Is the Ketogenic Diet Safe?
The ketogenic diet (a.k.a. keto) has been getting quite a bit of press lately. Some swear by it and others mock it. The main goal for most is to boost the body’s ability to burn fat by eating more fat, moderate amounts of protein, and lower amounts of carbohydrates. And truth be told, there is solid science behind it. But the real question is...is keto safe?
I do believe a ketogenic diet is a great way to ignite ketosis (i.e., fat-burning) and help balance your blood sugar and insulin, which are essential for weight loss. In fact, if you follow my Bone Broth Diet or 10-Day Belly Slimdown plans exactly as written, you should achieve ketosis safely. But just like any other diet plan, safety all depends on how you approach it.
Are You Eating the Right Fat?
The keto diet is not a blank check for eating heavily processed high fat foods, such as deep fried mozzarella sticks. In addition, increasing your intake of inflammatory “vegetable” oils, such as canola, corn, and soy oil is sure to put you at risk for disease. Healthy fats on the keto diet, or any diet for that matter, must come from whole foods and be minimally processed. This includes foods such as coconut, avocado, olives, nuts, seeds, wild fish, and grass-fed dairy. Speaking of dairy, many keto followers rely heavily on it. And I do believe this can cause problems for many.
First, we must consider lactose, a natural sugar found in milk. Because according to the National Institute of Health, approximately 65% of the world population struggles with some degree of lactose intolerance after infancy. And for many of us, our ability to digest lactose continues to decline with age. And when lactose isn’t digested, it sits your gut.
Eventually, your gut bacteria ferment it, which creates gas, bloating, and many other unpleasant symptoms. Second, we must consider casein, a milk protein that is among the top food allergens. Symptoms range from diarrhea and vomiting to hives and eczema.
Are You Relying on Processed “Keto” Foods?
When the Atkins Diet was big, a slew of Atkins bars and shakes kit the market shelves. And yes, while they were low in carbohydrates, they were full of junk. Followers may have lost weight by eating these packaged products, but not without risk. This is true for many of the commercial keto “foods” on the market today. Many of these concoctions contain artificial sweeteners along with chemical preservatives and flavors. While these ingredients may keep carbs low, I don’t consider most of them to be safe. Especially when eaten daily or in place of home cooked meals. It’s also important to understand that since your carb intake is so low, you must make your carbs count. Each bite must provide fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
It’s essential that you don’t consume any empty calories from processed grains and sugars. Thus, just like all my diet plans, the majority of your food should come from nature and be minimally processed, if at all. On a safe keto diet, your meals and snacks should consist mostly of the fats I mentioned above as well as protein from pastured meats and eggs and non-starchy vegetables and low carb fruits. Collagen and bone broth both also fit nicely with the keto diet.
When is Keto Bad for You?
It’s important to recognize the keto diet isn’t for everyone. According to science, it’s contraindicated in those with pancreatitis, liver failure, or impaired fat metabolism. Basically, if any of your organs or systems involved in the digestion, absorption, and utilization of dietary fat are compromised, you need to take that into consideration before significantly increasing your fat intake. Also, to play it safe, if you suffer from any other serious health conditions, you should discuss your keto plans with your healthcare provider before diving in.
In some cases, you may need to adjust your medications before starting. In fact, this may be true for those with diabetes taking insulin or oral hypoglycemic agents. Otherwise, severe hypoglycemia may occur. There is some concern of whether or not the keto diet is healthy for those that are obese. Well, it may be problematic if you’re obese and on diabetes medications or have any of the complications I discussed above. But other than that, research supports using the ketogenic diet as a way to induce rapid weight loss among the obese population.
In this study, the mean initial weight of 83 participants dropped from 223 pounds to 191 pounds in 24 weeks. In addition, these patients experienced a significant loss in body mass index, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, while their HDL cholesterol significantly increased.
What’s the Catch?
Most of the research only extends as far as two years with most studies lasting much shorter. Thus, while the short term effects are better understood, the long term effects aren’t as clear. Plus, eating so little carbs can be difficult to maintain for the long haul. However, I don’t see these as problems. Because I don’t recommend following a strict ketogenic diet indefinitely. Instead, I would recommend a short keto stint to start burning fat fast followed by a gradual increase in carbs up to 20% of your daily calories.
This would still be considered a low-carb plan, but one that is much easier to maintain long term. For example, if your daily caloric intake is 1600 calories, this means you would start with 20 - 40 grams of carbohydrates a day to reach ketosis. Then, you would gradually increase to 80 grams to continue losing weight steadily. Once you reach your goal, you can keep your carbs at 20% or gradually rise to 40%, which would be 160 grams on a 1600 calorie daily diet.
However, for some, anything above 20% may trigger weight gain. So you may need to do a little experimenting to find your personal sweet spot. And most importantly, I never recommend going above 40%. This will almost definitely put you in the weight gain danger zone fast. Below is a helpful chart with a breakdown of macronutrient percentages and their benefits (or disadvantages).
|KETOSIS: IGNITE RAPID WEIGHT LOSS||LOW-CARB: SHED POUNDS STEADILY||MODERATE-CARB: MAINTAIN YOUR FIGURE||HIGH CARB: WEIGHT GAIN DANGER ZONE|
|FAT||60 - 70%||60%||40%||20%|
|PROTEIN||25 - 35%||20%||20%||20%|
|CARBS||5 - 10%||20%||40%||60%|
These percentages are based on a study, which found that participants on a low-carb (20% carbs) plan successfully maintained their weight after completing a weight-loss diet. In fact, participants on the low-carb plan burned 250 calories more a day than the high-carb diet group. In addition, as an added bonus, the low-carb dieters had significantly lower levels of the hormones ghrelin and leptin than participants on a high-carb plan. This is beneficial because ghrelin stimulates your appetite. And high levels of leptin, especially in obese individuals, can also lead to an increased appetite.
What About the Keto Flu?
In the beginning of the diet, you may experience what some refer to as the “keto flu.” The symptoms generally include fatigue, headache, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, dizziness, and insomnia. But these symptoms typically subside within a few days. Staying hydrated is key and taking a quality multivitamin and mineral supplement may also help. Finally, rapidly switching from a ketogenic diet back to the standard American diet will most likely cause you to gain weight back quickly and possibly more than you lost. But this is true for any diet, which is why I created my 80/20 Maintenance Program.
So...is the keto diet healthy? Yes! It can be a great tool to turn your body into a fat-burning machine quickly. But it’s got to be done right. You’ll need a transition and maintenance plan to keep the weight off. You must listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t ignore it. And if it doesn’t work for you, don’t worry! You’re not alone and you can still drop the weight with a more moderate approach.
Keep thinking Big and living BOLD!