The keto diet for weight loss (short for ketogenic diet) is enormous these days. And for a good reason – it works to help you burn fat and lose weight fast.
But it’s not as simple as some people make it out to be.
In the broadest terms, a keto diet for weight loss is a “low-carb, high-fat diet that offers many health benefits. Over 20 studies show that this type of diet can help you lose weight and improve your health. Ketogenic diets may even have benefits against diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s disease.”
While all this seems to be true, that brief definition leaves a lot out of the picture.
Let’s start with a better definition: “A keto or ketogenic diet is a low-carb, moderate-protein, higher-fat diet that can help burn fat more effectively. It has many benefits for weight loss, health, and performance, as shown in over 50 studies.”
The ketogenic diet is similar to other diets you may have heard of, such as the Atkins diet, the paleo diet, and other low-carb diets.
It’s just that the keto diet is typically more extreme in restricting and reducing carbohydrates to achieve a metabolic state known as “ketosis,” which helps your body burn fat for energy, as well as lowering blood sugar and insulin levels.
Though, it’s inaccurate, so speak of the keto diet for weight loss because there are several variations on this diet. The main ones are:
“Standard ketogenic diet (SKD): This is a very low-carb, moderate-protein, and high-fat diet. It typically contains 75% fat, 20% protein, and only 5% carbs.
The cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): This diet involves periods of higher-carb refeeds [also known as carb cycling], such as 5 ketogenic days followed by 2 high-carb days.
The targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): This diet allows you to add carbs around workouts.
High-protein ketogenic diet: This is similar to a standard ketogenic diet, but includes more protein. The ratio is often 60% fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbs” (From Healthline).
Keep in mind, though, that only the first and last of these (standard and high-protein keto diets) have been studied at any length and depth. The other two (cyclical and targeted keto diets) are more advanced and are typically used by serious athletes and hardcore bodybuilders.
The two main benefits of this diet regimen are that it helps you burn body fat and lose weight without having to suffer hunger pangs, and it can improve (sometimes dramatically) type 2 diabetes. In one study, for example, the group eating a keto diet lost an average of 24.4 pounds while the group on a higher-carb diet lost only 15.2 pounds.
HOW DOES A KETO DIET WORK FOR FAT LOSS?
We all have a general idea of what a keto diet is, but how does it work?
When you restrict your carbohydrate intake or create a caloric deficit, your liver produces ketones from fat. These ketones are small energy or fuel packets that serve as your body’s energy (especially for your brain) instead of the average glucose (commonly called blood sugar) because it is in such short supply.
The shorthand version is that your body begins burning fat for energy – with the result that you lose fat and unwanted weight.
When your body begins producing ketones, you’ve entered a metabolic state called ketosis. The quickest way to arrive at ketosis is by fasting, but you can do that for only short periods without losing a lot of muscle. You also get terribly hungry.
But with a keto diet, you can achieve this metabolic state without fasting and suffering from hunger. And you can retain your muscle mass.
“On a ketogenic diet, your entire body switches its fuel supply to run mostly on fat, burning fat 24-7. When insulin levels become very low, fat burning can increase dramatically. It becomes easier to access your fat stores to burn them off.
“This is great if you’re trying to lose weight, but there can be other, less obvious benefits, such as less hunger and a steady supply of energy (without the sugar peaks and valleys we can get from high-carb meals). This may help to keep you alert and focused.”
WEIGHT LOSS, HEALTH, AND METABOLIC BENEFITS OF KETO DIET
The documented and possible benefits of a keto diet are many. Let’s take a look at some of the most important ones . . .
FAT-BURNING AND WEIGHT LOSS
Besides encouraging your body to burn fat for fuel, a keto diet also helps reduce your appetite and boost your metabolism. You feel fuller quicker because this diet consists of foods that decrease the production of hunger-stimulating hormones, so your hunger is lessened, and you lose weight.
