The Deets on Keto: Breaking Down the Ketogenic Diet

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Your best friend started frothing coconut oil and grass-fed butter with her morning coffee, and your neighbor brags about snacking on peanut butter and pork rinds. Fattening? Maybe, but chances are your friends might have started a keto diet, a form of eating that focuses mainly on fat and less on carbs. But what is known about the health benefits of keto and how does it affect long-term weight loss? Here’s the meat-o on keto.

The keto, short for ketogenic, diet is a way of eating that focuses on increasing fats while substantially reducing carbohydrates. Keto followers typically eat meals that are composed of 60 to 75 percent fat, 15 to 30 percent protein and 5 to 10 percent carbs. The distribution sends their body into a state called ketosis, in which the body breaks fat into compounds called ketones and uses them for energy rather than carbohydrates.

The diet wasn’t originally meant for celebrities to lose weight right before a big premier; in actuality, it was developed for epilepsy patients in the 1920s. Doctors realized that keeping patients on low-carb diets forced their bodies to use fat as fuel instead of glucose. For reasons not completely understood even today, fueling the body on primarily ketones reduces seizures. However, with the development of anti-seizure medications, few people with epilepsy depend on ketogenic diets today. Why is the keto diet so popular?

For starters, it generally does help people lose weight. Research shows evidence of quicker weight loss when patients go on a ketogenic or very-low-carbohydrate diet compared to those who eat a more traditional low-fat diet. Healthier fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter and ghee help slow down food absorption and decrease the appetite. Even though the diet is considered high-fat, many people eat fewer calories than they would on other diets.

A 2010 study at Duke University Medical Center published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that a low-carbohydrate diet combined with exercise was more effective in lowering blood pressure compared to a low-fat diet. In addition, eating keto can improve blood sugar control in type 2 diabetes patients. As far as cholesterol, studies show some patients have an increase in cholesterol levels in the beginning of eating keto, but see them decline a few months later. Other benefits reported include improved brain function and digestive health.

Although a keto diet seems to have many health benefits, some experts warn of possible adverse consequences or risks including short-term side effects such as constipation, fatigue, bad breath, nausea and sleep issues. These symptoms are more common at the beginning of the diet as the body adjusts to the way of eating.

If following the keto diet for long periods of time, however, dieters may see an increased chance of kidney stones, acidosis, or high levels of acid in the blood, and severe weight loss muscle degeneration. Ketogenic diets can also cause more calcium to be lost in the urine, which can lead to a decrease in bone density over time and increase the risk of osteoporosis.

Experts also note the long-term risks of eating keto. Since the body’s and brain’s primary source of energy comes from glucose, drastically eliminating carbohydrates isn’t typically a sustainable method of reaching optimal wellness for most people.

Research is showing that following a keto way of eating is both beneficial and questionable. A study from 2017 found that dieters lost more weight on a ketogenic diet than a conventional low-fat diabetes diet over 32 weeks, while a February 2018 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that over a year, there was no statistically significant difference in the amount of weight dropped. Low-fat dieters lost 11.7 pounds on average, while low-carb dieters lost 13 pounds on average.

Consult with your physician to determine if the keto diet is for you. Have your doctor complete initial blood work to make sure you’re not doing any harm to the body. Be extra diligent if you have diabetes, hypoglycemia, osteopenia, osteoporosis or heart disease.

If starting this way of eating seems right for you, make sure to set yourself up for success. Just because you’re eating keto doesn’t mean you should load up on saturated fats. Heart-healthy fats are the key to sustaining overall health. Some healthy foods that are commonly eaten in the ketogenic diet include eggs, nuts and nut butters, fish, cottage cheese, avocado, olives and olive oil.

If this sounds good to you, a ketogenic diet can be a doable way of eating that may offer substantial weight loss results while helping treat certain conditions. But don’t do it on your own. Get help from a professional and use those healthy fats to your advantage. ■

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