The Keto Diet: Does It Really Work for Weight Loss?
What Is the Keto Diet?
The ketogenic diet, or what’s more commonly known as the keto diet, is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet that’s designed to stimulate the human body’s natural fat-burning mechanism. Under the keto diet, most of the calories you’ll consume will come from fat. You can still consume protein as well, but the keto diet embraces a low intake of carbohydrates and a high intake of fat.
The keto diet was pioneered by the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Russel Wilder in the 1920s as an alternative treatment for epilepsy. Wilder found that epilepsy patients experienced fewer seizures after replacing a large portion of carbohydrates in their diet with fat. In the years to follow, medical researchers discovered other benefits of the keto diet, including weight loss.
How the Keto Diet Can Help You Lose Weight
The keto diet receives its namesake from the metabolic state it induces: ketosis. After following a strict keto diet for about two to six days, your body will enter ketosis in which it pulls energy from stored fat. As your body continues to burn its stored fat, you’ll lose weight. The keto diet leverages the fat-burning mechanics of ketosis to promote weight loss.
The human body demands energy to function properly. Whether you are mowing the lawn, working in the office or even sleeping, your body needs energy. The keto diet encourages your body to use stored fat for energy rather than glucose.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans get about half of their daily calories from carbohydrates on average. Carbohydrates, of course, are processed into glucose by the liver. When you consume them, your liver will produce and release glucose, resulting in elevated blood glucose levels. In response, your pancreas will produce and release insulin to help your body use and store the excess glucose. If your insulin levels are high — a common problem with high-carbohydrate diets — your body will store glucose as fat.
The keto diet promotes weight loss by lowering your blood insulin levels. When you restrict your body of carbohydrates, your body will pull energy from glucose stored in the liver and muscles. Once those reserves are depleted, your blood insulin levels will drop while forcing your body to pull energy from stored fat instead.
Is the Keto Diet Safe?
While effective at burning fat, the keto diet does pose some safety concerns. Since carbohydrates are the main source of fiber for most Americans, for instance, you may experience digestive problems. Constipation is a common side effect reported by individuals on the keto diet. With a low intake of carbohydrates, you may consume an insufficient amount of fiber, resulting in constipation or other digestive problems.
You may experience mental and physical fatigue while on the keto diet. As you restrict your body of its normal source of energy, you may feel more exhausted than usual. This mental and physical fatigue, however, is short-lived and typically subsides after a few weeks.
Ketoacidosis is another concern associated with the keto diet. It’s a more extreme form of ketosis in which ketone levels rise to dangerous levels. While on the keto diet, your liver will break down stored fat into ketones, which are then used as energy instead of glucose. Because they are acidic, ketones will alter the pH level of your blood. As ketones build up, your blood will become dangerously acidic to the point where it causes nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, dehydrating or even coma.
With that said, the keto diet shouldn’t result in ketoacidosis if you follow it correctly. Your liver will still produce ketones, but it won’t produce an excessive amount of ketones that could otherwise lower your blood’s pH to a dangerous level.
Keto Diet Tips for Success
To lose weight with the keto diet, you must selectively choose foods and beverages that are low in carbohydrates and high in fat. When most think of carbohydrates, they envision bread, pasta, rice and potatoes. But carbohydrates come in many forms, including simple sugars. Soda, for instance, often contains over 30 grams of carbohydrates, all of which come from sugar, whereas bananas contain 27 grams of carbohydrates. For your body to enter ketosis in which it burns stored fat, you must avoid all high-carbohydrate foods and beverages.
There are plenty of keto-friendly foods that you can eat. Cheese is an excellent keto-friendly snack that’s low in carbohydrates and high in fat. Depending on the variety, it may contain some sugar in the form of lactose, but it’s not enough to raise your body’s glucose levels high enough to trigger weight gain. Cheddar, gouda, mozzarella, parmesan and swiss are some of the best varieties for the keto diet because of their low lactose content and, therefore, low carbohydrates.
Along with cheese, other keto-friendly foods include:
Whether artificially or naturally sweetened, you shouldn’t drink sugary beverages while on the keto diet. Instead, drink either water or a non-sweetened beverage, such as tea or coffee.
Keto isn’t the only low-carbohydrate diet. Others include the Atkin’s and paleo diets. The keto diet is distinguished from its counterparts, however, by an exceptionally low intake of carbohydrates. You may get up to half of your daily calories from carbohydrates while on the Atkin’s or paleo diet, compared to just 10 percent while on the keto diet. By slashing your intake of carbohydrates, you’ll force your body to burn stored fat for energy.