The keto diet is taking the fad diet arena by storm. Folks are turning to the diet as a means of weight loss, and some believe that it can also help with a slew of health conditions. But even though you may know someone who swears by it, as a dietitian focused on healthy, delicious food, I've never been able to condone such an extreme diet (whether used as a way of life or as a timebound diet to "reset"). (Related: Is the Keto Diet Bad for You?)
Of course, one of the biggest benefits of the keto diet—aside from the weight-loss results many see—is the creativity reboot it can give your meals. A lot of healthy foods are banned because of their high carb count, so following the keto diet forced me to experiment with other ingredients, like cauliflower rice and tuna. Since I'm a creature of habit during the day, dinner was the time to play, and the recipes that Green Chef delivered really pushed my husband and me out of our comfort zones. One of our favorite discoveries? Shirataki noodles, a zero-carb Japanese noodle made from yam husks. They work perfectly as a pasta alternative. We enjoyed them in this Pasta with Italian Sausage recipe, but since the noodles easily take on the flavor of the ingredients they're paired with, you could sub them into any favorite pasta dish.
While it may be new to you, the keto diet has actually been around since the 1920’s, when the Mayo Clinic reported its effectiveness for helping epilepsy (that is still the case). Since then, there’s strong evidence that the keto diet helps with weight loss as well as type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, and metabolic syndrome, says Jeff Volek, Ph.D., RD, professor in the department of Human Sciences at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio and co-author of The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living.
There are also issues with electrolytes including sodium, potassium, and magnesium. During ketosis, your kidneys excrete more sodium and water, which can lead to dehydration. Plus, the lack of glycogen (or stored glucose) means that the body is storing less water. This is why drinking lots of fluids is important while on keto, and why you need to add lots of sodium to dishes.
Fairly recently, the diet was introduced as a weight-loss diet by an Italian professor of surgery, Dr. Gianfranco Cappello of Sapienza University in Rome. In his 2012 study, about 19,000 dieters received a high-fat liquid diet via a feeding tube inserted down the nose. The study showed an average weight loss of more than 20 pounds in participants, most of whom kept it off for at least a year. The researchers reported a few minor side effects, like fatigue.
There are three instances where there’s research to back up a ketogenic diet, including to help control type 2 diabetes, as part of epilepsy treatment, or for weight loss, says Mattinson. “In terms of diabetes, there is some promising research showing that the ketogenic diet may improve glycemic control. It may cause a reduction in A1C — a key test for diabetes that measures a person’s average blood sugar control over two to three months — something that may help you reduce medication use,” she says.