Keto diet: Benefits, risks, supplements, foods, tips

The ketogenic, or “keto” diet, has surged in popularity over recent years, sparking both acclaim and debate.

At its core, this diet shifts the body’s metabolic state from burning carbohydrates to fats, leading to ketosis. This transition promises benefits ranging from weight loss to enhanced mental clarity. 

But as with any diet, it’s essential to approach keto with a well-informed perspective. This guide delves deep into the keto realm, exploring its myriad benefits, potential risks and offering expert advice on supplements, foods, and success tips.

Whether you’re keto-curious or a seasoned enthusiast, this comprehensive overview is your go-to resource.

What is the keto diet?

The ketogenic, commonly known as the “keto” diet, is a high-fat, moderate-protein, and very low-carbohydrate dietary regimen [1]. It’s designed to change the way your body sources energy. 

Typically, our bodies rely on glucose, derived from carbohydrates, as the primary energy source. However, when carbohydrate intake is drastically reduced, the body enters a ketosis metabolic state.

In ketosis, the liver breaks down fats into molecules known as ketones, which then serve as an alternative fuel source. The shift from using glucose to ketones is akin to switching from gasoline to electric in a car; the energy source is different, but the vehicle (our body) still functions.

Originating as a therapeutic diet for epilepsy treatment in the 1920s [2], the keto diet has since gained widespread popularity for various health benefits, particularly weight loss.

By consuming foods rich in healthy fats like avocados, olive oil, and fatty fish, moderate amounts of protein, and limiting carb-heavy foods, adherents aim to maintain this state of ketosis.

Beyond weight loss, proponents claim benefits like improved mental clarity, more stable blood sugar levels, and increased energy. However, as with any diet, it’s crucial to research and understand its intricacies before embarking on the keto journey.

Keto diet health benefits

The popularity of the keto diet has quickly spread among health and fitness enthusiasts, medical professionals, and the general public. Its surging popularity can be attributed to the various benefits it offers. 

While weight loss is the most renowned advantage, a deeper exploration reveals a spectrum of potential positive impacts on your health and well-being. Here are some key benefits of the keto diet [3], [4]:

1. Weight loss

Perhaps the most celebrated benefit, and the reason you’re considering going on the keto journey, is weight loss. The mechanics behind this are fascinating:

Fat as a fuel: With reduced carb intake, your body shifts from burning glucose to burning fat for energy. Stored fat deposits are used, leading to weight loss.

Appetite control: Ketones have an appetite-suppressing effect, which means fewer cravings and reduced calorie intake.

Stabilized blood sugar: Lower carb intake helps stabilize blood sugar levels, reducing insulin spikes, which can curb hunger.

weight loss

2. Enhanced mental clarity and energy

Once the body is adapted to ketosis, many individuals report enhanced mental performance and clarity. Here’s why:

Steady energy source: Ketones provide a more consistent energy source than glucose. This leads to fewer energy slumps throughout the day.

Brain utilization of ketones: The brain can consume ketones as a fuel source, which some argue is a more efficient than glucose.

3. Control blood sugar levels and manage diabetes

The keto diet can be particularly beneficial for those with diabetes or those at risk:

Reduced carb intake: Carbs are converted into glucose in the body. Consuming fewer carbs leads to lower glucose levels in the bloodstream.

Lowered insulin levels: When you consume fewer carbohydrates, your body produces less insulin due to reduced glucose levels. For type 2 diabetics, this can potentially reduce or eliminate the need for insulin medication.

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4. Improved heart health

Though the idea of consuming higher fats might sound counterintuitive for heart health, the right kinds of fats can offer cardiovascular benefits:

Improved cholesterol profile: The keto diet can increase levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, leading to a better cholesterol balance.

Reduction in triglycerides: High triglyceride levels are a known risk factor for heart disease. A diet low in carbs can significantly reduce these levels.

5. Anti-Inflammatory benefits

Chronic inflammation can lead to numerous health issues. The keto diet might offer a way to combat this:

Lower blood sugar levels: Elevated blood sugar can cause inflammation. A keto diet can help reduce blood sugar and, in turn, inflammation.

Production of beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB): During ketosis, the body produces BHB, a type of ketone with anti-inflammatory properties.

