The ketogenic diet may seem like the latest weight-loss craze, but it’s actually been around for nearly a century. Developed in the 1920s, this ultra-low-carb, high-fat eating plan was originally used to treat seizures in people with epilepsy. Today, it’s getting some serious attention for an entirely different reason. “There’s growing research showing that the ketogenic diet is effective for managing blood sugar in people with diabetes,” says William Yancy, MD, program director at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, North Carolina. “However, because we don’t have studies [lasting] longer than two or three years, we don’t know what can happen with regard to complications over longer periods of time.”
A study with an intent-to-treat prospective design was published in 1998 by a team from the Johns Hopkins Hospital[20] and followed-up by a report published in 2001.[21] As with most studies of the ketogenic diet, no control group (patients who did not receive the treatment) was used. The study enrolled 150 children. After three months, 83% of them were still on the diet, 26% had experienced a good reduction in seizures, 31% had had an excellent reduction, and 3% were seizure-free.[Note 7] At 12 months, 55% were still on the diet, 23% had a good response, 20% had an excellent response, and 7% were seizure-free. Those who had discontinued the diet by this stage did so because it was ineffective, too restrictive, or due to illness, and most of those who remained were benefiting from it. The percentage of those still on the diet at two, three, and four years was 39%, 20%, and 12%, respectively. During this period, the most common reason for discontinuing the diet was because the children had become seizure-free or significantly better. At four years, 16% of the original 150 children had a good reduction in seizure frequency, 14% had an excellent reduction, and 13% were seizure-free, though these figures include many who were no longer on the diet. Those remaining on the diet after this duration were typically not seizure-free, but had had an excellent response.[21][22]

The nerve impulse is characterised by a great influx of sodium ions through channels in the neuron's cell membrane followed by an efflux of potassium ions through other channels. The neuron is unable to fire again for a short time (known as the refractory period), which is mediated by another potassium channel. The flow through these ion channels is governed by a "gate" which is opened by either a voltage change or a chemical messenger known as a ligand (such as a neurotransmitter). These channels are another target for anticonvulsant drugs.[7]

I think the larger question is why we are seeing such a sudden rash of anti-keto stories. So many of them quote no experts sources and do not provide citations for their claims. Skeptics with little acquaintance with the diet are quoted exclusively instead. From a journalistic perspective, this lack of balance of viewpoints and the failure to back up claims with evidence falls below basic reporting standards. Offenders on this list include even the Harvard School of Public Health, which recently published more than one  unsourced, one-sided article on the keto diet (This is in addition to the Lancet Public Health article cited above, by Harvard researchers, which suggests that a low-carb diet kills you). These stories could reflect lazy reporting or they could very well be scare tactics to steer people away from the keto diet.  Why would reporters or scientists at Harvard be doing such a thing? That’s material for another post. Stay tuned.


The backbone of a keto plan is its extraordinarily high fat content, making up 65 to 80 percent of calories daily. Protein—which can raise blood glucose, though not as much as carbohydrate does—makes up 15 to 25 percent of calories on the keto diet. And carbs are even more heavily restricted to just 5 to 15 percent of calories. That’s only about 20 to 50 grams a day (compared with the average 245 grams daily), or the amount in a small apple or a cup of cooked brown rice, respectively.

Furthermore, humans develop a condition dubbed ‘rabbit starvation’[7] when they eat a diet that is low in fat and carbohydrates, and high in protein (> 35% of total daily energy intake). This is due to the inability of the human liver to sufficiently upregulate urea synthesis to meet excessive loads of protein. Consequently, hyperaminoacidemia, hyperammonemia, hyperinsulinemia, nausea, diarrhea, and even death can ensue within 2 to 3 weeks. These effects were recognized historically through the excess consumption of lean wild meat by early American explorers.[8]
Moreover, the ketogenic diet also reliably raise the “good” HDL-cholesterol, while also improving most other cardiovascular markers, including blood pressure, as this study shows.24 Thus, the overall effect on cholesterol and other markers for heart disease is positive. In some lean hyper-responders, a keto diet will increase LDL particle number, and this effect needs further investigation.
One of the most-cited worries about the keto diet is the long-term impact it may have on heart health—especially because people with diabetes are at greater risk for heart disease. In the small Diabetic Medicine study that found people with type 1 improved their A1Cs on a keto diet, participants had higher triglycerides and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. This raises concerns about the diet’s longer-term heart health implications, as do the results of research published last year in The Lancet. That study followed more than 15,000 adults for 25 years and found that people who consumed less than 40 percent of their calories from carbohydrates were significantly more likely to die from heart disease than those whose diets contained 50 to 55 percent of calories from carbs—especially if the foods that replaced those carbs were rich in animal fats and proteins.

