Can You Lose Weight on the Ketogenic Diet?

A high fat, low carbohydrate intake is a cornerstone of the ketogenic diet. Juan Medina/Reuters

Update | In the past few years, if any of your friends are particularly health conscious (re: into experimental diets), you may have heard of the ketogenic diet.

But if you yourself are outside of the Soylent set, a primer might be useful:

The ketogenic diet began life as a treatment for epilepsy and seizures in children. It's come into vogue in recent years among adults without seizure conditions to lose weight.

The body mostly burns carbohydrates as its fuel. When your body is deprived of sugar, it will look for whatever other fuel it can find. Much like a person with poor meal planning habits reaching for a can of black beans on the back of the shelf and hoping to God for the best, the body burns reserves of fat in place of sugar when it has nothing else to turn to.

After the liver breaks down that fat, it's left with ketone bodies and fatty acids. The result of that metabolic foraging-in-the-back-of-the-cabinet is called ketosis: the state of being when a person has higher-than-normal levels of ketone bodies in their bloodstream (some of which are used as an alternative fuel source in the brain).

People on the ketogenic diet hope to suspend their body in that state, burning up reserves of fat instead of carbohydrates. Then, using urinalysis strips (read: peeing on small, chemically sensitive pieces of paper), people on the diet can monitor the level of ketone bodies in their system based on the resulting color of the strips.

The diet itself consists of eating few carbohydrates, a moderate amount of protein, and a high amount of fat. And since it's not necessarily the most pleasant relationship to have with food, as The Atlantic reports, one company is working on a beverage that introduces ketone bodies into the bloodstream apparently without the need for fasting and cutting out the same foods the ketogenic diet calls for. The company is making claims (of which Buzzfeed and other sources are quite skeptical) that introducing ketone bodies into the bloodstream will enhance physical and cognitive performance.

Correction: An earlier version of this story contained a photo caption and a line that incorrectly described a high protein intake as a cornerstone of the ketogenic diet. The ketogenic diet consists of a high fat, low carbohydrate intake. Both the photo caption and the piece have been updated to correct this error.