Does the Keto Diet Work?
(Updated March 14, 2019)
There’s no denying, the keto diet is popping up everywhere. Interest in the ketogenic way of eating is at an all time high. If you follow food trends at all, this low-carb, high fat diet is making waves. With celebrities from LeBron James to Halle Berry touting the health and weight loss benefits of ketosis, you have to wonder, does the Keto Diet work?
Yes, for most people the Keto Diet works for effortless weight loss, reduced blood pressure, lowered blood sugar, and so much more.
The ketogenic diet is not new. It may be trendy, but it is not a fad. It was first used at the Mayo Clinic to treat epileptic seizures in children 90 years ago. In the 60’s and 70’s researchers learned that ketone production could be increased by consuming medium-chain triglycerides. In 1994, an episode of Dateline featured the story of a boy named Charlie Abrahams and brought Keto into mainstream consciousness.
We have seen the benefits of a keto diet in our clients and we have experienced them ourselves. We can tell you from first-hand knowledge, the keto diet does work!
Our First Introduction to the Ketogenic Diet
We were first introduced to a ketogenic way of eating in 2006. A medical doctor who was treating his patients with a novel approach to food found us, as we were in the first few years of running our local meal delivery service in our own Midwest community. He had seen the amazing weight loss and renewal of health that his patients had experienced when eating a very low-carb, high fat, moderate protein diet. He also knew that many of his grossly obese patients were physically unable to prepare their own food, and our service would be a great benefit to them.
He offered a class where he taught the history of processed food in America and where we’ve gone wrong with the low-fat diet craze. We took the class and were fascinated by the information but we were not ready to jump on the bandwagon just yet.
It was when Nancy, a patient of the Keto doctor, called us that we began to get involved. Nancy was about 500 pounds, and she knew if she did not lose weight fast, her weight and its associated diseases would kill her. Her mobility was severely limited by her weight, and cooking was not an option for her. While we were still skeptical, we agreed to cook for her, since she was working with a medical professional.
We prepared all of her meals for her for a year. We cooked small portions of fatty meats with real food, high fat sauces and small portions of non-starchy vegetables. She ate small salads with homemade, high-fat dressings and a small amount of protein. She snacked on nuts, avocados, and cheese. She drank heavy cream in her coffee and ate pre-cooked sausage for breakfast. And in a year, she had lost 100 pounds! Her keto diet really worked!
When we talked with Nancy throughout this timeframe, we’d often ask how she was feeling. She swore that after the first couple of weeks, she was never hungry. She felt good, at least relatively so, and she continued to feel better and better over time as the weight came off. There was no feeling that she was starving herself or having to work hard to stay on her keto diet. Her mobility continued to improve, and after that year, she could leave her house with minimal effort. She had her life back.
More Evidence of Keto Weight Loss
After our experience with Nancy, we knew that a ketogenic diet would definitely work for weight loss. Since we were ourselves still stuck in the Conventional Wisdom mindset of the importance of whole grains and lowering saturated fat intake, it was hard for us to believe that what seemed so extreme could really be appropriate for more than just the most extreme of cases.
The Keto doctor continued to suggest our service to his patients, and we cooked for many of them. All had weight to lose and health conditions that would benefit when they did, but most were nowhere near the dire situation Nancy had found herself in. And they all found success, with the pounds coming off easily. We were truly impressed.
Keto for Seizures
The benefits of a ketogenic diet don’t stop at weight loss. We have a client whose son is disabled and has suffered from epileptic seizures his whole life. He was placed on a strict, therapeutic ketogenic protocol by a nutritionist working with his medical staff. Therapeutic keto protocol is especially strict, keeping both carbohydrates and proteins in a tight window. His individualized macronutrient levels were 154 grams of fat, 64 grams of protein and 13 grams of carbohydrate. That equates to 81% of his calories per day from fat, 15% from protein, and 4% from carbs. When he ate this way, his seizures were greatly reduced, as was his need for medication.
