Everybodys doing the keto diet. Its a cultural craze thats captured our imagination.
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But lets remember that the ketogenic diet is a medical, or therapeutic, diet. So while its extremely beneficial for people with certain conditions, its not for everyone.
The keto diet is essentially a high-fat diet your meals are 70 or 80 percent fat; about 20 percent protein; and about 5 percent carbohydrate. It is not an Atkins high-protein diet.
The keto diet switches you from burning glucose (which carbs provide) to burning ketones (which fat produces) for energy. When you do this, interesting things happen:
Biology is smart. Historically, it allowed our bodies to adapt to times of abundance or scarcity by shifting from carbohydrate metabolism to fat metabolism.
When we found lots of wild fruit, wed store the carbs as belly fat. Later, in lean times, we would use the fat as a backup source of fuel.
The key is this: Eating fat does not make your insulin go up, as eating carbs or protein does. So the keto diet does not spike your insulin, and you dont store fat. Instead, you burn it, creating the ketones that give you an effective and efficient metabolic jolt.
Here are a few reasons why you might think about doing the keto diet:
Clearly, the ketogenic diet is the standard of care for treatment-resistant epilepsy. But were also seeing its benefits in other neurological conditions. Research suggests the keto diet can bring improvements for those with Alzheimers disease; autism; or brain cancers such as glioblastoma.
So the keto diet can be a powerful intervention. People with type 2 diabetes and or/morbid obesity can do phenomenally well on it. (And the truth is, this describes many Americans; one in two of us are now are either prediabetic or type 2 diabetic, and 70 percent of us are overweight.)
But its vital to work with a doctor or health professional who can treat and follow you while youre on the keto diet.
Our responses to the ketogenic diet are individualized. Theyre based on our biology, our metabolism, our numbers and the way we feel.
Some people can sustain the diet for decades. Others dont do well on it. For example, if I eat too much fat and too few carbs, I lose too much weight.
If you happen to be very thin, if you have an eating disorder, or if you have certain metabolic issues, the keto diet will also be risky for you. I would be very careful; check with your doctor before trying this diet.
We also dont want to put kids on the keto diet, unless they have type 2 diabetes and are overweight. However, I would still check with your pediatrician.
We still dont have enough long-term data to say that the keto diet is effective and safe over 20 to 30 years. But if youre overweight or diabetic, this diet can help get your system out of metabolic crisis and put it in a healthier state.
One thing I want to stress: Its vital to eat real, whole, fresh foods when youre on the keto diet. This includes non-starchy vegetables (the carbs from broccoli are pretty different from the carbs in cola). Frozen food is OK but should not be processed.
So whether youre doing the keto diet, the Mediterranean diet or a low-fat diet, what matters most is the quality of the food you eat.
By: Mark Hyman, MD
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