The Keto diet began as a popular epilepsy treatment during the early 20th century.
Until the keto diet, one of the more popular forms of therapy for epilepsy was fasting—which dated back to some of the earliest Greek physicians.
In the 20th Century, early scientists proposed that epileptic seizures were caused by toxins in the intestines and believed that fasting for 18-30 days could remove the toxins from the body.
When put on a “water diet,” 90% of children and 50% of adults with epilepsy became seizure-free.
Later, it was discovered that ketone bodies were produced in the liver after extended starvation.
Ketone bodies are a mixture of acetone, β-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate. Science found that this was also produced when test subjects followed a strict low-carb, high-fat diet. The “Ketogenic diet” was officially coined as a treatment for epilepsy in 1921.
As science progressed, new anticonvulsant therapies and medications replaced keto dieting as the primary form of treatment.
What is Ketosis?
Ketosis refers to the what happens in the body when it believes it is starving. Our bodies are incredibly adaptive.
When you eat more than you’re used to, your body speeds up your metabolism to keep up. When you eat less than you’re used to, the body burns slower to make sure it can continue to survive.
But, bodies don’t know when we’re dieting on purpose. So, when food intake is low, the body initiates ketosis. This is essentially like running on energy reserves.
Normally, your body runs on carbs and sugar. But, when that’s not available and your body enters into ketosis.
The body produces ketones out of fat in the liver and uses those ketones for energy.
Explain the Keto Diet
The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet that lowers blood sugar and insulin levels while shifting the body’s source of energy from carbs to fat.
The point of the keto diet is to keep your body in this metabolic state for as long as possible. This starves out carbohydrates and forces your body to run on ketones.
You’ll achieve this by reducing your carbohydrate intake and replacing carbs with fat. Without carbs, your body is forced into ketosis and becomes more efficient at burning fat for energy.
This diet has found to be a successful therapy for epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and even some cancers, though it’s mostly known now as an effective way to lose weight without having to count calories or track food.
How to Follow a Keto Diet
Approved Ketogenic Foods:
- Fatty fish: Such as salmon, tuna, trout, or swordfish
- Meat: All forms
- Butter: Preferably grass-fed if available
- Cheese: Preferably unprocessed
- Nuts and seeds: Such as almonds, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts
- Healthy oils: Such as avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, and coconut oil
- Low-carb vegetables: like leafy greens, peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli
Foods to Avoid on the Keto Diet:
- Sugar: including all fruit, fruit juice, smoothies, candy, and soda
- Grains and Starches: including wheat-based products, rice, and cereal
- Beans or Legumes: including lentils, chickpeas, and peas
- Root vegetables and tubers: including potatoes and carrots
- Anything labeled “low-fat”
- Condiments that contain sugar
As with most diets, including the ketogenic diet, it’s best to choose whole, single-ingredient foods and make meals and recipes with five ingredients or less.
Types of Keto Meal Plans
Not every Keto Diet is the same. Some allow for increased carbs, while others add more protein. There are different types of ketogenic diets:
- Standard ketogenic diet (SKD) – low-carb, moderate-protein and high-fat
- Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD) – involves high-carb days called “refeeds”—usually with 5 ketogenic days and 2 high-carb days
- Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD) – you eat more carbs before and after working out
- High-protein ketogenic diet – similar to the standard ketogenic diet, only you include more protein.
Cyclical or targeted ketogenic diets are mostly used by bodybuilders, and athletes, though most research around the diet has only studied the standard and high-protein variation.
Keto Diet Benefits
Nowadays, the keto diet is mostly used as a weight and fat loss diet. With any eating plan, including the keto diet, comes the common warnings about excessive calorie restriction and exercise. Prolonged cardio with calorie restriction is not a sustainable way to lose weight, nor is it good for the metabolism and brain.
On the keto diet, you’re eating whole foods with no sugar. That means you can usually eat more and stay full for longer. Though calories still count, they don’t count in the same way, and you will naturally eat less because of the filling protein and fat you are eating.
When beginning the keto diet, work out in moderation, resist overdoing cardio and listen to how your body feels. When you get used to the keto diet, your body begins burning more fat for energy. Now, consider increasing workouts.
The combination of the keto diet and exercise include:
- Improve bone density
- Lower blood sugar
- Increase brain health
- Increase heart health
- Prevent aging
- Feel better
Is Keto Diet Safe?
Critics of the diet say that keto-type diets (no carb diets) work only as a short-term and say that prolonged dieting in this way can be unhealthy.
They argue that at the beginning of the keto diet, while your body adjusts to not running on carbs, it may burn muscle before burning fat, making you feel fatigued and force your body to enter into “starvation mode” and hold on to calories, making it harder to lose weight long-term.
Some nutritionists believe extreme diets should only be exercised under clinical supervision and for short periods.
Psychologically, people who go on the keto diet should take care to not count calories or work out in excess. Though the keto diet is for weight loss, remember to listen to your body.
Becoming addicted to diets or obsessed with the results can lead to mental disorders like anorexia, binge-eating disorder, and other body image issues.
It’s also important to note that when it’s time to transition out of the keto diet back to a balanced diet with carbs, you must do it slowly or risk gaining back your weight at a more rapid pace. To do this, I always recommend reverse dieting, slowly adding more calories and carbs over an extended period. This allows you to slowly eat more without gaining weight.
Potential Side Effects of the Keto Diet
The ketogenic diet is considered a safe diet. People use the keto diet for disease prevention and weight loss. While rare, side effects do happen as the body adjusts.
The most common term for this adjustment period is called the “keto flu.” The “keto flu” is a result of the body shifting energy sources.
As the body begins to slowly burn fat instead of carbs, new dieters may experience poor energy, decreased mental function, nausea, exhaustion, insomnia, and hunger.
One way to offset this side effect is to transition to a keto diet slowly by opting for a modified low-carb diet for the first few weeks to get your body used to burning more fat before you cut carbs entirely.
Because cutting carbs changes the mineral and water balance in your body, consider adding exogenous ketone salts to meals or taking supplements of potassium (recommended 1,000-1,500 mg) or magnesium (recommended 250-500 mg).
Also, the keto diet is a weight-loss diet. However, try to eat until you’re full rather than focusing on restricting calories. The cool thing about the keto diet is that your body will naturally burn more without the restriction.
Liz Biscevic is a writer and editor living in Santa Monica, California. When she’s not writing, she’s practicing yoga or playing with her 100-pound German Shepherd, Bolt.