There is much debate about whether keto is another fad diet or can provide lasting health benefits.
In this article, I explain what is behind the ketogenic diet in simple terms and supported by 90 recent studies.
Is the Ketogenic Diet Healthy?
The keto diet is a low-carb, healthy-fat (LCHF) diet.
It reduces carbohydrates and maximizes healthy fats while keeping protein consumption moderate. Keto aims to burn fat as the primary energy source.
Because it is more readily available, the body uses energy from carbohydrates first. Only then can the body attack fat reserves.
Because we eat carbohydrates around the clock today, the average person can no longer burn fat for energy.
Few people know hormones also control that fat burning. Ketogenic diets take advantage of this fact.
When you eat carbohydrates, the body converts them into glucose. As a result, blood sugar and insulin levels rise.
Insulin is the primary storage hormone of our body. Its function is to store excess glucose as glycogen and body fat. In addition, insulin has an antilipolytic effect (Jensen et al. 19891).
Simply put, it blocks fat breakdown and promotes fat gain (Meijssen et al. 20012).
As long as carbohydrates are in your glycogen stores, the body burns them preferentially for energy.
Only when glycogen stores are empty, and insulin levels are low can the body break down fat and convert it into ketones.
Once these fat energy sources predominantly feed the energy intake, the metabolic state of ketosis is reached.
Because ketogenic diets and interval fasting can permanently lower insulin levels, they are the most effective methods to lose body fat sustainably (Kong et al. 20133).
But weight loss is only one reason the keto diet is so healthy. Research can now attest to an enormously vast range of health benefits of the ketogenic diet.
Health Benefits of Keto
The staggering spectrum of health benefits of the ketogenic diet clearly shows that it is more than just a weight loss trend.
1. Improves Cognition
Our brain requires more energy than other organs. However, few people know that ketone bodies and glucose can feed it.
Ketones can cross the blood-brain barrier (Hallböök et al. 20144).
Compared to glucose, ketone bodies are a cleaner, more efficient, healthier fuel for the brain.
The modern Western diet of processed foods, refined grains, sugar, and beer provides vast amounts of glucose.
In contrast, ketone bodies reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain (Achanta et al. 20177).
Moreover, the neuroprotective properties of keto boost memory and cognitive reasoning (Hallböök et al. 20148).
Neurologists conclude that healthy fats are crucial to brain health in old age (Chianese et al. 20189).
Additionally, ketogenic diets increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) (Hu et al. 201810).
BDNF is a neuronal growth hormone responsible for the formation of new neurons. High BDNF levels are associated with increased intelligence, mood, and memory.
For this reason, many people report being able to think more clearly in ketosis.
2. Boosts Well-Being
In addition to BDNF, another neurotransmitter is instrumental in mood.
The keto diet promotes gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that reduces brain functions for anxiety and stress and improves sleep (Calderon et al. 201711).
Because ketogenic diets also combat oxidative stress, insulin resistance, and inflammation, they have a mood-stabilizing effect (Brietzke et al. 201812).
In addition, ketosis reduces sodium concentrations in cells. This is an effect shared by all effective mood stabilizers (El-Mallakh et al. 200113).
3. Heals Brain Cells
The keto diet is prime for treating complications that originate in the brain.
One of the first clinical applications of the ketogenic diet was the treatment of epilepsy. The keto diet has been used successfully since the 1920s to treat children with drug-resistant epilepsy (Neal et al. 200814).
Keto helps children with epilepsy reduce the number of seizures (Ulamek-Koziol et al. 201915).
In addition, recent research suggests that ketones are generally the better energy sources for healing traumatic brain injury (Prins et al. 201416).
4. Alleviates Parkinson’s
The keto diet positively affects Parkinson’s disease (Phillips et al. 201817).
According to a brand-new study, the ketogenic diet can improve mood, mobility, and processing speed in Parkinson’s patients.
Keto consistently shows improvement in learning and memory function in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Ketone bodies and improved insulin signaling in the brain are the reason (Choi et al. 202118).
5. Fights Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease is the #1 cause of dementia.
Depending on the duration and intensity of ketosis, keto helps fight this neurodegenerative disease (Rusek et al. 201919).
Because Alzheimer’s, like type 2 diabetes, is based on insulin resistance, keto may help against it. For this reason, scientists call Alzheimer’s disease type 3 diabetes (de la Monte 201420).
