Have you ever been curious to try the ketogenic diet? Here, our nutrition experts give you an evidence-based overview of the diet, the research behind it, and its pros and cons.
What is keto?
A ketogenic diet consists of 55-80% fat, 20-35% protein, and 5-10% carbohydrate. It forces the body to burn fat for fuel in the form of ketones.
Research shows it can take 2-4 days to enter ketosis (for athletes), although, in reality, it is often 1 week or longer for many individuals. To confirm the body is truly burning fat, urinary ketones must be checked at least once daily.
The purported claims
Keto improves blood sugar regulation
It helps with weight loss
Improves your athletic performance
What the science says
Yes and no.
While there are studies showing short term (6-12 month) benefit for blood sugar regulation and weight loss, long-term studies are limited on the safety and continued efficacy of a ketogenic diet.
In fact, several long-term studies looking at a variety of diets have found both extremely low carbohydrate as well as extremely high carbohydrate diets to increase risk of mortality from all causes.
Most studies are showing decreased athletic performance on ketogenic diets. Although there are professional athlete outliers that are breaking records and making headlines, this is not the norm.
Additionally, not following a true ketogenic diet (55-80% fat, 20-35% protein, and 5-10% carb) by eating either too many carbohydrates or protein and not enough fat, does not lead to ketosis and does not yield the same effects noted in some studies.
Eating too much protein encourages the body to use gluconeogenesis for fuel - making sugar from proteins - rather than fat.
Quality matters most. Whether you choose low carb, low fat, vegan or Mediterranean, research shows time and time again that the quality of foods has the greatest impact on disease risk and lifespan.
A ketogenic diet high in cheese, steak and fried bacon is far different than one high in salmon, avocado and nuts - the latter clearly preferable.
Will the keto diet benefit you?
The diet that works the best for you is one you can stick with and not feel deprived on.
Research consistently shows that yo-yo dieting and repeated weight loss and regain is extremely detrimental to your long-term health, even more so than staying slightly overweight to begin with. The dramatic fluctuations negatively influence your hormones over time, making it more difficult to lose weight each time and wreaking havoc on your health.
If keto is going to be another yo-yo for you, skip it. Work with your Client Advocate to support gradual and lasting change.
Still curious to try keto?
If you do, be sure to consider this:
Why are you doing keto? If for weight loss, are you okay if you lose weight and regain it, as is most common? If for blood sugar regulation, you’ll still need adequate fiber from vegetables, nuts, seeds, etc., to optimize your gut and cardiovascular health.
Are you truly in ketosis? As in, eating <50 grams of carbohydrates per day and testing your urinary ketones.
Are you seeing results? Many follow this plan as it is trendy, but don’t actually experience weight loss or improved health. Keep an eye on if this is truly working for *you* (not your friend or favorite celebrity).
What fats are you eating? As we mentioned, quality matters. Aim for cold-water oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, olives, although these plant foods contain healthy fiber and carbohydrates as well so staying truly keto is a challenge. Limit or avoid red and fatty meats, fried foods, full fat dairy, coconut oil, and MCT oil as these high amounts of saturated fats negatively impact blood sugar regulation and cardiovascular health.
More reading & research
Ketogenic diet: Is the ultimate low-carb diet good for you? - Harvard Health Blog
What Is the Keto Diet (and Should You Try It)? - Cleveland Clinic
Carbs, Calories, Weight, and Diet Quality: What A New Study Really Means - Dr. David Katz
Ketogenic Diet - StatPearls
Carbohydrate quality and human health - The Lancet
Dietary carbohydrate intake and mortality - The Lancet
The fat-fueled brain: unnatural or advantageous? - Scientific American