What is the Ketogenic Diet and how does it work?

The Ketogenic Diet has surged in popularity in the last few years — with claims that you can eat all the fat you want and never feel hungry again — it’s no wonder that so many people are giving the “keto” diet a shot.  But what exactly is the keto diet, how does it work, and is it right for you.

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet is based on the principle that by depleting the body of carbohydrates, you can force the body to burn fat for fuel, thereby losing and maximizing weight loss. At its very essence, a ketogenic diet is one that causes the body to release ketones into the bloodstream. Typically, most cells will use blood sugar as the primary source of energy, which comes from carbohydrates. In the absence of circulating blood sugar from food, our bodies will start break down stored fat into molecules called ketone bodies (the process is called ketosis). Once the body reaches ketosis, most cells will use ketone bodies to generate energy until you start eating carbohydrates again.

How to begin and follow a Ketogenic Diet

There are several types of keto diets, but all of them follow a basic method: to achieve a state of ketosis, you have to severely reduce the amount of carbohydrate intake. This may sound easy, but carbohydrates normally account for at least 50% of the typical American diet. The keto diet is rich in proteins and fats, including plenty of meats, eggs, sausages, cheeses, fish, nuts, butter, oils, seeds, and vegetables.  In the classic ketogenic diet, 80 to 90 percent of calories come from fat, 5 to 15 percent come from protein, and 5 to 10 percent come from carbohydrates. Because it is so restrictive, it is a difficult regimen to follow over the long run.

Is the Ketogenic Diet healthy?

The ketogenic diet originated as a tool for treating neurological diseases such as epilepsy. The ketogenic diet was developed by Dr. Russell Wilder in 1921 to treat drug-resistant epilepsy in children. His diet provides around 90% of calories from fat and has been shown to mimic the beneficial effects of starvation on seizures.  As mentioned previously, glucose, the sugar found in your blood (fueled by carbohydrates), is usually the brain’s main fuel. Unlike muscle, the brain can’t use fat as a fuel source, but it can use ketones.

One of the main criticisms of the keto diet is that people tend to eat too much protein and poor-quality fats from processed foods. Additionally, many people experience the “keto flu” in the first week, which is the most common reason for stopping the diet.  These “flu” symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to weeks and include mood swings, irritability, fatigue, dizziness and nausea. It usually begins within the first few days after carb elimination/drastic reduction.

If you’re interested in making a lifestyle change through diet, it’s always best to speak to a doctor before doing so.  CareWell is open seven days a week, with licensed professionals ready to discuss the best methods to achieve your health goals.

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