If you’ve scanned a magazine rack lately, you’ve probably seen the “Keto for weight loss” theme presented in a catchy way.
I lost 26 pounds by making this ONE change to my Keto diet.
Fewer magazines, however, highlight Keto’s benefits beyond weight loss. These benefits may be less popular, but they’re arguably more interesting.
It’s the benefits of ketosis—the fat-burning, ketone-producing state invoked by the Keto diet—that are unique. If talk of these benefits has piqued your interest, you’ll enjoy the rest of this article.
Keto Benefit #1: Stable energy
When you eat a high-carb diet, sugar is your primary fuel. It’s a bit like riding a blood sugar rollercoaster.
Your blood sugar goes up, then it comes down. Up, down, up, down. And as your blood sugar goes, your energy goes too.
By restricting carbs, Keto gets you off the ride. Blood sugar stays lower, the hormone insulin stays lower, and your body gains access to the ultimate source of stable energy: Body fat.[*]
Be patient with this process, because it may take days or weeks to get on the smooth and steady fat train. This is called becoming fat-adapted. Once you’re there, say goodbye to those mid-morning and afternoon slumps—you’ll have steady energy all day.
Benefit #2: Hunger control
Fat-adaptation has another benefit: It curbs your appetite.
Hunger, you’re probably aware, is tied to blood sugar fluctuations. When blood sugar crashes, hunger hits you like a hammer. By limiting the magnitude of these crashes, the Keto diet suppresses this hunger trigger.
Beyond blood sugar, Keto also diminishes hunger by[*]:
- Reducing ghrelin, your primary hunger hormone
- Reducing neuropeptide Y, an appetite-stimulating brain factor
- Boosting cholecystokinin, a hormone that makes you feel full
Appetite reduction probably explains much of Keto’s success as a weight loss diet. Less hunger means less overeating.
Benefit #3: Diabetes therapy
Over 34 million Americans suffer from type 2 diabetes, a metabolic disorder marked by high blood sugar, high insulin, hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and obesity.[*] Having diabetes increases one’s risk for developing many chronic diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease.[*][*][*]
It’s a health crisis, but there’s a bright spot in diabetes therapy: The Ketogenic diet.
In a now-famous study, researchers from Virta Health supervised 218 type 2 diabetics through one full year of Keto dieting.[*] The results were fairly stunning:
- 50% more participants reached a HgbA1c level below the diagnostic cutoff for diabetes at one year compared to baseline (around 20% at baseline compared to around 70% at one year)
- 94% reduced or eliminated insulin therapy
- Average weight loss was 30.4 pounds
Keto isn’t yet standard of care for type 2 diabetes, but a recent consensus report in the journal Diabetes Care highlighted reduction in overall consumption of carbs as having the “most evidence” for reversing high blood sugar.[*] Soon, perhaps, Keto will be routinely prescribed as diabetes medicine.
Benefit #4: Brain health
When you eat a carb-containing diet, your brain sucks up about 120 grams of glucose per day. On a Keto diet, however, your brain uses much less glucose (about 30 grams), instead relying more on ketones for fuel.
Ketones appear to have a positive effect on cognition. Probably the best evidence comes from a study on elderly folks taking MCT oil—a type of fat your liver readily converts to ketones.[*] When blood ketones went up, working memory, visual attention, and task switching performance went up along with them.
Then there’s neurodegenerative disease. Our brains become less able to utilize glucose as we age, and this likely contributes to the progression of dementia. Ketones, however, seem to fuel the aging brain just fine. Because of this, researchers are currently studying the Keto diet as a potential therapy for Alzheimer’s disease[*].
Benefit #5: Potential cancer therapy
Heard of the Warburg Effect? It describes the warped metabolisms of cancer cells. Compared to healthy cells, cancer cells disproportionately rely on glucose for energy.[*]
The Warburg Effect has received a fair amount of press lately, as researchers experiment with metabolic cancer therapies. One of these therapies is the ketogenic diet.[*]
By decreasing blood glucose and insulin levels, the Keto diet likely creates unfavorable conditions for many types of cancer. Ketosis also appears to make cancer cells more vulnerable to standard treatments like radiation and chemotherapy. All this is extremely promising, but more research is needed before making broad recommendations.
Benefit #6: Inflammation management
The low-grade immune response known as chronic inflammation underlies most degenerative diseases. According to the World Health Organization, these chronic diseases—which include heart disease, diabetes, and COPD—are the greatest threat to human health.[*]
Here are four mechanisms by which the Keto diet may curb unnecessary inflammation:
- By reducing oxidative stress. In animals, ketone metabolism produces fewer reactive oxygen species (ROS) than glucose metabolism.[*] A reduction in oxidative stress generally means less inflammation.
- By reducing blood sugar. The Ketogenic diet can reverse the pro-inflammatory state of hyperglycemia, also known as high blood sugar.[*]
- By inhibiting inflammation. The ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) inhibits the NLR3P inflammasome, an immune sensing pathway that drives systemic inflammation.[*]
- By increasing adenosine receptor activity. Adenosine is an anticonvulsant compound that exerts its effects by binding to receptors in the brain.[*] It is an important signaling molecule that regulates the metabolism and ongoing activity of nerve cells (neurons) in the brain to keep them functioning optimally. The compound also has anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties.[*][*] In mice, a Keto diet has been shown to increase the brain’s sensitivity to this natural pain killer.[*]
Benefit #7: Endurance
Back in 1980, Virta Health co-founder Dr. Stephen Phinney made an interesting discovery.[*] He found that 6 weeks of a protein supplemented fast (a hypocaloric Ketogenic diet) increased the time obese people could exercise on the treadmill by a factor of more than 1.5.
Since then, Keto has become popular among athletes, especially the endurance crowd. Keto allows the athlete to burn more body fat (aka, fuel) during exercise.
This comes in handy during longer efforts. Even a lean person has tens of thousands of stored body fat calories, but humans can only store about 2400 calories as carbs, or glycogen.[*]
That’s why distance athletes drink that sugary goo every hour or so. They need it for energy! By helping the athlete access body fat, Keto makes the goo obsolete.
Keto Beyond Weight Loss
Yes, the Keto diet can be an effective weight loss tool. But it’s much more than that. It’s a brain diet, an energy diet, an anti-inflammatory diet, an endurance diet, and a diabetes diet too.
Something to ponder next time you stroll by the magazine rack.