A ketogenic diet, or keto diet for short, is a low-carb, high-fat diet that can provide a number of health benefits. It effectively turns your body into a fat-burning machine, while simultaneously helping you lose weight and boost your energy levels.
The ketogenic, or keto, diet is a very low carb, a high-fat eating pattern that has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years.
It has been shown to offer several impressive health benefits — including weight loss. Thus, many people turn to this way of eating to reach their weight loss goals.
While research indicates that the diet can help shed body fat, long-term studies supporting its effectiveness are lacking.
This article reviews the keto diet’s potential to aid weight loss.
What Is It?
“Ketogenic” is a term for a low-carb diet (like the Atkins diet). The idea is for you to get more calories from protein and fat and less from carbohydrates. You cut back most on the carbs that are easy to digest, like sugar, soda, pastries, and white bread.
How It Works
When you eat less than 50 grams of carbs a day, your body eventually runs out of fuel (blood sugar) it can use quickly. This typically takes 3 to 4 days. Then you’ll start to break down protein and fat for energy, which can make you lose weight. This is called ketosis. It’s important to note that the ketogenic diet is a short-term diet that’s focused on weight loss rather than the pursuit of health benefits.
How do ketogenic diets promote weight loss?
Here’s how ketogenic diets promote weight loss:
- Higher protein intake. Some ketogenic diets lead to an increase in protein intake, which has many weight loss benefits.
- Gluconeogenesis. Your body converts fat and protein into carbs for fuel. This process may burn many additional calories each day.
- Appetite suppressant. Ketogenic diets help you feel full. This is supported by positive changes in hunger hormones, including leptin and ghrelin.
- Improved insulin sensitivity. Ketogenic diets can drastically improve insulin sensitivity, which can help improve fuel utilization and metabolism.
- Decreased fat storage. Some research suggests ketogenic diets may reduce lipogenesis, the process of converting sugar into fat. This is because excess carbs are stored as fat. When there’s a minimal intake of carbs, fat is used for energy.
- Increased fat burning. Several studies have found that ketogenic diets may slightly increase the amount of fat you burn during rest, daily activity, and exercise, although more research is needed.
Types of Ketogenic Diets
- Classic Keto: The strictest form of keto, classic keto requires a 4:1 ratio of fats to carbs or protein. This is a structured, individualized plan in which your diet will consist of 90% fat. Foods are usually weighed when following this regimen.
- Modified Keto: The modified version of the diet is intended to be less restrictive. It might be a good place to start if you’re new to keto, or if you’ve done classic keto for a long time and you’re trying to taper down to a more sustainable, long-term eating regimen.
- MCT: This version allows for a higher protein and carb intake than classic keto. MCT is short for Medium Chain Triglycerides, or highly ketogenic man-made fats.
- Modified Atkins: Carbs are limited in modified Atkins, while fat is encouraged. Protein is not limited at all. When you do consume carbs on this diet, fats should accompany them.
- Intermittent Fasting: This dietary intervention launches the body into ketosis by shortening the window of time that you eat during the day. For instance, you may only eat during an 8-hour window of the day, and fast for the other 16 hours. This forces the body to burn energy from fat.
Only the classic and high-protein ketogenic diets have been researched and studied extensively by professionals. Other, more advanced, versions of keto are primarily used by bodybuilders and elite athletes. Since the classic method is the most researched, it is often the most recommended.
Other Health Benefits of Keto
The ketogenic diet was created to treat neurological diseases like epilepsy. Over the last century, countless studies have been performed to examine the other health benefits of ketogenic diets. Keto has been shown to offer benefits for a myriad of health conditions:
- Heart disease: The ketogenic diet can improve cholesterol levels and reduce body fat and blood sugar—all risk factors for heart disease.
- Cancer: Keto is currently being used to treat cancers and slow the growth of tumors.
- Alzheimer’s disease: Keto may reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or slow its advancement. Research is ongoing.
- Epilepsy: Research has indicated that the ketogenic diet can cause a sizeable reduction in the number of seizures experienced by epileptic children.
- Parkinson’s disease: One study produced evidence that the diet helped improve Parkinson’s disease symptoms, though more research is needed.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome: Keto can lower insulin levels, which may play a role in treating polycystic ovary syndrome.
- Brain injuries: One study conducted on animals found that keto can aid in concussion recovery and post-brain injury recovery.
- Acne: Eating less sugar and processed foods (lower insulin levels) helps improve acne and reduce the frequency of breakouts.
- Diabetes: Keto can increase insulin sensitivity and fat loss, which are significant benefits for people with type 2 diabetes (or prediabetes).
The bottom line
The keto diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet that has been shown to offer various health benefits, including weight loss.
While the exact weight loss mechanisms associated with this way of eating are still under investigation, it appears that weight loss is caused by a calorie deficit, reduction in hunger levels, and water weight loss.
Keto supplements may reduce hunger and help you get into ketosis more rapidly, though they should not be used to promote weight loss.
While the weight loss benefits of the keto diet may seem promising, it’s important to consider its potential side effects, downsides, and lack of long-term research on it.