A ketogenic diet, or keto for short, is a low-carb, high-fat diet that can provide a number of health benefits. It effectively turns your body into a fat-burning machine, while simultaneously helping you lose weight and boost your energy levels.
How Does Keto Impact Weight Loss?
Keto has some traits that are reminiscent of the Atkins diet and other low-carb plans. The keto diet involves dramatically reducing your carbohydrate consumption and substituting fat instead. This dietary alteration will put your body into a metabolic state known as ketosis.
Ketosis is a completely normal metabolic function. Essentially, when your body doesn’t have enough glucose for energy, it will burn stored fat instead. Glucose is created when carbohydrates are broken down inside your body. Cutting carbs from your diet means less glucose for your body to burn up.
Replacing carbs with fats will cause acids called ketones to build up in your body. The goal is to force the body to derive its fuel from fat, rather than carbs.
While your body is in ketosis, it becomes extremely efficient at burning fat. Ketogenic diets can trigger major reductions in your blood sugar and insulin levels, which has additional health benefits.
Keto for Weight Loss
Ketogenic diets are effective for losing weight and lowering risk factors for certain diseases. While low-fat diets are traditionally recommended for those looking to shed pounds, research shows that keto is, in fact, a superior approach to weight loss.
Unlike many diets, keto will not leave you feeling hungry after eating a pre-set number of calories for the day. Keto is a satisfying and filling method of dieting. In fact, you can lose weight without tracking calories—something that deters many people from adhering to other diets.
There are several reasons why keto is more efficient than a low-fat diet, including increased protein intake. Higher protein intake is advantageous for weight reduction and metabolic health.
Quick Keto Facts
- Ketosis occurs when the body is denied access to glucose, its main fuel source.
- In ketosis, stored fat is broken down for energy, producing ketones.
- Some people use a ketogenic diet to lose weight by forcing their body to burn surplus fat stores.
- The ketogenic diet was originally developed in the 1920's to treat epilepsy but was inadvertently discovered to offer many other health benefits.
- There are multiple variations of the ketogenic diet.
Types of Ketogenic Diets
- Classic Keto: The strictest form of keto, classic keto requires a 4:1 ratio of fats to carbs or protein. This is a structured, individualized plan in which your diet will consist of 90% fat. Foods are usually weighed when following this regimen.
- Modified Keto: The modified version of the diet is intended to be less restrictive. It might be a good place to start if you’re new to keto, or if you’ve done classic keto for a long time and you’re trying to taper down to a more sustainable, long-term eating regimen.
- MCT: This version allows for a higher protein and carb intake than classic keto. MCT is short for Medium Chain Triglycerides, or highly ketogenic man-made fats.
- Modified Atkins: Carbs are limited in modified Atkins, while fat is encouraged. Protein is not limited at all. When you do consume carbs on this diet, fats should accompany them.
- Intermittent Fasting: This dietary intervention launches the body into ketosis by shortening the window of time that you eat during the day. For instance, you may only eat during an 8-hour window of the day, and fast for the other 16 hours. This forces the body to burn energy from fat.
Only the classic and high-protein ketogenic diets have been researched and studied extensively by professionals. Other, more advanced, versions of keto are primarily used by bodybuilders and elite athletes. Since the classic method is the most researched, it is often the most recommended.
Other Health Benefits of Keto
The ketogenic diet was originally created to treat neurological diseases like epilepsy. Over the last century, countless studies have been performed to examine the other health benefits of ketogenic diets. Keto has been shown to offer benefits for a myriad of health conditions:
- Heart disease: The ketogenic diet can improve cholesterol levels and reduce body fat and blood sugar—all risk factors for heart disease.
- Cancer: Keto is currently being used to treat cancers and slow the growth of tumors.
- Alzheimer's disease: Keto may reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease or slow its advancement. Research is ongoing.
- Epilepsy: Research has indicated that the ketogenic diet can cause a sizeable reduction in the number of seizures experienced by epileptic children.
- Parkinson's disease: One study produced evidence that the diet helped improve Parkinson's disease symptoms, though more research is needed.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome: Keto can lower insulin levels, which may play a role in treating polycystic ovary syndrome.
- Brain injuries: One study conducted on animals found that keto can aid in concussion recovery and post-brain injury recovery.
- Acne: Eating less sugar and processed foods (lower insulin levels) helps improve acne and reduce the frequency of breakouts.
