Annie Zhou, HK Biotek Intern
A ketogenic diet, or keto-diet for short, is a low-carb, high fat diet. This means reducing and/or eliminating high carb foods like candies, alcohol, grains, legumes, root vegetables, and fruits, and eating more fatty meat, fatty fish, eggs, butter, nuts, avocados, healthy oils, and low-carb veggies like leafy greens, tomatoes and peppers.
Things to Avoid:
Things to Eat:
Many people engage in this diet for fast weight loss, but also for some health benefits. Several studies show that a keto diet is more effective than the often recommended low-fat diet. The reduction of carbs and increase in fat puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis. In this state, your body becomes efficient at burning fat for energy instead of carbs.
Your brain and other organs need time to adapt to using fat as energy instead of carbs. There are often initial side effects to starting a keto diet, called the Keto Flu. This switch causes insulin levels to drop, and your body responds by excreting more sodium and water in the urine. This change is responsible for symptoms like fatigue, headaches, sugar cravings, nausea or dizziness, and muscle cramps that usually last for 3-5 days. It is recommended to ease your body into the diet by gradually cutting down your carb intake and increasing fat intake, and to increase your salt and water intake. If you are still feeling tired, it is likely because you are not eating enough fats to be converted into energy.
Generally, a body in ketosis can effectively access weeks or even months of stored energy. As a result, a keto diet can help with weight loss and appetite control. In addition, because the brain is effectively fueled by ketones instead of energy from dietary carbs, many people claim to have improved focus and concentration.
Interestingly, the keto diet was originally a tool to treat neurological diseases. Studies have shown that a keto diet can reduce seizures in patients with epilepsy and slow progression and reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have also shown that a keto diet can control blood sugar, improve insulin sensitivity, and even reverse type 2 diabetes! People who choose to have a keto diet also see improvements in their blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which may reduce their risk of heart disease.
Despite its numerous potential benefits, a keto diet is not for everyone. It can be great for people who are overweight, obese, diabetic, or people looking to improve their metabolic health. However, there are potential dangers of dietary changes for people taking medication. For example, people with diabetes who are taking medication (e.g., insulin) will have to adjust their doses. It is also not suitable for people looking to gain muscle or weight.
In addition, the diet’s reliability on fats, specifically saturated fats, can be risky. High levels of saturated fats are linked to heart disease, and so it is recommended to keep saturated fats to no more than 7% of your daily calories. People on this diet may be at risk for nutrient deficiency and constipation since the diet is low in fibrous foods and micronutrients like magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamins B and C. Most of the studies mentioned above show short term benefits of the keto diet, but there have not been enough studies to say anything about the diet’s effect nor safety in the long term. While it is not impossible, it is difficult to maintain such a restrictive diet. And like most diets, once you resume to your normal diet, you will most likely gain weight and lose the health benefits. Generally speaking, it is recommended to consult your doctor or a healthcare professional before making changes to your diet.