Not everyone on keto has to adhere to such a strict protocol, fortunately. There is variance and individuality to take into account, and the state of ketosis exists on a spectrum. It’s not cut and dried; you’re not either in ketosis or you’re out. Luckily for the majority of people, such deep ketosis is not necessary. But for this family (and many others!) the relief of his seizures was an amazing benefit.
Our daughter also recently had the chance to help a family member of her teacher who had a similar experience with the positive effects of a ketogenic diet on his level of seizures. It is truly amazing how food can be our medicine. Sometimes even better.
My Personal Keto Story – Angela of Advantage Meals
My story is not nearly as earth shattering, but I have seen the benefits of ketosis in my own life, as well. When working on my Master’s degree in Holistic Nutrition, I knew the value of food and its relationship to our health, but I was still firmly rooted in the dogma that whole grains were healthy and a necessary part of our diet and that saturated fat was dangerous.
Fast forward to after the birth of my two children, and I was having constant digestive troubles, including constipation, diarrhea and bloating on a daily basis. I was working to lose the baby weight of my second child by conventional calorie counting and exercise, with a once per week “cheat day.” My husband noticed that my constipation was relieved after my cheat day, and he suggested it was due to my increased fat intake on those days.
It took a bit of convincing on his part, but I finally decided to give it a try. I started by simply adding butter to my brown rice and vegetables. The first thing I noticed was how much faster I felt full! And I was eating less calories because I was satisfied faster by the food I was eating. Could this really be the answer I’d been looking for?
When researching the effect of adding higher levels of fat into the diet, I discovered Mark Sisson at Mark’s Daily Apple and our life has been forever changed. His Primal Blueprint eating style eliminates all grains, sugars and processed oils, limits the intake of legumes, and encourages lots of sleep, sunlight and proper exercise. He taught me that we have been misinformed for years regarding the actions of cholesterol, the role of fat in the diet generally and saturated fat specifically, and led me down a path of learning that continues today.
I had by this time also been experiencing troubles with my menstrual cycle that were painful and disruptive to my life. At only 35, I didn’t think it was the beginning of menopause but I didn’t have a better explanation. One of the many other benefits of going Primal was a radical decrease in my menstrual symptoms. I was hooked.
By necessity, a Primal diet that eliminates grains, sugars and legumes is much lower in carbohydrate than the Standard American Diet (SAD) and I easily lost the last of my baby weight. I was still eating fruit and starchy vegetables on a regular basis, and I did notice that whenever I cut those out for a few weeks, I could easily drop what I considered to be “those last few pounds” and not feel bloated at all.
Without realizing it, I was experimenting with the ketogenic diet in my own life three years ago. I didn’t stop to think that I was in ketosis, I just knew that if I wanted to easily drop 5 pounds, I could do it in just a couple weeks by eating very low carb. But once the pounds were off, I’d return to lots of fruit and tubers and occasional ice cream with my kids, and the pounds would go right back on. In addition, I was noticing more and more food intolerances that brought back my bloating issues.
I tried eliminating the trigger foods, and I did see some relief but it was an incredible amount of work. Avoiding a laundry list of trigger foods is exhausting and limited my food choices to a very small number. That was just not sustainable. In the meantime, some of my menstrual issues had crept back in. There had to be another way.
In January of this year, I committed to a daily Intermittent Fasting practice (here’s an article about how I started Intermittent Fasting). I’d been trying out several different variations for a few months, including once a week 24 hour fasts and every other day fasts. I could see they were beneficial, but they didn’t feel right to me. It was when I started daily 16:8 fasts that my bloating and digestive issues completely cleared up. I can tolerate almost all of the foods that were triggering problems for me. My menstrual issues have decreased. I now know that IF sets your body up for ketone production, and I truly believe that just taking a break from eating every day so your body can repair, combined with a little bit of ketosis, was the key to relieving my symptoms.
