We all know that foods laced with fat is a recipe for a health disaster. Regularly including fatty meat, creamy sauces and other high fat food will surely send you to an early grave.
But what if I told you eating in this manner could not only help you to lose weight fast, but also improve your health? Read on to find out how.
What is the keto diet?
‘Keto’ is short for ‘ketogenic’. This refers to a diet that is low-carb, low sugar and high fat.
The keto diet works by forcing the body into a state of ketosis.
Diet Doctor defines ketosis as a “metabolic state in which your body uses fat and ketones rather than glucose (sugar) as its primary fuel source.”
Simply put, on a keto diet we deprive the body of its usual energy sources, which are those carbs and sugar. Now it has to use fat instead.
Your liver produces ketones, using both your body fat and the fat that you ingest. While in the state of ketosis, ketones are produced much quicker. This explains the weight loss.
You need to follow the keto diet strictly, as a mistake can throw you out of ketosis. Also, it’s not an eat-as-much-as-you like diet and you will need to calculate your portion sizes.
Planning is an important tool for successfully following the keto diet. Planning every single meal in advance will help you to put together a shopping list that only contains keto-friendly products.
Where did keto originate?
While ‘keto’ became a buzzword in the last couple of years, this diet is actually nothing new.
Health professionals used it in the 1920s and 30s as a tool to manage epilepsy.
A clinical trial conducted by a children’s hospital in the UK more recently confirmed the benefits of keto for epilepsy.
The results, published in 2017, showed that in 40% of children who took part, the number of seizures they experienced was reduced by more than half.
Even patients who didn’t experience fewer seizures reported that they felt more alert and responsive.
Due to the effect of the keto diet on the body, it flowed naturally that it would become a weight-loss solution.
A study published in 2004 looked at the long-term effects of the ketogenic diet on 83 obese patients.
Not only did these patients lose a significant amount of weight, they also showed lower cholesterol levels and lower levels of blood glucose.
11 need to know health benefits of the keto diet
What if you could get rid of those unsightly rolls on your body, as well as enjoy improved general health? There are those who claim that this is very likely to happen on the keto diet.
Diet Doctor identifies a rather substantial list of health benefits you might see on this eating plan. They include the following:
- Goodbye acne. We still need specific studies to link a ketogenic diet with a skin free of acne, but there is hope.
There have been reports from people following the diet that their skins cleared up. Furthermore, the ingestion of refined carbs have been shown to cause acne.
- Brain power. It is devastating to watch a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s diseases deteriorate. But health professionals are optimistic about keto to help prevent it.
This makes sense when you consider the risk factors for Alzheimer’s: type 2 diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.
These have been shown to respond well to a keto diet.
According to psychiatrist Dr Georgia Ede “…the most powerful way to change your brain chemistry is by food, because that’s where brain chemicals come from in the first place.
A ketogenic diet to prevent or even treat Alzheimer’s makes perfect sense to me. There is nothing to lose by trying it. It’s an area of huge potential.”
- Diabetes. A low-carb diet is helpful to control blood sugar levels.
Starchy food like potatoes, rice, pasta and bread may not necessarily taste sweet, but they do turn into sugar during the digestion process.
These are all carbs, and the more you eat of them, the higher your blood sugar levels will be.
- Digestive issues. Because of so many unhealthy options on the shelves, numerous people suffer from digestive problems.
So often we feel bloated, uncomfortable, and suffer from irregular and abnormal bowel movements.
However, many medical doctors have reported improvement in patients after suggesting a keto diet to them.
Swedish doctor Andreas Eenfeldt tells of a male patient in his twenties who couldn’t find relief from severe IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) symptoms.
“I suggested he tries a low-carb, high-fat diet, gave him a one-page pamphlet, and he agreed to try it. It was a quick 10-minute consultation.”
Two weeks later the patient said that his symptoms were completely gone, and he had lost some weight as an added bonus.
Canadian doctor, Evelyne Bourdua-Roy, also praises the keto diet for helping IBS patients.
“Most patients have given up hope of getting treatment, it seems,” she says.
“They’ve tried a lot of stuff, they’ve had a colonoscopy, they’ve had tests for food intolerances and celiac disease, all with no answers.”
“But when they go on a low-carb diet, most see an improvement within two weeks or less.”
- Migraines. Once again significant research is still lacking, but some followers of the keto diet have reported a vast improvement in terms of suffering from migraines.
- PCOS Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal disorder that makes many women’s lives extremely uncomfortable.
