Ready to head out the door and start buying groceries? Slow down there, chief. Go through the pantry, fridge, freezer, and secret stashes under the bed, and get rid of foods with any significant carb content. In the first few days, you could end up craving them—badly. This means fruit, too. Even carrots and onions are too high-glycemic to work with keto, Wittrock says.
Although studies have shown that the keto diet can reduce seizures for children with epilepsy, there is no evidence indicating that keto helps with other brain disorders or improves mental cognition, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Some studies show that keto may lower blood sugar for people with type 2 diabetes, but there is not enough long-term research to determine whether it’s safe and effective for diabetics.

When dietary carbohydrate is broken down into the energy substrate glucose, thereby raising blood glucose levels, the pancreas is stimulated to secrete insulin (the hormone that stores fat and inhibits ketone production). However, when carbohydrate intake is restricted, insulin remains suppressed, and the body’s primary fuel source shifts from glucose to fat, priming the body to enter a state of ketosis. When fat oxidation/breakdown is increased to a certain extent, ketones are made in the liver through a process known as ketogenesis (i.e., keto + genesis = ketone formation). When carbohydrate intake is restricted, blood glucose and insulin levels decrease, which allows fat stores to be broken down rapidly for energy. Most cells in the body can utilize either fatty acids or ketones for fuel, including the brain, which has shown to be more efficient in the presence of ketones rather than glucose.
In pediatric patients whose seizures could not be treated with these anti-epileptic drugs, a ketogenic diet was able to reduce seizures by more than 50% in 54% of the young patients tested, with 10% of the cohort becoming seizure-free after one year on the diet.[28] Since this study, numerous additional studies have shown this modality to be effective for children and adults with epilepsy. Results of ketogenic diet–driven studies have included 55% of patients seeing a reduction in seizures by more than 50%,[29] and 27% of patients seeing a 90% or greater reduction in seizures with many entering into complete remission.[30]

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders after stroke,[7] affecting around 50 million people worldwide.[8] It is diagnosed in a person having recurrent, unprovoked seizures. These occur when cortical neurons fire excessively, hypersynchronously, or both, leading to temporary disruption of normal brain function. This might affect, for example, the muscles, the senses, consciousness, or a combination. A seizure can be focal (confined to one part of the brain) or generalised (spread widely throughout the brain and leading to a loss of consciousness). Epilepsy can occur for a variety of reasons; some forms have been classified into epileptic syndromes, most of which begin in childhood. Epilepsy is considered refractory (not yielding to treatment) when two or three anticonvulsant drugs have failed to control it. About 60% of patients achieve control of their epilepsy with the first drug they use, whereas around 30% do not achieve control with drugs. When drugs fail, other options include epilepsy surgery, vagus nerve stimulation, and the ketogenic diet.[7]


This article was reviewed by Jes Harvey, RD, on November 7, 2019. Harvey is a registered dietitian specializing in the ketogenic diet for children and adults. She is a certified specialist in Pediatric Nutrition and educates children with epilepsy on the ketogenic diet as an anti-seizure medication. Harvey also manages a private nutrition practice consulting adults on the ketogenic way of eating.

Keto and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): Research involving TBI has found that upon immediate trauma to the head, the brain takes up massive amounts of glucose. However, soon thereafter, the brain becomes resistant to taking up and utilizing glucose. This damage leads to insulin resistance and inflammation of brain tissue. The anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties of ketones have been shown to not only reduce inflammation but to reduce glucose uptake in the brain as well. The ketogenic diet may also be a therapeutic treatment option for those individuals who have experienced long-term ramifications of a TBI by providing ketones as an alternative fuel source that can be readily taken up and utilized by the brain following these traumas. 

