What is the Keto Diet?

With the new year upon us, new diets and weight loss resolutions are made. One diet in particular that is currently in the spotlight is the ketogenic diet. As a student learning about nutrition, I always find it interesting when I hear about the diets people try.  Maybe you have heard about it because a friend is on it or recently heard about Jillian Michaels opinion on the diet.

To give some background, the ketogenic diet was originally and is currently used as a form of treatment for intractable epilepsy. The diet is not in any way new as it was conceptualized in 1921 after previous studies showed the effects of fasting on epilepsy. These previous studies noted that fasting proved to improve seizure control, specifically when carbohydrates were absent in the diet. This caused the body to use fat as energy through the process of ketosis.

Ketosis occurs when there is an accumulation of ketones in the bloodstream. Normally, our bodies use glucose as our main source of energy, which comes from the consumption of carbohydrates. The brain requires a certain amount of glucose a day, but it cannot store glucose. When first on the keto diet, glucose is no longer produced at a steady rate, this means the brain must extract glucose from the muscle and liver. After a period of a few days, glucose stores are depleted and the liver begins to produce ketone bodies for energy. At this point the body is in ketosis. Ketone bodies come from fat, which is where the fat and weight loss claims stem from.

The keto diet is attractive to many due to the specific foods allowed on the diet, which are usually high in fat. What the diet consists of amount wise differs depending on the person and situation. In the case of research studies, there are more specific ratios the diet follows in order to reach the highest ketogenic potential. For the everyday person that is trying this diet, it typically follows an average of 70-80% of calories from fat, 5-10% from carbs, and 10-20% from protein.

The diet consists mainly of fat from meat, eggs, shellfish, poultry, fish, nuts, oils, butter, mayonnaise, and a variety of cheeses. With the low consumption of carbohydrates, this means starchy vegetables and most fruits are avoided. Pure sugar is also avoided when on the diet, the alternatives are non-nutritive sweeteners such as stevia or liquid sweeteners. Protein is not a major focus for the diet as the consumption is kept moderate. But, it is important to know that high protein consumption can prevent ketosis.

Consult with a dietitian and continue doing extensive research on the diet before jumping into it. There is a lot more that goes into the diet than what is explained, so I highly recommend looking into the science of the ketogenic diet. Do not blindly follow a diet someone told you about or you heard about on TV, make sure to consult with a dietitian and spend time on educating yourself!