Should you try a ketogenic diet?

Why try a low-carb diet?

For several decades, we’ve all been told that carbohydrates should be the foundation of our diet and our primary source of energy, while dietary fats (the fats found in food) are bad for us. It all started when some scientists studied the effects of different types of fats on health, and determined that some fats — such as trans fats — are bad for us, and that other types of fats are actually healthy and necessary for proper bodily functions.

However, the message to the general public got oversimplified, and nutrition experts starting telling us to cut all fats out of our diets. As a result, low-fat, reduced fat, and fat-free foods started lining the supermarket shelves. The low-fat message is now so ingrained in our culture that many of us reach for these foods without even thinking about it. After all, it sounds reasonable: if we don't want to be fat, we shouldn't eat fat.

Unfortunately, it isn't really that simple. When fat is removed from food, a lot of the flavor is lost. To compensate for this, food manufacturers typically add more sugar or artificial food additives. And it’s these types of ingredients — not fat — that play a large role in weight gain and many other health problems facing Americans today.

Plus, fat is not as bad for us as we have been led to believe. Fat is actually necessary for many processes throughout the body and for the absorption of certain nutrients. Our obsession with low-fat diets often creates more health problems than it solves.

Did you know ...

Health conditions such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are virtually unseen in parts of the world that follow a more traditional hunter-gatherer diet. In fact, these diseases are so closely linked to the modern Western diet (high in carbohydrates and processed foods) that they are often referred to as diseases of civilization. Our diet is without a doubt the biggest determinant of our overall health.

What if everything we've been told about carbohydrates and fat is wrong?

Recent research indicates that there is no association between dietary fat and the risk of heart disease. There is, however, a link between simple carbohydrate consumption and health issues such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer. And yet refined carbohydrates like bread and pasta continue to occupy the widest space at the bottom of the food pyramid (or a full quarter of the more recent MyPlate model). Health and nutrition experts like the Institutes of Medicine continue to tell us that 45-65% of our energy should come from carbohydrates.

Traditional food pyramid

Meanwhile, emerging research on low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets has shown that they lead to greater weight loss, help regulate hormones and improve insulin sensitivity, and are linked to lower rates of mortality and cardiovascular disease when the low-carb diet is vegetable based.

Benefits of a ketogenic diet

Low-carb, ketogenic diets can lead to numerous health benefits, including:

  • Weight loss
  • Increased energy
  • Better sleep
  • Clearer skin
  • Increased mental clarity
  • Improved sinus health
  • A more stable appetite and decreased food cravings
  • More stable emotional health and fewer mood swings
  • Decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Increased HDL (good) cholesterol
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved blood sugar control

Ketogenic diets have also been used to treat health conditions such as epilepsy and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

A caveat about the ketogenic diet

Research is increasingly indicating that there is no one-size-fits-all diet that works for everyone. Your individual genetics play a huge role in how your body processes and responds to different foods. (That’s why the same type of diet can lead to improved health in some studies and greater health risks in other studies.) Some people thrive on a raw food diet, while others (myself included) get shaky and hangry without animal protein. Just because something works for your friend or coworker or spouse, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. I started my ketogenic diet only after a DNA fitness test reported that my ideal diet type was low-carb. It’s important to listen to your body and do what works best for you.

Ketogenic diet for weight loss

That said, if weight loss is your goal, it’s worth trying a low-carb, high-fat diet. For most of us, our bodies are used to getting our energy from carbohydrates, and the fat stores in our body are likely to remain where they are. But when we follow a very low-carb ketogenic diet, our bodies have to find another source of fuel, and they start burning fat. Once your body is fat adapted (accustomed to burning fat for fuel), weight loss can occur very quickly. But this process can take time, and it’s important to do it in healthy manner.

Ready to get started on keto?

Download my free keto start guide to learn what to buy, what to expect during your first month, and what to eat as you start your ketogenic diet!