The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that in medicine is used primarily to treat difficult-to-control (refractory) epilepsy in children. The diet forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. Normally, the carbohydrates contained in food are converted into glucose, which is then transported around the body and is particularly important in fueling brain function. However, if little carbohydrate remains in the diet, the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies. The ketone bodies pass into the brain and replace glucose as an energy source. An elevated level of ketone bodies in the blood, a state known as ketosis, leads to a reduction in the frequency of epileptic seizures.[1] Around half of children and young people with epilepsy who have tried some form of this diet saw the number of seizures drop by at least half, and the effect persists even after discontinuing the diet.[2] Some evidence indicates that adults with epilepsy may benefit from the diet, and that a less strict regimen, such as a modified Atkins diet, is similarly effective.[1] Potential side effects may include constipation, high cholesterol, growth slowing, acidosis, and kidney stones.[3]
The classic ketogenic diet is not a balanced diet and only contains tiny portions of fresh fruit and vegetables, fortified cereals, and calcium-rich foods. In particular, the B vitamins, calcium, and vitamin D must be artificially supplemented. This is achieved by taking two sugar-free supplements designed for the patient's age: a multivitamin with minerals and calcium with vitamin D.[18] A typical day of food for a child on a 4:1 ratio, 1,500 kcal (6,300 kJ) ketogenic diet comprises three small meals and three small snacks:[28]
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It seems strange that a diet that calls for more fat can raise “good” cholesterol and lower “bad” cholesterol, but ketogenic diets are linked to just that. It may be because the lower levels of insulin that result from these diets can stop your body from making more cholesterol. That means you’re less likely to have high blood pressure, hardened arteries, heart failure, and other heart conditions. It's unclear, however; how long these effects last.
In Asia, the normal diet includes rice and noodles as the main energy source, making their elimination difficult. Therefore, the MCT-oil form of the diet, which allows more carbohydrate, has proved useful. In India, religious beliefs commonly affect the diet: some patients are vegetarians, will not eat root vegetables or avoid beef. The Indian ketogenic diet is started without a fast due to cultural opposition towards fasting in children. The low-fat, high-carbohydrate nature of the normal Indian and Asian diet means that their ketogenic diets typically have a lower ketogenic ratio (1:1) than in America and Europe. However, they appear to be just as effective.[54]
Insulin is a hormone that lets your body use or store sugar as fuel. Ketogenic diets make you burn through this fuel quickly, so you don’t need to store it. This means your body needs -- and makes -- less insulin. Those lower levels may help protect you against some kinds of cancer or even slow the growth of cancer cells. More research is needed on this, though.
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]
A sudden drop in carbs can lead to a drop in energy levels, with some dieters reporting unusual fatigue, confusion, or brain fog. “The symptoms are from your brain needing to adjust to the new source of energy, while also trying to deal with a drop in electrolyte levels as you lose weight,” says Sharp. It can also cause nausea, stomach pain, cramping, and constipation, as well, due to the diet’s high-fat and low-fiber makeup.
In a study done with 8 groups of obese individuals, researchers found that different amounts of dietary carbohydrates affect T3 and reverse T3 levels in different ways. T3 levels only decreased when the subjects consumed 120 grams of carbohydrates per day or less (regardless of how calorie-restricted they were). Reverse T3 levels, on the other hand, began to increase when carbohydrate intake was between 40 and 50 grams of carbohydrates per day.
From a genetic perspective, certain people are less metabolically flexible because they have genetic variations (e.g., insufficient production of specific enzymes) that make it more difficult for them to adapt to the ketogenic diet. In contrast, those who are quick keto-adapters may be gifted with genes that enhance their ability to switch between fuel sources more efficiently.

On the ketogenic diet, carbohydrates are restricted and so cannot provide for all the metabolic needs of the body. Instead, fatty acids are used as the major source of fuel. These are used through fatty-acid oxidation in the cell's mitochondria (the energy-producing parts of the cell). Humans can convert some amino acids into glucose by a process called gluconeogenesis, but cannot do this by using fatty acids.[57] Since amino acids are needed to make proteins, which are essential for growth and repair of body tissues, these cannot be used only to produce glucose. This could pose a problem for the brain, since it is normally fuelled solely by glucose, and most fatty acids do not cross the blood–brain barrier. However, the liver can use long-chain fatty acids to synthesise the three ketone bodies β-hydroxybutyrate, acetoacetate and acetone. These ketone bodies enter the brain and partially substitute for blood glucose as a source of energy.[56]
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Keatley has some…thoughts about those. “Dirty keto is a waste of your time since good habits have not been developed and it is simply too easy to fall back into a high-calorie diet,” he says. If you’re trying to do a lazy keto diet, he recommends following the USDA’s MyPlate instead and monitoring your meals based on proportions vs. macros. “It’s easier, more flexible, and has shown, when combined with moderate exercise, to be effective over the long term,” he says.


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 having studied the patients for only 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]

Yes, ramping up your fat consumption can help speed up the transition of burning fat for fuel instead of glucose. Have a tablespoon of coconut oil in your coffee or tea, snack on half of an avocado and some bacon, and load up on egg yolks at dinner before you reach for the carbs, and remember: the keto flu too shall pass (and the benefits that follow ketosis will be totally worth it in the end).
Selecting the right food will be easier as you become accustomed to the keto approach. Instead of lean meats, you’ll focus on skin-on poultry, fattier parts like chicken thighs, rib-eye steaks, grass-fed ground beef, fattier fish like salmon, beef brisket or pork shoulder, and bacon. Leafy greens such as spinach, kale and lettuce, along with broccoli, cauliflower and cucumbers, make healthy vegetable choices (but you’ll avoid starchy root foods like carrots, potatoes, turnips and parsnips). You can work in less-familiar veggies such as kohlrabi or daikon.
From a genetic perspective, certain people are less metabolically flexible because they have genetic variations (e.g., insufficient production of specific enzymes) that make it more difficult for them to adapt to the ketogenic diet. In contrast, those who are quick keto-adapters may be gifted with genes that enhance their ability to switch between fuel sources more efficiently.
Keto flu is an unofficial way to describe how many people feel shortly after starting a ketogenic diet, and it can include both physical and emotional symptom—like nausea, cramping, lack of energy, and irritability, to name a few. It’s what happens when the body and the brain are forced to adjust to a sudden carbohydrate deficiency, says Abbey Sharp, RD, a Toronto-based nutritionist and blogger at Abbey's Kitchen.
Although amino acids from protein foods can be converted to glucose, under experimental conditions, only a small percentage actually are. This may be related to individual factors, such as degree of insulin resistance. However, even people with type 2 diabetes usually do well with the adequate levels of protein Diet Doctor recommends, if their diets are also low carb.
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