by Mark Casto

In recent years, our culture has had somewhat of a renaissance in fitness and health. There are a record number of endurance races, from triathlons to local 5k “fun runs.” Exercise is even being exalted as a “sport” in and of itself among certain fitness communities such as CrossFit. Along with the increased attention to fitness, we have experienced several new “diets” being promoted as the latest and best way to lose weight. One of the newest cultural craze diets is the “Keto Diet”.

The Keto Diet in its rawest form is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet.

This is contrary to the Atkins Diet, which is a low-carbohydrate and high-protein diet. The dietary goal is to consume most, if not all, of your calories from fat and protein while reducing or eliminating carbohydrates. This is largely accomplished by reducing the caloric intake from foods such as sugars, soda, pastries, pasta and bread.

The theory is that when you digest a minimal amount of carbohydrates a day, your body eventually runs out of blood sugar to burn for energy and will start to break down protein and fat for energy. The belief is that this will ultimately lead to weight loss. Most people react quickly to this diet. This conversion typically takes three to four days and is called “ketosis” or a “ketosis state”.

In theory, this diet sounds like the ultimate solution for weight loss, however, it is important to note that the ketogenic diet is a short-term diet that’s focused on weight loss rather than the pursuit of health benefits. This diet is not for the long term “way of life” change nor is it for all people.

The pros of this diet obviously include short-term and quick weight loss results. Another can be a reduction in acne because high carbohydrate diets have been linked to acne. Reducing one’s carbohydrate intake may help reduce the severity and frequency of breakouts.

Many endurance athletes promote the Keto Diet as being beneficial as a training diet. The thought process is that during endurance training, a ketosis state helps increase the athlete’s muscle-to-fat ratio. It also may increase the amount of oxygen the body can use during endurance training. On the flip side, this diet may not work as well as other diets for peak performance when sudden and immediate energy sources are required for the body to perform at its highest level.

Some nervous system disorders may benefit from the Keto Diet. More specifically, nervous systems disorders that affect the brain and spine are positively impacted by following the Keto diet. In particular, Epilepsy is strongly believed to be helped by a ketogenic diet. Other disorders suspected to benefit from this diet include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and sleep apnea. While there have been no conclusive studies, some researchers suggest that in the ketosis state, when the body is breaking down fat for energy, it somehow protects the body’s brain cells from damage.

There are, however, negatives to this diet. Commonly reported side effects include: constipation, low blood sugar, indigestion, headaches and severe fatigue. On a lesser scale, other reported side effects are that the Keto Diet can lead to kidney stones, high levels of acid in your body (ketoacidosis), weakness, bad breath, irritability and depression.

While a low-carb diet on the surface appears to help reduce blood sugar levels in a more predictable manner than other diets. The ketosis state creates compounds called ketones. Prolonged exposure to the Keto Diet can create too many ketones in the blood and can cause serious illness. This condition is called ketoacidosis and individuals with diabetes are particularly at risk. It occurs when the body stores too many ketones, causing the blood to become acidic, which can severely damage the liver, kidneys and brain. If left untreated, ketoacidosis can be fatal.

The pros and cons of this diet have not been fully considered and researched. Accordingly, each person should consider their own personal situation, physical health and above all else, consult a doctor prior to any significant dietary changes.