What you need to know before starting the keto diet

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What you need to know before starting the keto diet

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Becky Stein
 (BECKY STEIN PHOTOGRAPHY)

If the idea of eating plenty of fats sounds like your kind of diet, the ketogenic diet – often shortened to keto – may be worth checking out. It's a type of low-carb diet, so you'll have to put down the potatoes and sugary foods, but it may be able to help you lose weight. However, questions exist regarding its long-term effectiveness and safety.

Here's what you need to know about the keto diet, from the basics to its pros and cons:

The basics of the keto diet

Low-carb diets such as the Atkins diet have been popular for a while, and a keto diet is the most restrictive type of low-carb diet.

The ketogenic diet calls for reducing the number of calories you get from carbohydrates (foods including breads, sugar and fruits) and greatly increasing the calories you get from fats. Fats account for about 80% of calories, protein around 20% and carbohydrates about 10%. For most people, that's a big adjustment, since the average American gets close to half of his or her calories from carbs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The idea behind the diet is that when your body doesn't get enough carbohydrates to use for energy, it quickly turns to stored fat and protein to supplement what you're eating. This process, called ketosis, gives the diet its name.

Although the keto diet has become very popular in the past few years as a weight loss diet, its history goes back to the 1920s, when it was introduced as a treatment for epilepsy.

Potential benefits of a keto diet

The ketogenic diet can be an effective way to lose weight. It can help you lose more weight in the first few months than some other types of diets, according to WebMD. This may be because you feel more satisfied when you're following this type of diet, and end up eating less overall, or it could be due to the fact that it takes more calories to convert fat into energy than it does carbohydrates.

In addition, the keto diet may yield the following health benefits:

  • Lowering your body's demand for insulin
  • Improving blood pressure
  • Improving levels of unhealthy cholesterol
  • Lowering your risk of obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease

Potential health risks of a keto diet

A weight loss diet is ideally a plan that you can follow for the long-term – even for a lifetime of healthy eating – but the keto diet can be hard to maintain over time, as you may start to crave carbs. And although it's thought to cause weight loss in the short term, the long-term effects of following this type of diet aren't completely understood.

A keto diet can also cause the following side effects:

  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Brain fog
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Moodiness
  • Fatigue

The process of ketosis can go too far, causing your blood to become acidic. This condition, called ketoacidosis, can cause bad breath, headaches, dizziness and muscle cramps. In extreme instances, it can even lead to coma or death.

As with any diet, you should check with your doctor before starting the keto diet, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition.

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