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 — a high-fat and very low carb eating plan — can be tough to start. After all, it’s likely a radical departure from the way you’re eating now (a typical standard American diet is high in carbohydrates and processed foods). But many people are trying the keto diet, which puts your body in a state of ketosis. That's what happens when your body’s carb-burning switch flips to a fat-burning one, a change that can cause weight loss and has even been credited with controlling type 2 diabetes, a small past study suggests. (1)
Detrimentally, this results in high levels of both ketones and glucose. Extremely high ketone levels in the blood will elicit a dangerous biological environment that can even result in death. It must be clarified that DKA is very different than nutritional ketosis or fasting ketosis; ketone levels cannot be produced at such high levels in healthy individuals as they are with those in DKA.
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.
One area where food tracking can be especially helpful, though, is ensuring that you're hitting the right ratios of macronutrients-protein, carbs, and fat. "The most researched version of the ketogenic diet derives 70 percent of calories from healthy fats, 20 percent from protein, and only 10 percent from carbs," explains Charles Passler, D.C., nutritionist, and founder of Pure Change. "In the ideal world, each keto meal and snack should have that same (70/20/10) ratio of macronutrients, but studies have shown that you'll still achieve great results even if each meal varies slightly from that ratio, just as long as you don't exceed 50 grams per day of carbs, or eat those carbs in one sitting," says Passler. In order to achieve these ratios without a preset meal plan from a dietitian or doctor, some food tracking is probably going to be necessary. But once you get the hang of things, you may not need it anymore.
Blanket statement: It’s always best to check with your doctor before starting on this regimen. With that said, “the keto diet isn’t recommended for those with liver or kidney disease, or someone with a medical condition, such as a gastrointestinal issue, who can’t metabolize high amounts of dietary fat,” says Sarah Jadin, a Los-Angeles based registered dietitian and founder of Keto Consulting, LLC. If you’ve had your gallbladder removed, the keto diet may be a no-go. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and people with certain rare genetic disorders shouldn’t try this diet.
“People are afraid of fat because they’ve been told that it’ll kill them,” says Mancinelli. What is confusing is that research today remains mixed. Some studies suggest that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat (and avoiding unhealthy trans fat) is important for mitigating heart disease risk, while others suggest that total fat and types of fat weren’t associated with cardiovascular problems, according to an article published in June 2018 in BMJ. (2) Deciding exactly how to eat then becomes confusing. What is helpful, the authors note, is to remember that food is more than a single nutrient, and it’s the overall quality of the diet that counts. (They do say that high-fat, low-carb diets still need more research to assess their long-term health benefits and risks.)
As mentioned, there are a few reasons why the keto diet usually equals weight-loss gold, says Keatley. For starters, people usually reduce their daily caloric intake to about 1,500 calories a day because healthy fats and lean proteins make you feel fuller sooner—and for a longer period of time. And then there’s the fact that it takes more energy to process and burn fat and protein than carbs, so you're burning slightly more calories than you did before. Over time, this can lead to weight loss.
The confusion between ketosis and ketoacidosis is a prominent reason why many individuals, particularly doctors, steer clear of the keto diet for beginners. It’s important to understand that these are two very DIFFERENT metabolic states. Ketoacidosis may occur in uncontrolled type 1 diabetics (DKA; diabetic ketoacidosis) due to insulin deficiencies. DKA is associated with both elevated blood glucose and ketone levels; due to little to no insulin production, blood glucose cannot enter insulin-dependent cells to be used for energy, and as such, cells become hungry, resulting in uncontrolled ketone production. In turn, a highly acidic environment is created that can have detrimental effects on an individual’s health, possibly resulting in death. It must be echoed that the ketogenic diet, which induces “nutritional” ketosis, is vastly different and should never be confused with DKA. To put this in perspective, a normal state of ketosis, as achieved via the keto diet for beginners may elevate ketones anywhere from 0.3–5mM, while DKA results in ketone levels of about 15mM or higher.
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.