What is the keto diet? It gets its name from something called ketosis, which is a state your body enters when it burns fat for energy. In the human body, we have multiple sources of energy, with carbohydrates being the primary source. Usually, we will burn up our carbohydrates for fuel, then call upon fats to provide more energy as required. The keto diet aims to reduce carbohydrate intake, forcing the body to use fat as an energy source. That’s the basic principle behind it, and it can lead to some health benefits.
As with all diets, the benefits are never guaranteed. People have different reactions, so it’s important to test the waters when switching up your eating plan. If you have a bad response after a few weeks, stop, and go back to a different diet. Also, the benefits can be affected by external factors. For instance, the aim of most diets is to help you lose weight. However, regardless of what diet you follow, if you don’t exercise alongside your diet, there’s no certainty you will lose weight.
Anyway, now that’s out of the way, let’s look at some of the potential health benefits the keto diet produces:
Yes, the main reason the keto diet has become popular is due to the fat loss effects. When followed correctly – and supplemented with an active lifestyle – the keto diet can help you lose body fat. As mentioned in the introduction, this is thanks to the way energy systems work in your body. We use fat as a secondary fuel source, but the lack of carbs pushes it to the front. Interestingly, there are more calories in fat than in carbs – 9 kcal per gram of fat, 4 kcal per gram of carbs. Therefore, you can potentially burn more calories when you have a high-fat diet. For every gram of fat you burn, 9 calories are lost.
Linking with the previous point, the keto diet can help to suppress your appetite. Why would anyone want to do this? Well, let’s clear up what we mean by appetite suppression. We’re not saying that you will go off food altogether. Instead, it’s more to do with how full you feel after eating. Fats are harder for your body to digest, which means they stay in your digestive system for longer. If you have a meal that’s high in fat, it will fill you up for longer than a low-fat meal. Thus, you no longer have hunger cravings shortly after eating. This can stop you from binge eating between meals, which will cause weight gain. So, the keto diet also helps your weight loss journey by suppressing your appetite and preventing cravings!
Many foods in the keto diet come from dairy products. Cheese and milk are two highly common foods to consume when you’re on this diet. They’re low in carbs and extremely high in fats. In turn, these foods can lead to some health benefits in your mouth! The next time you visit your dentist, ask them about the benefits of drinking milk for your teeth. It’s one of the best things you can drink as it contains lots of calcium, which helps your teeth remain nice and strong. Cheese also has this mineral, and it’s been proven to level out the pH balance in your mouth. We won’t get too detailed, but the pH levels in your mouth can determine the likelihood of getting caries and decay. If you eat a lot of sugary and acidic foods, things get out of control. Many dental experts recommend eating cheese throughout the day to neutralize any acids and protect your teeth!
Similarly, the keto diet can provide you with healthier bones. Again, this is thanks to the sheer variety of dairy products you will eat. They will likely feature as part of at least one meal or snack every day. So, you get a lot of calcium in your body, forming strong and healthy bones. From here, you can actually reduce the risk of common bone problems – like osteoporosis. If you combine your diet with resistance training, the bone health benefits will increase even further.
Fish are a vital part of the keto diet as they provide an excellent protein source and some beneficial fats. Ideally, you should choose oil fish as they are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Now, I’m sure you recall your parents telling you to eat fish because it was brain food. Well, numerous studies have linked the benefits of omega-3 and the human brain. By consuming high amounts of it, you can improve brain health and function. Fish is the best source of it, but many other high-fat foods also contain them. Some nuts have these fatty acids, so a huge chunk of your diet will provide omega-3, helping your brain stay healthy.
Improved cholesterol levels
There are two types of cholesterol in your body: HDL and LDL. Typically, we think of cholesterol as a bad thing that can cause heart disease. This is true, but only if you have high levels of LDL in your bloodstream. If this is the case, plaque deposits build up in your blood vessels, leading to heart disease and heart failure. However, HDL is seen as ‘good’ cholesterol because it actually removes LDL from the body. Some people claim that the keto diet raises cholesterol because fatty foods increase cholesterol levels in the body. This is only partly true! If you eat healthy fats, you will see an increase in HDL throughout your body, which will subsequently reduce LDL. The only time LDL will increase is if your diet consists of too many saturated or trans fats. These are the bad fats, but a healthy keto diet will eat them in extreme moderation.
Decrease blood sugar levels
Having high levels of sugar in your blood is very dangerous. In fact, it can cause diabetes in lots of individuals. Usually, blood sugar levels are elevated, thanks to carbohydrates. This is because many of them tend to have high sugar content or will cause a spike in your blood sugar levels after eating. With the keto diet, you will reduce your carb intake, lowering blood sugar levels. They stay at a more natural level, preventing massive spikes or huge drops. This diet is so effective at reducing blood sugar that diabetes patients are cautioned about following it as it can cause extremely low blood sugar levels when used in conjunction with medication! As always, consult a doctor if you have any underlying medical conditions before starting a new diet.
The keto diet comes with a range of possible health benefits. As mentioned in the introduction, none of these benefits are guaranteed. It all depends on how you approach the diet, your lifestyle, and how long you stick to it. When it is followed correctly and you live an active life, you should see most of the benefits listed above.
The key to the keto diet is understanding what foods to pick and how to plan your meals. Generally, the two biggest concerns are monitoring your bad fats and calories. Don’t pick up a ready meal and think it’s okay because it’s got a high-fat content and no carbs. The chances are it’s high in saturated or trans fats, so put it down! Always watch your meals’ calorie content as you can quickly eat far too many calories on a high-fat diet. But, if you’re mindful, you can create balanced meals that deliver all the nutrients you need but are low in carbs and high in fat.