Cleaned Up Keto
Better Nutrition|March 2021
What it is, what it does, and how to make it as healthy as possible.
By Lisa Turner

As trendy as it is, the Keto diet is nothing new. It’s been used in clinical settings for years to treat some medical conditions, and low-carb diets in general have been around since the early 1970s and the Atkins Diet. But does Keto really work? And, more important: is it healthy? It definitely can be, with a few simple fixes.

What It Is

The Keto diet—short for “ketogenic”— is an ultra-low-carb regimen designed to shift the body into what’s called a state of ketosis. Most of the body’s cells use blood sugar (derived from dietary carbs) as their main source of energy. If carbs are restricted and sugar’s not available, the body starts breaking down stored fat into chemicals called ketones—that’s ketosis. It usually takes two to four days of eating fewer than 50 grams of carbs a day for the body to shift. The intended result: more balanced blood sugar and rapid weight loss. Other research also suggests that the Keto diet may influence appetite-control, and ketones themselves are thought to suppress appetite.

Individual interpretations of the diet vary, but most restrict carbs to less than 50 grams a day, and some to 20 grams. Unlike the Atkins Diet, which gradually increases carbs, the Keto diet keeps carbs low to encourage the body to remain in a state of ketosis. Protein intake ranges from 20–30 percent of calories per day, while fat accounts for 60–75 percent.

Properly designed, the Keto diet is considered safe in the short run, though side effects are typical. The most common: nausea, vomiting, headache, fatigue, dizziness, insomnia, and constipation—a collection of symptoms known as “keto flu.” Few long-term studies have examined the diet’s safety, but it can be harmful for people with kidney disease, pancreatitis, and other conditions, as well as for diabetics taking insulin. If you fall into any of these categories, check with your doctor first.

What the Research Shows

While the Keto diet is geared for weight loss, some research suggests that it may also prevent seizures and protect against cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and some neurological disorders. Here’s what the science shows:

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