Have you heard of the ketogenic diet? Some say it’s becoming the hottest new diet trend since the Paleo movement, helping many people achieve the weight loss their fitness center workouts alone haven’t been able to achieve.

But it’s not actually that new…and health professionals have mixed opinions on its safety for average, healthy people who want to lose weight and meet fitness goals.

Ketogenic diets have been used since the 1920s to treat epilepsy. Continuing research suggests the diet may also effective treat Alzheimer’s, autism, and other neurological disorders. So how has something that is used as a medical treatment become so popular in the dieting realm? Two reasons.

1. It’s known to encourage rapid weight loss, especially Italian professor Gianfranco Cappello’s extreme version (the Ketogenic Enteral Nutrition Diet, or KEN). Doctors sometimes prescribe the diet to jumpstart weight loss in cases of severe obesity, and since it cuts out sugar, it can benefit those with type 2 diabetes.

2. Predictably, anything that aids in weight loss is bound to catch the attention of a society obsessed with dieting. Many who struggle with their weight are so eager to find a “quick fix” that they latch on to every new fad diet that appears, safe or not.

To understand how the ketogenic diet works and why some are concerned about it, let’s look at what it is does to the body.

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-sugar diet based on the goal of training the body to burn fat for fuel instead of glucose (carbohydrates). When our bodies are deprived of carbohydrates (pre-starvation, essentially), they enter a process known as ketosis, creating ketone bodies that transfer fat into usable energy.

This process is an in-born reaction that our ancestors found useful to fend off starvation when ready food sources were scarce. Like the Paleo movement, some believe that tapping into this primeval response is the key to finally shedding stubborn pounds.

Potential benefits

There are some potential benefits from this diet. The opposite of the low-fat movement, the ketogenic diet doesn’t limit fats, which provide a sense of satiety. Consequently, dieters tend to eat fewer calories without feeling deprived. It also cuts out processed foods, which reduces inflammation and GI issues and makes people feel more energized. Finally, the ketogenic diet’s medical link to neurological health (the brain is 60 percent fat) makes it popular for those wishing to boost their brain power and improve their athletic performance.

Potential Dangers

There are many reasons nutritionists warn fitness enthusiasts to be cautious about the ketogenic diet:

1. Even though it encourages rapid weight loss, much of this is water weight that returns after the diet is discontinued. In other words, it’s results are often temporary.
1. It tends to lead to muscle loss. Low calorie ketogenic diets sacrifice the nutrition needed to maintain muscle tissue, contradictory to the goals of strength training and metabolism boosting.
2. It could damage the heart. The heart itself is a crucial muscle that can be damaged by the ketogenic diet.
3. Since it cuts out entire food groups, it’s difficult to maintain, long-term. Cutting sugar and carbs completely out of your diet is just not a realistic strategy.

Considering these dangers and shortcomings, medical professionals recommend people only attempt a ketogenic diet with careful clinical supervision and for short periods.

To conclude, the ketogenic diet has its place in treating brain disorders and severe cases of obesity, but it’s not a practical or effective diet to fuel your fitness center workouts and adopt into your lifestyle. Stick with the old-fashioned methods of balanced nutrition and regular exercise, and you’ll see long-lasting – and safe — results.