This high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet has enjoyed a great deal of popularity for its ability to produce rapid, dramatic weight loss and also help people manage a variety of medical conditions.
How much interest is there in the ketogenic diet? According to Google, there are more than one million searches for “Keto Diet” every month. And the database PubMed (which is run by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health) published 322 studies on keto diets in 2018, more than double the number published just three years previously.
But is a keto diet right for you? Here’s a look at the benefits and disadvantages to help you decide.
The Medical Benefits
So, what do all the studies show when it comes to the keto diet? Although none have provided conclusive evidence, and experts caution that additional research is needed, there are indications that, in part, a low-carb diet can be effective in treating:
- Elevated blood pressure
- Elevated fasting blood sugar levels
- High triglycerides
- Low HDL cholesterol levels
Under a low-carb diet, these conditions can be safely managed and, in some cases, nearly eliminated.
By reducing your intake of carbohydrates and replacing it with healthy fats and high-quality proteins, the body can shift toward a state that promotes the breakdown of fats from your body to produce ketone bodies and enter a state known as “ketosis”. Being in a state of ketosis allows the body to burn fats and proteins instead of the more readily available energy source: carbohydrates. This promotes rapid weight loss and can help to reduce blood sugar levels and insulin requirements.
It has also been shown to:
- Reduce levels of triglycerides
- Raise HDL cholesterol (the so-called “good” cholesterol)
- Reduce abdominal fat
A keto diet can even provide an effective treatment for type 2 diabetes. Please note, anyone on insulin or other medicine to treat blood sugar needs to talk with a doctor before embarking on a low-carb diet as your dosage may need adjusting to prevent hypoglycemia. DMC Primary Care’s Diabetes Management program can also help you manage your diabetes whether you decide on a keto lifestyle or not.
A high fat meal plan is often recommended for children who suffer from epilepsy and don’t respond to seizure medication. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, the diet can decrease the number of seizures for these children by half, with 10 to 15 percent becoming seizure-free. In other cases, it may also help them reduce the dose of their medication.
There have also been indications that a keto diet slows the growth of cancerous tumors and the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, decreases the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and can even improve acne in teenagers.
Not for Everyone
Deciding if a keto diet is right for you (and your family) depends on a variety of factors. Before considering a keto lifestyle, please consult your provider to ensure that it is safe for you. The Functional Medicine providers at DMC Primary Care can also help you determine if a keto plan would work for you, and if so, work with you on a customized meal plan that would best suit your lifestyle.
If you have athletic children who are playing organized sports, the diet might not work so well because it makes it difficult to add muscle or weight. However, a keto diet can be beneficial to athletes who are training for endurance events, such as a marathon, by improving muscle-to-fat ratio and increasing the amount of oxygen the body is able to use when training its hardest.
The Meal Plan
If keto is a healthy choice for you, the next step is to start understanding the right foods to eat. The diet’s description, “high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb”, covers a lot of your basics, but there are important things to consider when choosing which fats and proteins to keep stocked in your kitchen.
While a Registered Dietician at DMC can help you determine the best formulated meal plan for your specific needs and achieve ketosis, here are some key guidelines:
Fats: Many of your healthy fats can come from avocado, olive oil, nuts, nut butter, flaxseed and fish such as salmon and tuna. Avoid unhealthy fats from processed hydrogenated and vegetable oils.
Protein: Focus on lean sources of protein such as chicken and pork, which are better for heart health than red meat.
Fruit and Vegetables: Low-carb vegetables, such as cauliflower, arugula, spinach, bell peppers, mushrooms, fennel, cabbage, celery, brussels sprouts, kale and broccoli, are great substitutes to starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn or peas. For fruits, tomatoes, some berries, coconut, lemon and limes are allowed in small amounts.
A Lifestyle Change
For some people, a keto diet can initially result in side effects, often called the “Keto flu”, that include low energy, insomnia, nausea and digestive discomfort. For that reason, many people begin slowly reducing carbs from their diet before eliminating them completely.
There is also the lifestyle factor to weigh. Shopping and cooking for one person on a diet can be challenging, but if the entire family is on board, meal planning can be an activity for everyone to participate in.
Ultimately, if you’re in good health and simply looking to lose weight, the keto diet can be a sure-fire way to jump start the process.
Want Help Getting Started?
DMC’s Well-Formulated Ketogenic Diet program is an 8-week class of medically supervised group visits, led by a medical provider and a registered dietitian. New classes are always coming up. Contact us if you’re interested.