When your body burns its stores of fat, it can be hard on your kidneys. And starting a ketogenic diet -- or going back to a normal diet afterward -- can be tricky if you’re obese because of other health issues you’re likely to have, like diabetes, a heart condition, or high blood pressure. If you have any of these conditions, make diet changes slowly and only with the guidance of your doctor.
Just because you're not eating all your fave carb-y foods, that doesn't mean you're going to go hungry. You'll be loading up on healthy fats (like olive oil and avocado), along with plenty of lean protein like grass-fed beef and chicken, and leafy greens or other non-starchy veggies. (Check out this printable keto diet grocery list, plus this additional comprehensive list of keto foods recommended by nutritionists, to get started.)
Physicians of ancient Greece treated diseases, including epilepsy, by altering their patients' diet. An early treatise in the Hippocratic Corpus, On the Sacred Disease, covers the disease; it dates from c. 400 BC. Its author argued against the prevailing view that epilepsy was supernatural in origin and cure, and proposed that dietary therapy had a rational and physical basis.[Note 3] In the same collection, the author of Epidemics describes the case of a man whose epilepsy is cured as quickly as it had appeared, through complete abstinence of food and drink.[Note 4] The royal physician Erasistratus declared, "One inclining to epilepsy should be made to fast without mercy and be put on short rations."[Note 5] Galen believed an "attenuating diet"[Note 6] might afford a cure in mild cases and be helpful in others.
In many developing countries, the ketogenic diet is expensive because dairy fats and meat are more expensive than grain, fruit and vegetables. The modified Atkins diet has been proposed as a lower-cost alternative for those countries; the slightly more expensive food bill can be offset by a reduction in pharmaceutical costs if the diet is successful. The modified Atkins diet is less complex to explain and prepare and requires less support from a dietitian.
Children who discontinue the diet after achieving seizure freedom have about a 20% risk of seizures returning. The length of time until recurrence is highly variable, but averages two years. This risk of recurrence compares with 10% for resective surgery (where part of the brain is removed) and 30–50% for anticonvulsant therapy. Of those who have a recurrence, just over half can regain freedom from seizures either with anticonvulsants or by returning to the ketogenic diet. Recurrence is more likely if, despite seizure freedom, an electroencephalogram shows epileptiform spikes, which indicate epileptic activity in the brain but are below the level that will cause a seizure. Recurrence is also likely if an MRI scan shows focal abnormalities (for example, as in children with tuberous sclerosis). Such children may remain on the diet longer than average, and children with tuberous sclerosis who achieve seizure freedom could remain on the ketogenic diet indefinitely.
Here are a few of the most common side effects that I come across when people first start keto. Frequently the issues relate to dehydration or lack of micronutrients (vitamins) in the body. Make sure that you’re drinking enough water (close to a gallon a day) and eating foods with good sources of micronutrients. To read more on micronutrients, click here >
Note: Because you'll be excluding some major food groups on the keto diet (grains, many fruits) you should definitely think about taking a multivitamin—especially one that contains folic acid, which helps your body make new cells and is often found in enriched breads, cereals, and other grain products, says Julie Upton, R.D., cofounder of nutrition website Appetite for Health.
On a ketogenic diet, your entire body switches its fuel supply to run mostly on fat, burning fat 24-7. When insulin levels become very low, fat burning can increase dramatically. It becomes easier to access your fat stores to burn them off. This is great if you’re trying to lose weight, but there can also be other, less obvious benefits, such as less hunger and a steady supply of energy (without the sugar peaks and valleys we can get from high carb meals). This may help keep you alert and focused.
Those issues can be part of what's known as the “keto flu,” Warren says. Other side effects of the keto diet, all of which are tied to carb withdrawal, can include lightheadedness, nausea, mental fog, cramps, and headaches, in addition to tiredness. Luckily, the keto flu doesn't usually last more than a week—which is coincidentally about when people start to see the number on the scale go down, says Warren.
There are numerous benefits that come with being on keto: from weight loss and increased energy levels to therapeutic medical applications. Most anyone can safely benefit from eating a low-carb, high-fat diet. Below, you’ll find a short list of the benefits you can receive from a ketogenic diet. For a more comprehensive list, you can also read our in-depth article here >
Advocates for the diet recommend that it be seriously considered after two medications have failed, as the chance of other drugs succeeding is only 10%. The diet can be considered earlier for some epilepsy and genetic syndromes where it has shown particular usefulness. These include Dravet syndrome, infantile spasms, myoclonic-astatic epilepsy, and tuberous sclerosis complex.
The ketogenic diet is usually initiated in combination with the patient's existing anticonvulsant regimen, though patients may be weaned off anticonvulsants if the diet is successful. Some evidence of synergistic benefits is seen when the diet is combined with the vagus nerve stimulator or with the drug zonisamide, and that the diet may be less successful in children receiving phenobarbital.
Still, it can be hard to get enough fat when you first start this diet. Butter, nuts, coconut and olive oils, and fatty cuts of meat are all on the menu. However, don't go overboard with polyunsaturated fats like soybean, corn, or sunflower oil. Keto dieters who increase their intake of those fats often end up with gastrointestinal distress that causes them to jump ship.
^ Freeman JM, Vining EP, Pillas DJ, Pyzik PL, Casey JC, Kelly LM. The efficacy of the ketogenic diet—1998: a prospective evaluation of intervention in 150 children. Pediatrics. 1998 Dec;102(6):1358–63. doi:10.1542/peds.102.6.1358. PMID 9832569. https://web.archive.org/web/20040629224858/http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/press/1998/DECEMBER/981207.HTM Lay summary]—JHMI Office of Communications and Public Affairs. Updated 7 December 1998. Cited 6 March 2008.