6. Enhanced physical performance

Athletes and fitness enthusiasts have started to embrace keto for its potential performance benefits:

Sustained energy: Relying on fat for fuel can offer prolonged energy, which is beneficial for endurance athletes.

Preservation of muscle mass: A moderate protein intake on keto can help preserve and even build muscle, especially when combined with resistance training.

7. Potential neuroprotective benefits

Research is increasingly pointing toward the neurological benefits of the keto diet:

Epilepsy: The keto diet’s roots lie in its prescription for drug-resistant epilepsy. It has been known to reduce seizure frequency in epileptic patients significantly.

Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases: Preliminary studies suggest that the keto diet might offer therapeutic potential for these neurodegenerative disorders, though more research is needed.

8. Improvement in PCOS symptoms

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder. A carbohydrate-restricted diet can aid:

Insulin reduction: Insulin resistance is a factor in PCOS. The keto diet can improve insulin sensitivity, potentially alleviating some symptoms.

Weight loss: Weight loss achieved through keto can also improve hormonal balance in PCOS patients.

9. Support in cancer therapy

While it’s essential to approach this area with caution and not make overarching claims, some studies suggest the keto diet might support cancer therapies:

Starving cancer cells: Some cancer cells thrive on glucose. A ketogenic state, which reduces glucose availability, might slow tumor growth [5]. However, this is an emerging field of study, and comprehensive human trials are needed.

Is the keto diet safe? 

While boasting an array of health benefits, the ketogenic diet isn’t without its potential drawbacks. Being aware of potential risks is essential, especially when transitioning to and maintaining such a distinct dietary regimen. 

By understanding these risks [6], [7], you can take informed steps to mitigate them and ensure your safe and beneficial journey.

1. Keto flu

One of the most commonly reported side effects of transitioning to the keto diet is the “keto flu.”

Symptoms: These can include fatigue, headaches, irritability, difficulty sleeping, nausea, dizziness, and muscle cramps.

Mitigation: Ensure adequate hydration, consume enough electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium), get plenty of sleep, and consider a more gradual reduction in carb intake.

2. Nutrient deficiencies

With the exclusion or limitation of certain food groups, there’s a risk of missing out on essential nutrients.

Potential deficiencies: These can include fiber, vitamins A, E, K, and B, and certain minerals like potassium and magnesium.

Mitigation: Incorporate a variety of keto-friendly vegetables, nuts, seeds, and lean meats. Consider supplementation after consulting with a healthcare professional.

3. Constipation

A significant reduction in fiber intake can lead to digestive issues, primarily constipation.

Cause: Limited consumption of high-fiber foods like whole grains, beans, and certain fruits.

Mitigation: Focus on high-fiber, low-carb vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Drink plenty of water and consider a fiber supplement if necessary.

4. Potential strain on kidneys

The body’s process of entering ketosis may put additional strain on the kidneys.

Cause: Excretion of byproducts from fat metabolism and potential increased protein intake.

Mitigation: Stay hydrated, monitor protein intake to ensure it’s not excessive, and consult a doctor, especially if you have existing kidney issues.

5. Bad breath

Some individuals on the keto diet report a particular type of bad breath.

Cause: Production of the ketone acetone, which can be released in the breath.

Mitigation: Maintain good oral hygiene, drink plenty of water, and consider chewing sugar-free gum. It’s also worth noting that this symptom often diminishes over time.

6. Loss of muscle mass

There’s potential for muscle mass reduction, especially if protein intake is too low.

Cause: Inadequate protein consumption and potential catabolism when the body seeks other energy sources.

Mitigation: Ensure adequate protein intake based on individual needs and do exercise resistance training to preserve and build muscle.

7. Cholesterol concerns

While many experience improved cholesterol profiles, some individuals might see a rise in LDL cholesterol.

Cause: Increased consumption of saturated fats.

Mitigation: Opt for healthier fat sources like avocados, olive oil, and nuts. Regularly monitor cholesterol levels and consult with a healthcare professional.

8. Hypoglycemia

A significant drop in blood sugar can occur when drastically reducing carbohydrate intake.

Symptoms: Dizziness, fatigue, shakiness, and sweating.

Mitigation: Monitor blood sugar levels regularly, especially if diabetic. Adjust carb intake slightly if symptoms persist, and always consult with a doctor about any changes to diabetic medications.

