Is the keto diet right for you?

It has been shown to lessen epileptic seizures, but for weight loss, there are considerable pros and cons.

A plethora of dieting methods exist, but one of the most popular is the keto diet – the desired outcome of which is to put your body in a state of ketosis.

Ketosis is when the body metabolizes fat for fuel instead of burning sugar or carbohydrates. The body then produces ketones, hence the state of ketosis. Some people use it as a method for weight loss, but it actually has other benefits says Joyce Matsumoto, MD, medical director of the UCLA Ketogenic Diet Therapies Program.

“With the ketogenic diet what we’re trying to do is limit the body’s preferred fuel source in the form of carbohydrates and give it an alternative fuel source in the form of fat. The body then switches to burning fat for fuel instead of glucose,” said Dr. Matsumoto.

The keto diet consists of foods such as red meats, lean meats, fatty fish, eggs, butter, cream, unprocessed cheeses, nuts, seeds, healthy oils, avocado and low-carb veggies.

In the case of the Ketogenic Diet Program, however, the goal is not to help patients lose weight. Instead, it’s to help people with epilepsy. Dr. Matsumoto said fasting has been noted to help reduce frequency of seizures.

“But obviously you can’t fast forever,” she said. “So the keto diet was devised as a way to trick the body into thinking it was fasting, but still providing nutrition. What do you do when you fast? Your body produces ketones. That’s why this strategy was developed.”

Why, exactly, the keto diet has a positive effect on seizures is still unclear.

“There are a lot of possible mechanisms that have been proposed, but at the same time I think the reality is that it has multiple different ways that it helps seizures,” Dr. Matsumoto said. “It seems to help a significant number of people when traditional medications haven’t done enough to help. This can add more benefit and reduce seizure frequency over and above what we can achieve with other medicines.”

What about a ketosis diet for weight loss?

Though the keto diet has many benefits, Paige Foote, registered dietitian at UCLA Health Sports Performance Powered by Exos, says it’s not the perfect diet for everyone.

“There’s very few people I would recommend the keto diet to, especially athletes looking to lose weight,” says Foote. “The keto diet can help you lose fat, but it can also lead to muscle loss and low energy levels. If you’re trying to improve your athletic performance, then the keto diet is probably not the best approach to take.”

However, Foote says, she understands why many people are drawn to the keto diet. “People like the concept of burning fat for fuel and enjoying a lot of high-fat, satiating foods.”

Foote continued: “The diet is intended to put you into ketosis, which is accomplished by eating very, very small amounts of carbohydrates. The recommendation is usually less than 20 grams (that’s less than the amount of carbs found in a banana).”

Though the keto diet may be effective for decreasing epileptic seizures and weight loss, every individual should consult with their physician or dietitian before adopting it into their lifestyle.

“People should go into it knowing the benefits and risks,” Foote said. “No diet is all rainbows and butterflies. The keto diet in particular can be very restrictive. You have to know what you’re getting yourself into.”

Learn more about UCLA’s Ketogenic Diet Program.