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What is Keto, Really?

The keto diet has recently become very popular – but is it right for everyone?

What is keto?

The ketogenic (keto) diet is high in healthy fats, moderate in proteins and low in carbohydrates. Eating this way places the body in a metabolic state called “ketosis,” allowing the body to burn fat for energy instead of carbohydrates (sugar). This accelerates weight loss. The classic keto diet is 75% fat, 20% protein, 5% carbohydrates and requires strict measurement of food. This is what makes it different from the Atkins diet, which was defined as high protein (no limit) and low carb only. Current guidelines for a standard healthy diet include approximately 50% carbohydrates. Healthy fat consumption is very important in the keto diet along with avoiding too much protein, which can prevent ketosis. Many have difficulty remaining in ketosis due to the strict nature of the diet. However, even without ketosis, many will lose weight simply due to calorie restriction on a low carb “dirty keto” diet, which is a version of the diet that is less strict about carb intake.

What foods are OK?

Healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds, and saturated fats in moderation – coconut oil, butter, heavy whipping cream – are encouraged. Lean protein is recommended (chicken, lean beef, cold-water fish). Dark, leafy green vegetables and other low carb veggies like cauliflower, peppers, asparagus and zucchini are also good.  Berries are ok but other fruits have too much sugar for this diet.

So what’s the evidence?

Studies have proven that the keto diet can decrease inflammation and reduce oxidative stress on the body. The keto diet has been used as an effective treatment for some seizure disorders. It can also treat type 2 diabetes.  There is research to support improvement of chronic disease states and improvement in memory and cognition.  This is exciting, but always remember that more research is needed.

So why isn’t everyone doing it?

The keto diet can be a great method for weight loss but is not for everyone. First, because the diet is mostly fat and protein, it may prevent the body from getting all of the vitamins and nutrients it needs on a daily basis. It is NOT ideal for those with a history of kidney stones, pancreatitis, familial high cholesterol or carnitine deficiency. It can cause electrolyte imbalance, vitamin/mineral deficiency and initial increase of LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. If you are an athlete, it can prevent peak performance in high intensity exercise.

The Final Word

For those willing and interested in following this diet, it can be an excellent supplement to regular exercise in achieving a healthy lifestyle. Keep in mind that it should be done with the approval of your primary care physician who can help to monitor your health.