9. Potential heart risks

There’s debate about the long-term impacts of the keto diet on heart health.

Cause: Consumption of saturated and trans fats.

Mitigation: Focus on healthy fats and limit or avoid processed keto foods high in unhealthy fats. Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise and routine check-ups.

10. Bone health concerns

Early research suggests potential bone density reduction in those on a prolonged keto diet.

Cause: Potential acidity increase in the body and excretion of calcium.

Mitigation: Ensure adequate intake of bone-supporting nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium. Consider regular bone density screenings for those on the diet long-term.

bone health concerns

What supplements are required for keto?

Starting the ketogenic diet can be life changing, resulting in numerous health advantages. However, certain nutrient gaps might arise due to the specific nature of this dietary regimen. 

Supplements can be a practical way to ensure your body receives all the essential nutrients it needs to function optimally. Below are some essential supplements to consider while on the keto diet:

1. Magnesium

Magnesium is a critical mineral responsible for various biochemical reactions in the body, from muscle contractions to nerve function.

Why it’s needed: Magnesium-rich foods like beans and fruits might be limited on the keto diet. Additionally, the initial ketosis phase can increase magnesium excretion through urine.

Supplementation: Consider a magnesium citrate or magnesium glycinate supplement, both well-absorbed by the body.

2. Electrolytes: sodium, potassium, and calcium

Electrolytes are minerals that maintain the body’s ionic balance, vital for nerve signaling, muscle contractions, and fluid balance.

Why they’re needed: The keto diet can rapidly lose water and electrolytes, especially during the initial stages.

Supplementation: Consider an electrolyte supplement or ensure adequate intake of foods. Bone broths, avocados (for potassium), and leafy greens can be natural sources.

3. Vitamin D

Often known as the “sunshine vitamin,” Vitamin D plays a pivotal role in bone health, immune function, and mood regulation.

Why it’s needed: Many people, not just those on keto, are deficient in vitamin D due to limited sun exposure and dietary sources.

Supplementation: Consider a vitamin D3 supplement and aim for regular sun exposure when possible.

4. Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3s are essential fats with anti-inflammatory properties, crucial for brain health and cardiovascular function.

Why they’re needed: Balancing the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats is essential, and Western diets often skew towards omega-6 dominance.

Supplementation: Consider a high-quality fish oil or algae oil supplement. Ensure it’s rich in EPA and DHA, the two most potent forms of omega-3s.

5. B Vitamins

B vitamins are a complex of essential nutrients responsible for energy metabolism, cognitive function, and red blood cell formation.

Why they’re needed: While many meat sources on the keto diet provide B vitamins, certain B vitamins found predominantly in grains might be limited.

Supplementation: Consider a high-quality B-complex supplement, especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan on keto.

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6. Digestive enzymes

These enzymes aid in breaking down and digesting foods, ensuring maximum nutrient absorption.

Why they’re needed: Transitioning to a high-fat diet can be challenging for some people’s digestive systems.

Supplementation: A digestive enzyme supplement containing lipase (an enzyme that breaks down fats) can be beneficial, especially during the initial transition to keto.

7. MCT oil

Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT) oil is a type of fat that the body rapidly absorbs and converts into ketones, providing a quick energy source.

Why it’s needed: MCTs can boost ketone levels, enhancing the benefits of ketosis and providing quick energy.

Supplementation: MCT oil or powdered supplements can be added to drinks or recipes. Begin with small amounts to gauge tolerance.

8. Fiber

Fiber promotes healthy digestion, supports stable blood sugar levels, and fosters a healthy gut microbiome.

Why it’s needed: With a reduced intake of whole grains and certain fruits, fiber intake might diminish on keto.

Supplementation: Consider a soluble fiber supplement like psyllium husk or inulin. Ensure adequate water intake when consuming added fiber.

What foods do you eat on a keto diet?

The ketogenic diet, with its emphasis on high-fat and low-carb intake, has specific foods that can help dieters achieve and maintain ketosis, while also providing necessary nutrients for overall health. 

Here are some must-have foods every keto dieter should consider incorporating into their meal plan:

1. Avocados

These creamy fruits are delicious and a powerhouse of healthy fats, particularly monounsaturated fats. They’re also rich in potassium, an essential electrolyte often needed in higher amounts on keto.

