A whopping 46 percent of American adults still eat what’s considered a “poor” diet in American Heart Association standards, notes a study published in June 2016 in JAMA, which was based on a survey of nearly 34,000 people. (5) For some people, going on a keto diet is an effort to change those poor habits, but there’s the risk of falling back into your old ways once the diet is over. Don’t go straight back to a standard American diet, because you’ll likely lose any health benefits and regain the weight.
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.
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.
“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.)
At the start of a keto diet for beginners, it is not uncommon for an individual to experience rapid weight loss. This may concern some people, but it is worth noting that not ALL weight lost is body fat. When we lower our carbohydrate intake our insulin lowers, causing us to excrete more water. Additionally, reducing carbohydrate intake causes the body to break down glycogen stores (to initially maintain blood sugar levels); glycogen is the storage form of glucose that is located in our liver and skeletal muscle. The loss of both water and glycogen accounts for most of the weight loss in the first few days. Don’t be discouraged! Soon after, total body water and glycogen levels will balance out.
Variations on the Johns Hopkins protocol are common. The initiation can be performed using outpatient clinics rather than requiring a stay in hospital. Often, no initial fast is used (fasting increases the risk of acidosis, hypoglycaemia, and weight loss). Rather than increasing meal sizes over the three-day initiation, some institutions maintain meal size, but alter the ketogenic ratio from 2:1 to 4:1.
Ketosis takes some time to get into – about two weeks of low carb eating is required for the initial adaptation. During this time there will be bouts of sluggishness, fatigue, headaches, and some gastrointestinal issues as you adapt, often referred to as “keto flu“. Proper electrolyte intake will correct most of these issues. In addition, the “diet” aspect of this ketogenic diet plan – that is, the caloric restriction – shouldn’t be worried about. Weight loss will come as your body regulates appetite as it the addiction to sugar and processed food lessens, so restricting calories during the initial two weeks isn’t recommended.
In order to maximize the benefits of a keto diet for beginners, self-experimentation to achieve an optimal level of ketosis is important. In addition to quantifying blood ketone levels, there are several biological changes that your body will experience to help identify a ketogenic state. These changes will be more robust for some, In contrast to the negative side effects often experienced while on other low-carbohydrate diets, a ketogenic state and “keto-adaptation” can elicit euphoric effects including:
If you want to slam a protein shake post-workout, that's probably fine as long as you've got room for it in your macros. But shoot for one that is very low—like, zero—in carbohydrates. Pure isolates, such as Signature 100% Whey Isolate, are extremely low in carbohydrate. If you struggle to fit fat in during the day, toss a tablespoon of olive oil in with your shake. You won't taste it, and it gives a quick 13-14 grams of fat.
During the 1920s and 1930s, when the only anticonvulsant drugs were the sedative bromides (discovered 1857) and phenobarbital (1912), the ketogenic diet was widely used and studied. This changed in 1938 when H. Houston Merritt, Jr. and Tracy Putnam discovered phenytoin (Dilantin), and the focus of research shifted to discovering new drugs. With the introduction of sodium valproate in the 1970s, drugs were available to neurologists that were effective across a broad range of epileptic syndromes and seizure types. The use of the ketogenic diet, by this time restricted to difficult cases such as Lennox–Gastaut syndrome, declined further.
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:
Carbohydrates have been linked to this skin condition, so cutting down on them may help. And the drop in insulin that a ketogenic diet can trigger may also help stop acne breakouts. (Insulin can cause your body to make other hormones that bring on outbreaks.) Still, more research is needed to determine exactly how much effect, if any, the diet actually has on acne.
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.