In terms of weight loss, you may be interested in trying the ketogenic diet because you’ve heard that it can make a big impact right away. And that’s true. “Ketogenic diets will cause you to lose weight within the first week,” says Mattinson. She explains that your body will first use up all of its glycogen stores (the storage form of carbohydrate). With depleted glycogen, you’ll drop water weight. While it can be motivating to see the number on the scale go down (often dramatically), do keep in mind that most of this is water loss initially.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, Health’s contributing nutrition editor, says that many of her clients who have tried the ketogenic diet have also reported irritability and changes in mood. And while people don’t necessarily feel hungry on the keto diet—thanks to its high allowance for fat and moderate amounts of protein—some do report serious sugar cravings.
About 20% of children on the ketogenic diet achieve freedom from seizures, and many are able to reduce the use of anticonvulsant drugs or eliminate them altogether. Commonly, at around two years on the diet, or after six months of being seizure-free, the diet may be gradually discontinued over two or three months. This is done by lowering the ketogenic ratio until urinary ketosis is no longer detected, and then lifting all calorie restrictions. This timing and method of discontinuation mimics that of anticonvulsant drug therapy in children, where the child has become seizure-free. When the diet is required to treat certain metabolic diseases, the duration will be longer. The total diet duration is up to the treating ketogenic diet team and parents; durations up to 12 years have been studied and found beneficial.
That said, there isn’t an agreement that a low-carb diet is superior to any other kind of diet or that it’s healthier long term. A review in the December 2015 issue of Diabetes Therapy that looked at the diet among those with diabetes noted that when it comes to weight loss, a low-carb diet performs no better than other higher-carb diets; and that it doesn’t produce better glycemic control, either. (5) Another report in Diabetes Care also found that over one year, those on a low-carb diet lost weight faster than those on a low-fat one, but after a year, weight loss and A1C levels (an average of blood glucose over about three months) were remarkably similar. (6)
Well, we don’t really know why some people feel so bad after this dietary change. Is it related to a detox factor? Is it due to a carb withdrawal? Is there an immunologic reaction? Or is this a result of a change in the gut microbiome? Whatever the reason is, it appears the symptoms attributed to the keto flu may happen, not to everyone but to some people, after “cleaning up” their diet.
Certainly, prioritizing sleep, hydration, and overall healthy habits can keep you from feeling even worse, whether you’re on the keto diet or not. But the experts we spoke with agreed that avoiding ketosis altogether is a smarter way to feel good while you’re trying to lose weight, rather than putting a Band-Aid on something that could have more serious consequences down the road.
As for if you’re dealing with health issues, you really have to defer to your doctor. For instance, if you have kidney disease, you also want to talk to your doctor about appropriate protein intake. If you have heart disease, you can still go low carb, but you may be better off opting for monounsaturated fats (avocados, nuts, and olive oil) over saturated fats (butter and red meat). Everyone’s cholesterol levels respond differently on a low-carb diet, so if yours are going up, switch to unsaturated sources of fats, Spritzler recommends. “In general, this is a diet most people can do. If you have a chronic condition, work with a doctor who understands low-carbohydrate diets to monitor you,” she adds.
Fruit: While berries like blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are fine in small to moderate amounts, be careful with other fruit. They are fairly high in carbs and sugar, which can raise blood sugar, may slow down weight loss and can possibly worsen metabolic issues. Consider it nature’s candy: fine for a special treat, but probably not something to consume daily on a low-carb diet. Learn more
In many developing countries, the ketogenic diet is expensive because dairy fats and meat are more expensive than grain, fruit and vegetables. The modified Atkins diet has been proposed as a lower-cost alternative for those countries; the slightly more expensive food bill can be offset by a reduction in pharmaceutical costs if the diet is successful. The modified Atkins diet is less complex to explain and prepare and requires less support from a dietitian.