Does keto work?
Keto is like the popular kid in school: no one can stop talking about them, and everyone seems to agree that they are great, but you still have some concerns (like does it even work?). Over the span of a few years, keto went from being seen as an ‘extreme diet’ to getting more mainstream acceptance from celebrities and fitness experts alike.
Most people adopt the keto diet to achieve their health and fitness goals. There are several health claims of the keto diet including improved cardiovascular health, protection from seizures, and of course, weight loss.
But the key question remains: does keto work? In this in-depth answer, we dig a little deeper into the research behind the keto diet to uncover its main benefits. We also dive into the risks that may come with following a keto diet.
Why Keto Diet Results May Vary
While the keto diet does produce impressive results, studies show that most people find it difficult to adhere to the proposed eating patterns in the long run.
In addition, most people have a poor understanding of what the keto diet actually entails. They often confuse the keto diet with a high protein diet or underestimate the caloric value of certain keto-friendly food products (such as low carb berries). In truth, the goal of the keto diet is to get more calories from fat than from carbs.
The diet works by cutting off foods (or severely restricting their intake of carbohydrates) so that the body is forced to turn to sugar reserves. This process can trigger the production of ketones that the body uses as a fuel source.
But people can gain weight on the keto diet if they exceed their maintenance calories. Unfortunately, there is no fighting the CICO (calorie in, calorie out) rule.
In fact, there is a growing body of long-term research and evidence showing that the low-carb diet due to keto can help individuals lose more weight compared to a standard high-carb diet.
The Difficulty of Cutting Out Carbs
With the keto diet, carbs should only represent 5% of a person’s total caloric intake. Most people find it difficult to cut out carbs in their first few days of the keto diet. However, triggering a state of ketosis necessitates the reduction in carbs to the recommended range.
In fact, it isn’t uncommon for people to binge eat keto-friendly foods and increase their caloric intake. Consider using a carbohydrate manager to track your calories from carbs. A calorie tracker will help you pay more attention to your portion size to achieve the energy expenditure you need to lose weight.
The Confusion Between Water Weight and the Keto Diet
Most people who achieve ‘fast results’ due to the keto diet are unaware that the first few pounds they lose are most likely loss of water weight. This creates a false sense of security that leads them into consuming ‘cheat meals’ as a reward for achieving weight loss. The only problem with this approach is that the water weight returns after reintroducing carbs into the body.
The return of water weight may be a source of demotivation and derail a person from the keto plan entirely because they don’t see it working. This is why it is recommended to follow the keto diet for at least 6 months. The total calorie intake (from both fat and carbs) should be under their maintenance calories.
How to Know if the Body is in Ketosis?
When a person is in ketosis, the liver produces ketones to supply more energy to the body and brain. There are several ways of knowing if the body is in ketosis. The expensive method is to measure ketone levels in the bloodstream. There are a few methods of testing for ketones:
Using urine strips: We’ve done a detailed article on testing for ketones using urine strips here. Urine tests aren’t very accurate but they give you an estimate of the presence of ketones in the body. In fact, you will expel fewer ketones even though your body is using them for energy.
Ketone Breath Tester: This method allows you to measure acetone levels in the breath. Acetones are water-soluble ketone molecules. The higher your acetone levels, the further your body is into ketosis.
Blood Meters: Blood meters can accurately detect the level of ketosis in the body, but they are very expensive. They draw a small amount of blood from the fingerprint to analyze it.
If you don’t want to frequently test for ketones, you can use the following signs to indicate if your body is in ketosis:
- Metallic taste in the mouth
- Fruit breath
- Fewer sugar cravings
- Maintaining your weight goals
- Keto flu symptoms that appear a few days after entering into a state of ketosis
Why Doesn’t the Keto Diet Work for Some People
It is common to assume that the keto diet is ineffective at achieving weight loss when in reality, there are other factors at play. For example, stress hormones such as cortisol can increase the body’s likelihood of holding onto fat and retaining water weight.
