These days, it seems like everyone is talking about the ketogenic (in short, keto) diet – the very low-carbohydrate, moderate protein, high-fat eating plan that transforms your body into a fat-burning machine. Hollywood stars and professional athletes have publicly touted this diet’s benefits, from losing weight, lowering blood sugar, fighting inflammation, reducing cancer risk, increasing energy, to slowing down aging. So is keto something that you should consider taking on? The following will explain what this diet is all about, the pros and cons, as well as the problems to look out for.
What Is Keto?
Normally, the body uses glucose as the main source of fuel for energy. When you are on a keto diet and you are eating very few carbs with only moderate amounts of protein (excess protein can be converted to carbs), your body switches its fuel supply to run mostly on fat. The liver produces ketones (a type of fatty acid) from fat. These ketones become a fuel source for the body, especially the brain which consumes plenty of energy and can run on either glucose or ketones.
When the body produces ketones, it enters a metabolic state called ketosis. Fasting is the easiest way to achieve ketosis. When you are fasting or eating very few carbs and only moderate amounts of protein, your body turns to burning stored fat for fuel. That is why people tend to lose more weight on the keto diet.
Benefits Of The Keto Diet
The keto diet is not new. It started being used in the 1920s as a medical therapy to treat epilepsy in children, but when anti-epileptic drugs came to the market, the diet fell into obscurity until recently. Given its success in reducing the number of seizures in epileptic patients, more and more research is being done on the ability of the diet to treat a range of neurologic disorders and other types of chronic illnesses.
- Neurodegenerative diseases. New research indicates the benefits of keto in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, autism, and multiple sclerosis (MS). It may also be protective in traumatic brain injury and stroke. One theory for keto’s neuroprotective effects is that the ketones produced during ketosis provide additional fuel to brain cells, which may help those cells resist the damage from inflammation caused by these diseases.
- Obesity and weight loss. If you are trying to lose weight, the keto diet is very effective as it helps to access and shed your body fat. Constant hunger is the biggest issue when you try to lose weight. The keto diet helps avoid this problem because reducing carb consumption and increasing fat intake promote satiety, making it easier for people to adhere to the diet. In a study, obese test subjects lost double the amount of weight within 24 weeks going on a low-carb diet (20.7 lbs) compared to the group on a low-fat diet (10.5 lbs).
- Type 2 diabetes. Apart from weight loss, the keto diet also helps enhance insulin sensitivity, which is ideal for anyone with type 2 diabetes. In a study published in Nutrition & Metabolism, researchers noted that diabetics who ate low-carb keto diets were able to significantly reduce their dependence on diabetes medication and may even reverse it eventually. Additionally, it improves other health markers such as lowering triglyceride and LDL (bad) cholesterol and raising HDL (good) cholesterol.
- Cancer. Most people are not aware that cancer cells’ main fuel is glucose. That means eating the right diet may help suppress cancer growth. Since the keto diet is very low in carbs, it deprives the cancer cells of their primary source of fuel, which is sugar. When the body produces ketones, the healthy cells can use that as energy but not the cancer cells, so they are effectively being starved to death. As early as 1987, studies on keto diets have already demonstrated reduced tumor growth and improved survival for a number of cancers.