Understanding The Keto Diet: Should you try it?
Do you keep hearing about keto but you’re not sure what all hype is about? This article is an introduction to one of the most popular diets today - Keto Diet. After reading, you’ll have a clear understanding of what it is and whether it’s a diet you should consider trying.
Overview of the Keto Diet
The keto diet is a nutritional plan that focuses on foods that are high in fat while minimizing carbs. Simply put, the diet replaces your carbohydrate intake with fats, which allows your body to enter a metabolic state called ketosis, which burns fat and produces ketones to use as fuel.
When your body is in this state it becomes very efficient at burning fat for energy. By default, our bodies will use glucose (sugar) as fuel obtained from carbs that we consume, but when supply of carbs remains low for a prolonged period of time - as is required to achieve ketosis - the body will switch to using fat for fuel instead.
The keto diet is fundamentally different from most diets out there, which is why there’s a lot of confusion. For example, a vegetarian diet is simply an exclusion of meat, a vegan diet is an exclusion of all foods derived from animals, a GI diet is a diet focused on consuming only carbs with a low glycemic index score (low GI carbs are more complex carbs, such as beans that slowly release glucose into your blood preventing the big spikes in blood sugar caused by simple carbs like bread). The number of diets out there are endless. They all have diet restrictions but they almost all have the same thing in common - they don’t force your body to change its energy source. Again, keto requires your body to be in a state called ketosis. To achieve ketosis, it can take 2 days to a week of extremely low carb consumption BUT you can easily get out of ketosis in less than a day by over consuming carbs.
Staying in a state of ketosis requires consistency and discipline. Sound difficult? It can be but keto leads to a reduction in insulin levels and blood sugar. Ketone levels are increased when your carbohydrate intake is low, and both of these effects can provide some important health benefits worth considering.
The Good - Benefits of Keto
There are many benefits of the keto diet including weight loss, reducing the effects of diabetes, minimizing sugar cravings, and much more!
The most widely known benefit of keto and its most attractive benefit is rapid weight loss. You can effectively lose weight with keto because of its extremely low carb nature. You also feel full longer because your body has plenty of fat stored to use as energy. Instead of waiting for you to consume carbs, your body burns fat stored to produce ketones. This is similar to the weight loss benefit of intermittent fasting.
Studies have also shown that the ketogenic diet was more effective for long term weight loss than low-fat diets. This clinical trial found That the individuals who followed the keto diet for eight weeks lost almost five times more body fat than the others who chose a low-fat diet instead.
Keto and Type 2 Diabetes
There are promising results for those who have type 2 diabetes, which causes high blood sugar, impaired insulin function, inflammation and changes in metabolism. Studies show that ketosis is effective in regulating blood sugar levels, improving insulin function, and reducing inflammation. The combination of these benefits has the potential to reverse type 2 diabetes. Keep in mind that even if your type 2 diabetes is reversed, it doesn’t mean it will never return. Reverting back to a poor diet can cause it to return. This means after keto, you’ll have to focus on not over consuming carbs/sugar, especially simple carbs. Excess fat is also linked to Type 2 diabetes, since keto helps improve insulin sensitivity and long-term blood sugar management, you also lose weight. That’s 2 for 1!
Kick Those Sugar Cravings
Helping you eliminate sugar cravings is another benefit of the keto diet. Most foods people like to eat are either highly refined carbs that our bodies easily convert to glucose or loaded with various types of sugar. This can lead to excessive sugar cravings that cause us to overeat.
There are growing number of microbiome studies that show that foods we eat change the type of bacteria also referred to as microbes that grow in our gut. These microbes are responsible for absorbing specific type of nutrients. Some break down plant cellulose, some break down meat, some break down sugars, etc. Our gut bacteria is always changing based on what we eat. The fascinating thing about some of these studies is that they suggest the types of microbes we have determine our cravings!
Every time you change your diet drastically, your gut microbes change as well. Sugar is almost eliminated in a keto diet so you develop much healthier gut microbes. The microbes that process sugar die off and new ones emerge. On top of that, staying on a keto diet for 30 days+ can drastically change your eating habits. You get used to reading nutritional labels and you associate sugar as a bad food. All of these combined result in you kicking the sugar cravings!
Additional Health Benefits
Other valuable health benefits include reducing the risk of heart disease, slowing down the progression of certain cancers, and reductions in seizures caused by epilepsy. Similarly, research has begun to show that the keto diet can help improve cognitive function and reduce the symptoms of diseases like Alzheimer’s.