2. Fatty fish

Salmon, mackerel, sardines, and trout are examples of fatty fish that are teeming with omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and support cardiovascular health.

3. Eggs

A versatile food, eggs are perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They provide a good amount of protein, healthy fats, and various essential vitamins and minerals.

4. Coconut oil

Rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), coconut oil can be quickly converted into ketones, providing an instant energy source and aiding in the maintenance of ketosis.

5. Nuts and seeds

Almonds, macadamias, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are keto-friendly choices that provide healthy fats, fiber, and protein. They’re also great for snacking or as additions to salads and dishes.

6. Leafy greens

Spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and collards are low in carbs but rich in fiber and essential micronutrients like magnesium, calcium, and iron. They can be sautéed in butter or olive oil for a keto-friendly side dish.

7. Cheese

Most cheeses are low in carbs but high in fats, making them ideal for keto. Varieties like feta, mozzarella, and cheddar also offer calcium and protein.

8. Olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil is an excellent source of monounsaturated fats and antioxidants. It’s perfect for dressing salads or drizzling over cooked foods.

9. Meat and poultry

Grass-fed beef, chicken, lamb, and turkey provide the protein necessary to maintain muscle mass on the keto diet. They’re also sources of B vitamins and essential minerals like zinc and selenium.

10. Low-carb berries

While most fruits are limited on the keto diet due to sugar content, berries like raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries can be consumed in moderation. They provide antioxidants, fiber, and a sweet touch to meals.

11. Butter and cream

Full-fat dairy products like butter and cream can be incorporated into the keto diet to enhance flavors and boost fat intake. They can be added to coffee, dishes, or sauces.

12. Dark chocolate and cocoa

Selecting dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa provides antioxidants and can satisfy sweet cravings. It’s a delightful treat in moderation.

dark chocolate and cocoa

Keto diet myths debunked

The ketogenic diet, like any popular dietary regimen, is surrounded by myths and misconceptions. Let’s delve into some of the most prevalent myths and separate fact from fiction.

1. Myth: Keto is just another name for the Atkins diet.

Debunked: While both diets restrict carbohydrates, they have different approaches and goals. The Atkins diet focuses on high protein with no specific fat intake, while the keto diet emphasizes high fat and moderate protein intake to achieve ketosis.

2. Myth: Eating so much fat is unhealthy and will raise your cholesterol.

Debunked: Numerous studies suggest that a ketogenic diet can lead to improvements in cardiovascular risk factors, including a decrease in triglycerides and often an increase in HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol). It’s essential to differentiate between different types of fats and prioritize heart-healthy sources like avocados, olive oil, and nuts.

3. Myth: Keto leads to nutrient deficiencies.

Debunked: A well-planned ketogenic diet can be rich in nutrients. By including a variety of leafy greens, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and quality meats, you can obtain the most essential nutrients. While certain foods are limited, strategic supplementation can fill in any gaps.

4. Myth: Keto is only for weight loss.

Debunked: While many people turn to the keto diet for weight loss, it has other potential benefits such as improved brain health, reduced inflammation, and better blood sugar regulation. Some people adopt keto for these reasons, without the primary goal of weight loss.

5. Myth: Ketosis is the same as ketoacidosis.

Debunked: This is a common misconception, but the two are vastly different. Ketosis is a natural metabolic state where the body burns fat for fuel. Ketoacidosis, on the other hand, is a dangerous condition often associated with type 1 diabetes, where the blood becomes too acidic.

6. Myth: You can eat unlimited amounts of fat and still lose weight.

Debunked: While the keto diet is high in fat, calories still matter. To lose weight, there needs to be a caloric deficit. Consuming excessive fat can lead to weight maintenance or even weight gain.

7. Myth: Keto is not sustainable in the long run.

Debunked: Many people follow the keto diet long-term and find it sustainable. Like any dietary approach, its sustainability varies by individual. Some might transition to a more liberal low-carb diet after achieving their goals, while others might stick to strict keto indefinitely.

8. Myth: You can’t build muscle on keto.

Debunked: While carbohydrates can enhance muscle glycogen stores and recovery, it’s entirely possible to build muscle on a keto diet. Adequate protein intake, combined with resistance training, can support muscle growth, even in the absence of high carbs.

