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Do you know what the best diet is for you? Every person has unique health needs and fitness preferences, and because of that, no single dietary approach works for everyone.
One diet that has garnered a lot of attention these days is the ketogenic diet. Celebrities, fitness enthusiasts, and some athletes use it. You’ll find an endless stream of stories and recipes about keto. But the question is, is the keto diet healthy?
What Is the Ketogenic Diet?
Also called keto diet, the ketogenic diet is a dietary approach where you consume high amounts of fat, very low carbohydrates, and moderate protein. You’d only eat about 20-50 grams of carbs daily if you had a 2,000 calorie per day diet.
Here’s how the diet works
Normally, our bodies rely on glucose as its primary fuel. Dietary carbohydrates make glucose readily available. When we starve our body of carbohydrates, as in a keto diet, we rely on fat instead. The liver breaks down fat into ketones which now become our alternate fuel. Ketones effectively supply energy to the heart, muscle tissue, kidneys, and brain.
How much fat, carbs, and protein should you eat? To be in a state of ketosis, you need to follow these keto macro percentages:
- 60-75% of calories from fat
- 15-30% of calories from protein
- 5-10% of calories from carbs
In case you’re wondering where it all started, the keto diet was first used by Russel Wilder in 1921 to treat epilepsy.
Health Benefits of the Keto Diet
There are also plenty of studies showing how the keto diet promotes weight loss, helps women with PCOS, increases physical performance, and manages some mental health conditions.
1. Kicks sugar addiction
Did you know that sugar is as addictive as cocaine? Sugar tricks the brain into wanting more food. Too much of sugar is bad for your health as sugar increases your risk of developing diabetes, cancer, and heart diseases. Sugar reduces your ability to fight infections. Recovering from sugar addiction is possible with a low-glycemic diet like keto.
2. Boosts brain function
Your brain readily receives ketones when glucose is unavailable. The ketogenic diet has a neuroprotective effect in that it increases your brain’s resistance to metabolic stress. A study that involved rats showed that a low-carbohydrate, keto diet reduces anxiety symptoms. The diet may also improve memory performance in Alzheimer’s disease patients.
3. Improves exercise performance
If you like staying fit, one of the things that the keto diet does is it takes your endurance to the next level. A recent study revealed that ultra-endurance athletes who consumed a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet for 6 months achieved higher peak exercise intensity. Being fat adapted allows you to perform more intensely and maintain recovery.
4. Brings about weight loss
Weight loss is a common reason people go on keto. Fat isn’t just important for your energy reserve, it also increases your satiety. Fat cells produce leptin, a hormone that controls appetite.
What to Eat and Avoid on Keto
Are you a meat eater or vegetarian? Either way, you’ll be glad to know that the keto diet fits any dietary preference. With the availability of so many food choices, preparing a two-week keto meal plan is easy.
Foods to Eat
- Seafood and fish
- Olive oil
- Non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower)
- Coffee and tea without sugar
- Soft and hard cheeses
Foods to Avoid
- All grains (oats, barley, corn, quinoa)
- Biscuits and crackers
- Bad fats (shortening, refined vegetable oils)
- Ice cream
- Artificial sweeteners
- Fruit and vegetable juices
- Cured meat
The Keto Flu: What Is It?
When you immediately jump into a keto diet, you experience withdrawal from carbs. As your body switches from being carb-adapted to fat-adapted, you feel these unpleasant symptoms.
Collectively, they’re called the keto flu:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Muscle aches
- Stomach pains
- Brain fog
- Poor focus
The keto flu starts to happen within 2 days and usually lasts a week.
Take note that not everyone experiences the keto flu. If you do, know that it’s not life-threatening and you can take simple measures to reduce the symptoms. We’re going to discuss them in the next section.
How to Transition to Keto
Some people fail on the keto diet because they’re not prepared. By following the tips below, you can start the diet with less struggle.
1. Give yourself wiggle room
Be patient with yourself. Do what spells an improvement for you, no matter how small that change may be. If you’re used to eating grains, you’ll want to start reducing their amount instead of eliminating them at once.
2. Drink more water
Hydration is essential when you’re on the keto diet. You experience a rapid water loss (through urination) because carbohydrates need water. Drinking more water doesn’t only prevent dehydration, but it also relieves symptoms of the keto flu. Water is also a great beverage that helps with weight loss.
3. Eat clean
If you’ve ever heard of the term “clean keto,” it means choosing whole food versions. Processed foods lack vitamins and minerals that are essential to your health. Eating dirty on keto is one reason why some people don’t achieve the results they want. While doing keto, always think about health and longevity.
4. Exercise to boost your results
You already know that exercise is good for you. While a keto diet increases your physical performance, exercise also speeds up keto results. Exercise lowers your glycogen reserves. When this happens, your body taps into fat to get energy. This stimulates ketosis.
5. Bump up your salt intake
If you feel lethargic or nauseous, that’s because your sodium levels decreased. Recall that on a keto diet, you’re eliminating processed foods that are rich in salt. Sodium is an important electrolyte as it maintains your body’s water balance. You can add at least 1 teaspoon of salt to your diet or consume saltier healthy snacks.
Consult with a Physician
The ketogenic diet shows many advantages for people who want to live healthier and lose that extra weight. Start small and prioritize quality when eating keto. Most importantly, consult a physician because there are certain health conditions that don’t respond well to this diet.
By Mizpah Matus B.Hlth.Sc(Hons)
Last Reviewed: January 31, 2019