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 remaining calories in the keto diet come from protein — about 1 gram (g) per kilogram of body weight, so a 140-pound woman would need about 64 g of protein total. As for carbs: “Every body is different, but most people maintain ketosis with between 20 and 50 g of net carbs per day,” says Mattinson. Total carbohydrates minus fiber equals net carbs, she explains.
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.
One thing many people love about keto diet plans is that tracking your food is optional. "One of the biggest benefits of the ketogenic diet is that there's no need to meticulously track your calories as you may in other diets," notes Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of DrAxe.com, best-selling author of Eat Dirt, and cofounder of Ancient Nutrition. "Because you're filling up on fat and protein, you're more likely to feel satisfied and energized all day long, which causes you to naturally eat less." This isn't to say that food tracking on a keto meal plan is discouraged. "Some people may find calorie counting a useful tool to be more mindful and aware of what they're eating, but it's not necessary on the ketogenic diet," says Dr. Axe, but there's no need to get too stressed about hitting a certain caloric goal, especially if you're not trying to lose weight. (Related: The #1 Reason to Stop Counting Calories)
The day before admission to hospital, the proportion of carbohydrate in the diet may be decreased and the patient begins fasting after his or her evening meal. On admission, only calorie- and caffeine-free fluids are allowed until dinner, which consists of "eggnog"[Note 8] restricted to one-third of the typical calories for a meal. The following breakfast and lunch are similar, and on the second day, the "eggnog" dinner is increased to two-thirds of a typical meal's caloric content. By the third day, dinner contains the full calorie quota and is a standard ketogenic meal (not "eggnog"). After a ketogenic breakfast on the fourth day, the patient is discharged. Where possible, the patient's current medicines are changed to carbohydrate-free formulations.
“Combining a super restrictive diet with long periods of non-eating is not good,” says Keatley. “The body will cannibalize its own muscle for energy if intake from food is too low but the body does not differentiate between something like a calf muscle or a heart muscle. Keep in mind all your important organs are made of smooth muscle and going on a diet like this may harm something like your bladder or lungs just as much as provide fat loss.”
Now that ketogenic diets have become popular, many keto hybrid diets have sprung up, including plant-based versions. (One is “ketotarian,” which is predominantly plant-based but includes the option of eggs, ghee, and fish and shellfish.) While this approach can be healthy, Hultin cautions against trying keto as a vegan. “Because you can’t eat beans or lentils on a ketogenic diet, and nuts and seeds are even limited due to their carbohydrate content, you’re really just left with some tofu and will need to rely on low-carb protein powder,” she says. There is a good possibility this won’t pan out. “I don’t see this as a sustainable diet due to the extreme restrictions,” she says.
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.
Tip: Consuming a moderate dose of exogenous ketones during the initial “keto-adaptation” period could potentially accelerate the “adaptation,” while at a minimum increasing energy production. Once one is adapted, these products are excellent for achieving higher blood-ketone levels, which, in turn, can be beneficial for athletic and cognitive performance, energy production, and perhaps more effective therapeutic treatment.
Sharon M. Nickols-Richardson, PhD, RD, , Mary Dean Coleman, PhD, RD, Joanne J. Volpe, Kathy W. Hosig, PhD, MPH, RD, “Perceived Hunger Is Lower and Weight Loss Is Greater in Overweight Premenopausal Women Consuming a Low-Carbohydrate/High-Protein vs High-Carbohydrate/Low-Fat Diet,” The Journal of Pediatrics: Vol 105, Issue 9: 1433–1437; September 2005. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000282230501151X.
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.
As with other customized properties of the diet, the consumption of dairy is individualized. If digestive or glycemic problems develop due to the lactose and casein in dairy, then dairy may need to be avoided. If you can tolerate it, opt for lower carbohydrate dairy like cheese, heavy whipping cream, and butter, rather than higher carbohydrate products like milk.
For patients who benefit, half achieve a seizure reduction within five days (if the diet starts with an initial fast of one to two days), three-quarters achieve a reduction within two weeks, and 90% achieve a reduction within 23 days. If the diet does not begin with a fast, the time for half of the patients to achieve an improvement is longer (two weeks), but the long-term seizure reduction rates are unaffected. Parents are encouraged to persist with the diet for at least three months before any final consideration is made regarding efficacy.
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.