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Can the keto diet help me lose weight?

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Q. I have a friend who suggested I try a keto diet to help me lose weight. What exactly is it and is it more effective for weight loss?

A. A ketogenic or keto diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat, and protein-rich diet. Normally, the cells in our body use glucose or blood sugar as the primary source of energy. However, the keto diet forces the body to use an alternative source of energy, which is ketones, by breaking down stored fat in the liver. This process is known as ketogenesis, which is how the diet got its name.

To enter ketosis, most people need to limit their daily carbohydrate intake to 20-50 grams depending on their body size. However, this varies for each person, and some may need a more restrictive diet to produce enough ketones. It typically takes 2-4 days to reach a state of ketosis.

Although there are several keto-inspired diets, the true ketogenic diet requires up to 90% of daily calories to come from fat. This can be challenging to maintain for many people. Nevertheless, studies have shown that people tend to lose weight faster with a keto diet than a calorie-reduction diet in the short term. However, it can be difficult to sustain weight loss over time.

If you decide to try a keto diet to initiate weight loss, it is recommended to choose healthier sources of fat and protein, such as nuts, avocados, and olive oil. After a few weeks, it is advisable to switch to a Mediterranean-style diet that is reduced in calories and increase your physical activity. This will help manage your weight loss in the long term.

Caroline Buckee

Caroline Flannigan is an epidemiologist. She is an Associate Professor of Epidemiology and is the Associate Director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.

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