Keto diets are trendy, but are they healthy? We're here to give you the lowdown.
Maybe you’ve heard people talking about their “keto diet” and wondered if it was based on a new Star Wars character. We’d understand if you did. But “keto” is short for ketogenic—and the low-carb, high-fat diet is intended to put your body into a metabolic state known as ketosis. The aim of people who seek ketosis is to get the body to use stored fat as fuel instead of glucose, which can help you lose weight in as few as 10 days.
When you’re on the keto diet, you’ll need to restrict yourself to approximately 20–30g of carbs a day. The initial shock of eliminating an entire food group from your body can have some side effects, but if you persevere, you may come out the other side feeling energized.
Dai Manuel, certified lifestyle mentor and life coach, claims he has experienced a number of benefits from following the ketogenic diet. “I have an autoimmune disease and have adhered to a paleo/keto program—high fat, moderate protein, low carb—for many years to keep many of my symptoms at bay,” he says. Among the positives, he cites less inflammation, improved post-recovery recovery post, weight release, increased muscle mass, increased energy, and less stress.
Are there any downsides?
Although keto has lots going for it, some safety issues have been raised. Here are some of the most notable downsides of a ketogenic diet:
- It may be a trigger for disordered eating. People on a restrictive diet can easily become obsessive about food, which is why it’s so important for anyone who has had previous experience of disordered eating to stay away.
- You may get bad breath. Okay, it’s not the worst thing in the world, but it’s definitely worth knowing about. The breath of people in ketosis can smell like acetone due to the breakdown of acetoacetic acid. Acetone is often described as apples which are a little bit past their best, just so you know what you’re getting into.
- The long-term effects of keto aren’t yet understood. Because the keto diet is relatively new, we don’t have any long-term studies on its effect. What are the long-term effects of a drastically reduced carb intakes over 10, 20, or 30 years? We just don’t know.
- It may be dangerous for your heart. Some studies have shown that the original ketogenic diet could initiate heart conditions, whereas the weight loss version of the diet can actually decrease the risks of heart disease. Because of this, it’s important to be extra careful if you do decide to follow the diet.
The keto diet can be especially dangerous for people with underlying kidney issues, and this extreme weight loss diet may not be ideal for the general population. For these reasons, it’s important to consult with a doctor before making the switch over.
What is keto flu?
In addition, such an extreme change in diet will likely have side effects. One of these effects, ”keto flu,” involves flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, and muscle aches. This reaction happens because your body has lived its whole life using carbs as fuel and is now being deprived of them. The effects can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on your body.
You may be able to treat the symptoms of keto flu by carefully monitoring exactly what you’re eating. Eating more fat and calories can help, because you’ve just eliminated an entire food group from your diet, so it’s important to increase the amount of other foods you’re eating. Processed foods and carbs often have a lot of salt, so when you stop eating them, it might result in a lack of sodium in your body. Increasing your sodium intake can also help symptoms of the keto flu. Less sodium also means you’ll be holding less water, so don’t forget to increase the amount of water you’re drinking. A pick-me-up that is cited for those suffering from keto flu is to drink some homemade bone broth, which is nutritious and provides the body with fat, calories, water and salt.
Manuel’s advice? “Stay the course,” he says. “It gets way better once you are through the first initial stage.”
How can keto help me lose weight?
When you remove the carbs in your diet, your body has no choice but to burn stored fat to create energy, entering ketosis. Sodium causes the body to retain water, so with less sodium in your diet you’ll also be losing water weight while on the keto diet.
One of the main appeals of the keto diet is that you may see quick results, which can encourage you to keep going. This motivation is definitely needed, because eliminating an entire food group requires discipline and the diet needs to be strictly followed. Otherwise, your body won’t enter ketosis. Despite having fewer calories in their diet, some people say they feel fuller and have more energy. The diet may also help to keep your blood-sugar levels stable.
One of the challenges Manuel has personally faced is staying on the diet while traveling. “Finding keto-friendly snacks or food options in small towns and restaurants can be challenging,” he says. “We’ve been really good at preparing coolers for our meals and snacks ahead of time if we know we are not going to have foods readily available.”
What can I eat on the keto diet?
Keto diet foods should be high in fat and moderately high in protein. Throw everything you think you know about fat out the window, because fat is going to become your new source of energy, meaning you need to eat a lot of it. Some healthy fats include olive oil and grass-fed butter, as well as some nuts and seeds. Low-carb, high-fat meats, eggs, and raw dairy products are also great, as are non-starch vegetables like leafy greens and cucumbers. “I recommend whole foods, healthy fats, and lots of fruits and veggies,” Manuel says.
You should avoid all the usual naughty diet foods, like processed foods, desserts, and drinks high in sugar, as well as grains, white/wheat flour and conventional dairy products. There are plenty of free online resources where you can find suitable keto diet foods.
While the keto diet could be a great option for those looking to lose weight and see quick results, it’s best to consult your doctor before trying it out. Losing weight can be positive and improve your quality of life, but it should never come at the risk of your health. Many people have had great results with the keto diet, so if your doctor thinks it’s the right option for you, it could be a great way for you to feel healthier.