The ketogenic (or keto) diet has been rising in popularity among the low-carb crowd. What makes this different than other low-carb diets? Why is it popular? And is it safe? Here’s a closer look at this latest diet trend.
What is the Keto Diet?
Back in the 1920’s, scientists discovered that a diet very high in fat and very low in carbohydrate helped treat children with epilepsy. This diet works by depriving the body of glucose, which is found in carbohydrates. This in turn forces the body to convert fat into energy, forming ketones that are released from your liver. (This process also happens with fasting, as the body’s way of pulling energy from fat stores rather than relying on glucose and energy from food.) It isn’t completely known why this diet worked for epilepsy, but the results were very positive for the patients.
When the diet was first introduced to children with epilepsy, they were instructed to follow a very strict diet, requiring 100 percent commitment. The children were admitted into the hospital so they could be fully monitored. They started with a period of fasting, which produced significant levels of ketones in the body. They were then fed a very high-fat, low-carb diet. After 1-2 months, many children were able to reduce their seizure medication.
The Keto Diet and Weight Loss
Fast forward to today, when the Keto Diet has become popular for weight loss. Many studies have been conducted to research the physiological effects of the diet and have found evidence of its effectiveness. One particular study looked at the effect of the Keto Diet on obesity/weight loss, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and acne, and concluded that results are promising, but more research is needed.
Weight loss often occurs with this diet largely because people tend to consume fewer calories on a high fat, low carb, moderate protein diet. For one thing, people on the diet have are a lot fewer foods to choose from; for another, we tend to get full faster with high-fat foods. Also, the mechanism of the body pulling energy from fat stores rather than glucose can force the body to lose weight.
Is the Keto Diet Safe?
Those interested in trying the Keto Diet should consult with a physician before starting. This diet can be hard on the kidneys, may have other negative effects on the body, and likely isn’t a sustainable diet. High levels of ketones in the blood along with low levels of insulin can be very unsafe, especially for those with diabetes. For most of us, eating a variety of nutritious foods that we enjoy (including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), along with getting plenty of exercise, is more likely going to be a sustainable and healthy way to live.