Harvard Medical School: What is the KETO Diet?

Harvard  Medical School:  

What is the KETO Diet?



A ketogenic (keto) diet is high in fat and protein and low in carbohydrates. Most of the body’s cells prefer to use blood sugar (glucose) as their main source of energy. The keto diet forces your body to use a different type of fuel. Instead of providing your body with glucose from carbohydrates (such as grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits), the keto diet relies on the liver to break down stored fat into molecules called ketones. (This process is called ketogenesis; that’s where the diet’s name comes from.)

For most people to begin using stored fat as fuel, they need to limit daily carbohydrate intake to fewer than 20 to 50 grams depending on body size. (i.e., a medium-sized banana has about 27 grams of carbs.) But this is a highly individualized process, and some people need a more restricted diet to begin producing enough ketones. It typically takes two to four days to reach a state of ketosis (when fat becomes a main source of energy).

A true ketogenic diet calls for up to 90% of your daily calories to come from fat, which is often hard to maintain. However, people can achieve faster weight loss with a keto diet compared with a calorie-reduction diet. In the short term, a keto diet is probably safe. But over time, it’s tough to keep the weight off this way.

A keto diet can help to jump-start weight reduction but choose healthier sources of fat and protein, such as olive oil, avocados, and all kinds of nuts. However, after a few weeks, switch to a reduced-calorie Mediterranean-style diet and increase your physical activity. This will help manage your weight loss for the long term.

— by Howard LeWine, M.D.

Editor in Chief, Harvard Men’s Health Watch



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