The keto diet works for such a high percentage of people because it targets several key, underlying causes of weight gain — including hormonal imbalances, especially insulin resistance coupled with high blood sugar levels, and the cycle of restricting and “binging” on empty calories due to hunger that so many dieters struggle with. In fact, these are some of the direct benefits of the keto diet.
Another possible nutrient deficiency: potassium, a mineral important for both electrolyte balance and blood pressure control, notes MedlinePlus. “Inadequate intake of potassium is likely when consumption of fruits and starchy vegetables are decreased,” says Asche. She recommends adding lower-carb sources of potassium to the diet, including avocado and spinach — as well as lower-carb sources of fiber, such as chia seeds and flaxseed (be sure to enjoy ground for the best health benefits).
One problem with the keto diet, however, is that to date, research studies aimed at investigating its efficacy and safety have involved only men or animals (mainly mice). Some have been skeptical then that the keto diet can work equally well for women. Others question whether it’s necessarily a good idea for women to even try keto given the fact that women’s hormones tend to be more sensitive to most dietary and lifestyle changes.
Financial disclosures: There were no conflicts of interest reported except for Dr Bernstein who has received royalties for books on the management of diabetes (which were used by members of the online social media group surveyed in this study). Dr. Hallberg who holds stock options and receives research support from Virta Health, and consulting fees from Atkins. Dr. Rhodes is the site principal investigator in clinical trials for pediatric type 2 diabetes that are sponsored by Merck and AstraZeneca. Dr. Westman has an ownership interest in companies using low-carbohydrate principles, and he receives royalties for books related to low-carbohydrate diets. Dr. Ludwig has received royalties from books on nutrition and obesity; and Dr. Galati is author of Eating Yourself Sick: How to stop obesity, fatty liver, and diabetes from killing you and your family (2018).
Recently, many of my patients have been asking about a ketogenic diet. Is a ketogenic diet safe? Would you recommend it? Despite the recent hype, a ketogenic diet is not something new. In medicine, we have been using it for almost 100 years to treat drug-resistant epilepsy, especially in children. In the 1970s, Dr. Atkins popularized his very-low-carbohydrate diet for weight loss that began with a very strict two-week ketogenic phase. Over the years, other fad diets incorporated a similar approach for weight loss.
The ketogenic (or keto) diet was initially designed to treat severe epilepsy in infants and children. As an intervention diet, it was intended to be administered for short periods of time under the supervision of a medical team. Now popular for it’s rapid weight-loss side effects, the diet has moved to the mainstream public as an alternative low-carb diet.
The level of total cholesterol showed a significant decrease from week 1 to week 24 (Figure 3). The level of HDL cholesterol significantly increased (Figure 4), whereas LDL cholesterol levels significantly decreased with treatment (Figure 5). The level of triglycerides decreased significantly after 24 weeks of treatment. The initial level of triglycerides was 2.75±0.23 mmol/L, whereas at week 24, the level decreased to 1.09±0.08 mmol/L (Figure 6). The level of blood glucose significantly decreased at week 24. The initial blood glucose level and its level at the eighth, 16th and 24th week were 7.26±0.38 mmol/L, 5.86±0.27 mmol/L, 5.56±0.19 mmol/L and 5.62±0.18 mmol/L, respectively (Figure 7). The changes in the levels of urea (Figure 8) and creatinine (Figure 9) were not statistically significant.
The ketogenic diet is a powerful new tool to hit the mainstream recently. This style of eating has substantial data behind it showing that it can boost fat-burning, reduce inflammation, boost cognitive performance, and more. What has not been covered quite enough are common keto side effects and how you can avoid them to make the best of this powerful eating style.
All of our cells need fuel to function. This fuel comes from three sources: fat, carbohydrates and protein, called macronutrients. Too much protein without fat puts us at risk for a handful of complications, so protein can never healthily serve as a primary source of fuel. We are left then with fat and carbohydrates as the main providers of energy – the energy that allow us to do everything from breathing and blinking as we veg out on the couch to swimming the English Channel. Our cells’ preferred fuel comes from carbohydrates, which are easily converted to glucose, which, in turn, is readily converted to energy. This is why athletes “carb load” before they compete. Peak performance occurs when the body has plenty of glucose and glycogen stores available at hand. When glycogen runs out, that’s when the body turns to fat. When there is no more blood sugar for our cells to consume, they seek an alternative form of energy. This energy comes from ketones, which are compounds our body produces from stored fat. So a ketogenic diet is one that is high in fat and very low in carbohydrates, resulting in the production of ketones to be used for fuel instead of glucose.
Recommendations: If you have high levels of LDL particles and VLDL particles, consider adopting a carbohydrate-restricted diet. To optimize your LDL cholesterol levels, consider adopting a diet high in healthy monounsaturated fats and low-carb vegetables. Some examples of keto-friendly foods that are high in monounsaturated fats are olive oil, avocado, and macadamia nuts.