The ketone bodies are possibly anticonvulsant; in animal models, acetoacetate and acetone protect against seizures. The ketogenic diet results in adaptive changes to brain energy metabolism that increase the energy reserves; ketone bodies are a more efficient fuel than glucose, and the number of mitochondria is increased. This may help the neurons to remain stable in the face of increased energy demand during a seizure, and may confer a neuroprotective effect.[56]


In addition, there are medical conditions that should make you think twice about starting keto — or at least talk to your doctor before trying it out. Those include people on insulin, as well as those on oral and noninsulin injectable medications for high blood sugar or high blood pressure, says Hultin. Even struggling with GI issues may be a barrier to starting. “One of the side effects of a ketogenic diet is constipation, so if that’s a struggle, there’s serious reason not to go on this relatively low-fiber diet,” says Hultin. Last consideration: If existing personal dietary restrictions require you to avoid foods like soy, eggs, nuts, dairy, or seafood, a ketogenic diet may be too limiting for you. Coming from a place of elimination in an already restrictive diet can make it incredibly tough to follow, she says.

While a keto diet for beginners is also low in carbohydrates, it is NOT synonymous with traditional low-carbohydrate diets seen in popular media or even some scientific research. Since there is no strict definition of a “low carbohydrate diet,” some research studies utilize 30–40% carbohydrate diets and indicate that they are “low-carb.” However we now know that is roughly the same percentage as a standard American diet that has plagued our society with obesity and metabolic syndrome. Thus, while lowering carbohydrate intake in general is beneficial, it must be reinforced that traditional low-carbohydrate diets DIFFER from a well-formulated ketogenic diet.

Cognitive Enhancement: Ketones may be the preferred fuel source for the brain. Due to the brain’s preference to uptake and utilize ketones as fuel it is very common for individuals to report an increase in cognitive performance. This is even more common in individuals with some degree of insulin resistance, as their brain is likely unable to effectively utilize glucose as a sole fuel source due to the resistance.


Keto and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): Research involving TBI has found that upon immediate trauma to the head, the brain takes up massive amounts of glucose. However, soon thereafter, the brain becomes resistant to taking up and utilizing glucose. This damage leads to insulin resistance and inflammation of brain tissue. The anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties of ketones have been shown to not only reduce inflammation but to reduce glucose uptake in the brain as well. The ketogenic diet may also be a therapeutic treatment option for those individuals who have experienced long-term ramifications of a TBI by providing ketones as an alternative fuel source that can be readily taken up and utilized by the brain following these traumas.

The meal plan is designed to ensure you get three balanced, healthy meals a day that address fiber, satiation, and adequate protein intake. The greatest part of a ketogenic diet is the fact that it spares muscle loss, where a carb-based diet doesn’t. Weight lost in a high carb, calorie-restricted diet will often come both from muscle and fat, whereas with keto, you can burn fat without sacrificing muscle. This is referred to often as “body recomposition” and leaves you with a much more preferred physique after weight loss.

When in the hospital, glucose levels are checked several times daily and the patient is monitored for signs of symptomatic ketosis (which can be treated with a small quantity of orange juice). Lack of energy and lethargy are common, but disappear within two weeks.[17] The parents attend classes over the first three full days, which cover nutrition, managing the diet, preparing meals, avoiding sugar, and handling illness.[19] The level of parental education and commitment required is higher than with medication.[44]

Lastly, if you're active, you might need to make some adjustments to take that into account. "For the first one to two weeks, temporarily reducing your exercise load can be helpful as your body adjusts to being in ketosis," he says. "Additionally, for those who have an intense workout schedule, carb cycling may be a good option." Carb cycling essentially means you'll increase your carb intake on the days you're doing exercise, ideally just two to three days per week. "While low-carb days may be around 20 to 30 grams of net carbs daily, high-carb days can range all the way up to 100 grams, although it can vary based on your size and activity level," says Dr. Axe. (Related: 8 Things You Need to Know About Exercising on the Keto Diet.)

Having tempting, unhealthy foods in your home is one of the biggest reasons for failure when starting any diet. To maximize your chances of success with the keto diet, you need to remove as many triggers as you can. This crucial step will help prevent moments of weakness from ruining all your hard work.If you aren’t living alone, make sure to discuss with your family or housemates before throwing anything out. If some items are simply not yours to throw out, try to compromise and agree on a special location so you can keep them out of sight.

