The Keto diet has been a popular way to attempt weight loss for a while now, but what is it, how does it work, and is it really a healthy way to lose weight?
It’s important to know that while diet plans that call themselves “keto” have gone somewhat mainstream, a true ketogenic diet isn’t just a low-carb, high-protein plan—it is a low-carb plan that actually centers on fat, which supplies as much as 90% of daily calories. In fact, a keto diet is actually a medical diet that is primarily used to help reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures in children.1
According to registered dietician Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, only short-term results of weight loss from the true keto diet have been studied, and the results have been mixed. They simply don’t know if it works long term, or if it’s actually safe.2
The goal of the keto diet is to force your body into using ketone bodies (a type of fuel that the liver produces from stored fat) instead of relying on sugar that comes from carbs.3 But it’s difficult to get your liver to make those ketone bodies, and therefore hard to reach a state of ketosis where you’re actually burning fat instead of sugar.
There are also risks associated with the diet, including nutrient deficiency from avoiding specific fruits, vegetables and grains; liver problems from forcing the liver to metabolize so much fat; kidney problems if you overload your body with too much protein; constipation from lack of fibrous foods; and confusion and mood swings from lack of sugar that the body needs to help the brain function properly.4 It’s important to note that even modified keto diets like Atkins or Paleo can come with these same risks.
Always make sure to consult with your doctor before drastically changing your eating habits or starting a strict diet that has not been medically recommended for you. This is particularly important if you have any underlying health conditions and if you’re taking any prescription medication.
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