6. Regulates Blood Sugar
High blood sugar and insulin levels trigger numerous ailments and modern civilization diseases.
The keto diet reduces blood sugar and insulin levels (Noakes et al. 200621).
The modern Western diet not only harms the body due to high blood sugar (Ramasarma et al. 201622), but inevitably leads to insulin resistance.
7. Reverses Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance is the starting point for most chronic diseases that plague us today.
Insulin resistance occurs when the body needs to protect itself from dangerously high insulin levels, usually caused by high blood sugar. The significant side effect is the buildup of adipose tissue (Corkey 201223).
This effect is also critical in the fight against diabetes.
8. Prevents Diabetes
Because the ketogenic diet fights the root of type 2 diabetes, it is so effective against it.
With the help of keto, people with type 2 diabetes can reduce or stop 95% of their blood sugar-lowering medications in six months.
Studies show that people with diabetes must cut their insulin dose in half when starting a low-carb diet (Westman et al. 200826).
9. Combats Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is closely related to type 2 diabetes and is composed of the following significant contemporary health risks (Huang et al. 200927):
- High blood glucose (due to insulin resistance).
- High blood fat levels (triglycerides)
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Low HDL levels (high-density lipoprotein, good cholesterol)
- Obesity (adiposity)
All of these factors contribute significantly to those diseases of civilization that are responsible for increased mortality.
10. Fights PCOS
The ketogenic diet is effective against another common metabolic disorder.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is characterized by the development of cysts on the ovaries due to a hormonal imbalance.
Lowering insulin levels is also effective in treating PCOS (Paoli et al. 202029).
Women suffering from PCOS successfully reduced insulin levels, body weight, and the ratio of testosterone to fertility hormones in just 24 weeks with keto (Mavropoulos et al. 200530).
11. Alleviates PMS
According to recent studies, the keto diet’s blood sugar-regulating and anti-inflammatory properties can relieve pain and symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (Masino et al. 201332; Schmelzer et al. 201533).
12. Reduces Inflammation
Not only sweetened foods and beverages but also other refined carbohydrates promote inflammation in the body (Buyken et al. 201437).
Unlike low-fat diets, keto can effectively reduce inflammation in the body (Forsythe et al. 200838), since ketones have antioxidant properties that reduce oxidative stress in our cells (Greco et al. 201539).
Thus, they can even reverse oxidative damage in the brain (Achanta et al. 201740).
This property can also help relieve skin diseases and pain in general (Fomin et al. 201741).
13. Fights Acne
In women, I have been privileged to witness time and time again how quickly the switch to a ketogenic diet has a positive effect on the skin.
Studies show that carbohydrates play an essential role in the development of acne (Paoli et al. 201242).
The keto diet is now considered a beacon of hope against blemished skin due to its anti-inflammatory effects (Fomin et al. 202043).
In particular, the positive effects on the microbiome in our gut could be responsible for this.
14. Boosts Gut Health
Inflammation levels and gut health go hand in hand. The ketogenic diet reduces pro-inflammatory gut bacteria (Ang et al. 202044).
Brand new research suggests that keto’s beneficial metabolic effects are partly due to the gut microbiome (Attaye et al. 202245).
Therefore, the keto diet may also improve abdominal pain and quality of life in people with irritable bowel syndrome (Austin et al. 200946).
15. Slows Aging
Because biological aging is driven by inflammation, researchers have coined the term inflammaging (Franceschi et al. 201447).
In addition to reducing inflammation, it is specifically positive effects on the brain that can slow the aging process.
Studies show that the keto diet can improve age-related cognitive function and life expectancy (Astrup et al. 201748).
The increased quality of life in old age due to keto has been noted through positive effects on working memory, visual attention, and task switching (Ota et al. 201649).
16. Fights Hypertension
High blood pressure increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Studies show that low-carb diets are significantly more effective than other diets in lowering blood pressure(Gardner et al. 200750).
Thus, they can help reduce the risk of strokes, heart attacks, and mortality in general.
17. Reduces Triglycerides
Triglycerides are fat molecules in the blood. They are the major measurable risk factor for cardiovascular disease (McBride 200851).
Few people realize that triglycerides do not come from fat but are predominantly from carbohydrates in the diet.