- Diabetes: Keto can increase insulin sensitivity and fat loss, which are significant benefits for people with type 2 diabetes (or prediabetes).
Research in several of these areas is not conclusive, and more evidence is needed to support keto’s other health benefits. It is quite intriguing, though, that a diet originally developed to treat neurological disorders has been adapted for weight loss, and could potentially be further developed to treat a large number of human ailments.
Foods to Avoid in Keto
Any food that is high in carbohydrates should be limited or removed while attempting to achieve ketosis. Some of these foods include:
- Sugary foods: Cake, ice cream, candy, soda, fruit juice
- Grains or starches: Cereal, pasta, rice, wheat-based foods
- Fruit: All fruit should be eliminated, with the exception of small portions of berries.
- Beans: Peas, kidney beans, legumes, chickpeas, lentils
- Root vegetables: Potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes
- Low-fat packaged products: These “diet” products are highly processed and usually pack a lot of carbs.
- Condiments and sauces: Many condiments and sauces contain sugar or unhealthy fats. Check the labels!
- Unhealthy fats: Limit things like vegetable oil and mayonnaise.
- Alcohol: Alcoholic beverages are high in carbs, which can take your body out of ketosis.
- Sugar-free diet foods: These products can be high in sugar alcohols, which affect ketone levels. They’re highly processed, too.
You should base most of your meals on these types of foods:
- Meat: Steak, ham, chicken, sausage, bacon, turkey
- Fatty fish: Trout, tuna, mackerel, salmon
- Eggs: Pastured and omega-3 whole eggs
- Butter and cream: Products of grass-fed animals, if possible.
- Cheese: Unprocessed cheddar, cream, goat, blue or mozzarella
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, flax seeds, walnuts, chia and pumpkin seeds
- Healthy oils: Mainly extra virgin olive oil, but coconut and avocado oil are ok, too.
- Avocados: Whole avocado or fresh guacamole
- Low-carb veggies: Greens, tomatoes, peppers, onions
- Condiments: Salt, pepper, healthy herbs
In keto and most healthy diets, it’s best to base your meals on whole, one-ingredient foods. To learn more about keto-friendly, low-carb foods, check out this list: Ketogenic diet foods – what to eat.
Always try to rotate your vegetables and meats to reduce boredom and maximize your nutritional intake. You can eat a variety of delicious and nutritious meals when following a ketogenic diet plan.
Keto Snacks to Enjoy!
As with any dietary plan, you might get hungry between meals. When those snack cravings hit, make sure you reach for something that is keto-friendly, so as to maintain the state of ketosis achieved through your regular meals.
Here are some healthy and keto-friendly snack ideas:
- Fatty meat
- Fatty fish
- Unprocessed cheeses (optionally, add olives)
- A small handful of seeds or nuts
- One or two hard-boiled eggs
- Dark chocolate (90%)
- A low-carb milkshake (add almond milk, nut butter, and cocoa powder)
- Full-fat yogurt with nut butter or cocoa powder
- Strawberries with cream from grass-fed animal sources
- Celery dipped in salsa or guacamole
- Small portions of leftover dinners
When dining out, it’s usually pretty easy to make most restaurant meals keto-friendly. Most restaurants feature meat or fish-based dishes. Order one of these plates and substitute any high-carb side dishes for vegetables.
Egg-based meals, such as omelets or eggs and bacon, are also a great choice. They’re not just good for breakfast—they can be dinner, too!
Another keto favorite is the bun-less burger. Try swapping a side of fries for vegetables and adding avocado, bacon, or extra cheese to the burger. At Mexican restaurants, you can eat any type of meat on the menu. You can also add extra cheeses, salsa, guacamole, or sour cream. For dessert, try a mixed cheese place or berries and cream.
Why the Ketogenic Diet Impacts Fat Burn
Keto can help you lose weight and make some positive changes to your life. The high-fat, low-carb diet has gained a lot of popularity in recent years, creating an entire community of keto-praising eaters.
Unlike with calorie restriction, keto helps you lose weight by putting your body into ketosis. When you eat minimal carbohydrates, your body produces ketones for energy. Ketones are made in your liver from fatty acids found in food or your own body fat. Therefore, your liver actually burns fat to make ketones. Ketones are used for energy in lieu of carbs.
