per day. However, the types of carbohydrates consumed are restricted to those that have a glycaemic index lower than 50. Like the modified Atkins diet, the LGIT is initiated and maintained at outpatient clinics and does not require precise weighing of food or intensive dietitian support. Both are offered at most centres that run ketogenic diet programmes, and in some centres they are often the primary dietary therapy for adolescents.
Long-term use of the ketogenic diet in children increases the risk of slowed or stunted growth, bone fractures and kidney stones. The diet reduces levels of insulin-like growth factor 1, which is important for childhood growth. Like many anticonvulsant drugs, the ketogenic diet has an adverse effect on bone health. Many factors may be involved such as acidosis and suppressed growth hormone. About 1 in 20 children on the ketogenic diet will develop kidney stones (compared with one in several thousand for the general population). A class of anticonvulsants known as carbonic anhydrase inhibitors (topiramate, zonisamide) are known to increase the risk of kidney stones, but the combination of these anticonvulsants and the ketogenic diet does not appear to elevate the risk above that of the diet alone. The stones are treatable and do not justify discontinuation of the diet. Johns Hopkins Hospital now gives oral potassium citrate supplements to all ketogenic diet patients, resulting in a sevenfold decrease in the incidence of kidney stones. However, this empiric usage has not been tested in a prospective controlled trial. Kidney stone formation (nephrolithiasis) is associated with the diet for four reasons:
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.
“Eggs have a lot of vitamins like vitamin A, B complex, D, K, E, calcium, and zinc,” says Ryan Weaver, a personal trainer and keto enthusiast. “That’s why eggs are an excellent choice for breakfast when you follow the keto diet. To avoid getting bored, you can try different ways of preparing the eggs—boiled, fried, or baked. Also, you can combine the eggs with different foods like bacon, ham, cheddar cheese, butter, mayonnaise, so you get a different recipe each day although using the same main ingredient.”
Here are a few of the most common side effects that I come across when people first start keto. Frequently the issues relate to dehydration or lack of micronutrients (vitamins) in the body. Make sure that you’re drinking enough water (close to a gallon a day) and eating foods with good sources of micronutrients. To read more on micronutrients, click here >
The ketogenic diet is usually initiated in combination with the patient's existing anticonvulsant regimen, though patients may be weaned off anticonvulsants if the diet is successful. There is some evidence of synergistic benefits when the diet is combined with the vagus nerve stimulator or with the drug zonisamide, and that the diet may be less successful in children receiving phenobarbital.
If you talk to keto aficionados, you’ll find many save leftovers from dinner for the next day’s lunch. Cook once, eat twice—your keto diet menu for lunch is solved. If you don’t like leftovers or if you’re craving something different for lunch, the mid-day meal can be as simple as a scoop of chicken salad. Or, hit the salad bar at a local grocery store and top a bowl of greens with some good-fat goodies. You can also try one of these simple keto lunches:
After increasing water intake and replacing electrolytes, it should relieve most all symptoms of Keto Flu. For an average person that is starting a ketogenic diet, eating 20-30g of net carbs a day, the entire adaptation process will take about 4-5 days. My advice is to cut your carbs to fewer than 15g to ensure that you are well on your way into ketosis within one week. If you are experiencing any more keto flu symptoms, double check your electrolyte intake and adjust.
Variations on the Johns Hopkins protocol are common. The initiation can be performed using outpatient clinics rather than requiring a stay in hospital. Often there is no initial fast (fasting increases the risk of acidosis and hypoglycaemia and weight loss). Rather than increasing meal sizes over the three-day initiation, some institutions maintain meal size but alter the ketogenic ratio from 2:1 to 4:1.
“The cleaner, the better when it comes to the keto diet,” says Jadin. Focus on “whole” and “unprocessed.” Also, strive for a mix of saturated and unsaturated fats for balance. Note: Tipping the scale toward too much protein is a common pitfall many people make on the keto diet. Mind your protein intake, since too much can kick you out of ketosis, says Jadin.
