The ketogenic, or keto, diet continues to gain in popularity as an effective way to lose weight quickly. This low-carb, high-fat eating plan continues to be a favorite among Hollywood’s elite stars, including Halle Berry, Vanessa Hudgens, and LeBron James, who report experiencing many benefits of a keto diet.
However, this diet has other potential benefits that keep many keto followers loyal to the eating plan. Additionally, the number of research studies investigating possible health and mental health benefits from eating a keto diet in recent years continues to grow.
But to fully benefit from and lose weight on the keto diet, it’s essential to understand the rules of this eating plan.
What Is a Keto Diet?
When following a keto diet, you eat high levels of fat, moderate levels of protein, and low to very low levels of carbohydrates. While on the keto diet, you train your body to burn fat instead of carbs for your body’s source of energy. It’s believed this is why this diet approach is so effective at helping people lose weight and burn excess fat stores from their body.
To benefit from this diet, you have to follow the rules of the diet carefully. Fortunately, if you follow the four phases of the keto diet in order, you’ll learn and better understand the rules as you progress through the different phases.
What Are the Benefits of a Keto Diet?
Most people try a keto diet to lose weight. However, many people find they experience other benefits as well.
Weight loss is the primary reason most people try a keto diet today and for a good reason. A 2013 meta-analysis that was published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that individuals assigned to a low-carb, high-fat keto diet lost more weight than individuals assigned to a low-fat diet.
That said, there is limited research on whether people who lose weight on a keto diet can maintain their new healthier weight and how that compares to other weight loss strategies. Therefore, as with any diet, it’s critical to develop a plan for how to maintain your weight loss once you reach your goal weight. A solid plan can help you learn how to transition from a weight loss mentality to forming a weight maintenance mindset.
Lose Weight Rapidly In the Beginning
A frequently reported benefit of following a keto diet for weight loss is how quickly many people experience losing weight. Initially, the rapid weight loss is mainly due to losing water weight. This water loss occurs as a result of reducing your carb intake since this can cause a reduction of glycogen stores, which is responsible for water retention. That said, the early success helps increase motivation to stick with this diet.
Lose Body Fat Quicker
Another frequently reported benefit of a keto diet is losing more body fat quicker. This result may be because your body learns to burn fat—including stored body fat— instead of carbs for fuel on this diet.
Higher Levels of Energy
Many people also report having increased and sustained energy after adjusting to eating a low-carb diet and entering the fat-burning phase. This side effect may be due to eating fewer calories from carbohydrates and sugars. Reducing their intake of simple and refined carbohydrates may help dieters avoid energy crashes from sugars or carbohydrates since blood sugar levels may remain more stable.
Increased Appetite Suppression
Many keto diet followers also report experiencing fewer hunger pangs and less desire to eat. A meta-analysis published in the journal Obesity Review in 2015 also found that participants reported feeling fuller and having less desire to eat while on a low-carb, high-fat diet. This benefit can be a huge factor in helping people stick to their diet and help increase their confidence in being able to follow the keto diet successfully.
Another reported benefit from following a keto diet is a reduction in cravings. This side effect may also be due to eating fewer simple and refined carbohydrates and sugars. Therefore, your blood sugar levels become more stable, which also may help you make better food choices. This combination of reduced cravings and feeling fuller even though you’re on a diet can also allow people to successful incorporate intermittent fasting into their keto diet, which can increase how quickly they lose weight.
Many people also report noticing an improvement in their concentration and thinking after adjusting to the keto diet. This beneficial side effect is likely due to the brain switching to using mainly ketones as fuel instead of glucose. The brain can utilize up to 70 percent of its energy from ketones but does still need some of its fuel from glucose.
Better Quality Sleep
While the precise mechanism for this diet to improve sleep is unclear, it may be related to the brain using ketones as its primary source of fuel. Additionally, studies indicate that individuals following a keto diet have decreased REM and increased slow-wave sleep.
Potential Health Benefits of a Keto Diet
Originally, the keto diet was used in the 1920s to treat drug-resistant epilepsy in children. But does this diet provide other health benefits?
Fortunately, the scientific community is investigating the potential role a keto diet can have with disease prevention and treatment, although there aren’t any long-term studies for most conditions at this time.
Existing research suggests, however, that a keto diet has the potential to assist some people with different health issues. However, except for epilepsy, more research is needed to explore the full potential and limits of keto diet’s health benefits.
It’s critical to first discuss with your doctor whether a keto diet is right for you, especially if you’re on medications, have a medical condition, are pregnant, or nursing.
A keto diet has been shown to reduce seizures in children who have drug-resistant forms of epilepsy. According to the Epilepsy Foundation, a keto diet can decrease the number of seizures in half for children with drug-resistant epilepsy. Some children may even become seizure-free.
While the keto diet can help adults with seizures as well, it isn’t suggested as frequently as it can be challenging for some adults to stay on this diet long-term.