How do I get the best results on keto?

The ketogenic diet can be profoundly effective for weight loss, improved energy, and various health benefits. But, like any significant dietary shift, it comes with its challenges. 

To maximize the benefits and ensure a smoother journey, consider these top tips for success on the keto diet:

1. Educate yourself

Understanding the science behind the keto diet will not only motivate you but also help you make informed decisions. Familiarize yourself with how ketosis works, its benefits, and potential side effects.

2. Plan ahead

Meal planning can be a lifesaver. Plan your weekly meals, make grocery lists, and even consider batch cooking. This ensures you have keto-friendly options on hand, reducing the temptation to revert to high-carb foods.

3. Stay hydrated

Ketosis can lead to increased water loss, especially in the initial stages. Ensure you’re drinking enough water throughout the day. Add a pinch of salt to your water or drink bone broth to replenish electrolytes.

4. Monitor your macros

Track your macronutrient intake, especially in the beginning. There are various apps and tools available that can help you ensure you’re consuming the right ratio of fats, proteins, and carbs.

5. Listen to your body

While the keto diet provides specific macronutrient ratios, it’s essential to listen to your body’s signals. If you’re feeling hungry, it might mean you need more fat. If you’re feeling sluggish, you might need to adjust your electrolytes.

6. Don’t fear fats

The keto diet is fundamentally a high-fat diet. Embrace healthy fats like avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds. This ensures you get the energy you need and helps in satiety.

7. Avoid keto flu

Many beginners experience the “keto flu” — a collection of symptoms that resemble the flu, including fatigue, dizziness, and headaches. This is often due to a loss of minerals. Combat this by ensuring you’re getting enough electrolytes, especially sodium, potassium, and magnesium.

8. Find keto-friendly substitutes

Craving bread? Opt for almond or coconut flour-based alternatives. Missing pasta? Try zoodles (zucchini noodles). There’s a keto substitute for almost every high-carb favorite.

9. Limit artificial sweeteners

While many artificial sweeteners are carb-free, they can sometimes affect insulin levels or even stall weight loss. Opt for natural keto-friendly sweeteners like stevia or erythritol and use them in moderation.

10. Incorporate intermittent fasting

Combining the keto diet with intermittent fasting can amplify the benefits of both. This means eating within a specific window and fasting for the remainder. Start with a 12-hour fasting window and gradually increase if comfortable.

11. Stay active

While adjusting to the keto diet, you might feel a dip in energy. However, once you’re fat-adapted, you’ll likely experience increased energy. Use this boost to stay active, whether it’s through walking, strength training, or any other form of exercise you enjoy.

Closing thoughts

In recent years, the ketogenic diet has gained a lot of attention and interest, and rightfully so. Its potential advantages, ranging from weight reduction to improved cognitive ability, make it an appealing option for many. 

It is important to have a balanced perspective when considering a keto diet. It has its strengths and potential pitfalls, and it’s crucial to equip yourself with knowledge, debunk myths, and follow best practices. By doing so, your keto journey can be rewarding and transformative. 

Whether you’re considering starting or are already on this path, remember that informed choices are the foundation of any successful health endeavor.

FAQs

Is keto a healthy diet?

Keto diet can improve metabolism and aid weight loss with nutrient-dense foods. Long-term effects need more research. Consult healthcare professionals before starting.

Can you eat rice on keto?

Rice is a high-carbohydrate food and is typically avoided on a strict ketogenic diet. However, in minimal amounts or as part of a more liberal low-carb diet, small servings might be permissible.

Are bananas keto friendly?

Bananas have a lot of carbs from sugars, so they’re not great for strict keto diets. If you eat them on keto, stick to small amounts and choose green or less ripe bananas for fewer carbs.

How long should I stay on keto diet?

Consult a healthcare professional or nutritionist to determine the appropriate duration of the keto diet based on your goals and health needs.

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[1] https://foodinsight.org/keto-diet-101-what-to-know-before-you-commit/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7551948/
[3] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/ketogenic-diet-101 
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8153354/ 
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6375425/
[6] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/24003-ketosis
[7] https://www.health.com/weight-loss/keto-diet-side-effects

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.