These days, in which most women want to lose weight, the ketogenic diet is quite heard. Celebrities like Kourtney Kardashian and Halle Berry have done it, Pinterest is flooded with ideas for recipes, and #keto has been used more than 6 million times on Instagram. There is something behind all the hype. “If the diet is done well, you can lose a substantial amount of weight,” says Josh Ax, a doctor of natural medicine and a clinical nutritionist. But leaving weight loss aside, is it a healthy way to live? Here, everything you need to know before trying it.
How does it work
The premise of going to keto is simple: eat moderate amounts of protein, increase fat intake, and reduce carbohydrate intake, explains Eric Westman, MD, director of the Duke Lifestyle Medical Clinic. In fact, in this plan, you should only consume between 20 and 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. As a reference, a small bowl of simple pasta has about 40 grams.
Here is the science behind this: the carbohydrates that come from sugary foods and starches are converted to glucose, which our bodies naturally burn for energy. However, when you reduce carbohydrate intake, your body is forced to look for a new source of fuel. So it becomes stored fat, breaking it down into molecules called ketone bodies that it uses for energy (a process called ketosis). The result? Weightloss. “You can lose a pound or two a week,” says Westman.
Interestingly, doctors used the ketogenic diet as a method to treat childhood epilepsy in the 1920s. When a doctor monitored it, it was found to help control seizures, especially for children who did not respond to anticonvulsant medications. Today, experts often recommend going to the keto for other reasons related to the brain. “It has been found that diet increases alertness and improves cognitive function,” says Westman although there are no formal studies that have concluded why he suspects that this impulse may come from the combination of energy-packed ketones and a reduction in sleep-inducing carbohydrates.
This super restrictive regimen is not recommended if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you have gallbladder or liver disease. “In some people, it exceeds their liver in the long term,” Ax explains. Beyond that, studies are inconclusive on how keto affects cholesterol levels. Because of all this, it is smart to consult with a doctor before starting.
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In the clear to give it a spin? Ax suggests trying it for 90 days. After that, alternate two days of eating keto with a day of carbohydrates, where 30 to 40 percent of your food intake comes from healthy sugars and starches, such as sweet potatoes and berries. “Incorporating some carbohydrates with a keto cycling approach is much more feasible and is something that many people can keep for the rest of their lives,” says Ax.
What to eat
The best way to start is to keep it simple, says Pegah Jalali, RD, a dietitian for Middleberg Nutrition in New York City. Next, a satisfactory menu that keeps your carbohydrate intake low.
Breakfast: 2 scrambled eggs with 1/2 cup sauteed spinach (cooked in 1 tablespoon of coconut oil).
Lunch: Arugula salad with a can of tuna (mixed with two tablespoons of mayonnaise), eight roasted almonds and lemon zest.
Dinner: 1/4 of roasted chicken with 1 cup of roasted cauliflower (cooked in 1 tablespoon of olive oil) and half avocado on the side.