When Stacey decided he wanted to try a strict Keto approach, I joined him, and that was the last piece of the puzzle. At this point, I follow a 16:8 daily Intermittent Fasting practice (thought it’s flexible around what life throws at me!) and eat Keto most of the time. I am very active and practice yoga, walk or do HIIT training every day. Most days, my net carbs are under 40, sometimes by a good amount. I am 40 years old and in the best shape of my life. And my doctor is truly impressed by my high HDL cholesterol and low Triglycerides. I’ve never felt better.
Stacey’s Keto Diet Story – Angela’s Husband
Stacey’s advice to add more fat to my diet led me to a Primal Blueprint eating style, but it took a bit before Stacey was ready to make that jump with me. The idea of eliminating all grains (which includes his homebrewed beer and tortilla chips!) was daunting and he wasn’t sure it was worth the effort. After a month of seeing how much better I was feeling and the reduction of so many of my issues, though, the evidence was hard to ignore.
While reasonably healthy, Stacey had borderline high blood pressure for all of his adult life. In his twenties, his doctor wanted to start him on blood pressure medication, but he refused and treated it by eliminating fast food in exchange for more whole food, nutrient dense options. This kept him within a tolerable blood pressure range. With the switch to a Primal diet, his blood pressure came down again.
Not only did his blood pressure lower, but he lost a few pounds without even trying, mostly because he was more satisfied by the food he was eating so eating less, and the Primal diet cut out a lot of carbohydrate. We both noticed other benefits of Primal eating, including being able to go longer between meals without hunger, a change in the feeling of hunger (we no longer got “hangry”), and better, more even moods. Our skin became clearer and we both lost the rough patches of skin on our elbows!
Though better than it was before Primal, Stacey’s blood pressure was still regularly higher than his doctor liked. And he would still occasionally indulge in beer and pizza. Like most Americans, he figured he could probably stand to lose about 10 pounds. But he was mostly healthy, carried his weight well, and maintained his health and weight with little effort.
It was during a stressful period in our lives that Stacey’s blood pressure rose again, to truly uncomfortable levels. He could tell something wasn’t right. As he felt his 50th birthday looming, Stacey knew he needed to take a stronger approach to managing his health. He decided he wanted to try a ketogenic diet, and I joined him.
For him, a keto diet worked amazingly well. Within three weeks, Stacey’s blood pressure settled in at a very healthy level. That last 10 pounds? He lost 15 without even trying. His stress level went way down, and he’s more ‘chill’ than he’s been in years. Now he’s approaching his 50th birthday at the lowest weight of his adult life and with a great attitude about life because he knows he manages his own health destiny and that he can control his blood pressure without medication.
One of our children’s friends recently saw our engagement picture hanging in the kitchen. That picture from 15 years ago shows a couple who were reasonably healthy, but if you look close you can see the evidence that creeping weight gain and other health issues were already sneaking in. This child looked at the picture and asked, “Is that a picture of Stacey’s parents?” We look younger now than we did 15 years ago, and the Keto diet / Primal diet is the reason why.
From personal observation and personal experience, we know that the Keto Diet works. We want to help you find the ways it can work for you.
Check out our No-Cook Keto Meal Plan below. It’s not the perfect way to Keto, but it’s a great way for you to test the Keto Diet yourself. After 3 easy weeks on the Keto Diet, you’ll know if the Keto Diet works for you. If it does, then we’ll help you upgrade your Ketogenic way of eating so you can thrive.
Founder Advantage Meals
Angela earned her Master's Degree in Holistic Nutrition 14 years ago and began her lifelong journey of nutrition and wellness learning. She began keto meal planning and cooking over a decade ago when she began working with local clients who were under the direct supervision of a medical doctor. Angela is the author of No Cook Keto, the easiest keto meal plan available.
Disclaimer: I am neither a licensed nutritionist nor medical professional. I never prescribe diets. I only share my personal experiences and those of my clients for informational purposes only. Nutrition details are provided for informational purposes only, and should not be considered medical nutritional data. You should consult your medical professional before making any major changes in the way you eat.