The ketogenic diet, known more commonly as simply the "keto diet," is an eating plan low in carbohydrates, moderate in protein and high in fat. The keto diet claims to work by denying the body of carbohydrates to burn more fat, leading to fewer cravings, feeling fuller with less food, a boost in your mood and energy and, ultimately, weight loss.
When on the keto diet, your overall food consumption involves very little carbohydrates or even cutting them out altogether. It also contains 80 percent fat. Yes, fat.
Typically in diets, you try to stay away from fatty foods, but the keto is different. Instead, the keto diet focuses on loading up on fat and cutting out carbs.
When you eat a food that is high in carbs, your body produces glucose and insulin. Your liver makes and stores the glucose so your body can later use it for energy, while your pancreas makes insulin to transport the glucose around your body through your bloodstream.
For a typical person, glucose is the body's main energy source. But when your body is exclusively using glucose to burn energy, stored fats are not being burned. When you remove the high levels of glucose from your body, there needs to be an alternative source of energy.
This is the idea behind the keto diet -- if you cut out the carbs, your body will produce less glucose and be forced to use the stored fats to burn energy. The diet forces your body into a constant state of ketosis, which is when fat is released and burned for energy. This is why the keto diet requires such a high intake of foods high in fat -- to supply your body with burnable energy that isn't sugars.
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Staple foods of the keto diet are fish, meat, eggs, dairy, oils, nuts, seeds, high-fat dairy and green vegetables such as spinach and kale.
When on this diet, it is important to stay away from foods that contain high amounts of carbs. This means bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and grains in general are strictly prohibited. You also want to avoid eating fruits because they contain carbohydrates that your body processes into sugar.
Plate of salami, tomatoes, cheese and cucumber. farbled/Shutterstock
Like any diet, the beginning is the worst. It's common for people beginning the diet to undergo something called "The Keto Flu." This "flu" appears sometimes within the first few weeks of the keto diet and includes symptoms like headaches, nausea, trouble sleeping and difficulty focusing.
These symptoms are a result of your body being low on carbs and trying to transition to using fats in place of sugars. This, understandably, takes a toll on your energy levels and can make you feel sick for a few days. After your body enters ketosis, the "keto flu" should subside and your diet should continue more smoothly.
The keto diet is ranked 39th of the 40 diets (it is tied for last with the Dukan diet) evaluated by U.S. News and World Report, who turned to health experts to help analyze each diet in regards to safety, nutritious value, weight loss and other factors. U.S. News and World Report reports that the keto diet showed promising signs of short-term weight loss.
However, the diet was ranked so low because experts are skeptical about the long-term effects of keto. A 2017 study published in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism analyzed the effects a six-week long keto diet had on healthy adults and found the diet to have a "mildly negative impact," on physical performance and only "mild weight loss" in its participants.
So is the keto diet a good path toward weight loss? You can certainly lose a few pounds on keto, but ultimately nutritionists say there are much better diets to turn to. Weight Watchers topped the list for best diet for weight loss.
Though keto might not be the best route to take for weight loss, many investors in Silicon Valley are raving about the diet's positive effects, according to CNBC. The keto diet claims to naturally lower the body's blood sugar levels because of the lack of carbs, which can help people who have diabetes and prevent people from contracting Type II diabetes.
Keto also might have health benefits for children with epilepsy. According to the Epilepsy Society in the U.K., the diet might help reduce the number or severity of seizures in some epileptic children. A 2015 study reportedly found that the body releases a chemical called decanoic acid during ketosis that helps reduce seizures for some people. The child's diet is closely monitored by doctors and isn't a suitable treatment for everyone.
Other alleged benefits of the keto diet are increased focus, increased energy, and better appetite control.
Grilled chicken with greens, avocado, and sliced tomato. Elena Shashkina/Shutterstock
Along with the "keto flu," many people experience other side effects during the diet. This includes muscle loss and low energy levels due to carb restriction, as well as constipation because of the low amount of fiber found in the keto diet.
According to TODAY, the keto diet also makes it difficult to get all of the essential nutrients your body needs. Therefore, you will need to take supplements and multivitamins if you are on the keto diet.
Exercise during the first few weeks of keto, especially during the "keto flu," will be difficult even for your normal workouts. This is because your body experiences a withdrawal from carbs and has to change sources of energy, which can make you feel lethargic.
Once your body has time to adjust to its new fat-burning energy source, you can return to your normal exercise routine with no negative impact. Many athletes are choosing to go carb-free.
If you are considering starting the keto diet, talk to a doctor first. The diet could do more harm to your body than good depending on your health.The keto diet isn't recommended for everyone, including people with heart disease or liver conditions.
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