This article has been Fact-Checked by Kendall Kennedy MS, RD, RYT
The ketogenic diet is becoming more and more popular. Is it a safe diet and if so, should you try out the ketogenic diet for weight loss?
Choosing a weight loss diet can be a difficult task. There is no shortage of different options, some crazier than others.
One of the diets you hear a lot more of these days is the ketogenic diet so let’s take a closer look at it.
The ketogenic diet explained
The ketogenic diet, or keto diet in short, is a low-carb, medium protein, high-fat diet.
The goal of this diet is to get into a metabolic state called ketosis. Ketosis is when you only use fat as fuel. This way your body becomes better at converting both dietary and body fat into fuel.
The fuel you get from fat, ketones are different than the fuel from carbohydrates. There is some evidence that using ketones as a fuel can be better for your health.
Keto macros for weight loss
To get into ketosis most people need the following macro ratio.
Around 70% of your calories have to come from fat, 25% from protein, and 5% from carbohydrates.
There are some things to keep in mind.
First of all, there is a kind of carbohydrate called “fiber”. Fiber is mostly present in vegetables. Your body doesn’t actually absorb it as calories but it does promote gut health. A lot of macro calculators count fiber as a carbohydrate but you don’t actually use it.
You want to exclude fiber from your macronutrient calculations. If you don’t you will most likely not eat enough vegetables which will cause negative effects sooner or later.
The second thing is that people who exercise a lot can be a tiny bit more careless with carbohydrates and still stay in ketosis. Being 5% off will probably not kick you out of ketosis.
What can’t you eat on the ketogenic diet?
One of the most important things for long term health on a diet plan is taking a look at what you can’t eat. Your body is not able to make certain vitamins and minerals. However, we absolutely need them to function well in the short and the long term.
The best way to get all these nutrients is from real food in your diet. Supplements don’t always have the same effect.
That’s why it’s important to take a look at food a diet plan forbids. If there is no way to get all the nutrients you need from real food on the diet plan you might want to stay away from it.
So what does the ketogenic diet forbid you from eating?
Food with too many net carbohydrates. Not all carbohydrates get absorbed by your body to use. Fiber does not actually get absorbed into your body. It does feed the microbes in your intestines. But food packaging usually ads fiber to the total carbohydrates while fiber doesn’t really count. Net carbohydrates are basically total carbohydrates – fiber.
Micronutrients on keto
The main concern people have with the ketogenic diet is having to avoid a lot of fruit.
The next question is then, “can we get the micronutrients in fruits from other food sources?” and the answer is yes. Pretty much all the micronutrients in fruit can be found in vegetables lower in carbohydrates. Some fruit, like lemons and certain berries are keto-approved if you don’t overdo it.
Some vegetables also contain a decent amount of carbohydrates. So, depending on how strict you plan to do keto, your diet can become a bit of a puzzle. However, you should be able to find a combination in which you don’t overdo it with carbohydrates and still get your necessary nutrients.
If you have to choose between getting out of ketosis and not getting enough micronutrients it’s better for your long term health to accept not being in ketosis for a few hours.
The question on keto is more “do we really need to get calories from carbohydrates?”
The answer to that question is not completely clear but a lot of studies are seeing a positive impact of the ketogenic diet. However, it’s hard and expensive to do big, long-term studies on the subject.
Different kinds of keto
Keto can be done in a few different ways too.
There are different kinds of fat and protein. The “rules” of the ketogenic diet don’t specify from which sources you need to get your fat and protein but it does matter for your health.
This causes some versions of keto to be healthier than others and it complicates the different research done on the ketogenic diet.
What are the advantages of the ketogenic diet?
Now the advantages of the ketogenic diet.
In general the kinds of food you will eat on the ketogenic diet fill you up pretty well compared to other foods. This means you will feel less hungry on the ketogenic diet.
The next advantage is a smaller risk of diabetes. Most cases of diabetes follow a diet rich in refined carbohydrates. Your body becomes less sensitive to the insulin your body produces to keep your blood sugar at the right level. It becomes impossible for your body to produce enough insulin and this is when you need to take extra insulin.
The ketogenic diet keeps the amount of carbohydrates you eat low. By doing this you need less and less insulin. You will probably have to take less extra insulin and your body might even become more sensitive to insulin again.
Foods high in carbohydrates usually also cause a lot of inflammation in your body. Inflammation can be the cause of diseases like for example arthritis.
The metabolic state of ketosis also makes it so your body is better and better able to convert body fat into fuel.
By removing high-carbohydrate sources your blood sugar will be steadier throughout the day. This can make those mid-day energy dips less extreme.
Potential side effects of the ketogenic diet
Some people don’t do well with the ketogenic diet for reasons varying from suboptimal approaches to genetic differences. If that is the case you may experience some of the following side effects:
- Bad breath
- Low mood
- Digestive issues
- Increased risk of uric acid (a risk factor for gout)
- Kidney stones
Conclusion of the ketogenic diet
There are multiple ways to do a ketogenic diet. This and other reasons make it so there is no clear consensus on whether or not the ketogenic diet is the right thing to do for the long term.
However, if you can stick to a healthy version of keto, you may experience a lot of benefits without any downsides.