What is the Keto Diet?
The ketogenic or keto diet is a diet plan that focuses on high-fat foods and strictly restricts the intake of carbohydrates. In this form of dieting, about 70 percent of calories are derived from fat, moderate levels of protein, and less than 50 grams of carbohydrates a day. The main goal of this diet is to burn more calories from fat than from carbs.
The diet acts by depleting the body of sugar reserves and starts to break down fat for its energy. This leads to the production of ketone bodies which are used by the body as its energy source. As a result, the body burns the fats leading to weight loss.
It was initially used for a long time to treat specific medical conditions such as epilepsy and to control diabetes. The ketogenic diet has also been studied and tested for treating cancer, diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, and Alzheimer’s.
Different Types of Ketogenic Diets
There are many versions of the ketogenic diet, like:
- A standard ketogenic diet (SKD): This is a very low carb, moderate protein and high-fat diet. It typically contains 70% fat, 20% protein, and only 10% carbs.
- The cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): This diet involves periods of higher-carb refeeds, such as five ketogenic days followed by two high-carb days.
- The targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): This diet allows you to add carbs around workouts.
- High protein ketogenic diet: This is similar to a standard ketogenic diet but includes more protein. The ratio is often 60% fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbs.
Though there are several versions, the standard (SKD) version is the most recommended as it has been studied extensively. However, cyclical or targeted ketogenic diets are far more advanced and are primarily used by bodybuilders or athletes.
How Does the Keto Diet Work?
The goal of the keto diet is to send the body into a state of ketosis through fat metabolism. The body primarily uses fat for energy instead of carbohydrates in a ketogenic state. So, when the levels of carbohydrates are deficient, the fats can be converted into ketones to fuel the body.
A regular diet consists of fifty percent or more carbohydrates, which get converted into glucose in the body. The cells utilize glucose as the energy source for their various functions. But when the carbs are replaced with a very high-fat, low-carb diet, the body begins to use fatty acids and ketone bodies for energy instead of glucose. This process is called ketosis, from which the name of the diet is derived.
Usually, the brain demands most glucose in a steady supply, as it cannot store glucose. When the glucose availability is low, the body utilises the stored glucose from the liver and muscles to compensate for its needs. When the stored glucose is fully depleted, the inulin hormone levels decrease in the body, and tissues begins to use fat as their primary fuel. As a result of this, the liver starts to produce ketone bodies from fat, which can be used in place of glucose.
When such ketone bodies accumulate in the blood, the condition is called ketosis. Many people experience mild ketosis normally during fasting or after very strenuous exercise. But if levels of ketones increase to a very high level, it may lead to a serious condition called ketoacidosis.
What Foods Can You Eat?
The keto diet encourages eating lots of nuts, seeds, cottage cheese, dairy products, plain yogurt, non-starchy fibrous vegetables, and oils, along with meats, eggs, and fish. A variety of meats, low-fat cheese, fatty fish such as salmon, and low-fat meats such as skinless chicken. Whole plant foods include avocados, olives, nut kinds of butter, etc. It is crucial to limit carbohydrates, such as bread, pastries, baked foods, sweets, pasta, breakfast cereals, and starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, beans, fruit, etc., when following a keto diet. To avoid nutritional deficiencies, a multivitamin supplement can be taken daily.
The Keto diet cannot be taken for a long time due to its side effects. It is essential to reintroduce carbs to avoid health issues. It can be done by gradually adding whole, unrefined carbs, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Usually, people begin to gain weight with the reintroduction of carbs due to high energy as well as water retention from the stored carbs.
Healthy Keto Snacks
It isn’t easy to go on with the daily routine without enough carbs, which are the primary source of energy. Here are some healthy, keto-approved snacks when following a keto diet to satiate the hunger in between meals.
- a handful of nuts or seeds
- one or two hard-boiled eggs
- keto-friendly snack bars
- dark chocolate
- plain cottage cheese
Does It Work for Weight Loss?
Yes. But it takes at least two to three weeks from the beginning of the diet to utilise the body’s fat. The idea is to make the body burn fats by switching to a high-fat diet from a high-carb diet. This process of body adaptation from glucose utility to fat utility may take several weeks to months.
