The Ketogenic, or “keto”, diet for short, seems to be the new buzzword in recent months. What is it, exactly? Is it healthy? Is this just another fad, or an effective weight loss tool paired with exercise? We did some research.
Keto Diet: The Basics
I’ll start with the definition: The Ketogenic Diet is a high fat, low carbohydrate (with sufficient protein) pattern of eating. It may seem strange to consciously attempt to eat more fat, but there’s a strategy to this diet that is meant to result in healthy weight loss. When we consume carbohydrates, glucose is produced. Glucose is our body’s preferred energy source, as it’s the easiest molecule to convert to energy. With glucose chosen over fat to be converted, the no longer needed fat is stored in our bodies.
Now, what happens when we eat a minimal amount of carbohydrates? With less glucose to convert into energy, the body is induced into “ketosis”, a normal metabolic process. Instead of carbohydrates being burned, fat is burned instead. This is why this diet specifies a high fat intake, as it becomes the body’s primary energy source. The fat is then processed into ketones. To recap, carbohydrates are replaced with fat as the predominate energy source, which causes ketosis and produces ketones. This is the basis of the ketogenic diet.
One of the most sought-after side effects of this eating pattern is fat loss (also known as “good” weight loss), as body fat is being burned as an energy source. A component of the weight loss benefit is a decreased appetite. Since fats are the most effective energy molecule to burn, the body is left feeling more full for longer. This makes a calorie deficit much easier, as well as resisting carb-heavy foods. Ketone bodies being used as an energy source, over glucose, also may lead to an increased metabolism.
Enhanced Mental Focus
The ketones produced during the Ketogenic diet are to credit for increased mental abilities. Heightened ketone levels have been proven to increase memory performance, as well as improve overall cognitive function.
The medium chain triglycerides found in many “good fats” consumed in high amounts under the ketogenic diet, such as coconut oil, have also been seen to increase cognitive performance (in verbal memory, digit symbol coding, digit span backwards, and map searching) in a 2009 study.
Lowered Blood Pressure
A low-carbohydrate diet (compared to other forms of diets) has led to a decrease in blood pressure through dieting alone. Paired with a blood pressure lowering medication, a Ketogenic diet was proven to be more beneficial in lowering blood pressure than a low-fat diet with the same medication.
High blood pressure can lead to hypertension, which may lead to stroke, renal failure, and death if not treated.
What You Can Eat
All these benefits sound great, right? The hard part is figuring out what you can and cannot eat, as while high fat foods are not difficult to find (or consume, at least for me), but low carbohydrate foods may be.
Ketogenic friendly foods include most seafoods, non-starchy vegetables, cheese (Yay!), avocados (Yay x 2!), meat and poultry, eggs, coconut oil (You can get our organic, non-GMO coconut oil here on Amazon with free shipping), plain greek yogurt, cottage cheese, olive oil, nuts, seeds, berries, full-fat dairy, Shirataki noodles, unsweetened coffee and tea, and dark chocolate and cocoa powder.
When it comes to high-fat foods, watch out for trans and saturated fats. Foods with the “good fat” include nuts, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, some fish, tofu, soy products, and seeds. Consuming high fat foods also high in trans and saturated fats may be detrimental to your long-term health.
While the Ketogenic diet seems to have some alluring health benefits, something to keep in mind is that since it is a relatively new concept, not many long-term studies have been conducted. This means that there may be underlying long-term health risks that may not yet have been brought to light.
On that note, this diet is somewhat difficult to maintain over a long period of time, and you may experience weight gain and/or increased hunger after stopping the keto diet.
During the diet, for up to the first three weeks, the lowered carbohydrate impact may lead to increased hunger. This diet also has the potential to cause muscle loss. Another side effect is the “keto flu”: this is due to lost water weight, which may lead to dehydration, so make sure to drink plenty of water.
There are more serious potential side effects, such as kidney stones, raised cholesterol levels, hypoglycemia, and heart palpitations. While ketoacidosis, which may cause death, predominately occurs in those with diabetes, there are some cases of it being caused from restricted consumption of carbohydrates.
We recommend talking to your doctor or nutritionist first before making any major diet changes. If you have tried or are currently on the Ketogenic diet, let us know about your experience in the comments!
Full Disclosure: We are not doctors or nutritionists. The studies provided have not been conducted by us and may not reflect our opinions. This is not nutritional or medical advice. Try the Ketogenic diet at your own risk.