Considering giving this trendy diet plan a try? Read this first.
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If you’ve recently noticed that every other person you know is trying something called the “keto diet,” you’re not alone. Like Atkins and Whole30 before it, Keto has become the latest huge trend in dieting, promising quick and painless weight loss while still indulging in foods like high-fat cheeses and red meat. So, how exactly does the trendy eating plan work, and is it effective long-term… or could it potentially damage your health in the long run?

How It Works

The basic tenets of the keto—or ketogenic—dietcan be summed up in four words: low carb, high fat. In a nutshell, the ketogenic diet is all about avoiding carbohydrates while consuming as much fat as possible. A maximum of 50 grams of carbs are allotted per day, although to get the most noticeable results, the program suggests consuming less than 20 grams of carbs daily.

Though some might question the effectiveness of a diet that not only allows but encourages the consumption of lots of butter and cheese, many fitness enthusiasts and dieters swear by keto’s ability to make you shed pounds fast.

The basic scientific reasoning behind this weight loss plan comes down to the imbalance of fat and carbohydrates being consumed. The disparity between carbs and fat puts the body into a state of “ketosis,” which occurs when blood glucose levels are reduced significantly. Since glucose, which is created by carbohydrates, is the body’s standard source of energy, when the body’s carb intake is low, it has to turn to another energy source: ketones.

Ketones are small fuel molecules created from fat in the liver that are used as an alternative to the body’s typical go-to fuel source. Through the ketosis process, the body begins to run almost completely on fat supplies, making fat burning a part of the body’s basic functions out of necessity. This process can also be set into motion by fasting, another rapid weight loss technique, but a keto diet is a somewhat safer, less strenuous alternative.

Those who swear by the keto diet sing the praises of its health and lifestyle benefits, like an increase in energy that makes you more alert and an overall decrease in hunger. Some scientists have even found that a ketogenic diet can help improve brain health and treat certain brain conditions, easing the symptoms of epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s Disease.

And while this deficit between carbs and fat turns the body into a super fat-burning machine, which can lead to quick weight loss, with any weight loss diet it’s important to be wary of possible long-term health effects, as well as the longevity of that loss if you eventually go back to your typical carb-inclusive diet.

WATCH: What Is the Keto Diet?

The Rules

An effective keto diet should consist of plenty of high-fat foods while avoiding as many carbohydrate sources as possible. Some basic rules of thumb include: Ditch the bread and buns, avoid starches like potatoes and rice, rely on low-sugar sauces, and ditch desserts and other sugary foods and drinks like soda and juice.

Your keto diet should be comprised of fish and seafood, preferably of the fattier variety; eggs; non-starchy vegetables like avocado, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, and zucchini; high-fat ingredients like butter, olive oil, and coconut oil; higher-fat dairy like high-fat cheeses, full-fat yogurt, and heavy cream; and nuts in moderation. Unprocessed, organic, grass-fed meats are also encouraged in moderation, but it’s important not to overdo it on the protein, as an excessive protein intake can lead to an increase in blood glucose.

As for drinks, water is the main priority, as well as sugar-free coffee and tea, with the option of adding a small amount of cream or milk. Bone broth is also recommended on the diet.

Potential Risks

While many swear by the keto diet’s ability to make them lose LBs fast, some medical findings suggest dieters should be wary of the potential side effects that could occur. In addition to recent reports that the keto diet negatively affects your sex drive, there is also a potential for experiencing carb withdrawal and developing a “keto flu,” which exhibits flu-like symptoms.

The keto flu can include weakness, headache, irritability, muscle soreness, constipation, and even nausea and vomiting in response to the body adjusting from using sugar as energy to using fat. Switching to a keto diet can also lead to a temporary increase in urination, which can drive down electrolyte levels leading to difficulty concentrating and an increase in sugar cravings.

This cycle also has the potential to lead to a loss in sodium, magnesium, and potassium levels, as well as dehydration, which can cause long-term kidney and heart damage, including kidney stones and an irregular heartbeat.

Other reported side effects of the keto diet include fatigue, bad breath, sleep issues, and irregular menstrual cycles. Health experts are also cautious of the plan due to the low intake of certain vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes—which can lead to a loss in certain essential nutrients in the body.

Though some scientists say that these symptoms are temporary, others say there isn’t enough concrete data out there to support or condemn the keto diet. “Overall, ketogenic research is limited,” dietician Stephanie McKercher tells Healthline. “We need more studies to fully understand all of the potential adverse effects of this diet.”

It’s important to note that anyone who has a history of diabetes or high blood pressure, or is breastfeeding should avoid the keto diet. This sharp adjustment to the diet can also cause a shift in the metabolic and other bodily systems, which can alter existing medications’ effects on the body. As with any big adjustment in your diet, it’s important to check with your doctor first to see if it is a healthy and safe option for you.

For those interested in giving the keto lifestyle a shot, check out our guides to stocking your keto-friendly pantry and eating out while on the keto program, and get started with these 33 Delicious Keto Dinner Recipes to Try Tonight.