The first modern study of fasting as a treatment for epilepsy was in France in 1911. Twenty epilepsy patients of all ages were "detoxified" by consuming a low-calorie vegetarian diet, combined with periods of fasting and purging. Two benefited enormously, but most failed to maintain compliance with the imposed restrictions. The diet improved the patients' mental capabilities, in contrast to their medication, potassium bromide, which dulled the mind.
But beyond that, experts aren't convinced that the keto diet has any other scientifically proven health benefits. In fact, it may have some distinct downsides. If you follow the keto diet incorrectly, for example (like by eating lots of saturated fats, versus healthy unsaturated fats), you're at risk of raising your cholesterol levels. “The best strategy to keep your heart healthy is to get as much fat as possible from unsaturated sources such as olive, avocado and canola oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives," says Ansel. For some people, it's possible to actually improve cholesterol if the fats in their diet are from varied and healthy sources, says Harvey.
Instead of thinking about the total carbs you’re eating, assess what those carbs provide to you. Do the majority of your carbs come from fruit and vegetables, with a payload of fiber and disease-fighting antioxidants? Fantastic. Or are you consuming them in the form of added sugars (cookies, candy, soda) or refined flour? If you are, you know what to do.
But people who started following the keto diet noticed weight loss for a few reasons: When you eat carbs, your body retains fluid in order to store carbs for energy (you know, in case it needs it). But when you’re not having much in the carb department, you lose this water weight, says Warren. Also, it's easy to go overboard on carbohydrates—but if you're loading up on fat, it may help curb cravings since it keeps you satisfied.
Now that ketogenic diets have become popular, many keto hybrid diets have sprung up, including plant-based versions. (One is “ketotarian,” which is predominantly plant-based but includes the option of eggs, ghee, and fish and shellfish.) While this approach can be healthy, Hultin cautions against trying keto as a vegan. “Because you can’t eat beans or lentils on a ketogenic diet, and nuts and seeds are even limited due to their carbohydrate content, you’re really just left with some tofu and will need to rely on low-carb protein powder,” she says. There is a good possibility this won’t pan out. “I don’t see this as a sustainable diet due to the extreme restrictions,” she says.
Fasting ketosis: Fasting ketosis, also referred to as starvation ketosis, played a major role in the development of the keto diet for beginners. The concept of fasting has been around for centuries and can be traced back to biblical times. By definition, fasting is the absence of caloric consumption for a period of time. This can range from several hours to several days and can have profound effects on the degree of ketosis. As the duration of the fasting increases, so does the production of ketones, and thus a deeper ketogenic state is obtained. As such, the mechanisms of ketone production are similar between fasting and dietary applications similar to keto diet for beginners, both of which result in lower and more stable levels of insulin and blood glucose accompanied by fat metabolism.
"Plenty of people jump right in, thinking all they have to do is cut carbs and increase fat. All of a sudden, they hit a wall and get 'keto flu.' They feel tired, lethargic, and experience headaches," Wittrock says. "The primary reason they get these symptoms is lack of the three primary electrolytes: sodium, potassium, and magnesium. If you're deficient in any of these, you'll suffer mentally and physically. This is the single biggest reason people fail on the keto diet."
The ketogenic diet reduces seizure frequency by more than 50% in half of the patients who try it and by more than 90% in a third of patients. Three-quarters of children who respond do so within two weeks, though experts recommend a trial of at least three months before assuming it has been ineffective. Children with refractory epilepsy are more likely to benefit from the ketogenic diet than from trying another anticonvulsant drug. Some evidence indicates that adolescents and adults may also benefit from the diet.
Bonnie J. Brehm, Randy J. Seeley, Stephen R. Daniels, and David A. D’Alessio, “A Randomized Trial Comparing a Very Low Carbohydrate Diet and a Calorie-Restricted Low Fat Diet on Body Weight and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Healthy Women,” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism: Vol 88, No 4; January 14, 2009. http://press.endocrine.org/doi/full/10.1210/jc.2002-021480.