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how does the keto diet work

Keto Diet Explained: What It Is, Foods to Eat, and Side Effects

Diet fads come and go, but some have been around for longer than you may realize. The ketogenic diet was first developed by Dr. Russell Morse Wilder at the Mayo Clinic in the 1920s. He created it as a treatment for children with epilepsy. He found that the low-carb, high-fat diet reduced seizures and sometimes even eliminated the need for medication. However the Keto diet has a renewed following of supporters 100 years later. It is championed by celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, LeBron James, and Kim Kardashian. The cultural craze has been touted as the quickest way to lose weight. So how does the keto diet work? Keep reading to learn more about how the keto diet works. 

What is the Ketogenic (Keto) Diet?

Our bodies require energy to perform the basic functions that keep us alive. Our primary fuel for energy production is glucose, or blood sugar. Glucose is a carbohydrate that we get from eating bread, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. Our body creates glucose multiple times a day, and to keep glucose levels stable, our pancreas produces insulin to manage rising blood sugar levels. Too much or too little glucose in the body can have serious and damaging effects on your overall health. 

With the Keto diet, you are training your body to rely on ketone bodies rather than glucose for energy. Ketone bodies are created by your liver from stored fat. Although most of our cells prefer blood sugar from carbohydrates, when glucose is no longer circulating in the blood stream due to the Keto diet, the body enters a state of Ketosis. The body will then rely on ketone bodies to generate energy. This shift from using circulating glucose to instead breaking down stored fat as a source of energy is what results in rapid weight loss.

“Basically, your brain and muscles will be fueled by fat instead of carbohydrates.” – Michelle Hyman, MS, RD, CDN a registered dietitian at Simple Solutions Weight Loss.

What Can You Eat on a Keto Diet?

Keto relies on high-fat, low-carb foods. Here’s how it breaks down:

5-10% of daily calories: Carbs

Those that are on the keto diet limit themselves to 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day. (For reference one banana is 27 grams of carbs). Keto dieters are encouraged to get carbs from high-fiber, water-rich fruits and vegetables. This will keep them hydrated and ensure the digestive system keeps moving. Examples: tomatoes, broccoli, cucumber, spinach, celery, and Brussel sprouts.

10-20% of daily calories: Protein

Protein builds muscle and burns calories. High-fat protein sources like Greek yogurt, eggs, and cheese provide additional benefits like vitamins to keep the immune system boosted. Even highly processed meats like sausage and bacon are encouraged on a keto diet. However, they may need to be limited because of their high sodium levels. Examples: chicken, turkey, beef, salmon, pork, lamb, whole milk cottage cheese

70-80% of daily calories: Fat

Diets that have a higher fat intake can reduce cravings and appetite. Unsaturated fats, like olive oil and nuts are preferred to saturated fats, like red meat and butter. It is suggested to fuel up on foods that will be less likely to clog your arteries. Examples: olive oil, avocados, flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp hearts, coconuts, nuts, no-sugar-added nut butters

Food to Avoid

To stay on track and continue the state of ketosis, the following items should be avoided: grains (rice, pasta, oatmeal), added sugars or sweeteners, sugary beverages, starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, peas), low-fat dairy, trans fats (margarine), and most alcohols including wine and beer.

Benefits of the Keto Diet

The primary reason most people turn to the ketogenic diet is for weight loss. It has been well documented that people will experience accelerated weight loss on a ketogenic or other low- carb diet. Additionally, the keto diet has proven to improve blood sugar for people with type 2 diabetes in the short term. 

Perhaps the most beneficial side effect of the keto diet, is that it reduces seizures in children, sometimes just as well as medication. In one study, half of the children that were on the ketogenic diet experienced a 50% reduction in their seizures, while 16% become seizure-free.

Keto Diet Health Risks

Liver: The keto diet relies heavily on red meat and other fatty and processed foods. The lack of a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and grains can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Additionally, because there is such a large amount of fat to metabolize, it can also make conditions for anyone who has existing liver issues worse. 

Kidneys: The kidneys play a crucial part in processing protein. The increased amounts of protein required by the keto diet create a risk of the kidneys becoming overloaded. 

Digestion: The low amount of fibrous foods consumed can lead to constipation and disruption in the digestive system.

The “Yo-Yo” Effect: The keto diet is very difficult to maintain long term. Although it results in rapid weight loss, the minute you resume a normal diet, the weight will likely return.  

Is a Ketogenic Diet Right for You?

Experts are torn on whether the ketogenic diet should be recommended long term. Unfortunately there haven’t been any long-term clinical studies to determine what the effects of the keto diet might be after long periods of time. However in the short term, following any diet means you will be paying closer attention to what you are consuming. Whether it becomes your new diet, or is something you do intermittently, forming healthier routines around eating will lead to more positive changes in the future. 

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