Over the last few years, the ketogenic (Keto) diet has become popular the world over. The Keto diet can be used to lose weight and improve your health. The Keto diet can help control sugar and insulin levels in the body and can improve a variety of medical conditions ranging from epilepsy and cancer to Alzheimer’s Disease. A number of endurance athletes follow the Keto diet, saying that it sharpens their performances. So what is the Keto diet?
How the Keto diet works
The Keto diet is very low in carbohydrates and high in fat and the aim of following the diet is to put your body into the metabolic state of ‘ketosis’. When your body is in ketosis, it burns fat and proteins really efficiently for energy, rather than carbohydrates. When the body is in ketosis, it also turns fats into ketones in the liver and these are used by the brain for energy.
The easiest way to trigger the state of ketosis is to limit your intake of carbohydrates to just 20-50 grams per day and to eat only a modest amount of protein and plenty of fats. If you do not limit the amount of protein you eat, the body will convert proteins into glucose to use for fuel and it is much harder to maintain the body in the state of ketosis.
To have the optimum results, the Keto diet is best used for meals eaten during an eight hour period in the day and the remaining 16 hours should be viewed as a period of fasting.
A little bit of Keto history
Ancient Greek physicians first discovered that epilepsy could be controlled by periods of fasting and by the consumption of certain foods. They also advocated periods of fasting as a lifestyle choice for everyone. In the early 1920s, Dr Russell Wilder at the Mayo Clinic designed a diet that would mimic the body being starved of sugar. He used his ‘ketogenic diet’ to treat patients with epilepsy and found that they suffered far fewer seizures.
For the next 20 years, this was the most common and successful treatment for epilepsy – particularly in children. By the 1940s, the first anti-epileptic drugs had been successfully introduced and by the end of the 20th century, the diet was only being used in a handful of children’s hospitals to control epilepsy.
Another Mayo Clinic physician, Dr. Peterman, took the original Keto diet and modified it creating the ‘Classic Keto’ which could be also used to treat other medical problems in children. He advocated a ratio of 4:1 fats to protein/carbohydrates and suggested that 90% of calories came from fat, 6% from protein, and just 4% from carbs. Soon doctors noticed that children on the diet were less irritable, more alert, and slept much better too.
In 1994, the Keto diet hit the headlines in the United States when a two-year-old called Charlie who had epilepsy was shown on television being successfully treated using the diet. Charlie’s story was later turned into the film First Do No Harm (1997) starring Meryl Streep.
The renewed interest in the Keto diet prompted researchers to discover what other benefits the diet offered and soon it was being hailed as the effective – and healthy – way to lose weight. Since then, the Keto diet has also been found to help ease a number of medical conditions too.
What do you eat on the Keto diet?
The Keto diet requires a fresh approach to the composition of your plate of food. Meat, oily fish, shellfish, and eggs can all be eaten, as well as butter and thick cream (especially those from grass-fed animals). Cheese, nuts, and seeds are also good for the keto diet. Vegetables are limited to green vegetables, tomatoes and peppers and fruit is generally a ‘no-no’ except for a small amount of berries, coconut or rhubarb. Avocados are also good for the Keto diet.
Which foods are not allowed?
The key to success with the Keto is to eliminate all sugars and sugary foods from your diet. Only a small amount of carbohydrates is allowed (20-50g) each day and in the early days of the diet, you will have to weigh and check the amounts of your chosen foods very accurately. The carbohydrates that are strictly rationed include grains, rice, and pasta. Processed vegetable oils must not be used and alcohol is off-limits too.
Research on the Keto continues
The Keto diet is still evolving and there are now several variations of it including the Cyclical Keto Diet which involves five Keto days and two carb-rich days each week. The Standard Keto Diet is the most popular and the most well-researched. Research still continues to establish what other health benefits following the diet may have. Scientists are currently trying to establish whether the Keto diet can be used in cancer treatment and whether it benefits people with Parkinson’s Disease. Another line of research suggests that Keto can help in cases of traumatic brain injury.
Certainly, the future of using the Keto diet more widely is looking very optimistic. In a recent study, it was found that adhering to the Keto diet for 90 days makes a significant improvement in the blood sugar levels of Type 2 Diabetics – a health condition that is being found in an ever-increasing number of people. This, in itself, is good news as it means that Diabetics will often be able to control their condition using the diet rather than medication.
The Keto industry is gathering pace
The greatest number of Keto followers can be found in Europe and North America, with the diet now rapidly gaining pace in the Asian Pacific region. Food producers are responding to the increasing demand for Keto food products and recently Keto breads, snacks, and ice creams have become increasingly available in supermarkets in many countries. There is also now a requirement for better labeling on a wide range of food products, to indicate that they are suitable for the Keto diet and this is sure to follow soon. In 2018, the global Keto market was worth $9.70b USD and it is estimated that the Keto food market will be worth $15.64b USD per annum by 2027 according to www.kerry.com The Keto diet is certainly worth considering if you would like to shed some weight and generally improve your health. If you have Diabetes or one of the other medical conditions we have mentioned, it is best to seek your doctor’s advice and guidance before starting the keto diet – here’s to good health!