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Health Benefits Of The Keto Diet That Go Beyond Weight Loss

Health Benefits Of The Keto Diet That Go Beyond Weight Loss

The keto diet's popularity has really blown up over the past few years. Between all the new books, websites, and dedicated podcasts, it's been making the headlines for helping people with rapid weight loss! In 2018, the CDC estimated that around 42% of American adults were obese, which is on the rise. 

 

With so many new diets out there, it's easy to feel confused about the right diet, or you might feel unsure about which diets are just the next fad. A 2020 survey found that around 184.83 million Americans watched their diet [1]. A poll demonstrated that the average person would try about 126 different diets in their lifetime [2] - yes, you read that number right! 

So if you've been jumping from diet to diet but haven't been able to figure out the right way of eating for yourself, you're not alone. 

The ketogenic diet is an effective research-backed eating plan that packs fantastic health benefits beyond weight loss. So keep reading if you're interested in the incredible science of keto and want to find out if a keto diet might be right for you!

 

The History of The Keto Diet

While it might seem like the keto diet is a new phenomenon taking the modern world by storm, it's actually been around for a long time! The ketogenic diet was first developed in the 1920s. Initially used to treat epilepsy, it was surprisingly effective, especially in epileptic children. However, it lost popularity when effective epileptic medication was introduced. More recently, it has gained popularity for its benefits relating to weight loss and is now being researched as a treatment for type 2 diabetes. [3]

 

What Is The Keto Diet?

First things first, the "keto" diet (short for ketogenic) is a specialized eating plan that consists of a high intake of healthy fats (approximately 75%) and a moderate intake of protein (about 20%). A negligible intake of carbohydrates (around 5%) - see the diagram below for a visual representation. 

 Keto Diet diagram

The primary goal of the keto diet is to promote ketogenesis and get the body into a state of ketosis. 

What is ketogenesis, you may ask? Ketogenesis is a metabolic process in which the body does not have enough glucose for energy (which is usually the body's" primary source of fuel), so instead, it utilizes stored fat.

As the liver breaks down this fat, it produces acids called ketones - the three types of ketones are acetone, acetoacetate, and beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), with BHB found in the highest levels [4]. When ketones in the blood reach a certain level and are used as the primary fuel source, the body is in a state of ketosis! 

 

Ketones can even cross through the blood-brain barrier and be used as alternative energy for our super hard-working brains. Since your body relies on the fat only for energy, this can turn your body into a fat-burning machine, which is why many people may see very efficient weight loss in a short time when the diet is adhered to correctly. Let's not forget that running on ketones has other impressive benefits, which get to in just a moment! [3]

 

Some examples of foods enjoyed on the keto diet include:

  • Fatty fish
  • Meat & Poultry
  • Low-carb vegetables like leafy greens or veggies from the cruciferous family
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Avocado
  • Olive oil
  • Cottage cheese
  • Plain greek yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Berries (in small portions)
  • Coconut

 

 

Some examples of foods to exclude from the keto diet include:

  • Grains
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
  • Added sugars or sweeteners
  • Most fruits (except for lemons/limes + berries)
  • Starchy vegetables (e.g. potatoes, butternut)
  • Processed trans fats (like margarine)
  • Any refined carbohydrates

 

 

The Health Benefits of The Ketogenic Diet

 

1. Weight Loss

Researchers thought that dietary fat might be the enemy for packing on the extra pounds for ages. However, a recent systematic review looked at several studies which focused on long-term dietary interventions (over one year in length) and discovered that there was no good evidence to recommend extremely low-fat diets for weight loss, so bring on the high-fat keto diet! There are three main ways the ketogenic diet may assist with weight loss. 

First, through body fat burning, improved insulin sensitivity, and reduced appetite! 

 

Some people can experience rapid weight loss in the early stages of ketogenic dieting, resulting from fat and water loss, since the ketogenic diet has been shown to have diuretic-like properties [5]

 

Another plus for the keto diet is that although it promotes rapid fat loss, it helps protect against muscle loss! It's essential to keep muscle mass in check to sustain any healthy weight loss regimen since muscles increase your body's metabolic rate, so you continue to burn energy even when you're resting and improve the sensitivity of cells to the hormone insulin [6] [29]

A systematic review of studies in patients with type 2 diabetes found that a ketogenic diet significantly lowered their weight by an average of 8.6kg and by 3 points down on their BMI score! [7]

A randomized controlled trial compared the effects of a low-calorie ketogenic diet on weight loss in obese individuals to a standard low-carb diet. At the end of this 12-month study, the keto diet was significantly more effective than the standard low-calorie diet, with 88% of the participants on the ketogenic diet losing more than 10% of their initial body weight [8].

