There are three instances where there’s research to back up a ketogenic diet, including to help control type 2 diabetes, as part of epilepsy treatment, or for weight loss, says Mattinson. “In terms of diabetes, there is some promising research showing that the ketogenic diet may improve glycemic control. It may cause a reduction in A1C — a key test for diabetes that measures a person’s average blood sugar control over two to three months — something that may help you reduce medication use,” she says.
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Unfortunately, there’s no long-term data on ketogenic diets versus other diets. In a 2015 Italian study, those on a ketosis diet lost 26 pounds in three months. About half of the participants stayed on the diet for a year but lost little additional weight in the next nine months. People in a 2014 Spanish study who followed a very-low-calorie ketogenic diet lost an average of 44 pounds in a year—but a third of them dropped out, possibly because it was too hard to maintain.

In terms of weight loss, you may be interested in trying the ketogenic diet because you’ve heard that it can make a big impact right away. And that’s true. “Ketogenic diets will cause you to lose weight within the first week,” says Mattinson. She explains that your body will first use up all of its glycogen stores (the storage form of carbohydrate). With depleted glycogen, you’ll drop water weight. While it can be motivating to see the number on the scale go down (often dramatically), do keep in mind that most of this is water loss initially.

A review of multiple studies in the journal Nutrients found that ketogenic diets are connected to significant reductions in total cholesterol, increases in “good” HDL cholesterol levels, dips in triglycerides levels and decreases in “bad” LDL cholesterol; there are questions as to whether diets high in saturated fat negate these benefits. The same paper reports that a ketogenic may slightly reduce blood pressure, but science is still very scant on this point.
There are three instances where there’s research to back up a ketogenic diet, including to help control type 2 diabetes, as part of epilepsy treatment, or for weight loss, says Mattinson. “In terms of diabetes, there is some promising research showing that the ketogenic diet may improve glycemic control. It may cause a reduction in A1C — a key test for diabetes that measures a person’s average blood sugar control over two to three months — something that may help you reduce medication use,” she says.
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.[18] 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.[9] Children with refractory epilepsy are more likely to benefit from the ketogenic diet than from trying another anticonvulsant drug.[1] Some evidence indicates that adolescents and adults may also benefit from the diet.[9]
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:
The ketogenic diet is a mainstream dietary therapy that was developed to reproduce the success and remove the limitations of the non-mainstream use of fasting to treat epilepsy.[Note 2] Although popular in the 1920s and '30s, it was largely abandoned in favour of new anticonvulsant drugs.[1] Most individuals with epilepsy can successfully control their seizures with medication. However, 20–30% fail to achieve such control despite trying a number of different drugs.[9] For this group, and for children in particular, the diet has once again found a role in epilepsy management.[1][10]
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.
You’ve probably heard about the low carb, high fat diet that’s so popular among actors and models, and with good reason: low carb diets offer proper nourishment with whole foods, while keeping your body burning fat for fuel. This is a great way to be, as it makes fat loss largely effortless! But where does this “ketogenic” word fit into the picture?
Constipation: As mentioned above, the elimination of carbohydrates coupled with the increased release of water may lead to constipation. If this occurs, simply increasing water consumption as well as incorporating more fiber into the diet can alleviate these symptoms. Additionally, some electrolytes like magnesium can also assist with this in higher amounts.
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.

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]


Endurance Performance: Traditionally, endurance athletes tend to consume a high amount of carbohydrates in order to “fill up” their fuel stores (i.e. glycogen) for competitions. Thus, a diet where carbohydrates are restricted seems counter-intuitive for these individuals. However, Dr. Jeff Volek’s research showed that once an individual is keto-adapted, not only is their performance the same or better than those consuming high levels of carbohydrates, but their glycogen “fuel stores” are the same as well.[11] Despite consuming a diet lower in carbohydrates, these athletes are able to adapt and utilize a nearly limitless supply of fat as their primary fuel source.
Children who discontinue the diet after achieving seizure freedom have about a 20% risk of seizures returning. The length of time until recurrence is highly variable, but averages two years. This risk of recurrence compares with 10% for resective surgery (where part of the brain is removed) and 30–50% for anticonvulsant therapy. Of those who have a recurrence, just over half can regain freedom from seizures either with anticonvulsants or by returning to the ketogenic diet. Recurrence is more likely if, despite seizure freedom, an electroencephalogram shows epileptiform spikes, which indicate epileptic activity in the brain but are below the level that will cause a seizure. Recurrence is also likely if an MRI scan shows focal abnormalities (for example, as in children with tuberous sclerosis). Such children may remain on the diet longer than average, and children with tuberous sclerosis who achieve seizure freedom could remain on the ketogenic diet indefinitely.[46]
If you’ve decided to move forward in trying the keto diet, you will want to stick to the parameters of the eating plan. Roughly 60 to 80 percent of your calories will come from fats. That means you’ll eat meats, fats, and oils, and a very limited amount of nonstarchy vegetables, she says. (This is different from a traditional low-carb diet, as even fewer carbs are allowed on the keto diet.)
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.
Understanding which foods to eat may seem like the most difficult and time-consuming task for most individuals adopting a keto diet for beginners. However, you will soon realize that many of your favorite foods can still be enjoyed without the carbohydrate load. To start, it should be noted that it is critical to eliminate sugar or any fast-digesting carbohydrates. These include, but are not limited to: cookies, chocolate, cakes, crackers, ice cream, cereal, pretzels, pastries, baked goods, fruit juice, soft drinks, honey, candy, chips, bread, and white potatoes. However, there are ways to still enjoy some of these foods as long as they are prepared differently by using ketogenic-friendly ingredients. Check here for more recipes and try these tips:
Because people with type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, there’s a specific concern that the saturated fat in the diet may drive up LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol levels, and further increase the odds of heart problems. If you have type 2 diabetes, talk to your doctor before attempting a ketogenic diet. They may recommend a different weight-loss diet for you, like a reduced-calorie diet, to manage diabetes. Those with epilepsy should also consult their doctor before using this as part of their treatment plan.
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.
A study with an intent-to-treat prospective design was published in 1998 by a team from the Johns Hopkins Hospital[20] and followed-up by a report published in 2001.[21] As with most studies of the ketogenic diet, no control group (patients who did not receive the treatment) was used. The study enrolled 150 children. After three months, 83% of them were still on the diet, 26% had experienced a good reduction in seizures, 31% had had an excellent reduction, and 3% were seizure-free.[Note 7] At 12 months, 55% were still on the diet, 23% had a good response, 20% had an excellent response, and 7% were seizure-free. Those who had discontinued the diet by this stage did so because it was ineffective, too restrictive, or due to illness, and most of those who remained were benefiting from it. The percentage of those still on the diet at two, three, and four years was 39%, 20%, and 12%, respectively. During this period, the most common reason for discontinuing the diet was because the children had become seizure-free or significantly better. At four years, 16% of the original 150 children had a good reduction in seizure frequency, 14% had an excellent reduction, and 13% were seizure-free, though these figures include many who were no longer on the diet. Those remaining on the diet after this duration were typically not seizure-free, but had had an excellent response.[21][22]
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