From personal trainers to celebrity athletes, the ketogenic diet has been on the tip of everyone's lips. LeBron James credits the high-fat, low-carb lifestyle for his dramatic weight loss, Halle Barry claims it's been key to managing her diabetes, and Gwyneth Paltrow praises it for keeping her svelte.
But any diet craze—particularly one with a massive following on social media—is bound to be riddled with falsehoods. The danger with this is that those not in the know may experience frustration, disappointment—even significant health consequences.
With that in mind, here are the biggest myths about the keto diet—and the facts you should know before starting it:
Myth: The keto diet is a butter and cheese free-for-all
One of the draws of the keto diet—which originated in the 1920s to treat epilepsy—is that it eschews the low-fat, tasteless diets of earlier decades. Instead, it demands a rigorous refusal of carbohydrates (as in, less than 30 grams per day, or the amount of a sweet potato) and a strategic dependence on fats. To some keto-ers, this has meant forgoing Fritos for bowls of bacon but the type of fat you eat is of utmost importance. Why? Besides the obvious—that saturated animal fats such as ham and sausage can lead to a host of health issues—filling your plate with conventional beef and dairy products may increase your exposure to xenoestrogens, compounds that can mimic estrogen and result in hormonal havoc (and the health complications that often arrive with it). Rather, reach for unsaturated fats like almonds and flaxseeds. What protein you do eat should come from organic eggs, wild-caught fish, hormone-free, grass-fed beef, lean cuts of poultry, and plant-based foods like Brazil nuts. Which brings us to our next point…
Myth: The keto diet is super high in protein
Blame The Zone and Atkins for the misconception that the ketogenic diet is low in carbs but high in protein. In fact, the breakdown of most keto diets looks like this: 75-90% fat, 5-15% protein, and 5-10% fibrous carbohydrates. In other words, you will need to eat adequate protein, but you won't be snacking on beef jerky and bun-less sliders. Indeed, eating too much protein can shift your body out of ketosis—the aimed-for metabolic state under the keto diet that burns stored and consumed fat for fuel instead of glucose. The excess protein will convert to glucose, and these are carbohydrates that you won't be able to count.
Myth: Without carbs, I'll have zero energy
True: The body's preferred source of energy is glucose, which is produced by carbs, and asking it to start relying on a new form of fuel can be physically and mentally demanding (hence the “keto flu," a cluster of symptoms that includes brain fog and
constipation, which often occurs as the body adjusts to this fresh way of functioning). But ketosis—that aforementioned metabolic state that delivers real results—actually promotes energy. For starters, it decreases cortisol release and supports your adrenals and thyroid glands—and both are central to maintaining a healthy weight, thinking sharply, and feeling vibrant. Research also demonstrates that ketosis fosters beneficial levels of “feel-good" brain chemicals. Having an improved mood almost always translates to bolstered energy. As for those star athletes dodging tortilla chips but downing chia seeds? The keto diet can also give rise to improved stamina and performance.
Myth: You can't lose fat if you're eating fat
To some, the keto diet seems farfetched, even, well, mythical. How can you possibly shed fat if you're eating mostly fat? The keto diet's potential—to aid not only in weight loss but also in clearer, more radiant skin, enhanced energy, and superior memory—comes from radically curbing carbs, the over-consumption of which tells our bodies to store fat. Instead, the keto diet lowers insulin, decreases blood sugar swings and reduces your vulnerability to the litany of health issues that occur with insulin resistance, such as obesity and type-2 diabetes. Further, healthy fats—the sort found in walnuts and avocadoes—can reduce hunger and encourage a sense of satiety, while also providing you with essential nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium. Or, as Dr. Ron Rosedale of The Rosedale Diet says, “Our bodies thrive on good fat" and “our metabolism needs good fat to burn bad fat." (The emphasis here being on good).
In sum, the keto diet's wild popularity may suggest it's just a fad but, its rich history and long list of potential pluses—including more balanced hormones, a stronger libido, enhanced cellular immunity, and enriched brain power—is grounded in science. It's best to know precisely what that science is, however, so that you can avoid potential pitfalls—and, instead, reap its copious benefits.
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