Lately we have added another word in our daily vocabulary. “Keto,” or “ketogenic,” to describe our diets. We have been hearing, reading and talking about it. The diet that has developed in 1920’s to treat children with epilepsy, today, has been used by everyone who wants to fit into smaller pants and lose fat, but how many of us know what this pop word really means?
Keto is for both “ketosis,” the normal metabolic process in which the body burns fat for energy because it does not have enough glucose; and “ketones” a build-up of acids that is made in the same process.
If you don’t have any medical conditions and you are on a healthy diet, your body controls how much fat it burns, and you don't normally make or use ketones. On a regular diet, the main energy source are carbohydrates. If you are on a “Keto Diet,” on the other hand, it means that you are aiming to burn fat by forcing the body to rely on fat for energy— switch to ketosis— rather than on carbs.
However, there are certain ways that ketosis can happen involuntarily, such as after pregnancy, and exercising for a long time. The metabolic process can also turn into ketoacidosis, especially in uncontrolled diabetes. Since in diabetes your body cannot produce or use insulin properly, your body’s ketone levels can get too high and become a life-threatening condition.
Although non-diabetic ketoacidosis is a rare condition, you should still be careful while pursuing the keto diet.
What Is a Ketogenic Diet?
Keto Diet is a high fat, adequate protein, low-carb diet in which you turn your body into a fat-burning mechanism.
While sharing many similarities with other low-carb diets such as the Atkins, Keto Diet involves a drastic replacement of carbs with fat that puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis.
According to the dietary guidelines for Americans, the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) of carbs is 45 to 65 percent of your daily calorie intake. So, if you eat a 2000-calorie diet, 900 to 1,300 of those calories should be from carbs, which equals to about 225 to 325 grams of carbs per day. On the other hand, Keto Diet typically limits carbs to only 20–50 grams per day, which is an incredibly small amount compared to the AMDR of carbs.
It may seem challenging at first, but many nutritious foods can easily fit into this way of eating. You have also several options while doing a keto diet, such as:
Standard ketogenic diet: This is a very low-carb, moderate-protein and high-fat diet. It typically contains 75% fat, 20% protein and only 5% carbs.
Cyclical ketogenic diet: This diet involves periods of higher-carb refeeds, such as five ketogenic days followed by two high-carb days. According to a study in the Journal of Physiology, this version can significantly improve performance for athletes.
Targeted ketogenic diet: This diet allows you to add carbs around workouts. So if you are exercising regularly you can experiment with carbs. According to a journal article “Pre-Exercise Nutrition: The Role of Macronutrients, Modified Starches and Supplements on Metabolism and Endurance Performance,” you should consume carbs a minimum of 30-60 minutes prior to your workout; that’s when you would eat around an extra of 25-50g.
High-protein ketogenic diet: This is similar to a standard ketogenic diet, but it includes a higher amount of protein in the diet. The ratio is often 60% fat, 35% protein and 5% carbs.
However, only the standard and high-protein ketogenic diets have been studied comprehensively. More research in the cyclical and targeted ketogenic diets is needed, since these diets are somewhat more advanced and are used by primarily bodybuilders and athletes.
Health Benefits of Keto Diet:
1. Weight and Fat Loss
There are over 20 studies that show that this kind of diet is very effective in losing not only weight, since you consume very small amounts of carbs, but also fat. Considering that your body burns fat for energy instead of carbs, you lose weight from your fat mass; accordingly your body fat percentage drops down.
Also, according to a study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in the short term, a high-protein, low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet reduces hunger and lowers food intake significantly more than do high-protein, medium-carbohydrate non-ketogenic diets.
What's more, the diet is much more filling that you can lose weight without counting calories or tracking your food intake, as fats (9 kcals/g) are calorically more dense than carbs (4 kcals/g).
2. Diabetes and Pre-diabetes
The World Health Organization defines diabetes as “a chronic, metabolic disease characterized by elevated levels of blood glucose (or blood sugar), which leads over time to serious damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves.” Since the ketogenic diet can help you lose excess fat and consume less sugar it is closely connected to diabetes.
In fact, studies suggest that a low-carb, ketogenic diet can seriously improve the conditions of type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes and metabolic syndrome (1) (2) (3) (4). While the diet can help with weight loss, it also improves 24-hour blood sugar glucose levels, insulin sensitivity and hemoglobin A1c (the criteria upon which to base the diagnosis of diabetes.)
However, the long-term effects of this diet remain uncertain.
3. Heart disease
According to this Jama Internal Medicine article, weight loss may lead to the prevention of type 2 diabetes and to the improved control of hypertension, and may reduce the risks of cardiovascular diseases. Since the ketogenic diet can help you lose weight and improve risk factors like high body fat, HDL cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar, it could be effective in preventing heart disease.
4. Brain Health
While the ketogenic diet has been in clinical use for over 80 years, primarily for the treatment of epilepsy, according to a study by Elsevier, the ketogenic diet can also improve memory performance in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. According to another study, consumption of foods containing increased amounts of essential fatty acids has also been associated with a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
Furthermore, when your body gets very efficient at burning fat for energy, it also turns the fat in the liver into ketones, which can according to journal article by Elsevier, supply more energy for the brain and for exercise performance. The study also suggests that people who are on a keto diet performed better on a VO2 Max Test than those who are on a balanced diet.
Foods to Eat on a Keto Diet:
Seafood - Very keto friendly; rich in omega 3 fatty acids, B vitamins, selenium, potassium
Low-carb vegetables - Low in calories and carbs; high in vitamins, minerals and fiber
Avocados - High in fiber and potassium; improves LDL (good) cholesterol
Meat and Poultry - No carbs; good source of protein; high in B vitamins, selenium, iron, and zinc
Eggs - Good source of protein; rich in antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin
Coconut Oil - Rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which can increase ketone production
Olive oil - High in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants.
Yogurt - Can be a low carb, healthy snack; reduces appetite and promotes fullness
Nuts and Seeds - High in fat and fiber, low in net carbs
Berries - High in antioxidants, and fiber; low in carbs
Dark Chocolate or Cacao Powder - 100% dark chocolate contains 3–10 grams of net carbs per ounce; rich in antioxidants
Luckily, you can still have a wide variety of delicious and also nutritious foods that allow you to remain within your daily carb range while following the Keto Diet.
Looking to learn more about fat loss? You might like this article: Body Fat Percentage Chart: What Is the Ideal Range?