The keto diet has gained popularity in recent years as a way to lose weight and improve overall health. Just about everyone knows someone or has heard of someone who has been positively impacted by this rising diet trend. But what are the benefits according to science? And is a keto diet something you should be considering for your own health goals?
Keto may seem new, but it has been around for quite some time and was not originally intended to be used for weight loss or many of the other ways it is being used today. Keto came about in the late 1920s as a potential way to reduce seizures in children with epilepsy. Nearly a hundred years later, following the boom of the low-carb lifestyle, going keto is now associated with a wide range of health benefits.
And science is just beginning to tap into the impacts of this nutrition approach.
Here is what we understand about keto eating today and the exciting emerging benefits based on the research we’ve done so far.
How Keto Works
The keto diet (or ketogenic diet) is a low-carb, high-fat diet that aims to put your body in a state of ketosis. Ketosis is a metabolic state where your body will burn fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. This is typically achieved by eating fewer than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day (or 20 grams of net carbs) and more than 50% of your total calories from dietary fat.
Carbohydrates are typically your body’s preferred source of fuel because they supply quick energy to your muscles and are one of the only nutrients that can adequately provide calories for your brain. On keto, your body compromises for the lack of carbohydrates by producing high levels of ketone bodies from fatty acids - ketones are also able to supply energy to your brain and muscles.
This change in metabolic state is what makes a ketogenic lifestyle so unique, compared to many other diets that focus on calorie control alone. Additionally, keto is one of the few low-carb diets that emphasize such high intakes of dietary fat.
What are the Benefits of a Keto Diet?
- Weight Loss
- Increased Fat Burning
- Decreased Hunger
- Improved Nutrition
- Blood Sugar Control
- Heart Health
- Brain Health
While the true benefits of going keto depend on the individual and their unique health factors, it seems keto may have something to offer just about anyone interested in trying it. Whether you are looking to lose weight, improve your metabolic health, or tap into other potential benefits of ketosis, the suggested perks of this style of eating are quite interesting and worth considering.
Here are the top 7 benefits associated with keto according to science:
1. Weight Loss
Burning fat for energy does not necessarily mean automatic fat loss. Research still indicates that calorie control in addition to macronutrient balance is crucial for losing weight. However, one of the primary benefits of the keto diet is weight loss.
It is likely that weight loss is commonly seen on a keto diet due to a combination of effects that support fat loss, including increased fat-burning potential, decreased intake of high-sugar beverages and processed foods, improved appetite control, and decreased calorie intake (1,2,3,4,5).
2. Increased Fat Burning
Over time, forcing your body to use more fat for energy instead of carbohydrates may improve your metabolism and make your body excellent at burning fat. Which, in turn, might make it easy to lose fat when you cut calories. Some limited research even suggests that going keto alone can increase the speed of your metabolism (4,5).
3. Decreased Hunger
It is commonly thought that ketogenic diets reduce. This is likely because increasing your intake of fat and protein is both associated with feeling more satiated (2). Additionally, the more savory, rich-tasting food choices allowed on the plan may be more desirable for some, reducing certain cravings and making it easier to stick to long-term.
4. Improved Nutrition
Additionally, going keto requires fairly restrictive food choices and will automatically cut out many processed, high-calorie foods like soda, desserts, fried foods, pastries, etc. This restriction in food choices leaves you with mostly vegetables, proteins, and more simple foods to choose from which might end up improving your nutrition and leading to decreased caloric intake.
5. Blood Sugar Control
Additionally, studies are also looking at the ability of keto to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. By reducing carbohydrate intake, your body produces less insulin, which can help improve insulin levels and potentially manage risk of diabetes. In one study, type 2 diabetics following a ketogenic diet had improved insulin function and increased weight loss compared to those following a traditional calorie-controlled diet (5).
6. Heart Health
Because high blood pressure is often linked to obesity and keto is associated with weight loss,keto may provide benefits around decreased blood pressure as a result. Additionally, some studies have linked ketogenic diets to improved cholesterol levels (6,7). However, any improved heart health benefits are heavily determined by the quality and nutrition of your food choices.
7. Brain Health
Based on the origin of ketogenic diets for seizures, it would make sense that this style of eating affects the brain in some way. Studies are just beginning to tap into any potential benefits of ketones for your brain but limited research in animals suggests that ketogenic diets may have a role in treating neurological disorders (8). In one study, the presence of ketones in patients with Parkinson's disease reduced muscle tremor and stiffness, as well as improved cognitive function (9).
Will a Keto Diet Work for You?
Keto sounds very exciting to many as a possible miracle solution to their dietary struggles. However, if you are looking at keto as a way to avoid eating a balanced nutritious diet, you are going to be disappointed.
Just like any dietary approach, the quality of your food choices has the largest impact on your overall health and fitness goals. And going keto is a license to eat whatever you want; nutrition is crucial to your overall success. Although, for many keto can work as a great framework to begin making improvements in their food choices by pushing them more towards a simple, whole-foods approach.
You may also find that switching to a ketogenic lifestyle is quite difficult. If you are aiming to follow a strict keto meal plan, the limited food choices and very low carbohydrate intake, require detailed nutrition tracking and meal planning for success. For many, this requires learning a whole new skill in addition to changing up your food choices.
Moreover, reconfiguring your metabolism comes with some short-term side effects - none of which are life-threatening, but they can be uncomfortable. These side effects, known as the "keto flu," can include fatigue, headaches, and irritability. These side effects are temporary and typically subside after a few days.
It's important to consider whether the diet is appropriate for your stage of life. For example, children, pregnant women, and individuals with certain medical conditions may not be good candidates for a keto diet.
All this being said, keto is still looked at as the ideal approach by many dieters. And plenty of people find the initial learning curve is well worth the long-term benefits of how this eating approach makes them feel.
Ultimately, the best diet for you is the one you enjoy most, as this is the one you will stick to the longest. So if you are interested in going keto, give a keto meal plan a try. Start slow and see how your body feels. Or consider switching to a modified version that emphasizes the same core principles of keto without going as strict on the macro counting.
Get Started on a Keto Diet Today
Want to make sticking to a low-carb diet much easier? Trifecta has a team of nutrition-trained chefs that will handle all of your low-carb meal planning, and ship you ready-to-eat keto meals directly to your doorstep. So you can get a jump start on your health and weight loss goals.
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