For years, low-carb diets have been all the rage. One of these diets, the ketogenic diet plan, is particularly popular. And while following a ketogenic diet plan could provide many health benefits, it’s important to do some research before you jump in with both feet.
Here’s some information that will help ensure you make the best possible choice for your exact weight loss goals.
Ketogenic Diet Plan 101
In a nutshell, a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet is designed to make your body burn fat instead of carbs. The keto diet involves eating a lot of high-fat foods. People who follow the plan also eat protein-rich foods in moderation.
Most of us consume a lot of carbohydrates on a regular basis. Your body uses carbs for energy by turning them into glucose. It then produces insulin in order to move the glucose into the blood. But when you follow the keto diet, which is very low-carb, your body has to burn something else for energy. When this happens, the body goes into a state known as ketosis.1
Ketosis is basically a process where your body uses fat for its energy source, instead of carbs. Your liver turns fatty acids into molecules known as ketones. These ketones then provide the energy your body needs.
Can Ketosis Be Dangerous?
There is evidence that suggests ketosis may help people with metabolic and cardiovascular issues. Ketosis itself is generally not harmful.2 However, if a condition known as ketoacidosis develops, that can be dangerous. This happens when your body produces too many ketones.
Ketoacidosis is usually the result of an illness. But it can also develop due to surgery, physical or emotional trauma, drug abuse, or excess stress. Symptoms include confusion, dry skin, and pain in your abdomen. Other signs include breath that smells somewhat like fruit, vomiting and nausea, shortness of breath, and frequent urination.3
Ketosis is a normal biological process in your body. If you follow the keto diet properly, ketosis shouldn’t cause any health issues.4
A Low-Carb Diet Vs. the Keto Diet
Many people considering a weight loss plan assume that a low-carb diet is the same as the keto diet. There are similarities, of course, but there are also some major differences. You might cut down on carbs following another diet plan, but that doesn’t guarantee your body will go into ketosis. The reason is that you’ll be taking in too many carbs.
There’s another major difference between a low-carb and a keto diet. This has to do with the amount of protein you consume. When you’re on another type of low-carb-diet, you take in more protein than on the keto diet. As a result, your body won’t reach ketosis because it can still convert protein into glucose for energy. On the keto diet, you’ll still need protein for your muscles. You just won’t be eating as much.5
In addition, when your body converts protein into energy, your levels of insulin and blood sugar might rise, interfering with ketone production. But when you take in more fat, the process of turning it into energy doesn’t have a major effect on your insulin and blood sugar levels.6
There is no “one size fits all” kind of diet. Everybody is different and has different needs. In general, though, people following the keto diet will typically get the vast majority of calories (usually about 80 percent) from fat.
Followers should limit their carbohydrate intake to 10-15 grams each day, and limit protein to one gram per kilogram of body weight.7
To convert from pounds to kilograms (kg), take your weight and divide by 2.2. For example, someone who weighs 200 pounds weighs a little more than 90 kg.
What Kinds of Fats Will You Be Eating on a Keto Diet?
The most important priority when following the keto diet will be the types of fats you consume. You’ll need to focus on foods that contain polyunsaturated, saturated, and monounsaturated fats. And, as always, you’ll need to avoid trans fats whenever possible.
You need polyunsaturated fats in order for your body to perform many important functions, such as blood clotting. They’re typically found in oils such as safflower oil, corn oil, and sunflower oil. They help to reduce LDL cholesterol, as well as help lower blood pressure.
Monounsaturated fats are also largely oil-based. These include canola oil, olive oil, and peanut oil. Most types of nuts are rich in monounsaturated fats, as are avocados. These fats are the basis of the so-called “Mediterranean diet,” which has been associated with a lower risk of heart problems.9
Saturated fats are found in foods such as red meat and dairy products such as cheese and whole milk. You need to be careful how many saturated fats you consume because they have been linked to an increased heart disease risk.10
AVOID: Trans Fats
Trans fat is the worst kind of fat. It’s found in fast food, grocery store pastries, cookies, and other kinds of processed foods. Trans fats are bad for you because they increase the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in your body. They also reduce high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is commonly known as “bad” cholesterol because it can increase your risk of heart problems and other health issues.8
Foods to Eat on the Keto Diet
Foods you should eat on a keto diet include:
You should use sesame, olive, safflower, and sunflower oils when cooking. Also, make sure you eat an ample supply of nuts. Eat vegetables low in carbohydrates, such as kale, broccoli, onions, and spinach. You can eat fruits, but only those that are low in sugar content. These include strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries.11
Foods to Avoid on the Keto Diet
Foods you should avoid include whole grains, and breads that are high in carbohydrates. You should also avoid most kinds of beans and legumes, especially black beans, kidney beans, and green peas. Stay away from starches, such as carrots and potatoes.
