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Nutrition

What Exactly Is the Keto Diet?

Here’s what you need to know about this diet before you think about trying it.

Sometimes it feels like there are so many trendy diets coming and going that you can’t even keep up with what they’re all called, let alone how they work. But the ketogenic diet is one of those regimens that has staying power. In fact, it’s been around for decades—it was originally developed to treat epilepsy before anti-seizure medications became widely available—and has recently experienced a resurgence in other populations, such as people trying to lose weight.

The ketogenic diet sounds like the sort of thing you dream about, particularly if you love cheese so much you own a fondue pot: It’s a high-fat, low-carb diet. This sounds counterintuitive, but it’s not. Basically, limiting your intake of grains, fruits, and veggies minimizes the carbs and glucose in your body. So instead of using them as your fuel, your body is forced to turn to fatty acids and proteins. This process mimics the effects of long-term fasting. Some research shows the diet can be useful for weight loss, which researchers think is due to several factors. However, further studies are needed to investigate in more detail the absolute effectiveness and safety of this diet. There is also some emerging research that suggests the diet could help with other conditions, like acne, polycystic ovary syndrome, and neurological diseases, but more studies need to be done.

Should you just order extra cheese on everything and give up all salads? No. The keto diet is calculated using ratios of fat intake to non-fat intake (aka protein and carbohydrates), usually 4-to-1 or 3-to-1. On a 4-to-1 ratio, a person would eat four times as much fat as they did carbs and protein combined. Foods are carefully weighed and calories are monitored; this is not a diet to be taken on casually.

In fact, it’s important to note that keto is not a diet you should start calculating yourself. Before you even get going, talk to your doctor about whether or not this diet will work for you. Additionally, anyone doing the keto diet should work with a doctor and dietician regularly to determine their correct ratios, calorie levels, and meal plans, as these vary between individuals. The diet also comes with possible side effects, including constipation, kidney stones, poor bone health, and growth deficits. You may also need to take supplements to ensure adequate levels of vitamins and minerals. The keto diet does have the potential to change your life—but you can’t do it alone.

Find more great health and wellness stories at MarthaStewart.com/Strive.