Recently, four studies have re-examined the effect of carbohydrate restriction on type 2 diabetes. One outpatient study enrolled 54 participants with type 2 diabetes (out of 132 total participants) and found that hemoglobin A1c improved to a greater degree over one year with a low-carbohydrate diet compared with a low-fat, calorie-restricted diet [5,6]. Another study enrolled 8 men with type 2 diabetes in a 5-week crossover outpatient feeding study that tested similar diets . The participants had greater improvement in glycohemoglobin while on the low-carbohydrate diet than when on a eucaloric low-fat diet. The third study was an inpatient feeding study in 10 participants with type 2 diabetes . After only 14 days, hemoglobin A1c improved from 7.3% to 6.8%. In the fourth study, 16 participants with type 2 diabetes who followed a 20% carbohydrate diet had improvement of hemoglobin A1c from 8.0% to 6.6% over 24 weeks . Only these latter three studies targeted glycemic control as a goal, and two of these were intensely-monitored efficacy studies in which all food was provided to participants for the duration of the study [7,8]. Three of the studies [6,8,9] mentioned that diabetic medications were adjusted but only one of them provided detailed information regarding these adjustments . This information is critical for patients on medication for diabetes who initiate a low-carbohydrate diet because of the potential for adverse effects resulting from hypoglycemia.
Another one of my concerns long-term is that many people are being persuaded to remain on a ketogenic diet over a long period. In 3, 5, or 10 years, we are going to see a sharp rise in colon cancer cases. People in conventional dietary circles will then point fingers at all of us engaged in unconventional dietary advice and we will be lumped together and labeled as dangerous fads. The key is to be smarter and to view ketogenic dieting as the short-term tool/response it is, not as a solution to all health struggles.
Clinical improvement was observed in Alzheimer’s patients fed a ketogenic diet, and this was marked by improved mitochondrial function. (15) In fact, a European Journal of Clinical Nutrition study pointed to emerging data that suggested the therapeutic use of ketogenic diets for multiple neurological disorders beyond epilepsy and Alzheimer’s, including headaches, neurotrauma, Parkinson’s disease, sleep disorders, brain cancer, autism and multiple sclerosis. (16)
I won’t comment on the diet itself but dietitians do not simply rely on guidelines handed to them, nor on anecdotal cases. This article refers to specific studies all throughout, some that support the diet and others that don’t. The goal of a dietitian is to help clients reach their optimal health while still enjoying a high quality of life. I’m sure Abbey is genuinely happy for those it has helped. That does not mean this diet is best for everyone regardless of their unique circumstances, goals and medical history. Sadly there is not enough high quality research that Keto promotes sustained weight loss in the general population. Maybe there will be in the near future, but right now it would be unethical to recommend such a restrictive diet to the broad audience of a blog. I am truly happy it has worked for some people and I wish them luck on their journey. Thank you Abbey for a great article!
The ketogenic diet may seem like the Jekyll to the Hyde-like low-fat craze of the 1990s. The bulk of current research finds that the middle ground between the two extremes is more beneficial for overall health. Make it easy for yourself: Eat at least two servings a week of fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel) and cook with a variety of quality fats (olive oil, canola oil, avocado oil) throughout the week.
You are likely to realize that your body has achieved ketosis because you may have a dry mouth, increased thirst, and find yourself needing to urinate more frequently, Dr. Goss says. “You are ridding your body not only of ketones but electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium,” which may lead to dehydration, she says, so drinking plenty of fluids will help reduce any problems even if it means more trips the bathroom. “Bad breath is also commonly noticed as a result of the body trying to eliminate acetones produced during ketosis.”
They have high likelihood of calcium oxalate and uric acid kidney stones–Kidney stones are uncommon in childhood, yet these kids commonly have kidney stones. The risk in an adult on a prolonged ketogenic effort is therefore high, also. Kidney stones are not benign–they are painful and can occasionally result in kidney damage (increased creatinine, urinary tract infections, etc.)
Keto breath, on the other hand, is less of a side-effect and more of a harmless inconvenience (your breath literally smells like nail polish remover). Basically, when your body breaks down all that extra fat on the keto diet, it produces ketones—one of which is the chemical acetone, Keatley previously told WomensHealthMag.com. (Yes, the same stuff that's in nail polish remover.)
The bottom line? If you’re thinking about trying the ketogenic diet, run it by your doctor first — regardless of any preexisting health conditions. And consult a registered dietitian nutritionist (find one at EatRight.org) to find a nutrition professional who can work with you to create a meal plan you can stick to. People with kidney disease or a history of disordered eating should avoid the diet, and people with type 1 diabetes may want to avoid it, as well. If you have risk factors for heart disease, you’ll want to speak with your doctor before considering the diet.
While people can argue back and forth about the role carbohydrates play in a healthy lifestyle, no one is going to say packaged snack foods are healthy. This is one of the areas where the ketogenic diet definitely succeeds because it eliminates the opportunity to eat highly processed foods, which are made almost entirely from sugar and other refined carbs. In a review published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the authors highlighted a number of studies showing a ketogenic diet can significantly improve insulin sensitivity for those with type 2 diabetes. They went so far as to say, “results have been nothing short of miraculous.”