Products high in sugar will also interfere with your weight loss goals on a keto diet. These include ice cream, sodas, and sweetened yogurt. You’ll also want to avoid condiments with a high sugar content, such as honey mustard and ketchup.12
What Are the Health Benefits and Drawbacks?
In addition to weight loss, other health benefits have been associated with the keto diet. There is evidence, for example, that it could help reduce brain disorders and ease sleep problems. There is also evidence that people following a keto diet experience weight loss faster than those who are on low-fat diets. The keto diet may also help improve blood sugar levels.13
Remember: It’s important to speak with your doctor before beginning any kind of diet, including the keto diet.
Some people might experience side effects for the first week or two on the keto diet, including headaches, weakness, fatigue, and dizziness.14
Some people just starting the keto diet also experience issues such as mental fogginess, or symptoms that mimic influenza. In fact, there’s a name for this adjustment period – the “keto flu.” If you’re experiencing the “keto flu,” you might have fatigue, nausea, problems sleeping, and an increased feeling of hunger.15
These side effects are typically the result of your body and your brain adjusting to the lack of carbohydrates. The side effects should subside once your body adapts. One of the ways you can minimize these effects would be to make sure you drink plenty of water. Taking supplements, such as potassium, magnesium, and sodium, will help ensure you have an ample supply of these vital minerals. If you’re having a particularly hard time adjusting, try adding back in a few more carbohydrates to your diet – take things slowly.
Exercising on the Keto Diet
It’s always important to get enough exercise, no matter what you’re eating. But if you’re considering a keto diet weight loss program, you might be concerned about how much you’ll be able to work out. Will you have enough energy to push through and finish that extra mile on the treadmill?
Be careful with your workouts when starting this diet. Your body is adjusting from burning carbs for energy to burning fat – and this can take time. Don’t be alarmed if you find you can’t work out as much, or as hard, as you usually do. Eventually, you’ll adjust.16
Considerations When Eating Out
Eating out on the keto diet is actually pretty easy. It’s all about substituting. For example, you can have a fish- or meat-based meal, and then order extra low-carb vegetables as a side instead of, say, a baked potato or mashed potatoes. If you want a burger, order it without the bun. Or, you could keep the bun and order a low-carb vegetable instead of fries. If you like to eat Mexican food, add extra sour cream, guacamole, and cheese to whatever type of meat dish you order.
The only real challenge will be when it comes to dessert. Stay away from dessert staples, such as ice cream, cookies, and cake. Opt for fresh strawberries and cream instead.
The Pros and Cons of the Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet is popular now, but it’s actually been around since the 1920s.17 It can be extremely difficult – some experts say impossible – to sustain this type of diet over the long-term.18
Researchers don’t know much about the keto diet’s long-term effects. It may help accelerate your weight loss goals, but it also contains foods that can be unhealthy if eaten too frequently, such as red meat. Many people find it hard to stick with the keto diet plan because they can’t adjust to their new way of eating.19
There are advantages and disadvantages with this weight loss program, just as there are with all other diets.
The keto diet can help reduce the body’s dependence on insulin, which can, in turn, help reduce the occurrence of inflammatory reactions.20 It has also been shown that this diet is a superior weight loss option compared to others. Research indicates that a ketogenic diet helps you feel a sense of fullness, which may help reduce the chances that you’ll overeat.21 In one study, people following the keto diet lost more than twice as much weight as participants who were on a low-fat diet and counted calories. The participants following this diet also saw an increase in their HDL, or “good,” cholesterol levels.22
Again, it can be extremely difficult for people to follow the ketogenic diet for an extended period of time. It can be a rough few weeks for some as their bodies adjust to a diet that’s loaded with (healthy) fats and very few carbs. Plus, you have to be very careful in planning your meals to make sure you have the right amounts of fat, protein, and carbs. It can also be very easy for people to eat fats that are bad for them. While many people experience weight loss in the short term, it can be hard to find lasting results, because it can be difficult to stick to the plan.23
The Bottom Line
The keto diet isn’t a whole lot different from other diets – you must stick to it to reap the potential benefits. While you might see significant weight loss in the short term, it won’t be sustainable if you don’t stay with the plan. Again, every person is different. A diet that works great for you might not work as well for someone else, and vice versa. Once you get the green light from your doctor to try it, the keto diet might help you lose the weight.