If you read health or lifestyle magazines, you’ll no doubt hear a new diet on the block every single week. The problem is, how are you supposed to know which work and which fall into the fad category? Even more importantly, how are you supposed to know which are actually safe and effective?
The Ketogenic Diet, or Keto Diet, is an extremely popular diet which has been around for many years. Of course, this isn’t a diet which is suitable for everyone, but it has some very positive benefits, and offers almost guaranteed drastic weight loss.
Let’s explore the Keto Diet in more detail.
What is The Keto Diet?
The Keto Diet is a low carbohydrate, high fat and high protein diet, which changes the way in which your body burns fuel for energy. This diet has been around in various guises since the 1920s, when doctors used its basics to help patients with epilepsy. The side effect of weight loss caught the attention, and the diet we have come to know today was developed for the mainstream.
The Keto Diet can be followed indefinitely, but has three main stages to begin with. In fact once you start, it is advised that you continue. The reason is that yo-yoing between ‘normal’ eating and the Keto way will confuse your body and cause you regain the weight you have lost quite quickly. We’ll get into how exactly the diet works very shortly, but for now we need to mention who can and can’t follow this diet.
Generally, the Keto Diet is safe for most people, apart from the following:
- Those taking medications for insulin, especially insulin
- Those taking medications for hypertension, or high blood pressure
- Breastfeeding women
If you fall into one of the above categories, or you have any other health concerns, it’s best to have a chat with your doctor before embarking on the Keto Diet.
How Does the Keto Diet Work?
In the normal run of life, we burn carbohydrates for energy, however with the Keto Diet, the ‘fat burning’ switch is turned on, which means you limit the number of carbohydrates you consume, forcing your body into a state called ‘ketosis’. We’ll explain more about this shortly, but for now, ketosis is the process of burning fat for fuel instead. Of course, when you burn fat, you’re eating into existing fat stores, and therefore losing weight.
The Keto Diet has come under the microscope because of its high fat content, but when you read into the science behind the diet, this high fat content is required to give the body enough to burn for fuel.
The name ‘Keto’ is derived from the fact that during the fat burning process, your body produces something called ‘ketones’. This is the energy which the body needs to burn, and these ketones are produced by the body naturally when glucose (also known as blood sugar) is scarce. This entire process is called ‘ketosis’.
What is Ketosis?
Your body is not in a ketosis state when you are eating a regular diet. In this state your body burns carbs for energy and provided you don’t have a calorie deficit, you will not lose weight. If you have a calorie excess, you will put weight on.
When you limit carbs, your body wonders what is going on, and in effect it thinks it is going to starve. Of course, this isn’t the case but as a plan B, your liver starts to produce the ketones we just talked about. These are an alternative source of energy, and by these being produced, your body is in ketosis.
When your body is in a ketosis state it is burning fat constantly. This means that existing fat stores will be used up, as well as the fatty foods you are eating. As a result, you lose weight quite quickly, and it’s likely that you won’t feel as many cravings, because you’re eating the sugary foods you would normally crave.
Is The Keto Diet Safe?
Nothing is 100% safe for those who have existing healthcare issues. For that reason, talking to your doctor before you embark on the Keto Diet is important. For most people however, provided the diet is followed correctly, it is completely safe.
The Benefits of The Keto Diet
Before we get into the things you can and can’t eat, you’ll want to know whether this diet is worth all the effort. To answer that question, let’s explore the benefits of the Keto Diet.
Less Cravings And Appetite Reduction
One of the biggest plus point of the Keto Diet is that you are likely to have less cravings. This is ideal for anyone who has ever been on a diet before and noticed intense cravings which makes the entire process miserable. As a result, you’re also less likely to give in.
The high fat content of the Keto Diet means that the foods you’re eating are much more satisfying and have that sugary edge you might otherwise crave. These foods keep you full and give you a constant source of energy throughout the day. Many studies have shown that when you eat a diet which is higher in fat and protein, you consume less calories in general, because you’re not snacking.
High Weight Loss Amounts Initially
In the first stage of the Keto Diet especially, you will notice a drastic weight loss. Of course, as with most diets, a lot of this loss is down to stored water being eradicated from the body, but it is also a genuine loss too. The second stage will continue to show weight loss amounts, but this will slow to a steadier level as you hit the third stage.
The reason the first two weeks will give you a huge weight loss is because a low carb intake rids the body of water (as we just mentioned), but it also lowers your levels of insulin, burning fat quickly.
