In order to transition and remain in this state, aiming for about 30–50 net grams is typically the recommended amount of total carbs to start with. This is considered a more moderate or flexible approach but can be less overwhelming to begin with. Once you’re more accustomed to “eating keto,” you can choose to lower carbs even more if you’d like (perhaps only from time to time), down to about 20 grams of net carbs daily. This is considered the standard, “strict” amount that many keto dieters aim to adhere to for best results, but remember that everyone is a bit different.
A great long-term benefit of the ketogenic diet is reduced cravings for sugar and other unhealthy foods. However, you might initially have stronger cravings for carbs during the transition period. This can last anywhere from one to two days to around three weeks. But stick it out! At the end, you’ll be pleased with the reduced, and often eliminated, cravings.
Once the medical community acknowledged the keto diet’s effectiveness in reducing seizure episodes, they decided to look further and study its impact on neurological diseases in general. Neurological diseases share a common problem – a deficiency in energy production. Ketones provide that energy for normal brain cell metabolism, and may even be a more efficient when the body is in starvation mode. When patients were put on the keto diet, the number of mitochondria (energy powerhouse) in brain cells increased. Ketones may also act as an antioxidant by inhibiting the formation of reactive oxidant species, which is why they may have promising effects in the treatment of certain cancers in conjunction with chemotherapy.
However, the ketogenic principles can absolutely be abused. I’ve seen many people use this way of eating as an excuse to fill their plates almost entirely with bacon and butter from conventionally raised cattle. So make no mistake, an ideal ketogenic diet is a predominantly plant-based diet with healthy fats at its core. Eating a variety of whole foods that are high in healthy fats is essential to “doing keto” the right way.
“It’s unhealthy and unsustainable,” they say. “How can a high-fat diet help you lose weight? It’s dangerous for the heart, increases the risk of ketoacidosis, leads to poor mineral intake and electrolyte imbalance,” they say. But the ketogenic diet has a well-established history of aiding in disease treatment. It has been used to help people with epilepsy (especially children) since the early 1900’s, and more recently, it has been used to manage type-2 diabetes (since it lowers the need for insulin therapy).1
And while some fats can be healthy, there’s a risk that in following a high-fat diet, you’ll increase your intake of unhealthy trans and saturated fats. These “bad” fats are found in things like red meat, poultry skin, cheese, and butter, and can lead to an increase in LDL, or “bad” cholesterol and increased risk of heart disease. (14) This is a controversial issue, as some experts do recommend adopting a low-carbohydrate diet to lower heart disease risk. If you’re at risk or have heart disease, it’s important to speak with your doctor first about your health needs.
Depending on how you choose your fats, the keto diet can contain an abundance of saturated fat, which raises levels of dangerous LDL cholesterol and causes atherosclerosis, the buildup of fats and cholesterol in the arteries. If you decide to go keto, have a doctor monitor your cholesterol levels monthly to ensure you remain within a healthy range.
If you decide to follow the diet, you’ll want to have an individualized meal plan, stresses Dr. Gonzalez-Campos. “The best possible clinical outcome is for each individual to meet her nutritional needs from well-balanced meals,” he says. “Ideally, we should all have the benefit of medical nutrition therapy and we should all avoid extremes in nutrient restrictions.”
The keto diet also calls for an increased amount of fat intake. The diet suggests by cutting carb and increasing fat, the body will begin to burn the fat. However, when the body begins to burn fat, it also begins to burn the muscle tissue as well. For those participating in the diet who have a risk of heart disease or stoke, the fat increase could be put their lives at risk.
The keto diet may also be beneficial for adults with epilepsy, though the Epilepsy Foundation notes that it’s less frequently recommended for this group because it is so restrictive and difficult to stick with. (1) One study, published in May 2016 in the journal Epilepsy & Behavior, found the diet reduced the frequency of seizures for many study participants, 7 percent of whom were seizure-free at the four-year mark. (2) And though it wasn’t the goal for this study, nearly 20 percent of the participants lost weight while following the diet.