Thanks for this article. I just started a Keto diet so found it appropriate to my current lifestyle. Though I don’t believe your bottom line is strong enough since you simply stating that the diet is “hard to follow” and food is “notoriously unhealthy” without evidence going deeper into why those “notoriously unhealthy” foods are worse than keeping carbohydrate-heavy food that are addictive and give the body a quick sugar high for energy. I believe “hard to follow” is your opinion only, since acceptable Keto foods are found at all restaurants easily and also all grocery stores. All the foods you mention: “rich in very colorful fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish, whole grains, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and lots of water” are all Keto-friendly. Many people have been on a Keto-diet for years. A healthy lifestyle is a healthy mindset change and making right choices – it’s not going to be easy.
Beware of added sugars or high-glycemic sweeteners in spice blends or condiments, but other than that, it’s fair game for keto. In spice-heavy dishes, carbs can add up, but don’t drive yourself crazy worrying about your teaspoon of turmeric. Check labels for additives like sugars, milk solids, potato starch, corn starch, or MSG, or make your own blends at home. Table salt often contains undisclosed fillers and anti-caking agents, so it’s best to opt for sea salt or Himalayan pink salt instead.
For many people, one of the more surprising side effects of starting a ketogenic diet is a bout with the “keto flu.” How so? “When you go on this diet, your kidneys don’t retain as much salt or water, which can lead to flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue and headache, or constipation,” says Laura Saslow, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing. “But these are typically short-lived symptoms that can be prevented or treated by increasing your salt and water intake.” However, if you have high blood pressure, speak with your doctor before adding more sodium to your diet. And know that the keto flu only lasts a week or two; symptoms typically subside once the body adjusts to the diet.
What about fruits and vegetables? All fruits are rich in carbs, but you can have certain fruits (usually berries) in small portions. Vegetables (also rich in carbs) are restricted to leafy greens (such as kale, Swiss chard, spinach), cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, bell peppers, onions, garlic, mushrooms, cucumber, celery, and summer squashes. A cup of chopped broccoli has about six carbs.
Thanks for this article. I just started a Keto diet so found it appropriate to my current lifestyle. Though I don’t believe your bottom line is strong enough since you simply stating that the diet is “hard to follow” and food is “notoriously unhealthy” without evidence going deeper into why those “notoriously unhealthy” foods are worse than keeping carbohydrate-heavy food that are addictive and give the body a quick sugar high for energy. I believe “hard to follow” is your opinion only, since acceptable Keto foods are found at all restaurants easily and also all grocery stores. All the foods you mention: “rich in very colorful fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish, whole grains, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and lots of water” are all Keto-friendly. Many people have been on a Keto-diet for years. A healthy lifestyle is a healthy mindset change and making right choices – it’s not going to be easy.
Physicians of ancient Greece treated diseases, including epilepsy, by altering their patients' diet. An early treatise in the Hippocratic Corpus, On the Sacred Disease, covers the disease; it dates from c. 400 BC. Its author argued against the prevailing view that epilepsy was supernatural in origin and cure, and proposed that dietary therapy had a rational and physical basis.[Note 3] In the same collection, the author of Epidemics describes the case of a man whose epilepsy is cured as quickly as it had appeared, through complete abstinence of food and drink.[Note 4] The royal physician Erasistratus declared, "One inclining to epilepsy should be made to fast without mercy and be put on short rations."[Note 5] Galen believed an "attenuating diet"[Note 6] might afford a cure in mild cases and be helpful in others.[11]

Conklin's fasting therapy was adopted by neurologists in mainstream practice. In 1916, a Dr McMurray wrote to the New York Medical Journal claiming to have successfully treated epilepsy patients with a fast, followed by a starch- and sugar-free diet, since 1912. In 1921, prominent endocrinologist Henry Rawle Geyelin reported his experiences to the American Medical Association convention. He had seen Conklin's success first-hand and had attempted to reproduce the results in 36 of his own patients. He achieved similar results despite only having studied the patients for a short time. Further studies in the 1920s indicated that seizures generally returned after the fast. Charles P. Howland, the parent of one of Conklin's successful patients and a wealthy New York corporate lawyer, gave his brother John Elias Howland a gift of $5,000 to study "the ketosis of starvation". As professor of paediatrics at Johns Hopkins Hospital, John E. Howland used the money to fund research undertaken by neurologist Stanley Cobb and his assistant William G. Lennox.[10]

Ketoacidosis, on the other hand, is dangerous. But it’s usually limited to people with type 1 diabetes, striking when their glucose levels rise due to illness or a missed insulin dose. Without insulin, cells can’t take in glucose, so they burn fat for fuel instead, producing exceptionally high ketone levels—much higher than the amount generated by the keto diet. That, in combination with high blood glucose levels, essentially poisons the blood. “It’s very easy to tell the difference between nutritional ketosis, which has no negative symptoms [aside from ‘keto breath,’ which can smell like nail polish remover], and dietary ketoacidosis, which is an illness that requires hospitalization and causes lethargy, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, rapid breathing, and lack of appetite,” says William Yancy, MD, program director at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, North Carolina.
The information you share, including that which might otherwise be Protected Health Information, to this site is by design open to the public and is not a private, secure service. You should think carefully before disclosing any personal information in any public forum. What you have written may be seen, disclosed to, or collected by third parties and may be used by others in ways we are unable to control or predict, including to contact you or otherwise be used for unauthorized or unlawful purposes. As with any public forum on any site, this information may also appear in third-party search engines like Google, MSN, Yahoo, etc. Your use of this site is governed by Harvard University and its affiliates Terms of Use located at www.health.harvard.edu/privacy-policy and may be amended from time to time.

