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Fast Facts about the keto diet
Little is known on whether or not long-term adherence is safe or if the diet is safe
for everyone in the short term, especially those with pre-existing health conditions.
The ketogenic diet premiered in the medical setting in 1921 by Dr. Russel Wilder.
The diet was originally intended to treat children diagnosed with epilepsy. The anti-seizure
effects were first noticed in response to fasting. However, the ketogenic diet was
crafted to support growth and development in children without long periods of not
Recently the ketogenic diet (also known as the keto diet) has risen to fame as a fad
diet that claims to treat obesity. Calories in food come from three different sources:
fats, carbohydrates and proteins. These three sources are called macronutrients.
According to the USDA, the standard American diet follows a macronutrient composition
of 40 percent fat, 11 percent protein and 48 percent carbohydrate. The ketogenic diet
requires eating your macronutrients at a ratio of 60 percent fat, 30-35 percent protein
and 5-10 percent carbohydrates.
For someone consuming 2,000 calories a day, they would only be allowed to consume
20-25 grams of carbohydrates. Eating carbs at such low levels requires staying away
from foods such as rice, pasta, bread, fruit and potatoes. However, you can eat foods
high in dietary fat such as meats, nuts, cheese, avocados and eggs.
Avoiding eating carbohydrates and increasing the amount of dietary fats you eat for
a long period of time (1-2 weeks) causes your body to change its metabolism and enter
a condition called ketosis. Ketosis mimics the effects of prolonged fasting and starvation.
We use fuel (e.g., the calories we eat) in a way that can be compared to hybrid cars.
If one fuel source is used up, the backup fuel source will kick in. Normally our brains
rely heavily on a steady supply of glucose (carbs) for fuel. When we eat more carbohydrates
than we need, our body stores them for later use. Stored glucose is packed tightly
into molecules called glycogen which can be used to maintain our body in case we go
too long without eating a meal.
These reserves can only last about one day; and once depleted, the body must switch
to a different fuel source called ketones.
Ketones are produced in the liver. In response to low levels of glucose, the body
begins breaking down fat tissue for fuel in the form of free fatty acids. Free fatty
acids can be used as a fuel source throughout the body except for in the brain.
The chart above indicates that the keto diet requires eating macronutrients at a ratio
of 60% fat, 30-35% protein and 5-10% carbs.
This causes the brain to hit the metabolic panic button in demand for a source of
fuel. In response, the liver begins to repackage fatty acids into ketones, which are
allowed access into the brain for fuel. The ketogenic diet makes your body think it
is in a state of ketosis, making you burn fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates or
Download our keto diet fact sheet for details
In an analysis of 13 randomized controlled human trials, researchers concluded that
the ketogenic diet caused the following changes to participants:
The short-term weight loss effects of the ketogenic diet seem promising, but very
little information is known on whether or not these effects continue during long-term
compliance. In fact, one of the major concerns regarding the diet is its long-term
feasibility. Strict dieting regimens that lead to short-term weight loss can eventually
lead to increased weight gain once dieters stop following the diet.
As mentioned earlier, the majority of calories in a ketogenic diet originate from
fat. This causes many to fear the risks of developing heart complications due to increased
consumption of saturated fats and cholesterol. Nevertheless a recent analysis reviewing
more than 20 published trials reported there is no significant evidence that consumption
of saturated fat increases the risk of heart complications.