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The keto diet is a common solution to which people are turning to lose weight, regulate their metabolisms and generally reach peak health. While medical research validates its effectiveness for many conditions, however, that doesn’t mean the diet is right for everyone.
If you’re wondering about how the ketogenic diet works and whether it’s right for you, you’re in the right place. First, let’s tackle the first question: What exactly is the keto diet?
What Is Keto? A Quick Primer
Essentially, the ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carb approach to eating. It advises getting the majority of your calories and energy from fat, while reducing your carbohydrate intake to a mere sliver of your calories. This is a full reversal from the way most people eat: being wary of fat while freely ingesting carbs in the form of fruit, grains and sweets.
Once you cut out carbs, you lack the ingredients to make glucose, the molecule which most people use for energy. Without glucose in your bloodstream, your body is forced to tap into another evolutionary energy solution: ketones.
These little guys are manufactured in the liver, and provide just as much energy as carbs. In fact, many people on the ketosis diet claim they offer more energy, because they don’t cause crashes the way carbohydrates do. (If you’ve ever hit that 2 o’clock slump, eaten a donut, then crashed again half an hour later, you know exactly what we’re talking about.)
Once you’re in “full ketosis,” which takes about a month to reach with several intermediary stages and symptoms, your system will be used to using ketones for energy, and will feel every bit as awesome as it ever has.
But will it fit your lifestyle? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out. The following seven signs indicate that keto could be a very good option for you. Even if you meet only one criterion, you should spend more time considering a lifestyle change that will lead to health, longevity and energy like never before.
1. You Already Track Your Food Intake Carefully
The ketogenic diet requires considerable attention to what you eat. If you don’t yet know how to count calories, track your macronutrients (fats, carbs and proteins), plan out meals and shop for whole foods, you might find keto too overwhelming at first. In that case, it’s probably better to learn those skills before you change what you eat so drastically.
If, however, you already cook from whole foods and track your intake, you’re ready for keto, no problem. With that lifestyle already in place, all you have to do is sub out your current foods and recipes for new ones, so you’re well-positioned for success.
2. You Have Any of These Medical Conditions
According to Healthline, several medical conditions may benefit from the keto diet. One caveat, first: While any of the below conditions could see improvement with a switch to ketosis, it may in some cases be dangerous. Before embarking on this lifestyle change, make sure you speak to a physician to help do the transition safely.
That said, there exists a lot of evidence that keto can help with a range of medical conditions. It boosts energy and balances the metabolism, while providing neuroprotective services at the same time. Keto could be a very good call if you or a loved one suffer from:
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Glycogen Storage Disease
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
- Some cancers
- GLUT1 Deficiency Syndrome
- Brain injury
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
- Alzheimer’s Disease
A final note about medical conditions: Many healthcare practitioners are still wary of the ketogenic diet despite considerable research attesting to its safety, so your first attempt to speak to a physician about it might meet with resistance. If that happens and you still believe it’s right for you, speak to another physician or to a natural healthcare practitioner. Either way, get the facts before making any decision.
3. Your Thyroid Is Normal
Hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) or hyperthyroidism (high thyroid function) can both make the ketogenic diet more dangerous. When you transition your body to ketosis, where your energy source derives from liver-produced ketones, it creates a massive shift throughout the body. If your thyroid function is unable to accommodate that, your body may suffer.
That doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to your dreams of ketosis, especially if you have other health issues you want to address – e.g. obesity or any of the above medical conditions. It does mean you should take extra caution before jumping on the keto bandwagon. Talk to a healthcare provider first to make sure you protect your thyroid during the transition and after.
If you have a normal thyroid, though, go for it!
4. You’re at a Healthy Weight
One of the reasons keto is so popular is that it turbo-charges weight loss. If you’re at a healthy weight or are overweight, keto is a great choice. It will either keep you healthy or help you shed extra pounds.
Why does this work? Because eating carbs leads to weight gain in most of us, because carbohydrates give us more energy than we really need to function. Your body has to remove those carbs from the bloodstream and store them somewhere, so they get turned into fat. That’s the reason a diet low in fats but high in carbs (pasta, potatoes, fruit, sweets, sodas) will still make you overweight. Cutting out carbs will stop that process and so stop weight gain.
If you are already underweight or at risk of becoming underweight, however, it’s not a good idea to go on keto. Your body may not get the nutrients it needs to remain healthy, at least until you’ve solved whatever underlying condition might be causing the symptoms.
The same is true if you have struggled with an eating disorder in the past. Because the ketosis diet requires restrictive eating and careful monitoring of food intake, it is not a good idea for those who easily become compulsive. In that case, please stick with a traditional diet and follow your healthcare practitioner’s advice for how best to eat.
5. You Are Past Having Children
The ketosis diet is not a good idea if you’re pregnant and nursing. Currently there are not enough studies supporting this form of energy production when you’re eating for two. Possibly, with more research, keto might get the safety rating needed to follow the diet while bearing children.
For now, it’s best to eat a traditional diet while you’re carrying and nursing a child. Once you finish breastfeeding, you can transition to a ketosis diet then. In fact, it’s a great way to lose that baby weight!
As a side note, there also have not been enough studies done on ketosis and children. With the exception of childhood epilepsy, which is an extreme case, we just don’t know how kids’ bodies react to extremely restrictive diets while they’re growing. However, if you follow keto while raising young children, it’s pretty easy to wrap them into your lifestyle. Just feed them the same foods you eat, along with some fruit and whole-grain pasta or bread once a day. That will give them enough energy, but ensure you can prepare keto snacks and meals for the whole family.
6. You’re Working on Improving Your Memory
As we age, memory is often something we worry about. The ability to remember skills, names, faces, tasks and more is critical for a healthy and independent lifestyle. It’s never too early to start taking steps to boost that memory, from engaging your brain in new activities every day to eating high-fat whole foods.
New research also shows that the ketogenic diet might make a considerable difference in the prevention of memory loss. If you have a family history of Alzheimer’s or dementia, or you want to take steps to keep that mind sharp over the long haul, keto is for you.
7. You Exercise Regularly
One of the most common complaints about starting the ketosis diet is how sleepy it makes you. This is because your body is transitioning away from carbohydrates as an energy source, but has not yet started producing enough ketones in the liver to sustain you. The intermediary period can make you feel drained and low-energy. Some people also report insomnia, which doesn’t help.
How does this tie to exercise? Because exercise gives you energy. Bodies that are used to exercise already know how to boost their own metabolisms, which will help counteract those initial sleepy effects.
Also, if you exercise regularly, that indicates you already have the kind of discipline needed to stick to a difficult diet. With ketosis, you are either in it or you’re not. There’s no middle ground or cheat days, because those disrupt ketosis and throw your body back into a carb-reliant state. If you have considerable discipline and a lifestyle that emphasizes it, you’re in good shape. (Soon to be better shape!)
At the End of the Day …
Now that you have a grasp on what keto is and whether or not it will integrate with your lifestyle, you have a choice to make. If you choose to pursue this lifestyle, we are here to assist you with plenty of helpful guides on keto-approved sweets, sticking to your eating plan while traveling and making a beginner’s meal plan.
If there are other resources you’d like to see, please let us know! In the meantime, we wish you the best of luck on your new journey, and are always here for advice, support and community. You got this.
About the Author Nate Arnold
I started this website because it was hard to find trustworthy, evidence-based information about the ketogenic diet. Information that was published and peer reviewed by respected scientific journals. After years of research, I'm sure you'll achieve great results in a healthy way following my advice. I do my best to translate scientific research jargon into plain English. Remember, it's always a good idea to consult a doctor before starting a new diet!