Symptoms include irregular/abnormal periods, male physical qualities such as excessive hair, acne, weight gain and ovaries that do not function normally (infertility).
Scientific evidence in favour of using a low-carb diet as part of your PCOS treatment exists, and looks very promising.
In 2005, 11 women with PCOS followed a keto diet for six months.
Five women managed to keep up the diet. They lost weight, showed an improved hormonal status and less body hair. And here’s the kicker: two of them got pregnant.
Another study in 2013 found that even just slightly cutting down on carbs can help women with PCOS. This was confirmed in a 2017 review of clinical trials.
For a 2020 study, 14 PCOS patients who followed a keto diet for 12 weeks once again showed significant health improvements, and an average weight loss of 9.4kg.
- Mental health. Sadly this is once again a case where significant research has not been done yet, and the only thing we can rely on are stories told by patients.
It is however a source of hope that sufferers of various psychiatric disorders have reported feeling better when following a keto diet.
This includes those who suffer from panic disorders, depression, bipolar disorder and even those with psychotic symptoms.
A 2009 case study tells the story of a 70-year-old overweight, schizophrenic woman who had suffered auditory and visual hallucinations since she was seven years old.
They prescribed her a diet allowing only 20g of carbs per day. Her protein and fat intake was not monitored and neither were her ketone levels.
However, her symptoms improved after only eight days on a low-carb diet. A year later she was still following a low-carb diet, and she was still free from hallucinations.
This is truly amazing, but it is not known how often these success stories occur and science still needs to achieve clarity on why it happens.
Are there health risks you should be aware of?
Did you raise your eyebrows upon finding out that keto is a high fat diet? This does, after all, go against everything we were taught about healthy eating.
The keto diet is controversial, and there are those who vehemently oppose it. Fact is that there isn’t enough research yet that proves this diet is safe in the long term.
The lack of research is because this diet is hard to stick to. Yes, you can get tired of bacon. Therefore researchers don’t get the opportunity to analyse the long-term effects.
Another concern is that the keto diet cuts out many healthy fruits and vegetables, potentially leading to nutrient deficiencies.
A few other possible dangers to be aware of include the following:
- Marcelo Campos, MD, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School, states that dieters have shown fluctuations in their cholesterol levels.
Some dieters have shown a raised cholesterol level in the beginning, only to have it decrease again after a few months.
But once again, there isn’t sufficient long-term research, and cholesterol is always something to take seriously.
- According to Edwina Clark, a dietitian from San Francisco, US, small studies have shown that muscle loss on the keto diet is a concern.
People who follow the keto diet have been shown to lose muscle even when the diet is paired with resistance training.
“This may relate to the fact that protein alone is less effective for muscle building than protein and carbohydrates together after exercise,” says Clark.
Loss of muscle is significant, especially as we age. A lack of strength increases the risk of falling, which is one of the main causes of injury or death in the elderly.
- Dietitian Kim Yawitz says that ingesting large amounts of animal protein can increase your risk of developing kidney stones.
Take special care to avoid processed meats.
If you suffer from kidney disease, it’s best to stay away from the keto diet and stick to meals as advised by your doctor.
- Like most diets, keto can be hard to keep up in the long run. Once you return to your normal diet, or even if you just reintroduce some carbs, you will likely gain weight again.
The danger of this is that fluctuating weight leads to an increase in abdominal fat, which increases your chances of developing diabetes.
From the horse’s mouth
There is clearly a lot of information out there, but not much solid scientific research. It’s enough to confuse anyone.
Medical opinions aside, what happened to real people who actually tried the keto diet? This is what a few Reddit users had to say:
- “My wife and I have been doing it for a little over two months now. I’ve lost about 32 pounds (14kg). It’s actually not as difficult as I thought it was.
It’s basically just no/little carbs and sugars. You still should monitor your calorie intake (less than 2,000/day), but overall I am satisfied with the results.
I’m going to keep going until I meet my goal weight and then once there I’ll be able to eat ‘normal’ every once in a while if I remain disciplined.”
- “Did it for 24 days. Lost weight crazy fast after probably the 4th day. I was no longer ‘sluggish’ and I felt like my mind was sharper. When I ate, I wasn’t hungry two hours afterwards.
I felt like my stomach stayed full for longer. Lost about 20lbs (9kg). Eventually I gave up because I work nights and weekends and it was hard to prep a bunch of food.”
- “It helped me learn a lot about food. It taught me how my body responds to certain foods. I felt my most alert when I was doing really well, drinking a ton of water.
I couldn’t maintain it for more than a few months but it was definitely worthwhile.”
