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If there is one trend that has been seen all over social media in 2018, it’s the incredible popularity of the ketogenic diet. With more and more Americans buying into the low or no-carb solution, we are left wondering whether this really is a diet secret, or if we’re actually hurting our health.

Fad diets are certainly nothing new in our society. In fact, the industry for diet products and plans in the United States was recently valued at approximately $70.3 billion. While some of these will be well laid out, health-focused diet plans, many products are nothing more than companies capitalizing on the latest fad. This can make it incredibly difficult for those who are searching for real answers.

The ketogenic diet has grabbed the attention of people around the globe due to its rapid weight loss effect. With nearly 40% of Americans meeting the criteria to be considered ‘obese’ according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the need for effective and reliable weight loss options has never been higher. Unfortunately, many of those who turn to dieting for their solution are looking for the fastest results with the least effort – an equation that doesn’t often end with success.

The original ketogenic diet (keto diet) can be traced back to the 1920s, at which point it actually had no connection to weight loss at all. It was developed as a response to the need to manage the symptoms of epilepsy. Scientists found that patients that were in a state of ‘starvation’ with lower blood sugar levels experienced fewer seizures. There a diet was developed that would actually trigger the state of ketosis in which the body starts to burn through the body’s fat stores for energy while creating ketones due to an absence of carbohydrate intake.

While the idea of specifically targeting your fat deposits in this way may sound beneficial, many experts have stepped up to warn the general public about the risks of remaining in this state for a longer period of time. Today there are a wide variety of ‘keto’ diets being discussed, and this is where a lot of the risk comes into play. While some are carefully structured with the body’s macronutrient needs in mind, others merely operate on the premise of ‘less carbs and more fat = good’. This fails to acknowledge the fact that there are both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ carbs and fats.

If the diet is conducted properly, preferably under the advisement of your doctor so that they can ensure that your body is responding appropriately and there are no unforeseen reactions, it has been shown to be incredibly effective for those that are desperate to lose weight. Simply dismissing it entirely would fail to acknowledge the benefits it can provide in particular to those who are suffering the health risks that are associated with being overweight or obese.

However, as with any fad diet, there are many people simply jumping on board without the proper information, and in doing so, they are putting their health at risk. Scientists warn that remaining on a keto diet long-term, especially when it isn’t properly managed, can lead to kidney stones, high levels of uric acid, nutrient deficiencies, osteoporosis, and other health risks. In fact, many experts will caution that there simply isn’t enough research available to fully understand this impact on our overall health and well-being.

As the team at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health concludes, “The exact ration of fat, carbohydrate, and protein that is needed to achieve health benefits will vary among individuals due to their genetic makeup and body composition. Therefore, if one chooses to start a ketogenic diet, it is recommended to consult with one’s physician and a dietician to closely monitor any biochemical changes after starting the regimen, and to create a meal plan that is tailored to one’s existing health conditions and to prevent nutritional deficiencies or other health complications.”

Does the ketogenic diet offer promise to those who are struggling to lose weight? While some form of ‘modified carbohydrate diet’ certainly can provide great results, it’s important to ensure that we are aware of all the risks and making the best choices with our long-term health in mind.

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