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The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet that offers many health benefits.

More than 20 studies show that this type of diet can help you lose weight and improve health (1).

Ketogenic diets may even have benefits against diabetes, cancer, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease (2, 3, 4, 5).

This article is a detailed beginner’s guide to the ketogenic diet.

It contains everything you need to know.

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What is a Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet (often termed keto) is a very low-carb, high-fat diet that shares many similarities with the Atkins and low-carb diets.

It involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat. The reduction in carbs puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis.

When this happens, your body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy. It also turns fat into ketones in the liver, which can supply energy for the brain (6, 7).

Ketogenic diets can cause massive reductions in blood sugar and insulin levels. This, along with the increased ketones, has numerous health benefits (6, 8, 9, 10, 11).

Bottom Line: The ketogenic diet (keto) is a low-carb, high-fat diet. It lowers blood sugar and insulin levels and shifts the body’s metabolism away from carbs and towards fat and ketones.

Different Types of Ketogenic Diets

There are several versions of the ketogenic diet, including:

  • Standard ketogenic diet (SKD): This is a very low-carb, moderate-protein and high-fat diet. It typically contains 75 percent fat, 20 percent protein and only 5 percent carbs (1).
  • Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): This diet involves periods of higher-carb refeeds, such as five ketogenic days followed by two high-carb days.
  • Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): This diet allows you to add carbs around workouts.
  • High-protein ketogenic diet: This is similar to a standard ketogenic diet, but includes more protein. The ratio is often 60 percent fat, 35 percent protein and 5 percent carbs.

However, only the standard and high-protein ketogenic diets have been studied extensively. Cyclical or targeted ketogenic diets are more advanced methods and primarily used by bodybuilders or athletes.

The information in this article mostly applies to the standard ketogenic diet (SKD), although many of the same principles also apply to the other versions.

Bottom Line: There are several versions of the ketogenic diet. The standard ketogenic diet (SKD) is the most researched and most recommended.

Ketogenic Diets Can Help You Lose Weight

A ketogenic diet is an effective way to lose weight and lower risk factors for disease (8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13).

In fact, research shows that the ketogenic diet is far superior to the recommended low-fat diet (2, 14, 15, 16).

What’s more, the diet is so filling that you can lose weight without counting calories or tracking your food (16).

One study found that people on a ketogenic diet lost 2.2 times more weight than those on a calorie-restricted low-fat diet. Triglyceride and HDL cholesterol levels also improved (17).

Another study found that participants on the ketogenic diet lost three times more weight than those on the Diabetes UK’s recommended diet (18).

There are several reasons why a ketogenic diet is superior to a low-fat diet. One is the increased protein intake, which provides numerous benefits (14, 19, 20).

The increased ketones, lowered blood sugar levels and improved insulin sensitivity may also play a key role (21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26).

For more details on the weight loss effects of a ketogenic diet, read this article: A Ketogenic Diet to Lose Weight and Fight Disease.

Bottom Line: A ketogenic diet can help you lose much more weight than a low-fat diet. This often happens without hunger.

Ketogenic Diets for Diabetes and Prediabetes

Diabetes is characterized by changes in metabolism, high blood sugar and impaired insulin function (27).

The ketogenic diet can help you lose excess fat, which is closely linked to type 2 diabetes, prediabetes and metabolic syndrome (28, 29, 30).

One study found that the ketogenic diet improved insulin sensitivity by a whopping 75 percent (29).

Another study in patients with type 2 diabetes found that seven of the 21 participants were able to stop all diabetes medications (28).

In yet another study, the ketogenic group lost 24.4 lbs (11.1 kg), compared to 15.2 lbs (6.9 kg) in the higher-carb group. This is an important benefit when considering the link between weight and type 2 diabetes (2, 31).

Additionally, 95.2 percent of the ketogenic group was also able to stop or reduce diabetes medication, compared to 62 percent in the higher-carb group (2).

This article has more details about low-carb diets and diabetes.

Bottom Line: The ketogenic diet can boost insulin sensitivity and cause fat loss, leading to drastic improvement for type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.

Other Health Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet actually originated as a tool for treating neurological diseases, such as epilepsy.

Studies have now shown that the diet can have benefits for a wide variety of different health conditions:

  • Heart disease: The ketogenic diet can improve risk factors like body fat, HDL levels, blood pressure and blood sugar (32, 33).
  • Cancer: The diet is currently being used to treat several types of cancer and slow tumor growth (4, 34, 35, 36).
  • Alzheimer’s disease: The diet may reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s and slow down the disease’s progression (5, 37, 38).
  • Epilepsy: Research has shown that the ketogenic diet can cause massive reductions in seizures in epileptic children (3).
  • Parkinson’s disease: One study found that the diet helped improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (39).
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome: The ketogenic diet can help reduce insulin levels, which may play a key role in polycystic ovary syndrome (40).
  • Brain injuries: One animal study found that the diet can reduce concussions and aid recovery after brain injury (41).

However, keep in mind that research into many of these areas is far from conclusive.

Bottom Line: A ketogenic diet may provide many health benefits, especially with metabolic, neurological or insulin-related diseases.

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