What Is The 'Keto Diet,' And How Do I Know If A Ketogenic Plan Is Right For Me?

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What Is 'The Keto Diet'? How To Know if A Ketogenic Plan Is Right For You
Health And Wellness

The keto diet is nothing new, but it's gotten very popular lately for people swearing by it for weight loss.

The ketogenic diet is one in which you try and eliminate carbs from your meals in order to make your body metabolize fat. There are a ton of different keto diet plans, keto meals, and keto foods, so how can you be sure if a ketogenic diet plan is for you?

RELATED: Should I Be On The Keto Diet? Here's What You Should Know Before You Try It

Diets come and go! Some stick around for a long time and others are just a fad! Low carbohydrate diets are changing and shifting over time.

If you're seriously considering the keto diet, you need to understand if it's right for you.

What is the keto diet?

According to WebMD, Ketogenic” is a term for a low-carb diet (like the Atkins diet). The idea is for you to get more calories from protein and fat and less from carbohydrates. You cut back most of the carbs that are easy to digest, like sugar, soda, pastries, and white bread.

By limiting your intake of carbohydrates, you intentionally attempt to put yourself into "ketosis" otherwise known as a "ketogenic state," which forces your body to consume fat as its main energy source in order to lose weight.

Different foods provide different calories. In laymen’s terms, carbohydrates provide four calories per gram. Protein provides the same four calories per gram. Fat is concentrated and provides more calories at nine calories per gram.

Alcohol is not calorie-free and provides seven calories per gram.

In general terms, carbohydrates are the best source of energy. In the body, they get converted to blood glucose. Glucose is used to supply energy in the body including the brain and central nervous systems.

Carbs often get a bad rap, but the issue is not the carbohydrates, it's the source of carbohydrates.

Some of these foods may be obvious to keep off of your ketogenic food list: Starches from both refined and whole grains like breads, cereals, pasta, rice, and cookies. Potatoes, corn, and other starchy vegetables, and fruit juices.

Some that may not be so obvious are: Beans, legumes, and most fruits.

Most ketogenic meal plans allow foods high in saturated fat, such as fatty cuts of meat, processed meats, lard, and butter, as well as sources of unsaturated fats, such as nuts, seeds, avocados, plant oils, and oily fish. Depending on your source of information, ketogenic food lists may vary and even conflict.

"Good" carbohydrates are found in whole grains, brown rice, nuts, legumes, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. They come with added nutrients like vitamins and minerals. This is something to consider when looking at the keto diet.

A common ketogenic diet menu contains seafood, low-carb vegetables, cheese, avocados, meat and poultry, eggs, coconut oil, plain Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and berries.

Carbs that aren't the best are refined and have a lot of added sugar and fat, like white flour, white bread, white rice, sugary drinks, cakes, pies, pastries, donuts, etc.

According to Today’s Dietitian, there are a few different types of carbohydrate diets. These include:

  • Very low-carbohydrate diet: 21 g to 70 g per day of carbohydrates
  • Moderately low-carbohydrate diet: 30 percent to greater than 40 percent of kcal as carbohydrate per day
  • Moderate-carbohydrate diet: 40 percent to 65 percent of kcal as carbohydrate per day
  • High-carbohydrate diet: greater than 65 percent of kcal as carbohydrate per day

From this, you can see the comparison of diets with different amounts of carbohydrates. The keto diet is in the very low-carbohydrate diet range.

Also according to Today's Dietician, the ideal amount of carbohydrates is less than 50 g per day, but some of these eating plans recommend only 20 g to 30 g per day.

RELATED: Why Some People Find The 'Keto Diet' Simply Unbearable (And Totally Not Worth It)

There are four types of Keto diets:

  • Standard ketogenic diet (SKD): This is a very low-carb, moderate-protein and high-fat diet. It typically contains 75 percent fat, 20 percent protein and 5 percent carbs.
  • Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): This diet involves periods of higher-carb refeeds, such as 5 ketogenic days followed by 2 high-carb days.
  • Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): This diet allows you to add carbs around workouts.
  • High-protein ketogenic diet: This is similar to a standard ketogenic diet, but includes more protein. The ratio is often 60 percent fat, 35 percent protein, and 5 percent carbs.

The body uses carbohydrates as a source of energy like a car uses gas. Carbohydrates provide the main source of energy in the body and get converted to blood glucose.

This is what allows the brain and the central nervous system to function. Glucose is always being used by your body whether you are active, sleeping, sitting, walking, running, or any other activity.

The second way the body finds energy is breaking down the protein or amino acids that you eat. This takes more work for the body to break down than just carbohydrates.

If you don't follow the keto diet exactly by restricting your protein, you may not go into the state of "ketosis." Instead, the protein will be your source of blood glucose or energy.

If carbohydrates and protein sources for glucose are not available in the body, then the body will use the ketones for energy. This is the least efficient way for the body to find energy.

Many versions of ketogenic diets exist, but all ban carb-rich foods.

While the keto diet has many benefits, the truth is that is hasn't been well-researched and shouldn't be treated like a "magic formula," says Dr. Donal Hensrud of the Mayo Clinic.

"We've known for a long period of time that when you decrease carbohydrate intake markedly, the body starts to use fat. And when you burn fat, you produce ketones, and the body goes into ketosis.”

He says it will help you drop weight, but the problem is what happens after most people lose the initial weight.

"Long term, it's hard," Dr. Hensrud says. "People miss some fruits, different vegetables, grains. ... It becomes a very restrictive diet. So although people lose weight initially, maintaining it and keep it off long term is a real challenge on a keto diet.”

If you are serious about your health, the long-term consequence is something you must consider before beginning this diet.

There are certain health conditions however, that would benefit from the use of a keto diet, and those include children with epilepsy and diabetics.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation:

  • The "classic" ketogenic diet is a special high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that helps control seizures in some people with epilepsy.
  • Doctors usually recommend the ketogenic diet for children whose seizures have not responded to several different seizure medicines.
  • The typical "classic" ketogenic diet, called the "long-chain triglyceride diet," provides 3 to 4 grams of fat for every 1 gram of carbohydrate and protein.
  • It is prescribed by a physician and carefully monitored by a dietitian.

The keto diet for epilepsy in children is different than for the keto diet for other uses, like in people of all ages with diabetes.

Diabetes is a condition where the control of the blood sugar known as glucose needs to be regulated. If you are diabetic and want to use this diet for weight loss, see your healthcare provider first. This is especially true if you are taking any kind of medication for diabetes.

The most obvious health risk is due to the high levels of fat that are consumed in the keto diet. If a lot of saturated fat is consumed this will affect the issue of heart disease. You would need to talk to your health care provider about this and have regular monitoring for any adverse effects.

Other health issues can include nutrient deficiency, liver and kidney problems, constipation, fuzzy thinking and mood swings.

Like most health issues, it's best to talk with your health care provider before you start this diet and after you're done, too. The keto diet is like some medications in that you need to taper off of it slowly for your body to readjust. This means gradually increasing the amount of carbohydrate slowly over time.

Following a keto diet is a lot of work and may be socially challenging as well. You need to have a health care provider help you with this decision as well as be committed to the process for the long haul.

RELATED: 7 Life-Changing Things That Happen When You Try The Low-Carb, High-Fat Ketogenic Diet

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Audrey Tait is a dietitian, psychotherapist, counselor, writer, author, speaker, photographer, and founder of Inspirational Insights Counselling, Inc., which helps you find your personal peace by overcoming trauma, addictions, disorder eating and creating positive affirmations. Learn more about how to care for, respect yourself, and affirm yourself in her books.

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