All these conditions have been linked to one or more of the following: inflammation, insulin malfunction, poor gut health, high blood sugar or being overweight. The keto diet has a positive effect in all these areas, which combined may have a significant impact on your health. Of course, the benefits will vary from person to person because everyone has a different starting point. Nevertheless, people suffering from these heath problems are seeing promising results with keto.
The Bad - What Are The Downsides?
Although there are many benefits to following the ketogenic diet, it can be a rough journey. Before you decide to give it a try consider the following.
Even though the benefits of keto sound amazing, the research is still ongoing. We don’t know the long term effects of staying on a keto diet. Some doctors suggest going on a keto diet for 2-3 weeks, some 6-8 weeks and some more. The Kete diet is considered very safe short term but the long term safety is up for debate. Since there’s enough research to prove some benefits and its considered safe short term, it might be worth a try for anyone suffering from the health problems it can potentially reverse.
Keto Side Effects
There are a wide array of side effects some of which doctors don’t know the cause. It’s important to understand that flipping your body’s fuel source switch is not an easy task initially. Some will have it easier than others. While your body adjusts to ketosis and a completely new diet you’ll likely experience some following side effect. Keep in mind not everyone will experience the same effects. Some of these side effects are a sign of some kind of deficiency. Be sure to research these side effects so you have a plan/fix in place in case you experience them.
The keto flu is one of the most common and refers to a set of symptoms some experience in early stages of ketosis. These symptoms include nausea, constipation, digestive discomfort, reduced energy, irritability, muscle cramps, headache and insomnia. These symptoms can be part of a carb/sugar withdrawal process and are totally normal or can be an indication that you’re dehydrated or have low sodium. It’s most common a result of low sodium. When you’re on keto you urinate a lot of sodium. You also likely reduce your sodium intake by avoiding processed salty foods. This can result in the keto flu. Increasing your sodium intake can resolve this issue.
Yes, bad breath is a common symptom. It’s probably not the bad breath you’re thinking of. When you have it you’ll notice a metallic taste in your mouth and it has a distinct odor. The smell can either be fruity (not so bad) or a smell of nail polish remover.
The cause of keto rash are much less understood. This symptom is also more rare. The few people that experience this get itchy patches often on their back, chest, armpits and neck or a combination of those areas. Since this is more rare, research is even more limited and will take some time for us to understand the underlying cause of these rashes.
Other Health Risks
Additional health risks include a lack of essential nutrients that are found in foods that are not recommended under the keto diet, low blood protein levels, excess fat in the liver, and kidney stones.
If you are on certain types of medication for Type 2 diabetes, like sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 inhibitors, you increase the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis. If you are on this medication, you should not attempt the keto diet since it could lead to dangerous conditions that increase the acidity of your blood.
Getting Started with Keto
Now that you understand what the keto diet is, as well as the pros and cons associated with it, let's go over how you can get started.
The first thing that you need to do to get started with keto is to educate yourself. Reading this article is just the first step - you need to spend some time researching exactly what will happen to your body on keto as well as the importance of eating clean so that you can be fully prepared for what you may experience while on the diet.
It is necessary to understand all of the side effects as well as the recommended supplements that can help you minimize their effects.
Learn how to Read Nutrition Labels
If you plan to start keto, understanding how to read nutrition labels is a must. Get used to understanding them because you will need to know what to look for to follow this diet properly.
This is the only way to be sure that you can achieve some of the benefits provided by keto!
Sample Meal Plans are Your Friend
Learning what foods you should eat can be somewhat daunting if you are new to keto, so sample meal plans are your friend. Research example meal plans to help you get started - they should look something like this:
Breakfast: Eggs with veggies and avocado
Lunch: Chicken salad with cheese and olive oil
Dinner: Salmon and asparagus cooked with butter
Meal Prep, Meal Prep, Meal Prep
Once you have an idea of what the right foods should look like, it is time to meal prep. Preparing your meals ahead of time will help you stay on track and help you avoid opportunities to break your diet because you're not sure what to eat!
To summarize, the keto diet focuses on reducing your carb intake and replacing it with fat so that your body can use it as an energy source instead. It is a great option for individuals who are overweight, are seeking to improve their health, or have diabetes.
Although there are many benefits, it is necessary to consider the health risks that the keto diet poses - be sure to think about how this would play into your specific lifestyle and preferences!