Look, the good doctor is right – he only forgot to stress “portion control” which is why many fanatical dieters are so kee-jerk reactive to any discussion – odds are you over ate like a hog before your keto diet, and are weak and insecure in your diet plans. Eat EVERYTHING in small amounts, and you will live long and prosper. The only thing to avoid are processed foods. Cook your meals from scratch using quality ingredients.
In essence, it is a diet that causes the body to release ketones into the bloodstream. Most cells prefer to use blood sugar, which comes from carbohydrates, as the body’s main source of energy. In the absence of circulating blood sugar from food, we start breaking down stored fat into molecules called ketone bodies (the process is called ketosis). Once you reach ketosis, most cells will use ketone bodies to generate energy until we start eating carbohydrates again. The shift, from using circulating glucose to breaking down stored fat as a source of energy, usually happens over two to four days of eating fewer than 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. Keep in mind that this is a highly individualized process, and some people need a more restricted diet to start producing enough ketones.
Make things yourself. While it’s extremely convenient to buy most things pre-made or pre-cooked, it always adds to the price per pound on items. Try prepping veggies ahead of time instead of buying pre-cut ones. Try making your stew meat from a chuck roast. Or, simply try to make your mayo and salad dressings at home. The simplest of things can work to cut down on your overall grocery shopping.
Dehydration. With fewer water-binding carbohydrates in the diet, the body is less able to hold onto fluids, which can lead to dehydration. Eating more salt can help offset this, but it can also raise blood pressure, creating a whole new set of issues. If you plan to follow a keto diet, hydration is key. To know how many ounces of fluid you need each day, Yancy recommends dividing your body weight in half. Then think of the resulting number as your daily fluid goal in ounces. So if you weigh 200 pounds, strive for 100 ounces of water a day.
The ketogenic diet has been studied in at least 14 rodent animal models of seizures. It is protective in many of these models and has a different protection profile than any known anticonvulsant. Conversely, fenofibrate, not used clinically as an antiepileptic, exhibits experimental anticonvulsant properties in adult rats comparable to the ketogenic diet.[58] This, together with studies showing its efficacy in patients who have failed to achieve seizure control on half a dozen drugs, suggests a unique mechanism of action.[56]
^ Jump up to: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Kossoff EH, Zupec-Kania BA, Amark PE, Ballaban-Gil KR, Bergqvist AG, Blackford R, et al. Optimal clinical management of children receiving the ketogenic diet: recommendations of the International Ketogenic Diet Study Group. Epilepsia. 2009 Feb;50(2):304–17. doi:10.1111/j.1528-1167.2008.01765.x. PMID 18823325
In the mid-1990s, Hollywood producer Jim Abrahams, whose son's severe epilepsy was effectively controlled by the diet, created the Charlie Foundation to promote it. Publicity included an appearance on NBC's Dateline programme and ...First Do No Harm (1997), a made-for-television film starring Meryl Streep. The foundation sponsored a multicentre research study, the results of which—announced in 1996—marked the beginning of renewed scientific interest in the diet.[1]
Advocates for the diet recommend that it be seriously considered after two medications have failed, as the chance of other drugs succeeding is only 10%.[9][31][32] The diet can be considered earlier for some epilepsy and genetic syndromes where it has shown particular usefulness. These include Dravet syndrome, infantile spasms, myoclonic-astatic epilepsy, and tuberous sclerosis complex.[9][33]
So rather than giving one-size-fits-all dietary advice or weaponizing the word “balanced” it might be better if the medical community suggested that there are Individual differences that need to be considered. This might also help those lay folk who have had success with one dietary lifestyle or another also realize that what’s valid for them may not be good advice for others.
The backbone of a keto plan is its extraordinarily high fat content, making up 65 to 80 percent of calories daily. Protein—which can raise blood glucose, though not as much as carbohydrate does—makes up 15 to 25 percent of calories on the keto diet. And carbs are even more heavily restricted to just 5 to 15 percent of calories. That’s only about 20 to 50 grams a day (compared with the average 245 grams daily), or the amount in a small apple or a cup of cooked brown rice, respectively.
My principal hope in this article is to provide journalists with a resource to do what basic journalism demands, namely to ensure that stories are scientifically balanced and accurate. At the end of this post I provide contacts for some of the credentialed experts who helped me compile this research. Reporters, please seek out these or other low-carb diet experts so you can provide accurate, up-to-date information for your readers.
The remaining calories in the keto diet come from protein — about 1 gram (g) per kilogram of body weight, so a 140-pound woman would need about 64 g of protein total. As for carbs: “Every body is different, but most people maintain ketosis with between 20 and 50 g of net carbs per day,” says Mattinson. Total carbohydrates minus fiber equals net carbs, she explains.
×