According to Medical News Today, “a 2013 meta-analysis of 13 different randomized trials . . . found that people following ketogenic diets lost 2 pounds more than those following low-fat diets over one year.”
And “another review of 11 studies demonstrated that people following a ketogenic diet lost 5 lbs more than those following low-fat diets after six months.”
When your body reaches ketosis and produces ketones, certain neuroprotective benefits may follow, with the result that brain cells and nerve cells are strengthened and protected.
A keto diet, then, may help Alzheimer’s sufferers manage and slow down the progression of the disease.
Research has also shown that a keto diet may help prevent or even treat certain cancers. It has been shown in recent studies to:
“be a safe and suitable complementary treatment to use alongside chemotherapy and radiation therapy in people with certain cancers . . . because it causes more oxidative stress in cancer cells than in normal cells;” and
reduce blood sugar and thus lowering “the risk of insulin complications,” which “may have links to some cancers.”
Still, more research is needed in this area for a full understanding of how a keto diet can play a role in cancer prevention and treatment.
Although a keto diet prescribes increased fat consumption, those fats are good fats. And “evidence shows that eating healthful fats, such as avocados instead of less healthful fats, such as pork rinds, can help improve heart health by reducing cholesterol.”
“A 2017 review of studies of animals and humans on a keto diet,” for example, “showed that some people experienced a significant drop in levels of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, and triglycerides, and an increase in high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or ‘good’ cholesterol.”
And the upshot of this is the reduced risk of heart complications and heart disease.
PCOS SYMPTOM IMPROVEMENT
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a frightening affliction for some women because it can lead to “excess male hormones, ovulatory dysfunction, and polycystic ovaries,” which often mean problems conceiving and unwanted weight gain.
But there is some evidence that a keto diet can help.
A 2005 pilot study found that a keto diet improved several PCOS markers, with benefits including weight loss and improved hormonal balance. And a 2019 review of studies concluded that “a keto diet had beneficial effects for people with hormonal disorders, including PCOS and Type 2 Diabetes.”
RISKS ASSOCIATED WITHKETOGENIC (AND OTHER EXTREME DIETS)
As with anything extreme, particularly extreme diets like keto, there are associated risks, especially for long-term adherents.
First, there are the side effects that have been dubbed “the keto flu,” which are particularly noticeable at the beginning when your body is trying to adjust to the diet:
Low blood sugar
Little tolerance for exercise
In addition to the side effects, there is an increased risk for certain health problems, including:
Too much protein in the bloodstream
Fat build-up in the liver (which then calls for a fatty liver diet)
In light of these side effects and health risks, some people should absolutely avoid a keto diet. They are:
Pancreatitis or kidney-disease sufferers
People with eating disorders
Pregnant or breastfeeding women
IS A KETO DIET RIGHT FOR YOU?
So if you’re not one of those people who should stay away from keto, is it the right diet for you? Before committing, do these things:
Before undertaking any new extreme diet or exercise regimen, you should always consult your doctor to make sure you don’t have any risky or prohibitive health conditions.
Studies on the long-term benefits and hazards/risks of a keto diet are sorely lacking. There just isn’t enough evidence to say with confidence what it will do for you or to you in the long run.
Not all carbs are wrong, and you need some for their health benefits and promote optimal functioning of your body. So think about whether a less restrictive keto approach – one that includes some nutrient-dense, fibrous fruits, and vegetables – would be better for you.
CUSTOM KETO DIET
Yes, a keto diet works to help you burn fat for energy and lose weight fast, and it has several other health benefits. But, as with any diet or exercise program, one size does not fit all.
Your keto diet, if you want the best results in the shortest amount of time, has to be custom-tailored to meet your specific individual needs.
We don’t all have identical or even similar lifestyles, activity levels, nutritional needs, and caloric requirements. So if you’re not a nutritionist or a doctor, how do you determine how to adjust your keto diet for the best results – for you?