High fat and a high protein food increase satiety, which reduces the total calorie intake resulting in weight loss. The rapid weight loss that happens initially is in part due to loss of water weight. However, most people cannot sustain a keto diet for the long term, and once carbs are reintroduced, people tend to gain weight.
In general, the keto diet can produce weight loss in the short term, but it is not a sustainable, long-term solution to weight problems. Hence its always recommended to make a long-term, healthy, sustainable diet plan rather than short-term diet forms such as the keto diet. Because a healthy, low-calorie diet that includes healthy carbs can also produce similar but long-term weight loss results.
Is the Keto Diet Safe?
A ketogenic diet has been known to provide short-term benefits in some people, including weight loss and improvements in total cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. However, the results are not significantly different compared to the effects of other conventional weight-loss diets.
Eating a diet with high amounts of protein, fats, and fewer carbs is generally safe, but there are particular health concerns to be aware of, such as:
- Low blood sugar levels, especially among people with diabetes who take medications.
- Increased cholesterol levels can increase the risk of heart disease.
- A high intake of saturated fats and high-fat meats can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.
- Eliminating multiple food groups from the diet may increase the risk of various nutrient deficiencies.
- It is advisable for people with kidney disease to avoid this diet, as the excess protein progresses the kidney disease much faster.
Health Benefits of the Keto Diet
The ketogenic diet was initially formulated for treating children with epilepsy and other neurological disorders. Many research studies have shown that the diet can benefit a wide variety of health conditions though more evidence is needed to determine its effects on such conditions. Some of them are:
- Heart disease may help decrease risk factors like high LDL cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar.
- Cancer: It is being studied for the treatment of certain cancers as it may help slow down tumour growth.
- Alzheimer’s disease: It may help reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and slow down its progression.
- Epilepsy: Research has proved its efficiency in significantly reducing seizures in epileptic children.
- Parkinson’s disease: Research is being conducted to study the keto diet’s effect on Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome: The ketogenic diet may help reduce insulin resistance, one of the main risk factors for polycystic ovary syndrome.
Side Effects and How to Combat Them
Specific side effects are expected at the beginning of the diet as the body needs time to adjust, and they usually disappear in a few days. They are:
- low blood sugar
- low tolerance for exercise
- poor energy and mental function
- increased hunger
- sleep issues
- digestive discomfort
A regular low-carb diet can be taken in small amounts for the first few weeks to overcome these symptoms. However, a ketogenic diet may affect the body’s water, micronutrients, and mineral balance. Hence extra salt and mineral supplements can be taken along with the diet.
Risks and Complications
The ketogenic diet may be suitable for weight loss and specific health benefits. Following a very high-fat diet may be challenging to maintain. But staying on the ketogenic diet for a long term can have some adverse effects on the body, such as:
- Increased risk of kidney stones
- Osteoporosis and increased blood levels of uric acid
- Excess protein in the blood
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Fatty liver
People Who Should Avoid the Keto Diet Are:
- Insulin-dependent diabetic patients
- People with eating disorders
- People with chronic kidney disease or pancreatitis
- Pregnant and lactating women
- People who take sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors for diabetes as this diet increases the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis
Weight Management Through Safe Diet Plans
A ketogenic diet severely restricts the intake of carbohydrates. This might cause health concerns as some carbohydrates to provide various health benefits. Different diet plans are available, which include all the food groups and help taper the weight gradually and safely, and sustainably. It is always healthy to follow a diet that encompasses a variety of nutrient-rich, fibrous carbs, such as fruits and vegetables, nutritious protein sources, and healthy fats for healthy weight management.
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It is advised to take any health product under the proper guidance of a registered medical practitioner or a dietician. When taken along with a healthy diet plan and regular physical activity, these products can help safely manage a healthy weight.
People interested in the keto diet should seek a consultation with a doctor and have a complete health check-up to rule out diabetes, hypoglycaemia, heart disease, or any other health conditions to ensure the keto diet is safe.
The ketogenic diet has been reported to be beneficial in bringing out many metabolic changes along with weight loss, such as insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol and triglycerides and as an adjunct therapy for type 2 diabetes.
As there are very few studies regarding the long-term benefits of the ketogenic diet, and most of them are inconclusive, it is safe to start the diet under the guidance of a registered dietician who specializes in the keto diet.