What is the Keto Diet?

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The ketogenic diet (often shortened to keto diet) is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet originally developed to help treat neurological diseases like epilepsy. Unlike the Atkins diet and others that replace carbohydrates with protein, the keto diet puts the emphasis on consuming more fat. A typical meal on the keto diet might include 70-80 percent fat, 20 percent protein, and five percent carbohydrates.

How the Keto Diet Works

By greatly reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing the consumption of fat, the keto diet puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis. In this state, your body switches away from using carbohydrates for energy and starts burning ketone bodies, which are a type of fuel that the liver produces from stored fat.

As a result, advocates of the keto diet say that it helps people lose weight rapidly and effectively, and there’s some evidence to support this. Research also suggests that the diet helps to decrease blood sugar and insulin levels, which can help in the fight against type 2 diabetes. Some people find that they’re less hungry on the keto diet than other programs and that their muscle mass increases as well.

Other possible benefits of the keto diet include:

  • Improvement in heart disease risk factors such as body fat, blood pressure, and HDL cholesterol levels
  • Reduction in symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and slower disease progression
  • Slowed growth in certain types of cancerous tumors
  • A decrease in symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
  • Reduced seizures in people with epilepsy

Some people use the keto diet fulltime, while others take a cyclical approach. For example, they might be on the diet for five days followed by two high-carb “refeed” days.

Important Considerations About the Keto Diet

It’s important to keep in mind that the ketogenic diet is a medical, therapeutic program that causes significant metabolic changes. If you’re considering starting the keto diet, you should first talk with your doctor. While many people experience good results, there are a number of potential side effects including:

  • Nutrient deficits
  • Mood swings
  • Kidney problems
  • Liver problems
  • Cognitive issues
  • Constipation

With the keto diet only recently becoming popular, there’s very little research on the long-term effects it may have on the body. Plus, restrictive programs like the keto diet are very hard to maintain, and as soon as they’re discontinued, weight tends to return. Other approaches to achieving and staying at a healthy weight, such as reducing caloric intake and increasing exercise, may be more sustainable.

Finally, if you have an eating disorder or certain metabolic issues, the keto diet may be unhealthy or even dangerous for you. Your doctor or nutritionist can provide you with more details about the diet and the impact it might have on you, given your specific health status.