There's definitely something behind all the hype.
"If the diet is done right, you can lose a substantial amount of weight," says Josh Axe, a clinical nutritionist and doctor of natural medicine in Tennessee. But weight loss aside, is following the ketogenic diet actually a healthy way to live? Here is everything you need to know before trying it.
Know how it works.
The guidelines for going keto are straightforward: Eat a moderate amount of protein, increase fat consumption and reduce carbohydrate intake, explains Eric Westman, M.D., director of the Duke Lifestyle Medical Clinic, in North Carolina. On this plan, you should only consume 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day. (For reference, a small bowl of plain pasta contains about 40 grams.)
Here's the science behind it: Carbohydrates that come from sugary foods and starches are converted into glucose, which your body naturally burns for energy. However, when you bring carb consumption down, your body is forced to find a new fuel source -- stored fat, breaking it down into molecules called ketone bodies that it uses for energy (a process called ketosis). The result? Weight loss. "You can lose a pound or two a week," says Westman.
Explore possible benefits beyond weight loss.
Interestingly, doctors in the 1920s used the ketogenic diet as a way to treat childhood epilepsy. Nowadays, experts often recommend going keto for other brain-related reasons. "The diet has been found to increase alertness and improve cognitive function," says Westman. Though no formal studies have concluded why, he suspects this boost may come from the combination of energy-packed ketones and a reduction in sleep-inducing carbohydrates.
Find out if it's actually safe.
This super-restrictive regimen is not suggested if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you suffer from gallbladder or liver conditions. "In some people, it overtaxes your liver in the long term," explains Axe. In addition, studies are inconclusive regarding how a ketogenic diet affects cholesterol levels. Because of all this, it's smart to check with your doctor before starting.
Ready to give it a go? Axe suggests trying a ketogenic diet for 90 days. After that, alternate two days of keto eating with one carb day, in which 30 to 40 percent of your food intake comes from healthy sugars and starches -- such sweet potatoes and berries. "Incorporating some carbs with a keto-cycling approach is much more doable and is something many people can maintain for the rest of their life," says Axe.
Understand what to eat.
Wondering how to get started? Here's a satisfying sample menu that keeps your carb intake low:
Breakfast: 2 scrambled eggs with 1/2 cup sauteed spinach (cooked in 1 tablespoon coconut oil).
Lunch: Arugula salad with a can of tuna (mixed with 2 tablespoons mayo), 8 toasted almonds and some lemon zest.
Dinner: 1/4 of a rotisserie chicken, 1 cup roasted cauliflower (cooked in 1 tablespoon olive oil) and 1/2 avocado on the side.