A short-lived increase in seizure frequency may occur during illness or if ketone levels fluctuate. The diet may be modified if seizure frequency remains high, or the child is losing weight. Loss of seizure-control may come from unexpected sources. Even "sugar-free" food can contain carbohydrates such as maltodextrin, sorbitol, starch and fructose. The sorbitol content of suntan lotion and other skincare products may be high enough for some to be absorbed through the skin and thus negate ketosis.
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.
Safety Warning Consumption of herbal ingredients may cause allergies in certain individuals, please check with your physician before taking any herbal supplements. If you have a history of allergies to herbal ingredients, do not consume this product. Side effects may include anxiety and heart pain for those with alliergies. This product is not intended for pregnant or lactating women, adolescents under 18 years of age, individuals on a restricted diet, persons with high blood pressure or heart problems. If you have a known medical condition you should consult with a healthcare professional before using this or any dietary supplement. Do not exceed recommended dose. Pregnant or nursing mothers, children under the age of 18, and individuals with a known medical condition should consult a physician before using this or any dietary supplements. If you experience any discomfort or reaction to this product, discontinue use immediately and consult a physician. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN. DO NOT USE IF SAFETY SEAL IS DAMAGED OR MISSING. STORE IN A COOL, DRY PLACE. Do not exceed recommended dose. Pregnant or nursing mothers, children under of the age of 18, and individuals with a known medical condition should consult a physician before using this or any dietary supplement. —
Following a ketogenic diet, your food intake would be roughly 5 to 10 percent carbohydrates, 15 percent protein, and 75 to 80 percent fat. This would be a pretty seismic shift for most people who follow a standard American diet; according to a 2016 report by the CDC, the average American adult’s diet is 50 percent carbohydrates, 16 percent protein, and 34 percent fat. Your average day on a ketogenic diet might include eggs, cheese, assorted meats and small amounts of nuts and avocados, and modest amounts of vegetables that are low in carbs, like spinach and lettuce.
Maria Emmerich is a wellness expert in nutrition and exercise physiology and the founder of keto-adapted.com. Maria's success stems from her passion for helping others reach and sustain optimal health through programs and education that works on a personalized level. After struggling with her weight throughout her childhood, she decided to study health and wellness so she could help others who are discouraged by their appearance and do not feel their best mentally. Maria understands the connection between food and how it makes us all feel on the inside and out. Her specialty is brain chemical neurotransmitters and how they are affected by the foods we eat. She is the author of several cookbooks and three nutritional guidebooks, including: Global Bestseller The Ketogenic Cookbook. Other books include: Secrets to a Healthy Metabolism, with foreword by Dr. William Davis, New York Times bestselling author of Wheat Belly, Keto-Adapted which includes a foreword by Dr. Davis and excerpts from Dr. David Perlmutter, author of the New York Times bestseller Grain Brain. Maria’s blog, mariamindbodyhealth.com, includes a unique combination of innovative recipes using alternative ingredients to less-healthy options and easy-to-understand explanations of why these options are better for our health.
"It was extremely difficult," he recalls. "You spend your entire life hearing that fat makes you fat and causes heart attacks and strokes. Now, all of a sudden, you're eating 200 grams of fat per day. There is a huge psychological component to conquer before you can become successful with the keto diet. In the beginning, it's like trying to convince people 1,000 years ago that the world is in fact round, not flat."
This is a well-known phenomenon with nearly every type of diet: If you relax the rules even a little bit, you suddenly find yourself overeating. Making entire food groups—such as grains, sugar, and other carbohydrates—off-limits helps make them even more attractive, Macri says. This type of reaction goes beyond a psychological reaction—it can also be physical, she says. “Serotonin is one of the feel-good brain chemicals, and when serotonin decreases, such as it does when you’re on a strict low-carb diet, the brain is on high alert for any kind of reward,” she explains. Let some sugar or bread into your diet, and you could be overcome with a desire for more, Macri warns. “This makes it much more likely that you’ll overeat or even binge on those foods.”