 

Beta-hydroxybutyrate (known as BHB), the ketones produced during ketosis help the body utilize fat for fuel instead of glucose [9]. Some keto dieters can benefit from supplementing with endogenous BHB ketones to maximize their ketosis and increase metabolism. It's essential to ensure you take a high-quality BHB supplement if you add this to your regimen.

 

2. Reduced Appetite

empty plate 

We all know that nagging hunger is the enemy of any diet. You may think that the keto diet seems challenging to stick to because of the strict guidelines. Perhaps you're worried about carb cravings? 

While any dietary changes may be tricky at first, there seems to be a phenomenon that significantly reduces hunger when your body is in a state of ketosis. 

 

When undertaking a special diet, many people think their appetite is mainly controlled by willpower, but some significant biological factors are at play. So although it may require some will on your part at the beginning when cutting out so many carbs, it's been shown that low carbohydrate diets effectively suppress hunger.

For example, the research shows that study participants have consistently reported less hunger on a ketogenic diet [10]. While researchers don't completely understand all the mechanisms that explain how the ketogenic diet suppresses appetite, it's thought that ketosis impacts the levels of certain hunger-related hormones that help regulate our feelings of satiety [11]

Interestingly, research shows that supplementing with exogenous ketones (such as BHB) can also help to reduce perceived hunger and the desire to eat by lowering the hunger hormone ghrelin [12].

 

3. Anti-inflammatory 

 couple working out in park

Inflammation is a natural and vital process in response to infection and injury. However, suppose the inflammation gets out of hand and becomes a chronic issue. In that case, you might start to see muscle and joint pain, headaches, fatigue, low mood, swelling, stiffness, and more. Not to mention, inflammation is now regularly associated with developing health conditions like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease, and others [13]

 

The keto diet is a naturally anti-inflammatory diet, so it may help ease inflammation and pain. While there isn't much research, in some experimental studies, the ketogenic diet appears to provide overall anti-inflammatory benefits in conditions like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, and even spinal cord injuries [14]

 

A randomized controlled trial examined the effect of a ketogenic diet on human inflammation and discovered that after 12 weeks, the ketogenic diet significantly lowered pro-inflammatory chemicals [15]. The keto diet is rich in omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds. You've undoubtedly heard of the importance of omega 3s, but did you know they support the production of anti-inflammatory chemicals, which make them essential for controlling inflammation?

 The keto diet also focuses on vibrant low-carb vegetables such as antioxidant-rich leafy greens like kale and spinach, plus cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussel sprouts which may help reduce inflammation by protecting cells and tissues against oxidative stress [16]

 

4. Blood Sugar Regulation

When we consume carbohydrates, they convert into sugar, raising blood glucose levels. Consistently high blood glucose levels over time can lead to insulin resistance, where glucose has difficulty getting into cells to make energy and then gets stored as fat [17]

 

This is why managing the intake of carbohydrates is recommended for people trying to stabilize their blood glucose levels, like those with type 2 diabetes. Since the keto diet is so low carb, and your body starts using fat as fuel instead of glucose, this can positively lower blood sugar levels. For example, a meta-analysis of clinical trials found that interventions with a ketogenic diet resulted in significant decreases in fasting blood glucose and glycated hemoglobin (an indicator of your blood sugar levels over a more extended period) in patients with type 2 diabetes [18]

 

If you have diabetes and wonder if the ketogenic diet may work for you, discuss it with your primary healthcare provider first! And remember, blood sugar balance isn't just important for those with diabetes, but for anyone wishing to optimize their energy, weight, mood, hormones, and overall health!

 

5. Cardiovascular Health

In the United States, one person dies every 36 seconds from heart disease, making it a severe public health crisis [19]. Believe it or not, high blood pressure affects around 40% of the global population. It is a significant risk factor for heart disease and stroke [20]

 

Luckily, lifestyle factors like diet can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Research now shows us that the ketogenic diet may help protect the heart.

While there isn't much research in humans yet, a few studies have demonstrated that the ketogenic diet might help reduce triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels while increasing HDL cholesterol levels [21]. While both types of cholesterol serve a specific purpose in our bodies, LDL is generally considered the "bad" cholesterol because it can become deposited in the arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease. 

