The Keto Craze - Is It Healthy?

By: Tamar Nicole Soussana  |  October 24, 2019

Science and Technology

By Tamar Nicole Soussana, Staff Writer 

It seems as though everyone has discovered the “best way” to eat and live a healthy life. If you are looking to lose weight, one friend might swear by a Mediterranean diet, while another recommends a juice cleanse that helped her cut down 20 pounds. There are even diets specific to one’s blood type. A new addition to the long list of diets and lifestyles to choose from is a diet high in fats and low in carbs — keto. 

Keto rests on the foundation that our bodies should be in constant ketosis, a metabolic state in which our bodies produce ketones out of fats rather than utilizing carbohydrates for energy. Normally, the body undergoes glycolysis and the citric acid cycle to produce energy from glucose. Our bodies convert carbs into glucose and insulin signals for our liver, muscles, and fat cells to intake glucose for later usage. With less exposure to glucose, such as with a low-carb diet of 20 to 50 grams of carbs a day, our bodies enter a state of ketosis. Fatty acids travel to the liver as a response to the deficiency in preferential energy source for our cells and are oxidized into ketones (which are acids). 

Rather than restricting calories for weight loss, the ketogenic diet restricts carb intake and focuses solely on converting fat molecules into energy, thereby lowering the amount of fats in our body and resulting in rapid weight loss. The ketones themselves do not cause weight loss, rather, people on the keto diet eat less calories as a result of cutting out an entire food group, allowing them to burn fat for energy. This results in the production of ketone which is later disposed by urination or remains present in the bloodstream. Ketosis as a result of a low carb diet also mimics the body’s natural metabolic function while fasting or starving, similar to our energy supply first thing in the morning after an entire night without food.

But before jumping on the bandwagon of the keto diet, it is important to note that the long-term benefits are preceded by short term complications, coined the “keto flu.” This includes headaches, constipation, bad breath, high cholesterol, and fatigue which can all be present within the first few weeks of the diet. Generally, those on the ketogenic diet feel a bit sick at the beginning, however, the side effects usually recede after a couple of weeks.

Keto blogger, Moshe Bloch (@ketokosher), mentioned that he experienced the keto flu when his diet first began, but is now extremely happy with the results, having lost 90 pounds in one year. After experiencing extreme health complications and being told by a nurse that he was “too fat,” Bloch turned to keto as a solution and said, “When I’m in deep states of ketosis, I’m way more focused, energized, I feel healthier. It’s almost as if your body is a constant fuel.”

The keto diet has also proven to provide increased energy supply for the brain. While the brain can’t use fat as an energy source and mainly utilizes glucose, it can also derive energy from ketones. This energy supply explains why much research is being done on the ability for a ketogenic diet to treat brain illnesses like epilepsy, Alzhiemers, and Parkinson’s, in addition to heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer, and even acne. In addition, respectable hospitals such as Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University Medical Center, utilize the keto diet as special treatment for seizure disorders. 

While the list of benefits continues to unfold, it is important to mention that there are some complications relating to the keto diet. When the body does not have enough insulin to produce energy from glucose, it burns fat for energy and releases ketones into our bloodstream. The increase of ketones in the blood of a healthy individual hasn’t shown to be of much concern, however in cases of those with type 1 diabetes, too many ketones can lead to ketoacidosis, an extremely dangerous condition in which blood acid levels slow the ability of hemoglobin to bind to and transfer oxygen to our organs. This has also been displayed in a few cases of breastfeeding women on low-carb diets. However, if insulin does its normal job, the keto diet shouldn’t lead to any problems.

As a general trend, most complications listed above coincide with prior health complications. This is why it is always best to consult a doctor before beginning the ketogenic diet, as with any other major changes to one’s diet. Bloch recommends this diet to anyone “that’s tried it all,” himself having attempted juicing, Weight Watchers, and the flat belly diet, before starting keto. For some, the keto diet seems to be a great way to focus on the foods we consume and cut down unwanted body fat.