What Is the High-Fat, Low-Carb Diet, and Does It Work? We Investigate

Updated 05/02/19

As the weather warms up, it's little surprise that getting your health and diet back on track often tops the to-do list for most of us. If you're toying with the idea of starting a diet, though, it can be hard to discern which are actually science-backed and achievable. Especially when there is so much conflicting information online. Who do you trust?

But if you only try one diet this year, Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, says there's a clear winner. Axe predicts the keto diet, also known as the high-fat, low-carb diet, will be the fastest growing diet this year and possibly the next 10 years. It's a bold statement, but it's one he stands by. "Originally created in the 1920s, the ketogenic diet is rapidly gaining popularity in the weight-management world. And for good reason," he says. "If done correctly, research suggests shifting your body into a ketogenic state can not only fuel a healthy weight, but it can also lead to a host of other health benefits."

So what is all the fuss about? Ahead Axe explains everything you need to know about the keto diet trend. Here's to a fitter, and healthier year ahead.

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What Is the Keto Diet?

"Because the ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet—meaning about 80% of calories come from fat and only about 5% to 10% come from carbohydrates—a typical day of eating will include many servings of healthy fats and oils. The goal is to eat healthy sources of fat that provide the body with a steady fuel source and enough calories.

"Ideally, the ketogenic diet should include three different types of fats: saturated fat (from animal products like fatty meat, butter, and potentially, full-fat dairy), monounsaturated fats (from olive oil or avocados), and polyunsaturated fats (from fish, certain oils, and small amounts of nuts and seeds).

"Some of the reasons that the ketogenic diet is unique and so effective are that it helps reduce hunger and cravings, helps balance hormones, improves energy levels, supports cognitive performance, and provides protection against disease long-term. This means that keto diet is basically the opposite of what most people think of as 'dieting.'"

Does It Really Work?

"While dieting typically results in increased appetite, low energy, and a decline in mood, the ketogenic diet leads to more mental clarity, less brain fog, and less fixation on food. Eating a lot of high-fat, keto-friendly foods coupled with moderate amounts of protein and some veggies is usually very effective at controlling hunger. Ketone bodies (the molecules produced when the body is in ketosis and burning stored fat for energy) also provide the brain with a steady fuel supply that causes a lift in energy and moods.

"Despite being so high in fat and not requiring calorie counting, research shows the ketogenic diet is effective at promoting weight loss and improvements in several cardiovascular risk parameters. Furthermore, studies show that a ketogenic diet has therapeutic effects and can help to protect against seizures/epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and even cancer.

"It's worth pointing out that the ketogenic diet is not necessarily something that should be followed for a lifetime—it can serve as a temporary solution for helping to treat a health problem or for improving weight loss. I recommend that people follow the diet for about three to six months before adding more carbohydrates back into their diet."

Can It Speed Up Metabolism?

"Ketosis, the metabolic state that results from following the ketogenic diet effectively, means that your body has switched from burning carbs to burning fat for energy. When the body has the ability to burn fat as fuel, the liver naturally creates fats called ketones, which supply organs (especially your brain) with energy.

"If you're following a keto diet to improve your metabolism and lose weight, you should know that shifting into ketosis takes some careful planning and pretty strict adherence. You'll need to avoid many foods that you're accustomed to eating that provide carbohydrates while also significantly boosting your fat intake.

"It typically takes several days to get into ketosis, but this depends on exactly what you're eating and your current state of health. In order to transition into ketosis, you will need to eat around 20 grams of net carbs per day or less (so if you're having a hard time seeing results, consider whether carb intake may be too high)."

What Does a Typical Daily Diet Include?

"You may start your day with coffee, possibly with some coconut oil or protein powder added. Midday, lunch would include a moderate amount of protein, such as eggs/fish/meat, some non-starchy veggies such as greens, and several servings of fat in the form of oil, avocado, cheese, or butter. Dinner would be similar to lunch. If you're hungry for snacks, you can have some nuts, cheese, hardboiled eggs, grass-fed beef jerky, half an avocado, no-sugar-added dark chocolate, or a protein smoothie (just be sure not to add fruit, honey, or some other sweetener).

"It's also important to drink water throughout the day, though coffee, tea, and a small amount of green juice or coconut milk are allowed. You may also consider having some bone broth on a daily basis to provide electrolytes and amino acids."

Thinking of trying the high-fat, low-carb diet? Start with these keto recipes. Then shop our favorite kitchen essentials to get started below.

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