Diet Doctor has a number of videos and posts about positive impacts of the ketogenic diet for migraines, brain cancer, and traumatic brain injury. Recently, two psychiatrists reviewed the research base for psychiatric issues and noted that while promising, it is slim. Dr. Ede takes a more hopeful view. “My mantra is that the most powerful way to change your brain chemistry is by food, because that’s where brain chemicals come from in the first place,” she says.
In nature, historically, there were very few ways to store carbs – which were available only for a short time seasonally. The solution to this is that when eating the available fruit in the autumn the sugars switch off the fat burning system and then use insulin to store the sugars as body fat. Carbs signal our body to go into fat storage mode. When the carbs run out then slowly the fat burning more resumes – first of all feeding ketones to the brain and other vital organs and then eventually to the muscles.
Another benefit of the ketogenic diet I’d like to mention has been reported in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. In my recent interview with Dr. Dale Bredesen , author of the landmark book, The End of Alzheimer’s, he describes the use of a ketogenic diet along with other modalities to improve brain function in individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
This was a great read. I aim to restrict carbs always because I believe most are why the American population is obese. I would very much like to hear more about carb restriction excluding the discussion on processed meats and processed high salt content foods because I consume neither. I also don’t consume dairy or eggs. So can you provide some substance.
if this is true how did humans survive before agriculture? high carbohydrate foods simply didn’t exist in abundance before the agriculture age. Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution where humans would hunt for their food, and in between hunting eat whatever berries grew nearby….going days at a time or even weeks without food our bodies HAD to evolve into a state where they could conserve and store it’s energy then supply us with that energy burst for when that deer wandered by. Ketones are that energy source. Glucose simply doesn’t last long enough for us to survive and still have the energy to hunt. A little over 10,000 years of agriculture cannot undo hundreds of thousands of years of evolution.
2. Gluconeogenesis occurs due to hunger, when your blood glucose levels are low. This process is when your liver breaks down glycogens (stored carbs) and turns them into glucose. This is a very ENERGY EXPENSIVE process. (You burn 3x the amount of ATP than you do during glycolysis and the branching of glycolysis, which is the process that turns glucose into things like ATP, CO2, RNA, NADPH, etc.) So yeah, gluconeogenesis does exist, but it’s to help keep us alive and keep glucose flowing to the brain.
One notable clinical trial of the ketogenic diet for schizophrenia occurred in 1965. Back then, one of the authors noted that in some of his schizophrenic patients a carbohydrate binge preceded eruption of their hallucinations and paranoia. The study put 10 women with schizophrenia on a ketogenic diet for two weeks. The diet was added to their standard treatment of medication and ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) and resulted in a significant decrease in symptoms. A week after the women resumed a standard diet, symptoms returned. Despite this preliminary, positive outcome, few researchers in the intervening 50 years have investigated the promising potential of the ketogenic diet in schizophrenia.
Lele Jaro has been on a ketogenic diet for over two years to help with her type 2 diabetes, and has successfully got off insulin. She’s been documenting her health journey on Instagram with keto-friendly food ideas, keto tips, and workout motivation. She’s lost over 80 pounds on her journey, and inspires others to try keto to improve their health. Connect with her on her YouTube channel or Facebook.
A keto diet was/ is not just used for diabetics. It is a very useful tool for epilepsy. It is extremely successful in reducing the number of seizures per day, mainly in children but also in adults. I am sure that followers of the epilepsy diet, which has been used since the 1920s have not all starved to death. Iwould also think that the followers of this diet are also motivated to stay on it, not eat a slice of birthday cake and keep all thier brain cells.
Author’s note: I want to stress again the importance of consulting with your doctor before you try ketogenic dieting. The more I study this area of science, the more I realize that every individual is extremely unique when it comes to health issues and there are a ton of reasons why you should NOT go full-on keto (especially if you are prone to kidney, heart, or gallbladder issues). That being said, for many people this form of eating is life changing, and the amount of scientific research supporting a ketogenic lifestyle is significantly increasing. Subscribe to my newsletter to stay posted when I publish new articles, and I’d appreciate any and all feedback/corrections on the content I’ve written above. Thanks! (Image credit)
Thank you so much for this article! My husband and I have been following keto for a little over a month now and we love it! I did a lot of research before starting, and am still doing lots of research because I like to be armed with the best information I can have when friends question my choices. Just yesterday I had a friend tell me that our brains need carbs to function (more than what we get from veggies). I hadn’t heard that before so I didn’t know what to answer. Thanks to your article now I know, and I have lots more answers in case more points come up. 😉
Studies are emerging that ketogenic diets (in conjunction with other treatments) can either reverse progressive brain disorders or help repair the damage. These include traumatic brain injuries and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The Wahl’s Protocol also utilizes this benefit of the ketogenic diet to help repair neurological damage from multiple sclerosis.