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.
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.
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.
When adopting a keto diet for beginners, ensuring that it has been “well-formulated” is indispensable. Unfortunately, this critical factor is often overlooked and makes adherence to this diet very difficult. In addition, taking into consideration food quality and micronutrients are also just as critical. A well-formulated ketogenic diet will also aid in the prevention or alleviation of the side effects/”keto-flu” that are often experienced with the keto-adaptation process. To help create a well-formulated ketogenic diet, some points of consideration are outlined below:
On a ketogenic diet, you’re generally eating a diet that’s high in fat (roughly 70 percent of your total calories come from fat), moderate in protein (about 20 percent of your calories), and low in carbohydrate (about 5 percent of calories). By limiting carbohydrates (to usually less than 45 grams for the average person), your body lacks the glucose (from carbs) that it normally uses for energy, so it eventually switches over to burning fat as its primary fuel source instead; through a metabolic process called ketosis, the liver converts the fat into fragments of fatty acids called ketones, which power the brain and other organs and tissues.
Blood Ketone Meter: Measuring ketone levels in the blood more accurately measures and indicates an individual’s metabolic state of ketosis. Similar to measuring blood glucose levels, this method also uses a blood meter and a chemo-sensitive strip made specifically to measure ketones in the blood called beta‑hydroxybutyrate (βHB). As with blood glucose measurements, a blood sample can be acquired from a finger prick. The ketone level displays on the meter within a few seconds of a sample placement on the strip.
The ketogenic diet may seem like the Jekyll to the Hyde-like low-fat craze of the 1990s. The bulk of current research finds that the middle ground between the two extremes is more beneficial for overall health. Make it easy for yourself: Eat at least two servings a week of fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel) and cook with a variety of quality fats (olive oil, canola oil, avocado oil) throughout the week.
You can have a completely smooth transition into ketosis, or…not. While your body is adapting to using ketones as your new fuel source, you may experience a range of uncomfortable short-term symptoms. These symptoms are referred to as “the keto flu.” Low-sodium levels are often to blame for symptoms keto flu, since the kidneys secrete more sodium when you’re in ketosis, says Volek. A few side effects:
Positive science on ketosis coupled with personal successes passed by word-of-mouth have driven more people to explore the ketogenic diet, says Volek. More recently, the keto diet hints at having a promising therapeutic role in cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Research is still early in many areas, but Volek suspects there will more definitive answers on the wider scope of the diet’s benefits within the next decade.
Carbohydrate-restricted ketosis: This type of ketosis mimics the same biological alterations seen during lengthy fasts, but without the complete restriction of food. Carbohydrate-restricted ketosis is achieved primarily through a very low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet. This restriction, in turn, results in reductions of insulin and blood glucose levels similar to that of fasting, which again increases blood ketone levels. For most individuals, nutritional ketosis is much more sustainable than fasting or starvation ketosis. Fasting can still have its place in a keto diet for beginners. Many individuals following a ketogenic diet like to implement a regular fasting protocol such as intermittent fasting (IF) (12–20 hours daily) or every-other-day fasts (EOD), depending on their goals. This practice is not critical for success on a ketogenic diet, but it can enhance the level of ketone production, and thus magnify the benefits.
No matter what your diet has been before now, keto will be a big change. If you're coming from a standard American diet (SAD), your carbs will go way down, your protein may either go up or down, and your fat will go way up. If you're coming from a bodybuilding-style diet, your fat intake will jump to alarming levels, and your protein will likely drop significantly.
Keto for Epilepsy: The ketogenic diet originated in the 1920s as an effective treatment for children suffering from drug-resistant epilepsy. Since then, its highly successful applications have expanded to treat adult epileptic patients as well. This was an important progression in treatment because, despite the introduction of anticonvulsant drugs in the 1930s, at least one third of patients suffering from epileptic seizures are still fully resistant to anticonvulsant drug therapy. Early studies found that, when placed on a ketogenic diet, 12% of children suffering from epileptic seizures experienced full remission and 42% saw a reduction in seizures.
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.
After about two to seven days of following the keto diet, you go into something called ketosis, or the state your body enters when it doesn't have enough carbs for your cells to use for energy. That's when you start making ketones, or organic compounds that your bod then uses in place of those missing carbs. At this point, your body also starts burning fat for more energy, says Beth Warren, RD, founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Living A Real Life With Real Food.
Can’t you take ketone supplements? No. While it is possible to elevate ketones by taking them, “without the low-carb stimulus, there is no net increase in ketone production, no decrease in insulin, and no net increase in fat oxidation,” says Volek. Don’t trust trainers or “body hackers” who say you can induce ketosis quickly without changing your diet.
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.
Keto for Alzheimer’s Disease: One characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease is insulin resistance in the brain (hence why it’s now being referred to as type III diabetes), which robs this critical tissue of energy. Limiting glucose while introducing ketones may be an effective mechanism for replenishing the energy in the tissue. The higher level of ketone production accompanied with a ketogenic diet is another example as to why this diet is superior to one that simply restricts carbohydrate intake. Additionally, Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by beta-amyloid deposition, which may also be mitigated by the implementation of a ketogenic diet.
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.