From celebrities to fitness gurus, just about everyone seems to be talking about the ketogenic diet (aka “keto diet”) lately, and that’s probably because it promises to do more than just help you shed a few extra pounds. In addition to revving up fat-burning and kick-starting weight loss, proponents of the diet claim that it can do everything from ramping up energy levels to fine-tuning focus and eliminating brain fog.
Although the ketogenic diet may seem like the latest fad diet to enter the health scene, it actually has a pretty extensive history. In fact, once scientists discovered that fasting has been used since around 500 B.C. as an effective way to control seizures, they began looking for ways to mimic the effects of fasting, leading to the introduction of the ketogenic diet in the 1920s as a natural treatment for epilepsy. (1)
But while the ketogenic diet was originally used strictly for its therapeutic effects, research has begun to unearth a long list of potential health benefits of the diet, ranging from weight loss to longevity. As a result, in recent years, the ketogenic diet has soared in popularity because it’s effective, easy to follow and doesn’t require you to meticulously count your calories or swap all of your favorite foods for kale salads.
How Does the Ketogenic Diet Work?
The ketogenic diet is able to achieve all of these results and more by restricting your carbohydrate intake, which puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis. Once in ketosis, your body is forced to burn fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates, resulting in a wide array of health benefits.
In fact, the ketogenic diet has been shown to support blood sugar control, reduce the risk of heart disease and even promote better brain health. New research also suggests that going keto may keep your skin glowing and can even help starve off tumor cells to aid in cancer treatment. (2)
Keep in mind that increasing your intake of high-quality protein and healthy fats is equally important as cutting carbs. Not only does this ensure that your diet is rich in the essential nutrients that your body needs, but it also helps promote satiety and reduce hunger. Studies have even found that upping your intake of proteins and fats can help decrease your appetite and lower levels of ghrelin, the hormone responsible for stimulating hunger. (3, 4)
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Making the Keto Diet Work for You
There are several different approaches to the ketogenic diet, making it easy to find a variation that works for any lifestyle. Aside from the standard keto diet, which limits carbs to just 5% of your daily calories and bumps up fat intake to anywhere between 70-80%, there’s also the modified keto diet, as well as carb cycling.
The modified keto diet is a bit less restrictive, with carbs making up about 30% of your daily calories, and fat and protein comprising 30% and 40%, respectively. But if you’re not seeing results fast enough with a modified approach, you can also try carb cycling, which allows you to alternate between high- and low-carb days based on your workout regimen. Higher-carb days should line up with the days you’re hitting the gym, while lower-carb days should fall on your rest days.
That being said, the ketogenic diet may not be right for everyone. If you have had bariatric surgery or have a history of gallbladder disease or pancreatic insufficiency, for example, you should consult with your doctor before starting the ketogenic diet, as these conditions may impair the absorption of fat. Additionally, children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding also have different nutritional requirements and may require medical supervision on the ketogenic diet.
For most people, however, a properly planned ketogenic diet can be an easy way to shed stubborn fat and boost overall health.
Getting Started on the Keto Diet
To get started on the keto diet, simply swap out refined carbs for low-glycemic fruits and veggies, which are higher in indigestible fiber to help lower your daily carb count. Shoot for 30-50 grams of net carbs per day, which is calculated by subtracting the total grams of fiber in a food from the total grams of carbohydrates. In particular, filling up on high-fiber, non-starchy veggies is a simple way to keep you feeling full while helping you stay within your daily carb allotment.
Next, start ramping up your intake of healthy fats from foods like coconut oil, avocados, grass-fed butter, ghee and fatty fish. These foods can easily be incorporated into your meals, snacks and even beverages by adding a dollop to your morning smoothie or coffee.
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Protein is a key component of any diet, ketogenic or not. But on the ketogenic diet, especially, it is important to avoid going overboard on the protein and throwing your macronutrient distribution out of whack. Like carbohydrates, protein can also be converted to glucose in the body, which can bring you out of ketosis if you’re not careful. Stick to 1-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of ideal body weight to meet your needs without overdoing it.
Finally, keep in mind that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is just as important as what you put on your plate when it comes to your health. Stay well-hydrated, minimize your stress levels and pair the ketogenic diet with regular physical activity to really optimize your results.
Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. He recently authored Eat Dirt and Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine, and he operates one of the world’s largest natural health websites at DrAxe.com.
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