Maybe it’s the prospect of eating more avocados (we can all dream). Maybe it’s the natural evolution of yet another fad diet. But one thing is for sure: The ketogenic diet is seemingly everywhere this year.
Eating “keto” is fairly simple and involves changing your proportions of macronutrients: High fat, moderate protein and low carbohydrate is the goal here. People following the diet cut out most grains and processed foods and focus on eating meat, certain oils, fruits, vegetables, and—of course—healthy fats like avocados.
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The idea behind a ketogenic approach is that with little access to carbohydrates, your body will start to use fat as fuel instead of carbs. This can lead to weight loss for some individuals, and can also help regulate hormones and promote thyroid health.
It’s an approach that’s been around for years, but has found more popularity recently. “Bulletproof coffee,” which is made by mixing MCT oil, fats found in coconut oil, palm kernel oil and dairy products, and unsalted butter into your morning coffee, has been the most popular visible staples of the recent craze.
“I think we’ve been on that low-carb craze for a while, and this is kind of stepping it up to the next level,” said Bethany Frazier, a registered dietitian in Kansas City.
“The research is there that a lower-carb diet is generally healthier for most of us. We navigate towards those really restrictive diets, and I think that’s why it’s become so popular, especially over the last six months to a year.”
A ketogenic approach to eating actually got its start in pediatrics: This type of diet has often been prescribed for kids who suffer from epilepsy. Studies have shown that when a child’s fuel source is switched to fats rather than carbs, some of their neurotransmitters can be better regulated. This means that some of the stimulation that causes seizures in an epileptic brain can be better controlled in some patients.
It’s important to note, however, that a ketogenic diet isn’t right for everyone. What can make the ketogenic diet successful in those using it for seizure treatment is that they are often being carefully monitored by a professional. And according to Frazier, those wanting to try keto should take that into consideration before attempting it on their own.
“If someone really wants to be successful they should be monitored by a physician or another practitioner,” Frazier said. “There are a few warning signs that a keto diet could be bad for some individuals, like those who have a genetic predisposition that they shouldn’t have saturated fats. It’s important to monitor what you’re eating, and if it could actually be harming you.”
Like any other fad that jumps to the forefront of American dieting, the ketogenic approach comes with benefits and risks. Healthy fats are important for brain function, and can help balance hormone levels. The approach can also help with appetite suppression.
However, consuming so few carbs (often between 30 and 60 total grams per day) can be risky. A lower energy level and a harder-working liver are are just two potential downsides to consuming too few carbs.
Still, some of the general principles of keto — eating more whole foods such as fruits and vegetables — can contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
The key to success, Frazier said, is finding “whatever it is that keeps you moving towards a healthier version of yourself.”
“Find a solution that you can wake up every day and say, ‘I can do this.’”