To monitor your stress, you should try to identify your triggers. Whether it is lack of sleep, anxiety, or the mental fortitude needed to stick to a restrictive diet, you have to clear it out of your system.
Cortisol can increase your heart rate, blood glucose (even if you’re not eating any sugar), blood pressure, and muscle tension. The truth is that most people are under constant stress, whether it is due to their daily commute, work, financial responsibilities, or lack of sleep.
To manage your stress levels, try to prioritize sleep and participate in activities that mellow you out, such as exercising and relaxing.
The Link Between Sleep and Results from Keto
Studies show that lack of sleep could offset any rapid weight loss effects you may achieve from the keto diet. This is because a lack of sleep can impact hunger regulating hormones such as ghrelin and leptin, thereby increasing one’s appetite and lead to binge eating.
A good way to improve stress is by trying mediation techniques and spending less time on electronic devices.
Does Keto Work for Diabetes?
The low-carb model of the keto diet is ideal for people who are looking to improve their insulin. This is because high-carb foods such as rice, bread, pasta, and milk can cause a blood sugar spike in the blood.
The keto diet allows the body to maintain glucose levels to a low but healthy level. This can also eliminate large spikes in blood sugar, and reduce the need to take insulin.
Studies have suggested that following a keto diet can improve glycemic control and reduce the risk of diabetes in people who don’t have it.
Note that you should discuss your diet changes with your doctor, especially if you are on medication. Not consuming enough carbohydrates can be dangerous, especially if you are taking medications for diabetes.
The Benefits of the ketogenic diet
There are several benefits of the ketogenic diet besides weight loss, including:
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Lower blood pressure
- High HDL and low LDL
- A drop in insulin
The Importance of Meal Planning
The ketogenic diet only works when a person follows it strictly and is mindful about meeting their daily macronutrients. It is important to develop a diet plan in which the macronutrient breakdown is as follows:
- 75% fat
- 20% protein
- 5% carb
However, you may follow different proportions depending on your goals. In all cases, you should avoid processed foods and focus on more natural foods.
Details of a Keto Diet
Recommendations for the keto diet vary among fitness experts, and some diet plans are stricter than others. The idea is to use more fat for energy and lower the carb intake. In general, the keto diet follows these guidelines.
What to Eat
The keto diet prioritizes low-carb foods including:
- Poultry and eggs
- Unsweetened tea and coffee
- Dark chocolate
- Low carb vegetables (celeries, lettuce, cucumbers, broccoli, and others)
What to Avoid
- Junk food
- Baked goods
- Starchy vegetables
- Honey and sugar
- Sweetened yogurt
The main problem with the diet is that it is not easy to follow in the long term.
A Look at the Short and Long Term Side Effects of Keto
There are a few long-term side effects of following the keto diet.
Less serious health effects include:
- Poor performance at the gym
- Mental fogginess
Serious side effects include:
This warrants a more serious discussion. The keto diet tends to lower electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium in the body. This can increase the likelihood of acute kidney injury and even kidney stones – however, these are rare and mostly occur in people who are predisposed to these conditions, and can be prevented by taking electrolytes supplements. In any case, you should check in with your doctor before starting the diet.
The loss of electrolytes may also increase a person’s risk of cardiac arrhythmia and heart attack.
You should not use the keto diet if you have liver failure, a kidney disorder, pancreatitis, have a risk of heart disease, and metabolism disorders. consult your doctor before you think to try it.
So does keto work?
The answer is yes – but you have to carefully track your caloric intake from carbs, fats, and proteins. It is also recommended to test for the presence of ketones in your body (urine tests are simple enough and cheap). If nothing else works, you could try to trigger ketosis with the help of exogenous ketones.
But you should be ready to accept that following the keto diet can be challenging. Once you have achieved your target weight loss, your goal should be to adopt a sustainable diet and transition away from the keto diet for optimal health benefits.