You don’t have to be interested in weight loss to have heard of the “keto diet”. This strict low carb diet has been gaining popular attention in recent years – but it’s important to understand both the benefits and potential risks before making a change in the way you eat.
What is the ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic or “keto” diet is a low-carbohydrate, fat-rich diet that has historically been used to treat medical conditions like pediatric epilepsy, cancer, and diabetes among others. One of our Registered Dietitians, Kristen Coleman, explains that there are many different types of ketogenic diets.
“Keto can range from something where you’re doing ratios of grams of fat to grams of protein…. all the way to just a low-carb diet. It’s very complex... Depending where you are in your health and the type of benefits your looking for, we can determine which type of ketogenic diet is best for you,” Coleman said.
According to Coleman, the reason the keto diet has become so popular for weight loss is because it works fast. When you cut out carbohydrates from your diet, your body is forced to change the way it metabolizes food.
How does the keto diet work?
“Your body will first use up all of the stored carbohydrates you have in your body and when those are gone it will switch over to ketosis where you’re starting to burn fat. Then, you kind of slow down weight loss wise, but it can continue,” Coleman said.
What’s the first step in starting the keto diet?
Before starting any type of dietary change, talk with your primary care doctor or dietitian about finding an option that’s right for you.
Coleman says that if weight loss is your primary goal, she doesn’t recommend starting with a strict keto diet. Instead, try focusing on a low-carbohydrate diet. Eat more vegetables and eliminate foods with unhealthy carbohydrates like chips, candy and soda.
“In the ketogenic diet you have to eat vegetables – you can’t live off bacon,” Coleman says.
What are the risks of the keto diet?
While following a strict keto diet can lead to quick weight loss, it may be challenging to maintain for a long period of time. Also, if not done properly, it can also lead to an increased risk of high cholesterol, among other issues.
“A lot of people think you can go on a ketogenic diet or an Atkins type diet and think they can eat bacon and steak at every meal, and butter is ok,” Coleman explains. “Those foods are part of a ketogenic diet, but they can’t be our sole source... Then also you’ll get the side effects of high cholesterol, dyslipidemia, and you’re not going to be as healthy as you could be if you were doing the ketogenic diet appropriately.”
What’s the most important thing I need to know about the keto diet?
“Everybody’s body is going to respond differently,” Coleman explains. “It’s always best to talk to your doctor before you make any huge dietary change.”