Type II Diabetes
Research has shown some promising findings for people with diabetes who follow a keto diet. This makes sense, given the keto diet’s emphasis on cutting sugars and carbohydrates. Multiple studies have found that individuals on a keto diet were able to decrease their average blood glucose and triglyceride levels. Additionally, many participants were able to reduce or discontinue their medications for diabetes with this lifestyle change.
Research comparing outcomes for participants following a keto diet versus a low-calorie diet also showed that those on a low carbohydrate diet had better results even when both groups showed improvements.
Overall, a low-carbohydrate diet, like keto, can help people improve and manage their diabetes, although studies investigating the long-term effectiveness of a low carb diet are needed. However, it’s important to consult your doctor before starting a keto diet if you have diabetes. Some people with diabetes experience a swift drop in their glucose levels when they are on a keto diet, especially if they take medications for diabetes. You’ll need to work with your doctor to determine the proper medication dosages to help you maintain a consistent blood sugar level while on the keto diet.
A common concern about following a keto diet is whether this high-fat diet will negatively impact cholesterol levels and lead to heart disease. However, studies are finding that restricting carbs may lead to a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk, although more research is needed. Additionally, a keto diet may help raise “good” cholesterol levels (HDL) while reducing “bad” cholesterol levels (LDL).
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a female hormonal disorder. It can cause pain, infertility, acne, problems with mood, and more. Because women with PCOS often are at an increased risk for diabetes and obesity, researchers are investigating whether a keto diet can help eliminate symptoms of this disorder and also help improve fertility. While more research, especially long-term studies, is needed, initial research shows some promise.
There is interest in seeing whether a keto diet can help with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia, such as Alzheimer’s Disease. While studies show a keto diet may have the potential to help with some aspects of these neurodegenerative diseases, there are some concerns.
There is limited research, and many of the studies at this point are with animal models. Additionally, individuals with neurodegenerative diseases are often at higher risk of malnutrition, so placing them on a diet that restricts certain foods and can cause appetite suppression is of concern. More research, including additional human studies, are needed.
Is Keto Appropriate for Vegetarians and Vegans?
Since vegetarians and vegans avoid eating meats, it may seem that a keto diet, which relies on eating foods high in fat and moderate amounts of protein, may not work. Many vegetarians and vegans eat various grains and foods high in carbohydrates as the staple of their diet, which isn’t appropriate for keto.
Fortunately, the keto diet approach is flexible enough that vegetarians and vegans can eat a keto diet and still avoid meat and animal products. Furthermore, vegetarians and vegans will be able to reap the same benefits as those who choose a meat based keto diet.
To obtain the right balance of protein, vegetarians can focus on eggs and dairy. Vegans, who avoid all animal products, may have to get more creative at times when selecting a variety of foods to meet their nutritional needs. However, there are plant based proteins such as tofu which can be eaten on a keto diet.
Vegetarians and vegans who follow a keto diet are at risk for nutritional deficiencies, although this is true for all vegetarians and vegans even if they don’t eat keto. Planning out meals can help ensure you’re getting the variety of nutrients you need. To help, prepare a flexible meal plan and grocery list for the week so you can be sure you’re selecting the right mix of foods. Vegetarians and vegans will need to closely monitor their nutrients and macros as well.
Additionally, vegetarians and vegans will benefit from primarily selecting whole foods. Eating whole, unprocessed, keto-approved vegetables and fruits will help you eat more fiber and nutrients than relying on processed, keto-approved foods, which is an advantage.
Lastly, vegetarians and vegans should consider taking a multivitamin to make sure they are getting all the nutrients they need.
If you are new to keto or eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, it may also be helpful to consult a nutritionist. The nutritionist can help you learn how to eat a varied diet that fits the requirements of both diets.
What Are the Concerns of Following a Keto Diet?
With so many reported benefits with the potential of preventing or treating some health conditions, are there any drawbacks to following a keto diet?
While the keto diet can be beneficial for a lot of people, it isn’t for everyone. This diet requires following strict rules to benefit fully, so it’s essential to be committed to sticking to this diet. That said, many people find their motivation to stay on the diet increases as they notice the improvements in their health and increase in energy.
If you are currently taking medications, especially to help control your blood sugar levels, you should talk with your doctor first before starting this diet. Additionally, women who are pregnant or nursing need to talk with their doctor first, since they must get a wide variety of nutrients everyday which can sometimes be challenging on a keto diet.
Following a Keto Diet Can Help You Lose Weight and Be Healthy
While more research is needed to identify the potential impact a keto diet can have on different health conditions, it is clear that a keto diet can help you lose weight. Additionally, many people report noticing improvements in their energy levels, concentration, and sleep.
While a keto diet does require you to follow strict rules, many people report experiencing weight loss early in the process, which helps keep them motivated to eat a keto diet. Also, completing the four phases of a keto diet in order will help you learn the basics of the diet, such as what are keto-approved foods and recipes you enjoy, which makes following the diet more manageable.