The ketogenic diet — better known as “keto” — is having a bit of a moment right now. It’s been wildly popular on social media in recent weeks, and Google searches for keto-related terms have skyrocketed since the new year; celebrities the likes of Tim Tebow and Kourtney Kardashian have touted it as a detox, or a “reset button” for the body.
The idea is that you can lose weight by replacing the body’s typical go-to energy source — carbs — with fats. That means its followers are downing things like whipped cream, mayonnaise, butter, and cheese.
So much cheese.
Those on this diet often use supplements such as keto patches that contain antioxidants that are said to reduce body fat by increasing your metabolic rate.
If that sounds too good to be true, that’s because, well, it just might be. We talked to an expert about how it works, how it’s done, and whether or not it’s worth a try.
What exactly is a ketogenic diet?
The keto diet is an eating plan that consists of 80 percent fat and little to no carbohydrates. Staples of the keto diet are fish, meat, eggs, dairy, oils, and green vegetables. Pasta, rice and other grains, potatoes, and fruits are strictly prohibited.
Keto works by changing the way the body turns food into energy. Typically, during digestion, we break down carbohydrates — like those found in the verboten foods above — into molecules of fructose, galactose, and glucose, the last of which serves as the body’s primary source of energy.
When the body can’t draw it from carbohydrates — either because they’ve been cut out of the diet or because a person hasn’t eaten for a long time — it looks for other forms of energy.
The keto diet deliberately places the body in a state of ketosis, where fat is released from cells and turned into ketones, the body’s plan B for energy production.
Where did the keto diet start?
The keto diet is most assuredly not a fad, at least not in the usual sense of the word. It’s been around for nearly a century, and has its roots in the medical world: In the 1920s, epilepsy researchers found that increased levels of ketones in their patients resulted in fewer seizures, and the diet is still a widely accepted treatment for epilepsy today.
There’s also some evidence that a ketogenic diet has therapeutic potential for a wide array of symptoms and diseases, including cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome, neurological conditions, diabetes, and even acne.