Maybe you’ve heard about it from celebrities or social media influencers, or you’ve seen the label ‘keto-friendly’ on foods at the supermarket. Given that it’s been one of the most popular diets for a few years now, you may even know someone who’s tried going keto. But how much do you really know about the keto diet?
You’ve probably got questions, ranging from “What is it?” to “Is it hard?” to “Will it work for me?” We’ve got your answers right here.
First of all, what does ‘keto’ even mean?
Keto is short for ketogenic. It refers to the process of ketosis, which is when your body runs out of carbohydrates and then has to start burning your fat for energy.
So, what is the ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic diet is similar to trendy, low-carb diets like paleo and Atkins: you eat more proteins and fats but keep your carbohydrates lower. Instead of following strict guidelines about what exact foods and portions, you aim to eat a certain amount of protein and fat and no more than 50 grams of carbs a day. That’s the equivalent of two slices of bread and a small apple.
What do you eat, then?
Unlike diets you may have tried in the past, keto encourages full-fat dairy products and meats. Keto-friendly foods include:
- Fatty cuts of meats, skin-on poultry, seafood, and eggs (including the yolks)
- Low-carbohydrate vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, and spinach
- Nuts like almonds, walnuts, and cashews; also pumpkin seeds
- Full-fat dairy products like cheese, milk, and yogurt
- Healthy oils
You’ll have to sacrifice most breads and sweets. You’ll also have to cut way, way, WAY down on healthy items like legumes (beans and lentils) and fruits.
How much weight can I lose?
No one can predict how much weight you will lose – there have been reports that some people lose as much as 10 pounds in two weeks. But those results aren’t typical, and the loss was probably primarily water weight.
Rapid weight loss is one of the reasons keto diets are so popular. Scientific studies have even shown that, compared to other diets, keto will help people drop more weight, faster. However, over long periods of time, the overall weight loss was the same for keto-eaters as it was for people on traditional low-fat diets.
What are the benefits of keto eating?
One of the main reasons why so many people have taken it up is to lose weight, but that’s far from the only benefit.
Following a keto plan has been shown to help dieters reduce abdominal fat, which is closely linked to high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. The keto diet may also reduce other risks for heart disease, including your cholesterol and triglycerides levels. Some people may experience improved gut health, which could result in less acne, reduced inflammation, and improved mental outlook.
If I try keto, will I be hungry all the time?
Another reason why the keto diet is so popular: it’s been shown to suppress the appetite, which can lead to greater weight loss.
Can I eat a keto diet if I exercise or am very active?
It depends on how intense your cardio program is. A recent study showed that certain athletes, like marathoners or long-distance cyclists, performed better after adopting a keto diet, but those whose exercise involves short, intense bursts of effort performed more poorly.
If you’re working toward a big goal, like doing a breast cancer awareness 10K, make sure your body is well-adjusted to the diet before your event.
Is there anyone who shouldn’t try the keto diet?
Yes. That list includes:
- Pregnant women
- Breastfeeding women
- Those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other digestive problems
- Anyone who’s previously suffered an eating disorder (anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating)
- Anyone with kidney issues, Chronic Kidney Disease, or diabetes
Even though the keto diet may help prevent diabetes, those who have diabetes or hypoglycemia should avoid keto and other eating plans that could affect their insulin levels.
Does it have any drawbacks or side effects?
From a practical standpoint, two of the most common complaints about going keto are that it’s hard to follow and it’s expensive. However, there’s an extensive list of health reasons why you might think twice about keto.
Besides the fact that it’s unsuitable for the people listed above, many people who try keto report feeling terrible for a few weeks as their bodies adjust to this new style of eating. In fact, the symptoms, such as headache, fatigue, nausea, and constipation, are so common that there’s a name for it: the keto flu.
Other side effects range from the mild and annoying – many beginners develop bad breath and constipation – to more serious problems, such as disruption of the menstrual cycle, severe dehydration, kidney stones, the loss of muscle, and even higher cholesterol levels, and increased risk for heart disease.
That sounds awful! Should I talk to my doctor before I try it?
We recommend consulting your doctor before making any serious lifestyle changes. They may have other ideas for how you can healthfully lose weight. AltaMed has a variety of healthy lifestyle programs designed to help participants reduce their risk for, or control their diabetes, and maintain a healthy weight. Ask your AltaMed doctor for a recommendation.
If you’re not sure if keto is right for you but you want to eat healthier, try some of these delicious, nutritious ideas, such as low-calorie ways to lighten up traditional recipes and why it’s good to eat all the colors of the rainbow!