Over the last few months, the keto diet—short for ketogenic—has repeatedly made its way into the news.
Though this particular way of eating has actually been around for almost a century, it’s reemergence may leave you wondering exactly what it is, how it can help, how it could potentially hurt, and, perhaps most importantly, whether or not it’s even worth following.
Let’s begin with an explanation of what it means to follow a keto diet.
What the keto diet is
A keto diet is similar to the introductory phase of the Atkins diet in that it is extremely low in carbohydrates and high in fat. By depriving the body of carbs, it starts breaking fat down into chemical substances called ketones and ketoacids, thus the term “ketogenic.”
Research published in Epilepsia, the official journal of the International League Against Epilepsy, explains that this diet was first introduced by Dr. Wilder from the Mayo Clinic in 1921. Wilder presented it as an alternative to fasting, an action that was found to help epileptic patients. A few years later, in 1925, Dr. Peterman, also from the Mayo Clinic, created a formula for calculating the appropriate nutritional split for a ketogenic diet, the same of which is still in use today.
This formula consists of a daily caloric intake of one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight, 10-15 grams of carbohydrates, and all of the remaining calories to be consumed in the form of fat. Peterman noted that when this protocol is followed, many benefits exist.
Proposed ketogenic benefits
According to this research, two of the most notable keto advantages, for epileptic patients specifically, are “improvements in behavior and cognitive effects.” Other medical professionals agree, citing that they’d found similar responses when they tried the keto diet with their patients. In fact, one researcher with Johns Hopkins Hospital reported that, after following 1,000 epileptic children for a number of years, 52 percent gained “complete control” of their seizures. An additional 27 percent noted improvement in this area as well.
Fast forward to today and many studies have found that this diet also provides benefits for individuals with other medical conditions. For instance, on September 22, 2017, Raymond Swanson, MD, a professor of neurology at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) revealed that the ketogenic diet can help decrease inflammation in the brain, making it a potential treatment option for people who have had a stroke or some other brain-related trauma.
Another study, this one published in PLOS One, looked at the effects of a keto diet on diabetic nephropathy, a type of kidney disease that can occur in people diagnosed with diabetes. In this case, researchers subjected mice with this condition to a ketogenic diet for a total of eight weeks. Within this time, their nephropathy was completely reversed.
For otherwise healthy individuals, like those just looking to lose a little weight, one article posted in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shares that this diet delivers. Furthermore, it does so without all of the hunger pangs and feelings of fatigue commonly associated with many other weight loss plans.
Potential keto cons
Though this way of eating appears to have many advantages, it also has a few potential cons.
For instance, UCSF’s Swanson shares that the ketogenic diet “is very difficult to follow in everyday life.” By almost eliminating carbohydrates, food choices become greatly reduced. Plus, by focusing primarily on protein and fat, many foods that are included in these categories need to be prepared, making this way of eating harder for someone with an active lifestyle.
If you read through various social media feeds, some keto dieters also complain of having “the keto flu” (feelings of brain fog and nausea when you begin eating this way), not getting enough key vitamins and minerals, constant thirst, muscle aches, and constipation. Though many also reported that it did effectively help them lose weight when they were on it.
Is it worth it?
Taking into consideration both the research and personal accounts from keto dieters themselves, it appears that eating low-carb and high-fat does provide many benefits, particularly to individuals who are struggling with chronic conditions such as epilepsy and diabetes. It also seems to provide benefits to those who have experienced some type of trauma to the head region.
For individuals who simply want to lose weight or improve their health, the keto diet is like most other eating plans in that the person has to be willing to commit to a lifestyle change or it isn’t going to work. Additionally, some people’s bodies tolerate this way of eating better than others, which makes this another consideration as well.