The ketogenic diet is one of the most popular diets for weight loss. However, many people don’t know that a keto diet also provides a ton of additional health benefits.
The big downside to the ketogenic diet is that it’s quite restrictive, making it hard to stick to for people who can’t avoid carbs. On the other hand, most people can lose fat on a keto diet without counting calories, so it has some good tradeoffs.
Keep reading to learn more about the ketogenic diet, its benefits, and the best keto foods to eat.
What is a Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet is the king of low-carb diets. “Keto” (as it’s often referred) is a high-fat, low-carb diet that provides a variety of health benefits.
The objective of the ketogenic diet is to replace carbs with fat as your body’s primary fuel source. Doing so puts your body in a metabolic state called “ketosis.”
While in a state of ketosis, your body starts burning fat more efficiently and converts fat into ketones, which provide more energy for your brain.
As a result, your body maintains lower levels of blood sugar and insulin, which keeps your energy levels stable and prevents rapid weight gain.
Researchers have studied the keto diet extensively and have identified some pretty remarkable benefits — which I’ll explain later in the article.
Recommended reading: How to Track Your Macronutrients
The 4 Main Types of Ketogenic Diets
There are a variety of keto diets to serve different purposes. Below are the four most common types of ketogenic diets.
- High-protein ketogenic diet — This is the version that bodybuilders, fitness models, and some athletes use because they need the extra protein to build and maintain muscle mass. The macronutrient breakdown is close to 35% protein, 60% fat, and 5% or fewer carbs.
- Standard ketogenic diet — This is the standard low-carb, high-fat diet that is prescribed to put your body in a state of ketosis. The macronutrients are around 20% protein, 75% fat, and 5% carbs maximum.
- Cyclical ketogenic diet — This is the version where you do the standard keto diet for five days followed by two high-carb (refeed) days
- Targeted ketogenic diet — This is where you stay in ketosis all the time except eating carbs around your workouts.
If you’re interested in the ketogenic diet for improving your body composition, I recommend the high-protein and cyclical keto diets. Even if you don’t do the cyclical version, it’s usually a good idea to throw in a refeed day once every week or two.
The Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet
Unlike most diets, tons of scientific studies support the effectiveness of the ketogenic diet for a broad selection of health benefits. Below are a few quick summaries of the major benefits of keto that might interest you.
Ketogenic Diet Produces Rapid Fat Loss
The decreased blood sugar and insulin, along with the increased ketones and protein intake create an environment where fat loss is easy. In fact, you don’t even need to be in a dramatic calorie deficit to lose weight on keto.
Another factor that makes keto dieting so effective for shedding fat is that the high consumption of protein and fat keeps you feeling fuller for longer after each meal. Carbohydrates, especially sugar, digest much quicker and cause your food cravings to spike.
Ketogenic Diet Enhances Focus and Productivity
Below is an excerpt from one of the studies that explains this further:
“A wide variety of evidence suggests that the ketogenic diet could have beneficial disease-modifying effects in epilepsy and also in a broad range of neurological disorders characterized by death of neurons. Although the mechanism by which the diet confers neuroprotection is not fully understood, effects on cellular energetics are likely to play a key role. It has long been recognized that the ketogenic diet is associated with increased circulating levels of ketone bodies, which represent a more efficient fuel in the brain, and there may also be increased numbers of brain mitochondria. It is plausible that the enhanced energy production capacity resulting from these effects would confer neurons with greater ability to resist metabolic challenges. Additionally, biochemical changes induced by the diet – including the ketosis, high serum fat levels, and low serum glucose levels – could contribute to protection against neuronal death by apoptosis and necrosis through a multitude of additional mechanisms, including antioxidant and antiinflammatory actions.”
The other way that keto helps with focus and productivity is simple — you don’t have energy spikes and crashes like you do when you consume carbs. Your energy levels remain steady and your brain feasts on ketones for fuel, allowing you to focus for hours on end.
Ketogenic Diet Helps People with Diabetes (and Other Diseases)
The biggest problems for people with diabetes are managing their blood sugar and insulin levels — both of which become stabilized on a ketogenic diet. Plus, type 2 diabetes and excess body fat are closely linked, so the ketogenic diet can help prevent diabetes by reducing body fat.
In fact, one study found that 1/3 of participants with type 2 diabetes were able to stop taking all of their medication after getting on the keto diet. Another study showed that the ketogenic diet improved insulin sensitivity by an incredible 75%! (Sources 12, 13, 14)
The ketogenic diet helps people with a variety of other diseases as well:
- Acne — Improved insulin sensitivity and lower sugar intake can improve acne (Source)
- Brain injuries — One study found that the keto diet can reduce concussions and assist recovery following a brain injury (Source)
- Cancer — Many patients are prescribed the ketogenic diet to slow tumor growth and treat different types of cancer (Sources 15, 16, 17, 18)
- Epilepsy — One study found that the keto diet can dramatically reduce seizures in children with epilepsy (Source)
- Heart disease — Ketogenic diets can reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering body fat, blood pressure, blood sugar, and improving HDL levels (Sources 19, 20)
- Parkinson’s disease — One study noted that keto reduced the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (Source)
- Polycystic ovary syndrome — Since the keto diet improves insulin levels, it also plays a role in minimizing the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (Source)
Other than a plant-based diet, there aren’t many other diets with the ability to improve so many health conditions.
The Best Foods to Eat on a Ketogenic Diet
When you first hear that the ketogenic diet doesn’t allow any carbs, you might be wondering what the hell you’re going to eat. No bread, no pasta, no rice, and especially no sugar!
Fortunately, there are tons of tasty foods that fit into the keto diet.
- Egg whites
- Whole eggs
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Bell peppers
- Green beans
- Brussel sprouts
Potential Side Effects of a Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet is generally safe for healthy individuals, but some people do encounter some negative side effects while their body adjusts from using carbohydrates as the primary fuel source to ketones.
In my experience, I get headaches and feel fatigued for the first couple of weeks until my body adjusts. Then I feel great once I’m running on ketones.
Some people get “keto flu,” which includes low energy, decreased strength, increased hunger, nausea or digestive discomfort, and lower quality sleep. This typically only lasts a few days or so.
Aside from changing your primary fuel source, going keto also throws your mineral balance out of whack. Some people see decreased side effects by consuming an extra 3,000 mg of sodium and getting around 1,000 mg of potassium and around 300 mg of magnesium.
For many people, the ketogenic diet is the perfect addition to their lifestyle for maintaining their ideal bodyweight and minimizing health risk factors.
I personally do better with more carbs and don’t need to go full keto to lose fat. However, the ketogenic diet is amazing for short-term fat loss when you only need to shed 5-10 lbs in a short amount of time.
My favorite aspect of the keto diet is the consistent energy levels and improved mental performance.
If you’ve never tried going keto before, I’d say it’s definitely worthwhile to test out for yourself (assuming your doctor approves).
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What do you think? Do you agree, disagree or have any thoughts to add? Let me know in the comments below.
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