 

HDL is considered the good cholesterol that carries excess cholesterol back to the liver to be excreted from the body! [22]

Research also shows that the ketone BHB may significantly lower levels of LDL cholesterol by reducing the amount of cholesterol the body makes [23]

 

6. Brain Health

brain health puzzle

Glucose is usually the brain's primary source of energy. However, when you're on a ketogenic diet, the brain's primary fuel source becomes ketones. As we previously mentioned, the ketogenic diet was initially developed to help with epilepsy, a condition characterized by seizures caused by overexcited brain cells. While they don't entirely understand how the ketogenic diet works to treat epilepsy, it's thought that multiple mechanisms are involved [24]

 

Recently, there's been interest in using the ketogenic diet to treat Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia. A randomized controlled trial used MCT oil to elevate the ketone levels in patients with Alzheimer's. The MCT oil significantly increased cognitive function compared to the control group [25]. Other benefits that the ketogenic diet may provide for boosting brain health include improved memory in older adults [26], reduced migraine headaches [27], and potential improvements in symptoms of Parkinson's disease [28]

 

 

Is Keto Right For You? 

 balancing a keto diet

We've covered some groundbreaking benefits of the ketogenic diet: weight loss, blood sugar balance, reduced inflammation, heart health, and brain health! However, it's important to remember that choosing a diet isn't a one-size-fits-all approach.

 Everyone has a unique body with their own individual needs, which means the keto diet might not be the right fit for you. The golden rule is always to consult your primary health care physician before making significant dietary changes or adding supplements to your daily routine. 

 

Reasons to AVOID the keto diet entirely:

 

  • You're already metabolically healthy.
  •  

    If you're generally in good health and find yourself at a healthy weight, you may not need to be concerned about drastically restricting your carbohydrate intake but may benefit from simply focusing on healthy eating, with a diverse and nutrient-rich diet low in refined and processed foods.

     

  • You currently have or have had an eating disorder.
  •  

    The keto diet is considered a restrictive diet that requires consistent monitoring and calculation to ensure you get the proper amounts of each macronutrient. This restrictive eating can be triggering and anxiety-provoking for someone with a history or present issue with disordered eating.

     

  • You're under severe stress or dealing with significant life changes.
  •  

    The keto diet requires planning and motivation to undertake it successfully. Therefore if you're not in a good frame of mind or juggling complex life changes, it may be more appropriate to wait until you have the time and mindset to commit to a significant change in your diet.

     

  • You take chronic medication.
  •  

    If you take chronic medication for a medical condition, you must consult your primary health care physician before making any significant changes to your diet.

     

  • You have diabetes.
  •  

    This point may be confusing since we've just shared some of the beneficial effects of the keto diet in those with type 2 diabetes. But in people taking insulin to manage their blood sugar levels, a really low carbohydrate diet can lead to dangerously low blood glucose. Therefore if you have diabetes, it's vital to make sure that you're under a doctor's supervision to try the keto diet. Safety first!

     

  • You're pregnant or breastfeeding. 
  •  

    Going on a restrictive diet during pregnancy is never a good idea since a growing baby requires many essential nutrients for healthy development. Nutrients like choline and folate can be found in fruit, whole grains, and other vegetables.

    Lastly, it's also important to note that there is insufficient evidence regarding the long-term safety of the ketogenic diet. Since long-term adherence is often relatively low, people generally utilize the diet for a limited period, such as a few weeks or months at a time. 

     

    What To Expect When You Begin The Keto Diet

    When beginning the keto diet, your metabolism switches to ketosis, which can surprise people with some unfortunate symptoms commonly known as the "keto flu." The keto flu may result in symptoms such as:

     

    • Dizziness
    • Weakness 
    • Fatigue
    • Headache
    • Gastrointestinal discomfort
    • Nausea
    • Constipation
    • Flatulence 

     

    The good news is that taking exogenous ketones like BHB may help reduce keto flu symptoms for a smoother transition into the keto way of life!

     

     

    Final Thoughts

     

    • The ketogenic diet was initially created to treat epilepsy but has become famous for promoting weight loss and blood sugar balance.

     

    • The ketogenic diet comprises around 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrates.

     

    • Research shows that the ketogenic diet may assist with weight loss, appetite control, blood sugar balance, heart health & brain function, and reducing inflammation,

     

    • Even though the keto diet has many potential health benefits, it might not be suitable for everyone. Always check with your primary health care physician before starting a new dietary regime!

     

    • You may experience some unpleasant symptoms in the early stages of a keto diet, known as "keto flu."

     

     

    Note: This article is for informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting any dietary supplement.

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