When glycogen stores in the liver are full, it initiates de novo lipogenesis.
This process converts excess glucose, such as from starch in potatoes, into triglycerides.
But the liver is even more efficient at converting the second sugar molecule besides glucose in table sugar – fructose – into triglycerides. Therefore, fructose is also the primary driver of fatty liver disease worldwide (Ter Horst et al. 201752).
Finally, fructose is closely related to alcohol. The critical difference is that fructose is 100% metabolized in the liver and not in the brain, sparing us from hangovers (Lustig 201353).
When people limit carbohydrate consumption, triglyceride and other blood lipid levels improve tremendously (Wood et al. 200654).
In contrast, science can now clearly show that low-fat diets increase blood triglycerides (Parks et al. 199955).
18. Improves Cholesterol Levels
You most likely know high-density lipoprotein (HDL) as good cholesterol.
The higher the HDL level relative to triglycerides, the lower your risk for heart disease (Marotta et al. 201056).
Studies show that HDL levels increase with a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet while triglyceride levels decrease (Foster et al. 200357).
In contrast, if fat, especially saturated fat, is reduced in the diet, good cholesterol drops markedly (Berglund et al. 199958).
You probably know low-density lipoprotein (LDL) as bad cholesterol.
Current research shows that the particle size of LDL is critical in determining whether it is associated with an increased risk for heart disease.
Studies show that low-carbohydrate diets increase the size of LDL particles while decreasing their number in the bloodstream (Wood et al. 200661).
Therefore, heart health benefits enormously from low-carbohydrate diets like keto.
19. Promotes Heart Health
Ketogenic diets help control widespread risk factors such as body fat, blood lipids, blood pressure, and blood sugar (Paoli et al. 201362).
In summary, the keto diet is one of the most effective natural methods to prevent cardiovascular disease.
20. Fights Cancer
The ketogenic diet has been the focus of cancer research for quite some time, as it can significantly slow tumor growth (Weber et al. 201863).
Glucose is the substance that drives cancer cell growth (Zheng 201264).
Accordingly, it is beneficial to restrict carbohydrate intake to deprive cancer cells of their fuel.
The keto diet offers so many health benefits because it drastically lowers insulin levels. This fact equally supports the prevention and fight against cancer.
Insulin is a hormone that promotes glucose uptake into cells, reduces the release of fat from cells, prevents ketone production in the liver, and stimulates fat and glycogen storage (Bolla et al. 201965).
Therefore, persistently elevated insulin levels promote cancer growth (DeCensi et al. 201466).
Moreover, a ketogenic diet increases the effectiveness of cancer treatments while protecting healthy cells (Dowis et al. 202167).
21. Accelerates Weight Loss
Its tremendous effectiveness in weight loss is why keto is so healthy and popular (Paoli et al. 201468).
Since keto forces your body to deplete glycogen stores, you can use it to lose several pounds quickly. Glycogen consists of one part carbohydrate and three parts water.
A ketogenic diet causes you to lose this stored water weight. But initial weight loss is not the end of the story.
A clinical trial compared the effectiveness of low-carb and low-fat diets over six months. 132 men and women participated.
Not only did the overweight individuals lose more weight on the low-carb diet, but unlike the low-fat diet, they also improved blood lipid levels and insulin sensitivity (Samaha et al. 200369).
Further research confirms that ketogenic diets are a safe way to lose weight successfully, especially over extended periods.
Doing so improves body fat and blood lipid levels without noticeable side effects (Dashti et al. 200470).
22. Maximizes Fat-Burning
The ketogenic diet relearns the body to burn fat instead of sugar for energy. As a result, it gains metabolic flexibility.
You are fat adapted when your body uses fat as its primary energy source. This metabolic state is established after the first few weeks of the keto diet. How long this takes individually depends on the preload of your hormonal system.
The higher the level of insulin resistance when you change your diet, the longer it may take for you to become fat-adapted and in ketosis.
The result is improved cellular metabolism. Clinical studies show that the keto diet significantly increases fat burning in cells (Gano et al. 201471).
Further studies show that keto-adapted people can burn more fat than others (Purdom et al. 201872).
This advantage of the keto diet is also noticeable in the increased effectiveness of exercise (McSwiney et al. 201873).
