keto diet - ketogenic diet

How Does the Keto Diet Work?

The ketogenic diet, often shortened to “keto diet“, has become a popular dietary approach in recent years, garnering both praise and criticism. But what exactly is the science behind this high-fat, low-carbohydrate eating plan? This article delves into the mechanisms behind its operation, exploring how it affects the body and how it might contribute to weight loss and other potential health benefits.

From Glucose to Ketones: Understanding the Fuel Switch

Our bodies primarily rely on glucose, a simple sugar derived from carbohydrates, for energy. When we consume carbohydrates, the body breaks them down into glucose, which then travels through the bloodstream to various cells, where it is used for fuel. However, when carbohydrate intake is significantly reduced, as is the case with the keto diet, the body undergoes a metabolic shift called ketosis.

During ketosis, the liver starts breaking down stored fat into molecules called ketones. These ketones, primarily acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate, and acetone, become the primary source of energy for many organs, including the brain, heart, and muscles, once glucose levels become depleted. This metabolic switch is the core principle behind the keto diet and its potential effects on health.

The Ketogenic Diet: Macronutrient Breakdown

The keto diet typically involves a drastic reduction in carbohydrate intake, aiming for as low as 50 grams or even less per day, depending on individual factors. This reduction drastically limits the body’s readily available glucose source. Conversely, the diet emphasizes healthy fats, aiming for around 70% of total calories, which can come from sources like olive oil, avocados, nuts, and fatty fish. Additionally, a moderate intake of protein (around 25% of total calories) is usually recommended to support muscle mass and other bodily functions.

Maintaining this specific macronutrient ratio (high fat, moderate protein, very low carb) is crucial for triggering and sustaining ketosis. By significantly reducing carbohydrates and increasing healthy fats, the body is essentially “forced” to utilize stored fat for energy production, leading to weight loss and potentially impacting other physiological processes.

keto meal plan

Potential Benefits of the Keto Diet

Several potential benefits of the keto diet have been identified, although research on the long-term effects is ongoing. Here are some key potential benefits:

  • Weight Loss: Studies have shown that the keto diet can be effective for short-term weight loss [1]. The reduced calorie intake due to increased satiety from fat and the burning of stored fat for fuel is believed to contribute to weight loss. This can be helpful in preventing nutritional conditions like obesity.
  • Improved Blood Sugar Control: The keto diet may be beneficial for individuals with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, as it can help improve insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar levels [2]. In the Keto diet, fat-rich food takes longer to be digested and ensures a constant level of glucose in the blood for a longer period of time. Therefore, diabetics using a Ketogenic diet, do not get periods of excess glucose in their bloodstream.
  • Reduced Seizure Frequency: The keto diet has been used for decades as a therapeutic approach for epilepsy, particularly in children who do not respond well to traditional medications [3]. The exact mechanism behind this anticonvulsant effect remains under investigation, but it might be linked to the stabilizing effect of ketones on neuronal activity.
home management for diabetes - Keto diet can help in diabetes management

Potential Risks and Considerations

While the keto diet may offer some potential benefits, it is crucial to be aware of its potential risks and limitations:

  • Side Effects: The initial transition to ketosis can lead to side effects like fatigue, nausea, headaches, and constipation (often referred to as the “keto flu”) [4]. These symptoms usually subside within a few days to weeks as the body adapts to the new metabolic state.
  • Nutrient Deficiencies: A strict keto diet can limit the intake of certain fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, which are important sources of essential vitamins and minerals. Careful planning and supplementation might be necessary to ensure adequate nutrient intake.
  • Not for Everyone: The keto diet is not suitable for everyone, especially individuals with certain medical conditions like kidney disease, pancreatitis, or uncontrolled type 1 diabetes. Consulting with a healthcare professional before starting the keto diet is essential to assess individual suitability and potential risks.


The keto diet is a dietary approach with a specific science-based mechanism. By significantly reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing healthy fats, the body enters a state of ketosis, where it burns fat for fuel instead of glucose. This metabolic shift can potentially contribute to weight loss, improved blood sugar control, and reduced seizure frequency in specific situations. However, it is crucial to be aware of the potential side effects, limitations, and potential risks associated with the keto diet. Consulting with a healthcare professional before starting the keto diet is crucial to determine if it is suitable and safe for you.

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By Henf Henf

Am Henfrey Wangulu, a Clinical Officer/Physician associate based in Kenya. I am a Tech and Health enthusiast and in my free time, I like Swimming, Art and socializing with other people

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