If you're new to keto, watch out for hidden carbs. Generally, dairy products and nuts are a good way to meet your daily fat intake, but know that some of those items may contain more carbohydrates than you think. For example, yogurt topped with nuts may seem like a great keto-friendly snack, but a 5.3 ounce serving of plain yogurt has 12 grams of carbohydrates. Vanilla flavored yogurt has 24 grams of carbohydrates. Add an ounce of cashews, weighing in at nearly nine grams of carbs, and you’re up to 21 to 33 grams of carbs for that snack, which could knock you out of ketosis. Be sure to read nutrition labels carefully and pay careful attention to serving sizes. Track foods using a keto-specific app like Senza or KetoDiet can help you stay within your recommended daily carb intake.
The ketogenic diet is a medical nutrition therapy that involves participants from various disciplines. Team members include a registered paediatric dietitian who coordinates the diet programme; a paediatric neurologist who is experienced in offering the ketogenic diet; and a registered nurse who is familiar with childhood epilepsy. Additional help may come from a medical social worker who works with the family and a pharmacist who can advise on the carbohydrate content of medicines. Lastly, the parents and other caregivers must be educated in many aspects of the diet for it to be safely implemented.
You’ll quickly find that salads are your friend when in ketosis, and for a good reason: they provide lots of food to fill you up, but they’re not going to bog you down. A bed of spinach with some red onion, bacon, a little tomato, and a hot sauce vinaigrette is quick and delicious. Add in some protein – perhaps that leftover salmon from day 1 – and you’ve got a complete, healthy lunch.
Take a multivitamin. “Because you are removing grains, the majority of fruit, some vegetables, and a significant amount of dairy from your menu, a multivitamin is good insurance against any micronutrient deficiencies,” says Jadin. Depending on what your individual overall diet looks like, Jadin says you might also need to add a calcium, vitamin D, and potassium supplement.
The ketogenic diet is a mainstream dietary therapy that was developed to reproduce the success and remove the limitations of the non-mainstream use of fasting to treat epilepsy.[Note 2] Although popular in the 1920s and '30s, it was largely abandoned in favour of new anticonvulsant drugs. Most individuals with epilepsy can successfully control their seizures with medication. However, 20–30% fail to achieve such control despite trying a number of different drugs. For this group, and for children in particular, the diet has once again found a role in epilepsy management.
Supplemental ketosis: This form of ketosis has recently gained momentum in the field of ketogenic dieting. Supplemental ketosis is a ketogenic state that is achieved through the ingestion of ketogenic supplements. Consuming these substances alone does not mean that an individual is “keto-adapted.” While these products can help during the keto-adaptation period, especially if one is experiencing the “keto-flu,” they will only elicit short-term increases in blood ketone levels. Exogenous ketones can acutely produce benefits similar to the ketogenic diet; however, these products are best used in conjunction with a well-formulated keto diet for beginners, or the very at least, a diet that restricts carbohydrates. The commonly used supplements on the market are medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil and exogenous ketones. MCT oil is a fat that, in contrast to other longer-chain fatty acids, travels straight from the intestines to the liver where it is readily metabolized. This allows for ketone production in the liver to occur faster than with other fats (long-chain fatty acids have to travel through the lymph and circulatory systems first). Exogenous ketones are synthetic substances that mimic the ketones produced in our body (endogenous ketones). Exogenous ketones can come in the form of ketone salts or ketone esters.
While it may be new to you, the keto diet has actually been around since the 1920’s, when the Mayo Clinic reported its effectiveness for helping epilepsy (that is still the case). Since then, there’s strong evidence that the keto diet helps with weight loss as well as type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, and metabolic syndrome, says Jeff Volek, Ph.D., RD, professor in the department of Human Sciences at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio and co-author of The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living.
Early studies reported high success rates; in one study in 1925, 60% of patients became seizure-free, and another 35% of patients had a 50% reduction in seizure frequency. These studies generally examined a cohort of patients recently treated by the physician (a retrospective study) and selected patients who had successfully maintained the dietary restrictions. However, these studies are difficult to compare to modern trials. One reason is that these older trials suffered from selection bias, as they excluded patients who were unable to start or maintain the diet and thereby selected from patients who would generate better results. In an attempt to control for this bias, modern study design prefers a prospective cohort (the patients in the study are chosen before therapy begins) in which the results are presented for all patients regardless of whether they started or completed the treatment (known as intent-to-treat analysis).
If you get pushback, announce: “I’ve done my research, I’ve figured out it’s safe, and I really want to try this,” recommends Mancinelli. They don’t have to like what you’re doing, but it does help if they have your back. In a study published in September 2014 research in Obesity, having the support of friends and coworkers helped dieters more successfully lose weight and maintain that loss over a two-year period. (4) It also can’t hurt if everyone knows your goals on a keto diet so they’re less likely to push office treats or suggest splitting a side of fries when you're out to dinner.
Thank you so much for the wonderful recipes on your site. I have visited in the past and have happened upon it again. I noticed you put in the post that if anyone had questions that we could ask and so I have a big one that I need advice on if you don’t mind. I have been living low carb for about 2 years now. My weight has fluctuated from 130 to about 118. I am 5’4″ and female, 45 years old and mom to 5 children. My weight went up to 134 which is very uncomfortable to me because I have struggled with an eating disorder and so I really went low carb in an attempt to drop some weight. Well I have, but the problem is that I am restricting too many calories now. I have gotten down to 108 but know that 800 calories Is not enough. My question is about balance. I would not mind gaining some back but have a fear of gaining too much again. I don’t want to go back there. I hiit train most days for about 25 mins. I use to do way too much. Do you have a plan that would balance my calories out so I can incorporate more Low carb options/keto and start eating normal again. I like your ideas and thought process behind all you post so I would appreciate any feed back you could give to me. Thank ML