A Large Amount of Weight Lost From The Belly
Most people lament their belly when it comes to their appearance, but the Keto Diet helps to lose weight from this troubled area quite effectively. How you store fat affects your general risk of weight-related diseases, and visceral fat is the worst kind for this. Studies have shown that the Keto Diet targets this visceral fat and as a result lowers your risk of serious disease, such as heart disease or diabetes development.
Lowered Cholesterol Levels
This is a confusing one, because you would imagine a high fat diet to actually increase your cholesterol. Not necessarily! When followed correctly, the Keto Diet can increase the amount of HDL in your system, which is the ‘good’ cholesterol we hear so much about. The more HDL you have in comparison to LDL (the bad stuff) means your ratio of cholesterol is more positive.
Lower Insulin and Blood Sugar
Whilst you should always check with your doctor if you have diabetes or you are taking insulin, there are some suggestions that the Keto Diet could actually help in some cases. Studies by the BMC (Brazilian Diabetes Society) have shown that if you reduce carbs, you are also cutting your insulin and blood sugar levels almost immediately.
Another study took a sample of people with type 2 diabetes and put them on the Keto Diet. Within six months, 95% of them had either reduced, or completely stopped needing the medication they took to lower their glucose levels.
Lowered Blood Pressure
There is a suggestion that the Keto Diet could help reduce blood pressure levels, however this is something you should discuss with your doctor, especially if you are on medication for hypertension.
Other fantastic benefits include:
- Higher levels of energy
- Increased focus
- Lack of cravings
- Guaranteed weight loss
- May help to reduce anxiety and depression
- Decreased inflammation levels within the body
As you can see, the Keto Diet offers many tempting benefits. This video by Dr Eric Berg really highlights the benefits of the diet in visual terms.
Possible Side Effects of The Keto Diet, And How to Minimise Them
By changing the way your body burns fuel for energy, you are bound to experience a transitional period. This means there might be a space of time whereby you experience the odd side effect. This transitional period is certainly going to be within the first two weeks of starting the diet, i.e. the first stage. At this time, your body is a little confused, and needs some time to settle down. Once this stage is over, you should notice that side effects improve and eventually disappear.
The biggest side effect of the Keto Diet is something called the ‘Keto flu’. This is a general feeling of lethargy, lack of energy, and feeling like you have a very mild flu. Again, this should improve as the days go on.
Other side effects include:
- Needing to pee quite often – This is your body ridding itself of excess water, and it should improve over the first two weeks. Your kidneys are also excreting the extra sodium, which converts itself to urine
- Dizziness – As you are peeing more often, you might be lacking in some minerals, such as sodium, magnesium, and potassium. Make sure you eat plenty lefty greens, and foods which are high in potassium. You should also add salt to your food, or check with your doctor whether you are suitable for magnesium supplements
- Sugar cravings – In the first couple of weeks, you might notice you crave sugar, which is strange because you’re supposed to have no cravings! After this transitional period, you will experience a total lack of cravings, but in the first period this might not be the case
- Constipation – This is the change in your body, but you should drink plenty of water and eat plenty of high fibre foods
- Diarrhoea – Having said that, your bowel habit could go completely the other way! Again, this is a transitional period problem, and it should sort itself out within a couple of days
- Muscle cramps – You might notice leg cramps especially, and this is down to the lack of minerals due to peeing more often. Again, salt your foods, drink plenty of water, and ask your doctor about supplements if this doesn’t sort the issue out
- Disrupted sleep – Another transitional period issue which should sort itself out. You could try having a snack before you sleep, as this may be down to you having insulin levels which are too low
These are the main side effects, but that doesn’t mean you are definitely going to experience them. If you are concerned about any effects from the Keto Diet, stop immediately and consult with your doctor.
The Stages of The Keto Diet
As the Keto Diet has become commercialised, you will find various different forms of the diet. Some have four stages, some have two, some don’t have stages at all, but the most traditional version of the Keto Diet has three main stages. These are:
- First stage – The most restrictive carb stage, which lasts for around two weeks
- Second stage – You begin to reintroduce certain carbs, in small amounts
- Third stage – You introduce more carbs, and reach your happy level, i.e. the level you will remain at
The first stage is the most restrictive and therefore brings the highest weight loss, and as you start to slowly reintroduce carbs, your weight loss will slow a little and plateau eventually. Foods and drinks are categorised into green, amber, and red. Green foods you can eat as much as you like, amber should be eaten in moderation, and red are total no nos. It’s a good idea to print a full list of each category out, and keep it with you until you become more familiar with the types of foods which go hand in hand with the Keto Diet.
Is The Keto Diet For You?
Always consult with your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet, especially if you have any existing health issues. Despite that, there are many beneficial effects of following the Keto Diet, with guaranteed weight loss just one of them.
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