As your body steadily burns fat as a fuel source, you will start to lose weight. You may be wondering if keto can target specific problem areas, such as belly fat. Burning belly fat is high on the priority list for many people. The fat in your belly is visceral fat, which is a dangerous type of fat that lives deep inside the abdomen, encasing your internal organs. Visceral fat is linked to heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Technically, you can’t spot-target fat areas for reduction. Your body decides where weight loss will occur. However, keto may be useful for eliminating stubborn belly fat.
Belly fat, or visceral fat, comes from a combination of genes and a diet high in refined carbs and sugar. Visceral fat can easily become inflamed, making it incredibly stubborn to lose and dangerous to surrounding blood vessels. A well-formulated keto regimen has strong anti-inflammatory effects, making it easier to drop stubborn belly fat.
Keto alone likely will not be enough to lose a large amount of fat. Keto works well in combination with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) exercises. Always consult with your doctor before beginning any new diet or exercise plan.
How to Minimize Side Effects
Although ketogenic diets are safe for most healthy people, you may experience some side effects while your body adapts to your new eating regimen. This period of adjustment is sometimes called the “keto flu” and typically only lasts a few days.
Keto flu might include low energy, hunger, sleep disturbances, or digestive discomfort. Some people have reported feeling nauseous for the first few days of keto.
To minimize these side effects, you can ease your way into keto. For instance, you could try a more traditional low-carb diet for a few weeks before going full keto. This process can train your body to start burning more fat before you totally remove carbs from your diet.
A ketogenic diet can also alter your water levels and mineral balance. You may want to add extra salt to your food or consider taking mineral supplements to restore normal balance in your body.
- Try adding 3,000 milligrams of sodium, along with 1,000 mg of potassium and 300 mg of magnesium to your daily intake to help minimize side effects and restore mineral balance.
It’s vital to eat until you’re full and refrain from restricting your calorie intake too much, particularly at the beginning of your ketogenic diet. Keto usually leads to weight loss without purposeful calorie restriction.
With the proper supplements and good dietary practices, the side effects of a ketogenic diet can be limited to very tolerable levels.
Although supplements are not required for a ketogenic diet, they can be useful in reducing side effects and maintaining a natural balance in your body. Some useful supplements for keto include:
- MCT oil: For an energy boost and increased ketone levels, add MCT oil to drinks or yogurt.
- Minerals: Salt and other minerals are important when first starting keto due to fluctuations in water levels and mineral balance.
- Caffeine: Great for energy, increased athletic performance, and fat loss.
- Exogenous ketones: A supplement that can help raise ketone levels.
- Creatine: You may have heard of this supplement at is it widely used across the fitness and performance sectors. If you’re combining keto with exercise, creatine can be a very useful supplement.
- Whey: A half scoop of whey protein added to shakes or yogurt will up your daily protein numbers.
Common Questions About Ket
- If I try keto, does that mean I can never eat carbs again?
No. However, you will need to significantly cut back on your carb intake at first. After two to three months, you can have carbs on special occasions—as long as you return to the diet right after.
- Will I lose muscle mass?
There is some risk of losing muscle mass in any diet. However, high protein intake and ketone levels can minimize muscle loss, particularly if you strength train.
- What if I am constantly fatigued?
If you’re constantly feeling tired or fatigued, you may not be in full ketosis. Your body might not be using ketones and fats in the most effective way. You should try lowering your carb intake or adding supplements to your diet. MCT oil or exogenous ketones can help battle fatigue.
- I have digestion issues. What should I do?
Digestive disturbances are a common side effect of switching to a ketogenic diet. Symptoms should pass in three to four weeks. In the meantime, try eating more high-fiber vegetables or supplementing with magnesium to relieve constipation.
Is Keto Healthy?
A ketogenic diet can work wonders for people who are overweight, diabetic and prediabetic or just looking to improve their metabolism. It may not be as suitable for elite athletes or bodybuilders looking to add significant muscle mass.
As with any diet, keto will only work if you are consistent and stick with your plan. The powerful health, nutritional, and weight loss benefits of a ketogenic diet have been proven through extensive research.
Keto may have a healthful effect on:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- Diabetes and prediabetes
Keto may also improve HDL cholesterol levels, often referred to as “good” cholesterol, better than diets that allow moderate carbohydrate consumption. The loss of extra weight and addition of healthier foods is also a driving force behind improved health.
How does your DNA factor in?
Unfortunately, not everyone metabolizes fats efficiently enough to experience the benefits of the ketogenic diet. A DNA health test can tell you how efficiently you metabolize fats and if the ketogenic diet is right for you.