In 2018, keto was the most googled diet, and two of Amazon’s top 10 best-sellers in nutrition happen to be keto-focused. The Keto diet also is trending on social media and continues to get endorsement from celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and the Kardashians.
It’s obvious the Keto diet is highly popular, but is it right for you?
Well, whether you too should jump on the keto bandwagon depends on your goals, your health, and your lifestyle.
To help you decide whether or not a Keto diet is right for you, here’s what you need to know before overhauling your pantry.
What Exactly is Keto Anyway?
Before you can decide if you should do a Keto diet, it’s a good idea to know what keto exactly is.
By definition, the ketogenic (keto) diet is a very-low-carb diet. Typically, carbs make up 5-10% of daily calories on keto.
It’s also a moderate-protein diet because the body can turn excess protein into glucose, a type of carbohydrate. Fat, on the other hand, is the central macronutrient on keto, making up 70-80% of your daily calories.
Eating this way puts the body into a metabolic state called ketosis, which is different from the metabolic state you’re usually in — glycolysis. Glycolysis is when cells burn glucose from carbs to make energy. Ketosis, on the other hand, is when they burn ketones from fat to make energy.
You can learn more about ketosis here.
The Keto diet was originally designed to be a treatment for epilepsy because ketosis seems to reduce seizures. However, it eventually grew in popularity as a weight-loss and healthful diet because it completely changes how your metabolism handles fat.
Keto Diet Benefits
Going keto comes with a host of promising health benefits. See if any of these benefits matter to you before making any final decisions:
Countless studies show that the keto diet can lead to weight loss. A study involving 83 obese patients published in 2004, for example, found that most lost a significant amount of weight after 24 weeks on the diet. A recent study even found that keto can help athletes shed body fat while helping preserve muscle mass.
If you need to lose weight quickly, then keto can definitely prove to be a great alternative to more traditional approaches that may have failed you in the past.
Where keto beats other weight-loss diets is in how it affects metabolism. This diet practically forces the body to burn fat while not affecting your resting metabolic rate. It’s also known to suppress appetite and lead to lower calorie intake with no conscious effort.
However, if you don’t need to lose weight, there are ways to tweak this diet to prevent this.
Better metabolic functioning
If you have pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, or PCOS, then keto might be just the right thing for you. The keto diet practically eliminates carbohydrates, which helps with glycemic control. And, as already explained, it also causes weight loss, which can have a favorable effect on blood sugar levels, insulin sensitivity, and metabolic flexibility.
And if you’re concerned about the viability of this approach, research on low-carb diets for diabetes management shows that keto can be a good alternative that helps patients rely less on medication and prove helpful when medication is not available. There’s also evidence it may help with PCOS, mostly by affecting fasting insulin.
Better brain health
The keto diet was originally designed to treat epilepsy, so it’s not surprising that many people use it to help with other brain conditions. So far, research evidence is strongest for the management of seizures, Alzheimer’s, and brain tumors. However, keto can also help with things like concentration, focus, and mood.
But how exactly does keto improve brain health?
One theory is that it reduces oxidative stress in the brain because ketones use less oxygen to produce energy than glucose. Less oxidative stress equals less neuronal damage. Ketones also seem to increase the numbers and mass of mitochondria in brain cells.
The keto diet can have a favorable effect on total blood lipids; however, the effects are strongest for triglycerides. Triglycerides are a type of fat your body releases between meals. Having too many of these fat molecules in the blood increases your risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Luckily, you can reduce triglycerides by limiting carb intake and losing weight if you’re overweight, and keto happens to help with both. Keto also eliminates alcohol and helps you eat overall less, which also is beneficial for triglyceride levels.
Keto Diet Side Effects
Besides benefits, keto also comes with its fair share of side effects. After the first couple of days of starting keto, you may experience one or more of the following:
- Muscle aches
- Sugar cravings
- Brain fog
These side effects are often referred to as the keto flu. Although unpleasant, the keto flu is mild and short-lived for most people. It’s caused by mild dehydration and accompanying electrolyte imbalances that can happen when you suddenly restrict carbohydrates.
You can avoid and treat the keto flu by:
- Drinking enough fluids
- Taking electrolyte-rich foods or supplements
- Restricting carbs gradually.
If your keto flu symptoms persist for more than 3 weeks, it may be a sign that something’s not right and you may want to stop the diet for now and check with your physician if anything’s wrong. Besides, electrolyte imbalances and dehydration can be dangerous when severe or chronic.
Other Cons of the Keto Diet
Besides causing side effects in some, keto has other short-comings that you may want to know about to help you decide if a Keto diet is right for you:
Keto can be restrictive
Although keto lets you enjoy as much bacon and butter as you can handle, the diet also demands you forgo things like bread, pasta, honey, and even beans and fruit. Carb restriction entails giving up all high-carb foods and replacing them with low-carb and high-fat ingredients. This can be restrictive for some, especially in a world where carby meals are the standard.
You need to track food
If you’re not keen on monitoring your food intake, then keto is not for you. On a Keto diet, you absolutely need to make sure you’re eating within the recommended macros in order to get into ketosis. This would involve researching how many carbs are in your meals, making sure you’re not going over your limit, and planning ahead so you stick to your macros.
It can be time-consuming
Frozen foods, restaurant visits, and nights filled with snack foods should become a thing of the past. Now, you’ll need to make the majority of your meals at home and from scratch to make the Keto diet work. This, of course, can be too time-consuming for those with a busy lifestyle. If you don’t have time to spare for meal planning and prepping, you may find it hard to make a Keto diet work for you.
Keto can mess with your hormones
The Keto diet seems to work better for men than women. Women often report losing their periods on this diet or they even experience more side effects. One reason women may develop menstrual irregularities on this diet could be weight loss. Studies namely show that any change in body weight can cause periods to become irregular.
Your social life may suffer
Most people don’t follow a diet such as keto. That means that family gatherings, lunch breaks, barbeques, and other social occasions where food is central become difficult. You won’t have many options available to suit your diet and sharing your food may become a problem since many avoid high-fat food.
Long-term safety is an issue
Not much is known about the long-term safety of a Keto diet. Some safety concerns include what impact long-term ketosis has and what effect keto has on cardiovascular health and kidney functioning. So far, the diet seems to be safe. But until more research proves there’s little risk to extreme carb restriction, it’s a good idea to stay cautious.
What If I Have a Health Condition?
In that case, it’s best to speak to your doctor before making any changes to your eating habits. The Keto diet is not for everyone. In fact, it is contraindicated in people with the following conditions:
- Liver failure
- Fat metabolism disorders
- Carnitine deficiency
- Pyruvate kinase deficiency
Keto may also be unsafe for people with type 1 diabetes. People with this condition are at a higher risk of developing ketoacidosis, a medical emergency in which the blood becomes acidic due to too many ketones. However, taking insulin regularly and measuring your ketones prevents this.
You may also want to speak to your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. We don’t know much about how much keto influences pregnancy and lactation, so practice caution if you are planning to conceive, expectant, or breastfeeding.
Keto Diet Takeaways
With the Keto diet growing in popularity, you’re probably wondering if you should try the diet yourself and see if it works.
Whether you should join the ever-growing keto community depends on whether you will benefit from it. If you are relatively healthy and don’t need to lose weight, then there’s no reason to start this diet But if you need to manage a metabolic condition or have a lot of weight to lose, then a Keto diet may prove to be helpful.
If you chose to follow this low-carb diet, do speak to your doctor, especially if you have an underlying health condition. It’s always a good idea to practice caution with major diet changes and play it safe.
Guest post by Sofia Norton, Dietician Expert, Kiss My Keto.
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