Ketogenic Diet 101: A Complete Scientific Guide to Keto – Everyday Health

One enduring buzzword to hit the diet world seems to be “keto” — referring to the high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet. With claims that you can eat all the fat you want, never feel hungry again, and even boost your athletic performance, the diet promises something for everyone.
But what exactly is the ketogenic diet, and is the weight loss program right for you? Let’s take a closer look before you attempt to make over your eating habits and lifestyle.




A modified version of the ketogenic diet, which allows you to eat protein more liberally — at 20 to 30 percent of your total calories — with the same carbohydrate restriction, is the more commonly used version of the diet today. Some of the aims of the latest version of the ketogenic diet are weight loss, weight management, and improved athletic performance.


Many people associate elevated ketones with a diabetic medical emergency known as ketoacidosis, but nutritional ketosis associated with a ketogenic diet and diabetic ketoacidosis are very different conditions.
For people with diabetes, rapidly rising ketone levels can signal a health crisis that requires immediate medical attention. When there is an absence or not enough of the hormone insulin (or the body is too resistant to insulin to allow it to drive glucose into the cells for energy), the body cannot use glucose for fuel. Insulin helps ferry glucose to our cells and muscles for energy. Instead, in this case, the body resorts to burning stored fat for energy through the process of ketosis, leading to a buildup of ketones in the body.

Learn More About Ketosis and How the Keto Diet Works
If you search online for the term “keto diet,” you'll find a lot of health claims associated with the ketogenic diet. But before you give this approach a try, it’s important to know what the science suggests about how it may affect your health. Namely, you'll want to know about potential keto diet dangers.



Eliminating food groups can be problematic. “Ketogenic diets are often low in calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, and folic acid, which over time can lead to nutrient deficiencies if the diet is not planned carefully,” adds Marie Spano, RD, a sports performance nutritionist in Atlanta.
RELATED: What Is an Elimination or Exclusion Diet?



RELATED: Is the Paleo Diet Good for Heart Health?

Outside of physical health changes, one of the biggest concerns of the ketogenic diet may be in long-term adherence. “It’s a very difficult diet to stick to and maintain. Compliance is a challenge because it is so restrictive,” explains Dr. Mohr.





But when it comes to weight loss — one of the biggest keto selling points for many individuals — the benefits of the ketogenic diet may not be much different from any other diet plan. “There is no magical weight loss benefit that can be achieved from this diet,” says Spano. “The ketogenic diet may help weight loss in the same way other diets help — by restricting food choices so you eat fewer calories.”


Learn More About the Possible Benefits and Risks of the Keto Diet


Plus, because keto hasn't been studied long term, researchers don't know if the diet will result in nutrient deficiencies for those with or without diabetes.
If you're considering trying the keto diet and you have diabetes, it's crucial to consult your diabetes-care team before doing so to make sure it's a safe and effective eating approach for you.
Learn More About How the Keto Diet May Benefit People With Type 2 Diabetes
There's no perfect diabetes diet, but going low-carb is a popular way to manage your blood sugar. But is keto the absolute best fit for you? Here are some other low-carb options.
Here are some other things to know before you try this restrictive eating plan.
It’s important to remember that the goal of any dietary change is to promote a healthy lifestyle, so make sure to select a meal plan you can envision yourself following long term. If you know you will not be able to comply with such stringent carbohydrate restrictions for years to come, the ketogenic diet is most likely not the right choice for you.
There are various modifications of the ketogenic diet. The majority of individuals following a ketogenic diet follow the so-called standard ketogenic diet plan, which provides about 10 percent of your total calories from carbohydrates.
Other forms of ketogenic diets include cyclic ketogenic diets, also known as carb cycling, and targeted ketogenic diets, which allow for adjustments to carbohydrate intake around exercise. These modifications are typically implemented by athletes looking to use the ketogenic diet to enhance performance and endurance and not by individuals specifically focused on weight loss.
Generally speaking, if you plan to follow a ketogenic diet, you should aim to consume less than 10 percent of your total calories from carbohydrates per day. The remaining calories should come from 20 to 30 percent protein and 60 to 80 percent fat. That means if you follow a daily 2,000-calorie diet, no more than 200 of your calories (or 50 grams) should come from carbs, while 400 to 600 calories should come from protein and 1,200 to 1,600 should come from fat. (There’s a reason this plan is also called a high-fat, low-carb diet!)

For endurance athletes, the transition to a ketogenic diet may cut recovery time after training, but for casual exercisers, the transition to the ketogenic diet may make sticking with your fitness routine a challenge at first, the article notes. If you feel your energy levels drop too much when starting the ketogenic diet, slow down your reduction of carbohydrates, and make sure to do it gradually rather than all at once.
To prevent side effects such as the keto flu, begin transitioning your meal plan gradually. Start by understanding how many carbohydrates you consume most days. Then begin slowly reducing your carbohydrate intake over a period of a few weeks while gradually increasing your intake of dietary fat to keep your calories the same. You should also make sure to seek guidance from a professional to make sure this plan works for you and your health goals. “See a dietitian and adapt the diet to fit your long-term needs,” Spano recommends.
Learn More About What Beginners Should Know Before Trying the Keto Diet
Whether you’re looking to lose weight or manage symptoms of a chronic disease, dieting isn’t one-size-fits-all. This detailed list will teach you the pros and cons of the most popular plans out there today.
The ketogenic diet is not a commercial meal plan, so there are no costs or membership fees associated with starting this diet. But, depending on your current eating habits, this eating approach may increase your food bill.
Because many processed foods are not considered ketogenic diet friendly, a switch to buying more whole, unprocessed foods may seem expensive, especially with the emphasis on high-fat and protein-rich foods.
In-season, fresh produce, along with frozen vegetables, which can be just as healthy as their fresh counterparts, will help reduce your costs. Although nuts, seeds, and animal proteins such as beef can drive up the grocery bill, bulk buying can help you save on these items as well.

Adding fat-rich foods such as avocado, nuts, and seeds can all make for healthful options that will provide you with unsaturated fats along with beneficial fiber. Most fruits are restricted on this plan — there are exceptions, including avocado — but nonstarchy vegetables such as leafy greens should become a staple of your diet.
Lean proteins such as fish, poultry, and grass-fed beef can be included as a source of protein on this diet.
Learn More About What You Can and Can’t Eat on the Keto Diet
While the keto diet can lead to rapid weight loss through ketosis, the plan carries some health risks, including:



Because of the health risks involved, experts advise some individuals, such as those with heart disease or individuals who are at a higher risk for it, against trying the keto diet. People with type 2 diabetes should consult their doctor before attempting the keto (or any new) diet.
If you are planning to try the keto diet, be sure to consult your healthcare team and, if possible, a registered dietitian to make sure you meet your nutritional needs on the plan. Working with a professional can help you determine whether you should make adjustments or if you’d be better off avoiding the diet entirely.
Learn More About What to Expect on the Keto Diet
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