When it comes to starting the keto diet (or any diet for that matter), there's one thing all experts agree on. You *must* have a plan. "Never try to wing a keto diet," says Julie Stefanski, R.D.N., C.S.S.D., L.D.N., a dietitian based in York, PA, who specializes in the ketogenic diet. "Set a start date and get prepared by reorganizing your pantry, planning out meal and snack options, and purchasing appropriate foods and dietary supplements," she says. "The biggest reason people have a hard time sticking with keto is that people don't have enough interesting foods to turn to, and high-carb favorites win out over good intention. If you didn't buy foods at the grocery store that fit the guidelines, there won't be an easy option in the fridge when you really need it." (A great place to start is this List of High-Fat Keto Foods Anyone Can Add to Their Diet.)


Lots of apps and websites offer keto diet challenges—basically, a blueprint for the keto diet with a fixed starting and ending point (they typically last for a week to a month, though some may be longer). Speaking of apps, plenty of keto-centric ones are right at your fingertips (a.k.a., your smartphone), like the KetoDiet app, which can help you calculate your macros and track your keto diet effectively.
Our bodies are incredibly adaptive to what you put into it – when you overload it with fats and take away carbohydrates, it will begin to burn ketones as the primary energy source. Optimal ketone levels offer many health, weight loss, physical and mental performance benefits.1There are scientifically-backed studies that show the advantage of a low-carb, ketogenic diet over a low-fat diet. One meta-analysis of low-carbohydrate diets showed a large advantage in weight loss. The New England Journal of Medicine study resulted in almost double the weight loss in a long-term study on ketone inducing diets.
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.

Short-term results for the LGIT indicate that at one month approximately half of the patients experience a greater than 50% reduction in seizure frequency, with overall figures approaching that of the ketogenic diet. The data (coming from one centre's experience with 76 children up to the year 2009) also indicate fewer side effects than the ketogenic diet and that it is better tolerated, with more palatable meals.[18][50]
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.[11]
Around this time, Bernarr Macfadden, an American exponent of physical culture, popularised the use of fasting to restore health. His disciple, the osteopathic physician Dr. Hugh William Conklin of Battle Creek, Michigan, began to treat his epilepsy patients by recommending fasting. Conklin conjectured that epileptic seizures were caused when a toxin, secreted from the Peyer's patches in the intestines, was discharged into the bloodstream. He recommended a fast lasting 18 to 25 days to allow this toxin to dissipate. Conklin probably treated hundreds of epilepsy patients with his "water diet" and boasted of a 90% cure rate in children, falling to 50% in adults. Later analysis of Conklin's case records showed 20% of his patients achieved freedom from seizures and 50% had some improvement.[10]
So you've decided you want to try out the high-fat, low-carb diet, better-known as the fat-burning ketogenic diet. Whether it's to lose weight, have more energy, or fuel workouts differently, going keto is a popular choice right now. But figuring out a keto diet plan on your own is no easy feat, especially since eating a diet super high in fats doesn't come naturally to many people who are accustomed to the traditionally carb-heavy American diet. (It's especially hard if you're vegan and want to try keto.) But this should help: Keto experts explain how to set yourself up for success, plus provide ideas for exactly what keto foods to eat when you're first getting started. (While you're at it, check out these Low-Carb Keto drinks That Will Keep You in Ketosis.)
Appetite Control: The high-fat nature of the ketogenic diet along with elevated ketone and stable blood glucose levels have been shown to have a profound effect on appetite. This may give individuals who have a difficult time controlling the amount of food they eat “freedom” in knowing that they won’t be as hungry and thus less likely to consume excess calories.
When you approach your normal body weight, the weight loss will slow. Just remember, a “normal” body weight differs from person to person depending on our genetics and environmental exposures and may not fit what we see in the popular media. The weight loss won’t go on forever. As long as you follow the advice to eat when you are hungry, you will eventually stabilize your weight.
×