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 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.
To me, food is fuel but it should also be enjoyed. I just can't get past the fact that many keto recipes (and I've developed many) don't leave me satisfied—and all the substitutes and high-fat ingredients tend to give me (and clients) a stomachache. The keto diet is more like feeding the body "medicine" to trigger a process (ketosis—using fat as fuel instead of carbs) than it is about the enjoyment of it.
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.
When it comes to weight loss — a big possible draw of the plan for many individuals — the benefits of the ketogenic diet may not be much different from any other diet plan. “There is no magical weight loss benefit that can be achieved from this diet,” says Spano. “The ketogenic diet may help weight loss in the same way other diets help — by restricting food choices so you eat fewer calories.”
If you have been looking for a weight loss plan, however, you've probably heard of one of the ketogenic diet’s biggest claims to fame: the quick results it supposedly produces. Some people report losing as much as 10 pounds in the first two weeks. But this weight loss is likely to be mostly water weight, not fat melting away, meaning you stand to gain it back once you replenish fluids. The ketogenic diet can act as a diuretic, causing water loss from glycogen storage in the liver, muscles, and fat cells. Keep in mind that for most people, about ½ pound to 2 pounds per week is considered safe.
Remember: Just because something fits your macros doesn’t mean it’s super healthful and providing a balance of nutrients. High consumption of certain foods (like hot dogs, bacon, and other processed meats) and under consumption of healthier foods (nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruit, whole grains) are linked with certain health conditions and death from heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, and that’s important to keep in mind even if we don’t necessarily have a causal link or recommended limit.
If there's one thing that's for sure right now, it's that the ketogenic diet is insanely popular. People searching for how-to info, detailed meal plans, and high-fat recipes such as keto-friendly smoothie recipes, vegetarian keto recipes, even meals that'll work in the Instant Pot has been steadily increasing throughout 2018. (Related: Is the Keto Diet a Good Idea for Vegetarians?)
In Asia, the normal diet includes rice and noodles as the main energy source, making their elimination difficult. Therefore, the MCT-oil form of the diet, which allows more carbohydrate, has proved useful. In India, religious beliefs commonly affect the diet: some patients are vegetarians, will not eat root vegetables or avoid beef. The Indian ketogenic diet is started without a fast due to cultural opposition towards fasting in children. The low-fat, high-carbohydrate nature of the normal Indian and Asian diet means that their ketogenic diets typically have a lower ketogenic ratio (1:1) than in America and Europe. However, they appear to be just as effective.
Chasing blood Ketones instead of focusing on hormone signals: "The higher the number means you have more Ketones circulating in your bloodstream, but that does not mean that you are better at burning fat for fuel," Mavridis points out. "You must be in nutritional Ketosis, which is described as being between 1.5 - 3.0 mol/L on the blood Ketone meter. You will know once you are fat-adapted from hormonal signals, and not from higher Ketones on the blood meter," she adds.
But people who started following the keto diet noticed weight loss for a few reasons: When you eat carbs, your body retains fluid in order to store carbs for energy (you know, in case it needs it). But when you’re not having much in the carb department, you lose this water weight, says Warren. Also, it's easy to go overboard on carbohydrates—but if you're loading up on fat, it may help curb cravings since it keeps you satisfied.
The ketogenic diet—also known as "keto"—has become the latest big thing in weight-loss plans, touted recently by celebs like Jenna Jameson, Mama June, and Halle Berry. The diet involves cutting way back on carbohydrates, to 50 grams a day or less, to help the body achieve a state of ketosis, in which it has to burn fat (rather than sugar) for energy.
The American Heart Association’s recommendations for controlling cholesterol include getting more fiber and limiting your intake of saturated fat, both of which would be extremely difficult on a ketogenic diet. While it’s true that research around saturated fat is still evolving, making room for good sources of fiber and unsaturated fats, which reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and allowing for a more balanced intake of nutrients, is ideal. In any case, you should check with your doctor before you start a ketogenic (or any new) diet, especially if you have any health conditions like high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Some athletes swear by the ketogenic diet, not just for weight loss but for improved performance in their sport, as well. But Edward Weiss, PhD, associate professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University, doesn’t buy it. “I hear cyclists say all the time that they’re faster and better now that they’re on keto, and my first question is, 'Well, how much weight did you lose?'” he says.
Wondering what fits into a keto diet — and what doesn’t? “It’s so important to know what foods you’ll be eating before you start, and how to incorporate more fats into your diet,” says Kristen Mancinelli, RD, author of The Ketogenic Diet: A Scientifically Proven Approach to Fast, Healthy Weight Loss, who is based in New York City. We asked her for some guidelines.