Ketogenic Diet: What it is & How it Works

Last Updated on May 18, 2023

Ketogenic Diet

You’ve probably heard the buzz around the ketogenic, or “keto,” diet. Its popularity stems from its practical effectiveness.

The keto diet forces your body to burn stored fat, instead of dietary carbohydrates, for energy. This process, called ketosis, effectively turns your body into a fat-burning machine. It also prompts your liver to generate ketones from fat, a fuel source for the brain. Furthermore, ketogenic diets can significantly lower blood sugar and insulin levels, offering various health benefits.

However, calories matter. If you consume excess protein and fat, resulting in higher overall calories than your body can burn, you won’t lose weight. Keto-friendly, high-fat, and high-protein foods often create a feeling of fullness. This helps decrease overall calorie intake and promote weight loss.

As your body depletes its carb storage, you start to lose water weight, stored alongside carbohydrates. This accounts for the rapid initial weight loss seen with the keto diet. However, most weight loss beyond two pounds per week probably stems from water loss, as most people don’t burn enough calories to lose more.

Maintaining the keto diet long-term is challenging for most people, leading to common weight regain. Once carbohydrates re-enter the diet, water weight returns, often resulting in weight gain and diminished keto diet results.

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What is Ketosis?

When your body is in ketosis, it switches from using carbohydrates as fuel to using fat as fuel. It happens when you drastically cut back on carbohydrates, which restricts your body’s ability to produce glucose (sugar), the primary source of energy for cells.

The best strategy to start ketosis is to follow a ketogenic diet. Typically, this entails keeping your daily carb intake between 20 and 50 grams and loading up on good fats like those found in meat, fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds. It’s also crucial to limit your protein intake. This is because if you take large amounts of protein, it can be turned into glucose and may delay the onset of ketosis.

You might enter ketosis more quickly if you practice intermittent fasting. There are many other ways to fast intermittently, but the most popular one entails eating just for around eight hours a day and fasting for the other sixteen.

There are tests for blood, urine, and breath that can measure the body’s production of ketones to assist identify whether you’ve reached ketosis. Increased thirst, dry mouth, frequent urination, and decreased hunger or appetite are some signs that you may have entered ketosis.

The precise ratios of the keto diet mean that any carb “cheating”—a cookie here, a bowl of rice there—will cause you to fall out of ketosis, undermining the chemical reaction that is the foundation of the diet. This is in contrast to many other diets, which allow flexibility in how you divide your carbs, protein, and fat content (possibly focusing more on calories, portion sizes, or quality of carbs).

Read: Dispelling Myths About the Science of Weight Loss

Benefits of the Keto Diet

Studies demonstrate that the keto diet produces extraordinary and rapid weight loss, at least in the short term. Additionally, they can help with ailments like type 2 diabetes.

These advantages result from a variety of variables, such as:

Lower insulin levels. Your blood sugar levels increase when you eat foods high in carbohydrates and, to a lesser extent, protein. When blood sugar levels rise, insulin intervenes to lower them by supplying glucose to your cells for energy or to store as a reserve fuel called glycogen. However, high insulin levels, which can occur when you consume an excessive amount of carbohydrates, can impede fat reduction. A ketogenic diet helps you maintain lower insulin levels. Your body can more easily access fat reserves for fuel if your insulin levels are low.

Hormonal balance. Besides insulin balance, keto diets also aid in hormone balancing. Leptin, a hormone that instructs your brain to quit eating, is one of those hormones that control appetite. The converse is true of ghrelin, which urges you to eat more food. You’re less likely to experience hunger and cravings on a ketogenic diet when these and other hormones remain in balance.

Lower inflammation levels. Diabetes and other disorders, as well as obesity, are all impacted by chronic inflammation. Sugar is an inflammatory food in all of its forms. You consume relatively little sugar and total carbohydrates while following a ketogenic diet. That strategy and whole, unadulterated foods work together to reduce inflammation.

Risks of the Keto Diet

Because every person’s body will respond to the keto diet—or any diet, for that matter—differently, medical professionals and nutritionists advise that what may be safe for one person to follow could be dangerous for another. The bottom line is that nobody should begin living a ketogenic lifestyle without first consulting their doctor. With a few exceptions, it is typically seen as secure in the short term:

Long-Term Safety is Unknown

The lack of credible studies demonstrating effects of the keto diet after two years is the major source of worry among the medical community. Why is that? It’s challenging to analyze diets and eating habits because researchers would have to monitor practically every bite an individual took before separating the effects of those foods from other lifestyle factors like exercise.

Due to the fact that certain eating habits, including the Mediterranean diet and high-carb diets, are ingested naturally by a number of communities worldwide, we are more informed about other diet types. The rate of death from cancer and heart disease is higher for those who say they follow low-carb diets than it is for people who say they follow high-carb diets, according to certain observational studies.

It’s Nutritionally Unbalanced

The diet calls for drastically reducing your intake of some of the exact items that nutritionists advise us to consume more of, such as whole grains high in fiber and high-fiber fruits like apples and bananas. Additionally, because the ketogenic diet has such a low carbohydrate intake, legumes and even some starchy vegetables like carrots, potatoes, peas, and corn are not advised.

As a result, if you’re not paying attention to the best keto-friendly foods, you could be missing out on minerals and phytochemicals that fight cancer and promote heart health. A lack of fiber may also lead you to have adverse effects like constipation.

It Might Raise Your LDL Cholesterol

People with high cholesterol—and, in particular, high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL)—should have their cholesterol levels checked. According to some research, following a ketogenic diet may cause a rise in LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, increasing your risk of heart disease. Though not all LDL particles are harmful, evidence indicates that the ones that increase on the keto diet are not necessarily the most harmful. However, consult your doctor if you have any concerns about your cholesterol.

It’s Restrictive

The keto diet is a diet in the strictest sense possible because it not only specifies what you can and cannot consume, but also bans an entire food category. As a result, it can be challenging to maintain, especially for any length of time. And the weight can return the instant you start eating carbs again (a bagel for morning, pasta for dinner), especially water weight as carbs make you retain water. A restrictive diet can also trick people who have a tendency toward disordered eating by making them concentrated on what they put in their mouths and treat the scale like it’s your Instagram feed.

Read: Is Intermittent Fasting Beneficial for You?

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