You've heard of low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets like the Atkins diet and Paleo diet. These and other so-called ketogenic diets are gaining in popularity due to their effectiveness, but do you know what, exactly, they do in your body to trigger weight loss?

In a standard carb-loaded American diet, the body burns glucose from carbohydrates as an energy source in a process called glycosis. But when you limit your carbs and increase your fat intake, your body moves into a metabolic state of “ketosis,” meaning that it’s burning fat stored in your body instead of glucose, according to Web MD. Ketosis also drastically reduces blood sugar and insulin resistance.

As Dr. Eric Westman, director of the Lifestyle Medicine Clinic at Duke University, told Time Magazine, "You determine what your body burns for fuel based on what you feed it.”

A medical marvel?

Example of a plate of food in a Ketogenic diet with avocado, eggs, lettuce and bacon Ketogenic diets have been used to treat pediatric epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and cancer. (Photo: Elena Shashkina/Shutterstock)

A ketogenic diet has been used for almost 100 years to treat pediatric epilepsy, Scientific American reports, because a ketogenic diet mimics fasting, which has long been known to have a therapeutic effect on seizures. Similar to a state of ketosis, the body also burns fat for energy during fasts. Usually, a pediatric ketogenic diet starts with 24 hours of fasting in a hospital setting, where doctors can monitor frequency of seizures, medication, and help educate the parents on the ins and outs of the diet.

Ketogenic diets may very well be able to delay symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases and even reverse them completely. Dr. Terry Wahls, whose lecture “Minding your Mitochondria” went viral a few years ago, summarily reversed the progression of her secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, following a Paleo ketogenic diet.

Dominic D’Agostino, a Ph.D. and associate professor at University of San Francisco, recently told Men’s Fitness that a ketogenic diet also could be the key to beating cancer. “We think the majority of cancers could be metabolically managed through nutritional ketosis, either as a stand-alone pill or an adjunct to standard care,” he said.

No matter what your reason is for considering a ketogenic diet, you should know that getting started may be a little rough on your body.

Starting a ketogenic diet

Ketogenic diet plate of chicken and salad with tomatoes and avocado for fat A true ketogenic diet can be hard to maintain, so do it under the care of a doctor or nutritionist to make sure you're getting adequate nutrition. (Photo: Elena Shashkina/Shutterstock)

Following a ketogenic diet is no small feat, because in order to start it, you have to go off carbohydrates almost entirely. Your body feels deprived. It’s what many call a “low-carb flu.” But after you get through this initial roadblock, many report feeling sharper than before and more energized.

So what exactly can you eat on a ketogenic diet? Some options are below:

  • Meat: Beef, goat, lamb, turkey, pork, veal, chicken.
  • Fish: Salmon, trout, catfish, sardines, tuna, haddock
  • Fruits: Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, avocado
  • Vegetables: Broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, peppers
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, etc.
  • Dairy products: Cheese, Greek yogurt, sour cream, heavy cream.
  • Fats and oils: Peanut Butter, Flaxseed Oil, Butter, Sesame Oil, Olive Oil, and Almond Oil

A true ketogenic diet can be hard to maintain, since carbohydrates from sugar in something as inconsequential as toothpaste or cookie crumbs can send your body back into glycosis.

If you want try a ketogenic diet, do it under the care of a doctor or nutritionist to make sure you’re getting adequate nutrition. And though it may be difficult in the beginning, don’t give up. The Men’s Fitness article says that leading Boston College cancer researcher Thomas Seyfried, M.D., believes that a ketogenic diet is therapeutically even more valuable in fighting cancer than chemo.

A bold — yet heartening — statement.