“This diet has changed my life. I always find it too easy to cheat because healthy foods are just awful, or so I thought. Once I read the Keto Fit Diet recipes my mouth was watering and I couldn’t wait to get started making these meals. They are delicious, my friends and family would never know I’m on a diet if it weren’t for the 35 lbs I’ve lost in the last 3 months.”
"I recommend only 5 percent of calories coming from carbs, which usually averages out to less than 30 grams," he says. "I understand why people get nervous and panic, thinking 'Can I even eat a salad?' This is why I recommend tracking only 'net carbs', which are total carbs minus fiber. For example, an avocado has 12 grams of carbs but 10 grams of fiber, which means it has 2 grams of net carbs. Also, green leafy vegetables are very nutritious and contain a lot of fiber, so you can almost eat them as much as you want and stay below your limit.
“These past 60 days have changed my life. I found out about it from a friend on Facebook and never looked back…. It has quickly become my lifestyle and it’s definitely one of those fad diets you find everywhere. Aside from weight loss, I’ve gained a confidence that I never knew I had inside. My relationship with my husband and family has improved exponentially. When my body reached ketosis, my life changed along with my pant size!!! Keto Fit Diet for the win!”
"The keto diet is primarily used to help reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures in children. While it also has been tried for weight loss, only short-term results have been studied, and the results have been mixed. We don't know if it works in the long term, nor whether it's safe," warns registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.
There are several types of the keto diet, but essentially, to achieve a state of ketosis, you have to severely reduce the amount of carbs you eat. (You can use this ketogenic calculator to create a custom food plan.) Data suggest the average American man over age 20 consumes 47.4 percent of his daily calories from carbs, and the average American woman over age 20 consumes 49.6 percent of her daily calories from carbs. (3) But in the classic ketogenic diet, which was originally used for the management of seizure disorders, 80 to 90 percent of calories come from fat, 5 to 15 percent come from protein, and 5 to 10 percent come from carbohydrates.
So you've decided you want to try out the high-fat, low-carb diet, better-known as the fat-burning ketogenic diet. Whether it's to lose weight, have more energy, or fuel workouts differently, going keto is a popular choice right now. But figuring out a keto meal plan on your own is no easy feat, especially since eating a diet super high in fats doesn't come naturally to many people who are accustomed to the traditionally carb-heavy American diet. (It's especially hard if you're vegan and want to try keto.) But this should help: Keto experts explain how to set yourself up for success, plus provide ideas for exactly what keto foods to eat when you're first getting started. (While you're at it, check out these Low-Carb Keto drinks That Will Keep You in Ketosis.)
In the world of nutrition, the ketogenic diet is enjoying its moment as diet du jour. Google trends show a sharp uptick in searches for the ketogenic diet since 2016. Almost 550,000 people subscribe to the r/keto subreddit. And when I searched #keto on Twitter, I found an endless stream of modified keto recipes and stories claiming successful weight loss.
Lastly, if you're active, you might need to make some adjustments to take that into account. "For the first one to two weeks, temporarily reducing your exercise load can be helpful as your body adjusts to being in ketosis," he says. "Additionally, for those who have an intense workout schedule, carb cycling may be a good option." Carb cycling essentially means you'll increase your carb intake on the days you're doing exercise, ideally just two to three days per week. "While low-carb days may be around 20 to 30 grams of net carbs daily, high-carb days can range all the way up to 100 grams, although it can vary based on your size and activity level," says Dr. Axe. (Related: 8 Things You Need to Know About Exercising on the Keto Diet.)
One downside to a ketogenic diet for weight loss is the difficulty maintaining it. “Studies show that weight loss results from being on a low-carb diet for more than 12 months tend to be the same as being on a normal, healthy diet,” says Mattinson. While you may be eating more satiating fats (like peanut butter, regular butter, or avocado), you’re also way more limited in what’s allowed on the diet, which can make everyday situations, like eating dinner with family or going out with friends, far more difficult. Because people often find it tough to sustain, it’s easy to rely on it as a short-term diet rather than a long-term lifestyle.