If you’ve heard about friends and celebrities following the keto diet or noticed recipes that are “keto-friendly” but never really knew what that meant, we have you covered. Here’s everything you need to know about a keto diet so that you can decide if it’s right for you.
Why is it Called “Keto”?
What we call the “keto diet” is short for ketogenic - this term is used to describe the diet because of its relationship to a metabolic process called ketogenesis (when the body breaks down fatty acid and produces ketones). The keto diet essentially tries to limit carbs and increase fats so that your body will be in ketosis more often, thus burning through stored fat.
What Does the Keto Diet Look Like?
There are several different keto diets, but the standard formula involves 70% fat, 20% protein, and 10% carbs daily. Many people increase the protein percentage to 30% (and fat down to 60%) for a bit more heft in their diet. Those who are comfortable with the standard keto plan sometimes add additional carbs right around workout times and/or cycle through periods where they increase carbs for a day or two at a time. By and large, when you hear about the keto diet, you can assume that carb consumption is overall very limited (between 20-50 grams per day).
How Does the Keto Diet Work to Lose Weight?
The science behind the keto diet is based on the process of ketogenesis. Usually, your body uses glucose from carbs to produce the majority of its energy and only small amounts of energy come from the breakdown of fatty acids (ketogenesis). When your body is running very low on glucose, however (as it does when you’re on a ketogenic diet), it enters a state of ketosis and begins switching its energy source over to fatty acids. The ketones produced during this process can be used to send energy to organs and the brain. Because a body in ketosis breaks down stores of fat, a ketogenic diet often leads to weight loss.
Are There Other Health Benefits to the Keto Diet?
In addition to weight loss, many people have found other health benefits. Originally developed to help children with seizure conditions, the keto diet is often used as part of treatment for epilepsy. For non-epileptic dieters, people at risk for/suffering from diabetes may have improved blood sugar levels due to the lower levels of glucose consumed over time. Additionally, because of its typically rapid weight loss, the keto diet can potentially help with other health conditions that benefit from lower body weight. Of course, it’s crucial to discuss any health concerns and diet plans with your doctor since these results vary from person to person.
What Are the Potential Downsides or Concerns?
As with any diet plan, rapid weight loss can be hard to sustain long-term and often leads to future weight gain above and beyond what you lost. Having a transition plan in place so that you can gradually ease off your chosen diet is the best way to avoid this problem. The keto diet is very strict, so any deviation can bring your body out of ketosis and thus knock you off course for your diet goals. With the keto diet, there are potential downsides to being in ketosis for a long time - constipation, dizziness, kidney stones, nutrient deficiencies, and low blood sugar are all potential side effects of the ketogenic diet. Finally, because the diet calls for a high fat intake, the risk for heart disease can increase if dieters aren’t careful to choose only heart-healthy fats.
What Should I Eat/Avoid?
Carbohydrates are in many broad categories of foods: fruits, starchy vegetables, grains, sweets, beans and legumes, and alcohol, to name a few. Eliminating most foods from these categories is critical to following the keto diet. Instead, choose foods like lean meats, heart-healthy oils and fats, cheese, eggs, fatty fish, nuts/seeds, and low-carb vegetables. There are some great keto recipe collections here broken down by meal, ingredient, etc.
How Do I Know if Keto is Right For Me?
If you’re looking for rapid weight loss and don’t mind altering your diet to focus primarily on whole ingredients that cut out carbs, then keto might be right for you! Discussing with your doctor is always the first step in choosing a diet plan, so head to an appointment armed with this knowledge!