23. Reduces Dangerous Fat
More dangerous than subcutaneous fat just under the skin on the abdomen is fat in and around organs.
This so-called visceral fat increases the risk of metabolic syndrome, fatty liver, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease regardless of body mass index (Shah et al. 201474).
Therefore, people with normal BMI can develop type 2 diabetes (Taylor et al. 201575).
Studies show that keto helps burn straight visceral fat successfully (Volek et al. 200476).
24. Improves Performance
The ketogenic diet can also have benefits for female athletes.
Researchers have repeatedly shown that keto helps use fat more efficiently as a muscle substrate, improving endurance performance (Phinney et al. 198377).
25. Increases Growth Hormones
Research shows that diets particularly low in carbohydrates increase growth hormone release (Manninen et al. 200678).
This benefits muscle recovery and muscle development, organ health, and life expectancy in general (Besson et al. 200379).
Practical Benefits of Keto
Even though most people try the keto diet to lose weight and get healthy, they stick with it for lesser-known benefits.
Many features of the ketogenic diet indirectly make the diet work in the long run. That’s why keto is more of a lifestyle that makes you sustainably healthy than a short-term diet.
1. Prevents Yo-Yo-Dieting
Unlike conventional diets, ketosis protects your muscles.
The low insulin levels ensure that fat is burned instead of lean mass, even when you are in a calorie deficit. Even researchers were astonished to discover this fact.
Their obese subjects lost body fat and weight quickly and permanently on the keto diet. What was absent was the expected reduction in basal metabolic rate.
The researchers concluded that the yo-yo effect was absent because ketogenic diets protect muscle mass (Gomez-Arbelaez et al. 201880).
Losing weight with conventional diets is also accompanied by a compensatory effect, which increases appetite and thus promotes weight regain.
2. Fights Cravings
One of the worst properties of sugar is that it makes you crave even more carbohydrates (Teff et al. 200482).
In contrast, eating fats inhibits the release of hunger hormones (Beck 200683).
Some satiety hormones even increase in proportion to the number of fatty acids consumed in the diet (Pironi et al. 199385).
Unlike carbohydrates, fats cannot permanently throw your hormonal system off track if you eat high amounts (Dirlewanger et al. 200086).
In short, keto sets your hormonal system up for effective satiety and fat burning.
3. Works Without Calorie Counting
Keto is not a fad diet that will be forgotten the day after tomorrow. The main reason why Keto is enormously different from conventional diets is the end of calorie counting.
Studies show that people who reduce carbohydrates and eat more protein and fat automatically eat less daily (McClernon et al. 200787).
A meta-analysis confirms that even without calorie counting, keto produces better results than conventional diets that involve abstaining (Sackner-Bernstein et al. 201588).
What you eat is more important than how much you eat. The reason for this is the hormonal system.
Food and fitness industries persist with the outdated idea of calorie counting because it makes them more money.
World-renowned endocrinologist Dr. Robert Lustig showed more than 20 years ago that the obesity pandemic is due to a hormonal imbalance, not a caloric one (Lustig 200189).
Too many carbohydrates raise blood sugar and insulin levels, making you hungry, sick, and fat, even if you restrict yourself.
Accordingly, 99.5% of 99,791 overweight women and 76,704 overweight men failed to lose weight successfully through a calorie deficit in a dedicated study (Fildes et al. 201590).
Keto Benefits Go Beyond Weight Loss
Although mass media still classify keto as a short-term weight loss trend, current research tells a different story.
Rarely has anything been proven as watertight as the comprehensive health benefits of ketogenic diets. These effects go far beyond weight loss.
Keto is healthy for the brain, heart, skin, gut, and hormone balance in general.
The welcome side effect is weight loss. Best of all, you can lose weight healthily without counting calories.
A ketogenic diet minimizes hunger and maximizes fat burning via your hormone balance.
Whether you want to live long or get fit fast, the keto diet will lead you to health benefits in a sustainable way.
Keto Benefits FAQ
Stunning weight loss results and improved metabolic, brain, gut, and heart health are the five major benefits of keto.
Keto side effects include weight loss, satiety, urinary urgency, muscle cramps, mental clarity, increased energy, and the keto flu.
Keto is fantastic for metabolic, brain, gut, and heart health.
Since keto aims to burn fat for energy, it is remarkable for shedding belly fat.
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