“How do I understand the keto diet?” is a question many might ask as they evaluate different diets and see their friends and colleagues lose weight. Eat all the fat you want and drop pounds while doing it seems like a dream, but is it safe and is it healthy?

As with any diet or eating plan, it is important to understand the what, why and how of it before you consider trying it. Let’s dial in on some keto diet facts!

What is the keto diet?

The keto diet is a trendy high-fat, moderate protein, low-carbohydrate eating plan. The macronutrient distribution is designed to be 60-70 percent fat, 20-30 percent protein and 5-10 percent carbohydrate. It is built around the concept of putting your body into a state of “ketosis,” altering your metabolism to burn fat, versus carbohydrate, as its main source of energy.

On a normal basis, the human body relies on carbohydrate as its main source of quick energy. When you stop eating carbohydrate, you quickly burn through your body’s stores (glycogen). As a result of no carbohydrate and limited protein intake, your body shifts to burning fat. When fat is broken down in this state, ketones are made. They are a byproduct of fat metabolism and can provide the body and brain with energy.

What part of the diet makes people lose weight so fast?

One reason people drop weight so quickly on the keto diet is due to the lack of carbohydrate intake. You store about 300-400 grams of carbohydrate in your muscles and 75-100 grams in your liver. When you stop consuming carbohydrate in the diet, your body burns through your stores for energy. Each gram of stored carbohydrate is stored with three grams of water. As a result of using the carbohydrate for energy, the water is released. So, much of the initial weight loss is water weight. Then, of course if you have no carbohydrate available, your body will begin to break down stored fat for energy.

Additionally, fat and protein slow down digestion, helping you get full faster and stay full longer. While not a marketed benefit of the diet, it is likely that you eat less food on the keto diet, which could also promote weight loss.

What can you eat and not eat?

The keto diet focuses on high fat foods like avocado, cheese, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, olive and other healthy oils. While you can consume non-starchy vegetables, it requires the intake of them to be counted in your carbohydrate allotment.

The diet eliminates all grains, starchy vegetables, legumes, milk, added sugars and processed snack foods. Fruit is typically not recommended either.

Is it easy to follow?

While it seems great to load up on your favorite fatty foods, this diet is hard to maintain long term. One challenge is making sure you are consuming the proper amounts of macronutrients to stay in ketosis. One high carbohydrate snack or cheat meal and you are starting all over to achieve ketosis.

Second, the diet cuts out a variety of food groups, which makes it harder to eat meals with family and friends. Many people complain that over time, their food choices are so limited that they get sick of eating the same foods. This can easily make someone abandon the meal plan and go back to their old ways of eating, which could promote weight gain.

Are there safety concerns?

Going into ketosis is no picnic. Many people experience what is called the “keto flu.”  As their metabolism shifts to burning fats over carbs, they often experience fatigue, foggy mental function, difficulty sleeping, low energy in workouts and constipation. It takes about three days to a week to officially enter ketosis and people can experience the “keto flu” symptoms up to two weeks after that.

This diet cuts out a variety of food groups and significantly limits fiber intake. This can have short and long term effects on gastrointestinal and heart health. Plus, eliminating food groups takes out certain nutrients from the diet.

There is little research to evaluate how the diet effects LDL or “bad” cholesterol and total cholesterol levels over time. While new research is emerging on saturated fat intake in a healthy diet, consuming large amounts could pose risks to heart health. The 2015 Dietary Guideline for Americans and the American Heart Association still recommend a diet with less than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fat.

As with any diet, be sure to weigh out the pros and cons before starting it. If you have heart disease, diabetes or other health concerns, you should talk to your doctor before starting the keto diet.

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If you are interested to hear more and receive personalized nutrition, check out STYR’s app, fitness tracker and suite of connected smart devices. Through the platform, you can track and log activity, food, hydration, sleep, nutrition, mood and more to personalize your nutrition needs based on data, science and access to registered dietitians, nutritionists and personal trainers.

Please note that this information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. We insist that you always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical/health condition or treatment and before initiating a new health care regime. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the STYR app or on www.MyNutritioniQ.com.

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