The keto diet has helped countless people lose weight and transform their lives. The high-fat, moderate-protein, and super-low-carb diet has exploded in popularity, creating a whole community of people who eschew grains and high-sugar fruit in favor of avocados, bacon, and full-fat dairy.
Unlike regular calorie restriction, the keto diet helps you lose weight by putting your body into a state of ketosis. When you eat so few carbs, your body starts producing ketones for energy. Ketones are produced in your liver using fatty acids from your food or body fat, so your liver burns fat to make the ketones. These ketones are used for energy instead of carbohydrates, and as your body continues to burn fat for fuel, you will lose weight.
But does the keto diet target belly fat specifically? Burning belly fat is a major concern for many people who are looking to lose weight, and it's no surprise why; the fat around your belly is visceral fat, which is the most dangerous — it's been linked to risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Although you can't generally spot-target fat reduction — when you lose weight, it's up to your body to decide where it comes from — the keto diet may be helpful in targeting stubborn belly fat. "Belly fat, aka visceral fat, is caused by a combination of bad genes and a bad diet of sugar and refined carbs," Steve Phinney, MD, PhD, chief medical officer at Virta Health, told POPSUGAR. "Visceral fat is prone to become inflamed, which makes it both dangerous for blood vessels and also hard to lose. A well-formulated ketogenic diet has potent anti-inflammatory effects throughout the body, including for belly fat, and thus enables a person to lose it."
In 2009, Dr. Phinney was one of the researchers who published a study that evaluated how a low-carb diet and a high-carb diet impact metabolic syndrome (metabolic syndrome is characterized by excess visceral fat). Each diet group ate 1,500 calories, but one was on a high-carb diet while the other was on a high-fat, or keto, diet. They used a precise body composition analysis called DXA to track the participants' progress.
"We noted that the patients on the well-formulated ketogenic diet lost 64 percent more visceral fat than those on the high-carb, low-fat diet," Dr. Phinney told POPSUGAR. "In addition, blood levels of inflammatory biomarkers were sharply reduced with the ketogenic diet, which helps explain this beneficial result."
Before you make any major dietary changes, it's best to speak to your doctor first. But if you're looking to shed that stubborn belly fat, the keto diet — along with some HIIT exercises — might be a good option.