The ketogenic, or keto, diet has become one of the most popular diets in recent years. It involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat. This reduction in carbs puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis.
While the keto diet was originally developed to treat epilepsy in children, it has gained popularity for its many other reported benefits. Here is a comprehensive look at 9 scientifically-proven benefits of following a ketogenic diet.
1. Weight Loss
One of the main reasons people try the ketogenic diet is to lose weight. And there is good evidence that keto is effective for weight loss. Multiple studies show that people on a ketogenic diet lose more weight and body fat than those on a low-fat, calorie-restricted diet.
In one study, obese test subjects lost double the amount of weight within 24 weeks on a keto diet compared to the control group on a low-fat diet. Losing weight quickly in the early stages of keto is mostly attributed to decreased water weight as insulin levels drop. Then much of the rapid weight loss is from loss of body fat as insulin remains low.
2. Blood Sugar Control
The keto diet can drastically improve blood sugar control. Consuming carbs raises blood sugar, so restricting them has obvious benefits for diabetes management. Multiple studies show keto improves insulin sensitivity and lowers A1C and fasting blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
Beyond diabetes, lowering carbs has the added benefit of reducing blood sugar spikes and crashes. This leads to more steady energy levels throughout the day.
3. Lower Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. Studies show the keto diet can significantly lower blood pressure, especially among people with obesity. This is likely due to the drastic weight loss associated with keto, as excess body weight directly contributes to high blood pressure.
4. Improved Cholesterol Levels
The keto diet has positive effects on cholesterol levels. It tends to raise HDL (good) cholesterol and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides. This is linked to changes in blood fat content due to carb restriction. However, the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL stays in the healthy range on keto. Studies also show the diet may reduce arterial plaque and lower cardiovascular disease risk.
5. Neuroprotective Effects
The keto diet was originally developed to control seizures in epilepsy, particularly among children. It significantly reduces frequency of seizures in many people with epilepsy. While not fully understood, this brain-protective effect may be linked to the production of ketones. The diet also appears to boost mental clarity and brain health.
6. Reduced Hunger and Increased Satiety
A common barrier to successful weight loss is hunger and cravings. The keto diet leads to a natural reduction in appetite. Ketones have been shown to directly suppress appetite, and the high fat intake is extremely satiating. People naturally reduce calorie intake without counting calories or consciously restricting food. Many only feel the need to eat twice per day.
7. Improved Acne
A growing body of research links carbohydrate intake to acne. By lowering carb and sugar intake, keto may improve acne. One study found young males following a ketogenic diet for 4 weeks had significant improvement in both acne severity and fat levels vs the control group. The potential mechanisms are decreased insulin levels and reduced inflammation.
8. Increased Mental Focus and Energy
By providing the brain with ketones as fuel instead of glucose from carbs, the keto diet can lead to sustained mental clarity. Studies also suggest it may improve cognitive function and brain health. Many people report feeling more focused and energetic while in ketosis. However, some may initially struggle with low energy during the adaptation phase as the body adjusts.
9. Anti-aging Potential
Emerging research suggests the keto diet may slow the aging process and extend lifespan. This is attributed to decreased inflammation and oxidative stress. Animal studies found keto extends lifespan compared to standard diets. While human data is limited, the diet appears to improve several biomarkers of aging like fasting insulin and inflammatory levels.
The Potential Downsides to Consider
While the keto diet has many proven benefits, it is still controversial among health professionals. Critics argue it is too restrictive, can lead to nutritional deficiencies, and may not be sustainable.
Potential downsides to consider include the likelihood of fatigue, low energy, brain fog, and other symptoms during the "keto flu" adaptation period that typically lasts 1-2 weeks. There are also discipline challenges when dining out and in social situations. Making sure to get enough fiber is important as well.
Like with any diet, nutrients should ideally come from real, whole foods. Processed low-carb replacement products are not encouraged but can be helpful during the initial transition period. Overall, whether keto is right for you comes down to individual factors and lifestyle preferences. Many find the benefits well outweigh the downsides.
The Bottom Line
The ketogenic diet has emerged as one of the most popular diets in recent years due to its scientifically-backed benefits for weight loss, diabetes, neurological health, and other conditions. However, the highly restrictive carb reduction may not suit everyone. Overall, for many people the positive impacts on fat burning, mental clarity, and disease risk factors can make the discipline needed to stay in ketosis well worth it.