You will find plenty of dramatic keto success stories online. But then there are also comments like the following:
- “My boyfriend did keto for a month. He did great. Lost weight and looked healthy. But he was in a bad mood all the time, I nearly rammed a pizza down his throat.”
- “Felt tired all day and gave it up after a few days.”
These responses are quite normal, unfortunately. Why? Keep reading.
What is the ‘keto flu’?
When you quit sugar and carbs, you deprive your body of its normal energy sources – and odds are you will feel it.
According to Dr Campos the “so-called keto flu is a group of symptoms that may appear two to seven days after starting a ketogenic diet.”
Keto flu can last anything from a week to a month, and some people might not experience it at all. The symptoms vary, and not all resemble an actual flu. And it’s definitely not contagious!
The most common keto flu symptoms include:
- Exhaustion/lack of energy
- Sugar cravings
- Muscle cramps
- Difficulty focusing and concentrating
- Constipation or diarrhoea
These symptoms can be highly unpleasant, but the good news is that most dieters report that it’s temporary. Keto flu can last from a few days up to a month, everyone is different.
Manage your keto flu with these tips:
- Instead of jumping head-first into keto, rather ease into it slowly. Start cutting on carbs only for a period of time, and only then go full keto.
- Remember that water is your friend.
- Consider taking a keto-friendly electrolyte supplement.
- Get some rest if you can, but also try to incorporate some light exercise, even though that might be the last thing you feel like doing.
Getting started on keto
First, you might wonder if you will have to count calories on keto. Yes you do, but adding fat to your diet can make things a bit easier.
You will not lose weight if you consume too many calories on keto, but if you simply refrain from eating when you are not hungry, this is unlikely to happen.
This is because you are eating food that can satiate you easier. Veggies and protein satisfy your hunger, while the fat content of your meal keeps you feeling fuller for longer.
Another thing that has actual value in a keto diet is keeping track of your macronutrients (macros). This refers to the nutrients you use the most of, which is typically carbs, protein and fats.
A keto diet comprises high fat intake, moderate protein and low carbs. More specifically, the macros are divided into about 55% to 60% fat, 30% to 35% protein and 5% to 10% carbohydrates.
However, we are all individuals, with different weight loss goals. Therefore we don’t have the same requirements in terms of macros, and you will have to work out your own.
This is easily done with a large number of online macro calculators and apps. The calculator will ask about your height, weight, age, goals, activity levels and the like.
Using this information, it will then work out the percentages of fat, carbs and protein your meals should consist of to reach your goals.
How to tell you are in ketosis
It doesn’t take a set amount of time to reach ketosis, that will differ between individuals. But there are a few tell-tale signs that things are changing in your body:
- Keto breath. Your breath may take on a fruity quality because keto production in the body leads to acetone being exhaled.
- Your keto flu symptoms get replaced by feeling more focused and energetic.
- An appetite reduction gets rid of unwanted cravings.
- You are losing fat. Note that you will likely lose a lot of weight when you get started on keto, but initially it’s mostly water. You only start burning fat a few weeks into the diet.
So, what can I actually eat on keto?
Typically you will stick to fatty cuts of meat and fatty fish, leafy green veg, perhaps with a creamy sauce or some mozzarella melted over your veggies.
You will require proper research to enable you to eat correctly, as many kinds of fruit and veg contain too many carbs. Note the following potential drawbacks:
- Learn to read the label on the products you buy. You will find carbs and sugar in the places you least expect them.
You can, for example, still have a braai on keto, but beware of marinades. They are often sugary.
- The constant meal planning and prep can be time-consuming and tedious. You lose the convenience of quick and easy breakfast cereal and a sandwich for lunch.
- It will take even more planning to keep your keto meals affordable. There are plenty of carb-free products on the shelf to replace what you would usually use.
You can, for example, use almond flour instead of flour. But, where normal flour is fairly cheap, a pack or almost flour can cost you around R100.
There is always a silver lining, though. You can still enjoy your braai – and believe it or not, cauliflower on the braai is quite a treat.
You can enjoy a drink as well on keto, as long as you check the sugar content of both your drink and mixer.
Should you do it?
The bottom line is that all people are different, and no one can tell you how your body will respond to the keto diet.
Research so far has shown us that keto can do wonders in the short term, but we don’t know what the long-term effects are.
This is ultimately your own decision, taken at your own risk. It is, however, always advised to chat to your doctor before making any drastic lifestyle changes.
P.S. Please note that this is research content and do not in any way portray the views and workings of the CSN Diet.