Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Keto Diet: Is it right for you?

7/6/2023 by Carly Olin


It's on social media. Your friends say you have to try it. Foods are marketed as "keto-friendly." Its popularity comes from the claim that it can help you lose weight in a short time. But what is the keto diet — and is it right for you?

What is the keto diet?

The ketogenic (keto) diet is a high-fat, moderate protein, low-carbohydrate diet. Normally, the body uses carbohydrates as its primary source of energy, but the keto diet restricts carbohydrates to 50 grams per day or less. A more typical intake of carbohydrates is 150-250 grams, or three to five times as much. With the reduced carbohydrate intake, the body is forced to use fat as its primary source of fuel instead of glucose from carbohydrates. This process puts the body in a state of ketosis, meaning the blood has a high level of ketones — thus the name "keto" diet. 

Keto diet and weight loss

Studies have found that individuals on a keto diet report less hunger and desire to eat. However, the keto diet can be hard to follow long-term due to its restrictive nature. Once individuals return to their original eating patterns, they tend to regain the weight they had lost. 

Is the keto diet right for you?

Although it is possible to lose weight on a ketogenic diet, it's important to consider other factors before making a drastic change to dietary patterns. 

  • Individuals may experience "keto flu" (headache, fatigue, grogginess or other flu-like symptoms) while the body transitions into ketosis. 
  • People on this diet have an increased risk of constipation, nutrient deficiencies, heart disease and other chronic diseases. 
  • Since the keto diet is quite restrictive, many people find it hard to dine out with others. 
  • Following this diet requires a lot of time, planning and preparation. 
  • A keto diet is not recommended for individuals with certain medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or thyroid or gall bladder conditions. 

Reduction vs. restriction

A better choice when thinking about weight management would be to reduce the type of carbohydrates you eat rather than following the strict restriction of the keto diet. The priority should be to reduce simple carbohydrates and include more complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are high in nutrients and fiber that increase fullness, which can help with weight control. Some healthy swaps include: 

  • Plain yogurt with fruit instead of flavored yogurt. 
  • Zucchini noodles instead of linguine or spaghetti noodles. 
  • Riced cauliflower instead of white rice. 

The bottom line

The keto diet is quite restrictive and hard to sustain long-term, making it not the best choice for lifelong weight management. The best diet for weight management is one that can be maintained long-term. If the goal is to lose weight, having a healthy eating pattern along with a calorie deficit and increased physical activity can help individuals manage their weight in a healthy and sustainable way. 

Don't restrict carbohydrates — rather, reduce them by choosing more complex carbs. This approach may be more sustainable. Instead of asking if the keto diet is right for you, ask if you can eat this way for the rest of your life and if it's the best choice for your long-term good health. 

Carly Olin is a Dietetic Intern at Mayo Clinic. She earned her bachelor's degree in Family and Consumer Science — Dietetics from Minnesota State University, Mankato.