5 Facts You Didn’t Know About The Keto Diet
Most of us have heard about the ever-popular ketogenic, or keto, diet by now. It changes the way our bodies derive energy from the food we eat by dramatically shifting the macronutrient ratio in what we consume. (Think 80 percent fat, less than 5 percent carbohydrates and 15-20 percent protein). But beyond the general nutritional profile, what else do we know about the keto diet? Below are five fun and not-so-fun facts about the dietary lifestyle that are certainly worth knowing — especially if you plan on going keto in the future.
1. Its origins date back to the 1920s when it was used to help treat severe childhood epilepsy.
Researchers have found that the production of ketones (which this diet promotes via the metabolism of fat) can influence neurotransmitter activity in neurons. This can mean fewer seizures for children suffering from epilepsy. In fact, one study observed a 30-40 percent reduction in seizures in children following a keto diet as compared to a non-keto diet control group. The dietary lifestyle is still being used for this purpose today, and new research efforts are linking it to relief for patients suffering from other neurological problems like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease as well.
2. It could help treat cancer alongside chemotherapy.
So this one is particularly interesting. Because the keto diet is low in sugar and carbs and shifts the body away from its natural glucose metabolism, some researchers believe that it also helps starve cancer cells of glucose they use for fermentation. A 2012 study deemed the keto diet safe for patients with advanced cancers, and even found evidence suggesting that it helped stabilize the disease and, in some cases, lead to partial remission. And another study observing patients with malignant brain cancer on the keto diet found that this particular nutrition plan can inhibit additional growth of tumors due to the limit on calories coming from glucose. There is still more research do be done here, but so far, the findings are pretty exciting.
3. The super high-fat diet could help your cholesterol levels.
The research here is certainly limited, but some recent studies suggest that saturated fat isn’t as bad for our hearts as we once believed, which is probably a relief to all keto dieters out there. A new study this year found that a ketogenic diet could actually improve a person’s triglyceride, HDL and LDL levels. Additional research asserts that a very low-carb eating routine like the keto diet can improve a person’s lipoprotein profile independently of weight loss. And another study focused on healthy-weight men specifically found that the keto diet does not increase risk of cardiovascular disease. Here’s to hoping future research further validates these findings.
4. It gives you bad breath.
Switching gears into the not-so-fun facts, the ketogenic diet (and all very low-carb diets, for that matter) will likely leave you with pretty bad breath due to the acetone byproduct of fat metabolism. It also makes your sweat and pee smell. (TMI? Sorry.) While this odorous side effect is far from ideal, some keto dieters say that it does subside once your body maintains its state of ketosis for a long enough period of time. Others suggest that the only real solution is to up your carbohydrate intake. Either way, keep breath mints on hand at all times just to be safe.
5. You risk losing a fair amount of muscle mass.
This one might sound counterintuitive, but research shows that low-carb diets actually promote muscle loss. Eating carbohydrates leads to the body’s production of insulin, which then leads to muscle growth. So when we cut out almost all carbs entirely, our muscle glycogen stores are depleted easily and we end up with very little energy left in the tank to push harder in strength training sessions. However, the keto diet could help you kick ass in yoga and long-distance running. More and more endurance athletes are ditching carbo-loading for a high-fat diet, and it works particularly well for yogis working on their functional flexibility.
It’s always a good idea to do your research (and thoroughly) before starting a new diet plan — especially one as restrictive as the keto diet. Some pros and cons might be more directly relatable to your own experience than others, but you can only really know what you’re in for by looking at the full picture. Plus, sometimes it’s just fun to nerd out on health facts.