What Is a Ketogenic Diet and How Does It Work

So you’ve been hearing about this ketogenic thing and you’re wondering what it is. Or maybe you’re curious about how the keto diet works and if it could help you lose weight? Wonder no more. We’ll break down everything you need to know about the ketogenic diet, including what it is, how it works and who should try it. This is your complete guide to the ketogenic diet. We’ve got you covered — from the best wellness supplements to support your keto journey to avoiding setbacks.

What Is the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that has been used since the 1920s to help treat epilepsy. The theory behind the diet is that by forcing the body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates, the body will enter a state of ketosis. In ketosis, the body produces ketones, a by-product of fat breakdown. The brain can then use these ketones as an alternative fuel source to glucose.

This makes keto different from a regular diet. The primary energy source in a typical diet is carb-heavy foods like bread, pasta, rice and fruits and veggies. On a keto diet, your body instead relies on ketones for energy, which means you need to eat mostly fat-rich foods like eggs, meat, dairy, avocados, oils and nuts.

Achieving Ketosis

So how do you get into ketosis?

It starts by limiting your carbohydrate intake to 50 grams or less per day. That’s about the number of carbs in a small bagel or a cup of rice. A regular diet contains about 225 grams of carbs per day, to put that into perspective.

In addition to cutting carbs, you also need to up your fat intake. The fat to carbs and protein ratio is essential when you’re on a keto diet. A typical keto ratio is 70 percent fat, 25 percent protein and 5 percent carbs. But you can also adjust the ratios to be more or less fat, depending on your individual needs.

How do you get into ketosis

To get into ketosis, you also need to eat fewer calories than you’re burning. When your body isn’t getting enough carbs for energy, it will start breaking down stored fat for fuel.

It typically takes a few days of eating a ketogenic diet to enter into ketosis. To help your body adjust, you might start by slowly reducing the number of carbs you eat while simultaneously increasing your fat intake. Once your body has switched to running on ketones, you’ll need to continue eating a high-fat, low-carb diet to maintain ketosis.

Who Should Try the Keto Diet?

The keto diet is excellent for various individuals and can be used to achieve multiple health goals. In addition, there are many potential benefits associated with following a keto diet. These benefits include:

  • Weight Loss – One of the most common reasons people try the keto diet is for weight loss. And it’s effective! A 2004 study found that participants who followed a keto diet had long-term benefits that included reduced body weight and BMI.
  • Blood Sugar Control– For people with type 2 diabetes, the keto diet can help improve blood sugar control. A meta-analysis of clinical trials found that following a ketogenic diet is a great adjunctive treatment for managing type 2 diabetes.
  • Reduced Inflammation – Following a keto diet may also help reduce inflammation. One clinical and basic research review investigated keto’s efficacy as a therapy for thermal pain, inflammation and neuropathic pain. Although more research is needed, what’s been discovered is promising.
  • Improved Brain Health – The keto diet has also been shown to improve brain health. One study from 2018 found that early, mid and late-life ketogenic diet intervention has the potential to improve cognitive health. In plain English, the keto diet could help prevent or minimize conditions like brain fog, regardless of age.

When First Starting Your Keto Journey

Who Should Try the Keto Diet

When first starting the keto diet, you should do a few things to make sure your transition is as smooth as possible. Some considerations for dealing with often-talked about negatives of the keto diet are:

  • Nutrient Deficiency – This is avoidable if you’re diligent about getting enough vitamins and minerals from whole foods. However, some people might want to supplement with specific nutrients, like magnesium or potassium, to help with the transition into ketosis.
  • Constipation – This can occur because of the lack of apparent fiber sources in a keto diet. To help with constipation, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water and adding natural digestive enzymes to your supplement routine.
  • Brain Fog and Mood Swings – Whenever we experience drastic changes to our diets, we’re susceptible to feeling a little off. This is normal and usually subsides after a short period as our bodies adjust. You may benefit from adding digestive health supplements to your diet to help with the transition and keep the gut-brain axis healthy.
  • The Keto Flu – As your body enters ketosis, you might experience what’s known as the “keto flu.” This is a short-lived but uncomfortable group of symptoms that includes headache, fatigue, muscle aches and nausea. The best way to avoid the keto flu is to make sure you’re prepared before starting the diet. That means getting enough electrolytes, drinking plenty of water and supplementing with magnesium. In addition, eat a diet that includes natural probiotics to keep your microbiome healthy and immune system strong.

Keto Traps and Pitfalls to Avoid

When they jump on the keto diet, some folks think that every meal will be a buffet of ribs, cheese and bacon. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. If you enter your keto journey with this mindset, you may feel deprived and frustrated.

  • Being Overly Restrictive – You don’t have to eliminate all carbs to succeed on the keto diet. In fact, many people find they do best by keeping their carb intake to around 50 grams per day. This allows you to still enjoy some fruits, vegetables and healthy grains while reaping the benefits of ketosis.
  • Failing to Plan – Another trap people fall into is not being prepared with keto-friendly meals. If you don’t have a plan, it’s easy to default to unhealthy choices. Meal planning and prepping ahead of time are critical to the keto diet’s success.
  • Not Getting Enough Sleep – This may seem unrelated, but sleep is vital for overall health and well-being. When we’re sleep-deprived, our bodies crave quick energy in the form of carbohydrates. Getting enough quality sleep will help you fight cravings and stick to your diet.
  • Trendy Keto Foods – Keto is popular, so many companies are producing so-called keto-compliant foods in the form of bars, cookies and other snacks. Unfortunately, many of these are highly processed and contain unhealthy ingredients. When possible, stick to whole foods that you prepare yourself.

The Bottom Line

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, improve your health or minimize your risk of chronic disease, the keto diet may be a good option for you. The key to success is developing a plan that’s tailored to your specific goals and health needs. And remember: As with any diet, there are traps to avoid and preparations you should make before starting. But, with the right mindset and support, you can reap the many benefits of ketosis.