Are you interested in losing weight? Are you tired of diets that advocate low or no fats and crave your high fat meats? You may well be considering going on the keto diet, the new kid on the block. Endorsed by many celebrities including Halle Berry, LeBron James and Kim Kardashian among others, the keto diet has been the subject of much debate among dietitians and doctors. Do you wonder if the keto diet is safe and right for you?
What is the ketogenic diet anyway?
You must be aware that the body uses sugar in the form of glycogen to function. The keto diet that is extremely restricted in sugar forces your body to use fat as fuel instead of sugar, since it does not get enough sugar. When the body does not get enough sugar for fuel, the liver is forced to turn the available fat into ketones that are used by the body as fuel – hence the term ketogenic.
This diet is a high fat diet with moderate amounts of protein. Depending on your carb intake the body reaches a state of ketosis in less than a week and stays there. As fat is used instead of sugar for fuel in the body, the weight loss is dramatic without any supposed restriction of calories.
The keto diet is such that it you should aim to get 60-75% of your daily calories from fat, 15-30% from protein and only 5-10% from carbohydrates. This usually means that you can eat only 20-50 grams of carbs in a day.
What can you eat on this diet?
The diet is a high fat diet that is somewhat similar to Atkins. However, there is greater emphasis on fats, usually ‘good’ fats. On the keto diet you can have
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Nut oils
- Grass fed beef
- Other meats
- Full fat cheese
- Leafy greens
- Non-starchy vegetables
You can also get a whole range of snacks that are meant for keto followers. As you can see from this list, fruits are restricted. You can have low sugar fruits in a limited quantity (mostly berries), but will have to forego your favorite fruits as these are all sweet and/or starchy.
This diet includes no grains of any kind, starchy vegetables like potatoes (and all tubers), no sugar or sweets, no breads and cakes, no beans and lentils, no pasta, no pizza and burgers and very little alcohol. This also means no coffee with milk or tea with milk – in fact, no milk and ice-creams and milk based desserts.
Many of these have workarounds as you can get carbohydrate free pasta and pizza, you can have cauliflower rice and now there are even restaurants that cater to keto aficionados.
What are the benefits of the keto diet?
If you are wondering if this diet is safe, its proponents and those who have achieved their weight loss goals will certainly agree that it is safe. Among the benefits of the keto diet you can expect:
- Loss of weight
- Reduced or no sugar spikes
- Appetite control
- Seizure controlling effect
- Blood pressure normalizes in high blood pressure patients
- Reduced attacks of migraine
- Type 2 diabetes patients on this diet may be able to reduce their medications
- Some benefits to those suffering from cancer
Apart from the first four, there is not sufficient evidence to support its effectiveness or otherwise for other diseases as a lot more research is required over the long-term.
Are there any side-effects of this diet?
When you initially start the keto diet, you can suffer from what is known as keto flu. These symptoms may not occur in all people and usually start a few days after being on the diet, when your body is in a state of ketosis. Some of the side-effects are:
- Cramps and tummy pain
- Diarrhea and/or constipation
- Muscle cramps
- Dizziness and poor concentrations
- Carbohydrate and sugar cravings
These may take up to a week to subside as your body get used to the new diet regime. You can also suffer from other problems when you start the keto diet – you may find that you have increased urination, so it is important to keep yourself well hydrated. You may also suffer from keto breath when your body reaches optimal ketosis and you can use a mouthwash or brush your teeth more frequently.
Usually the side effects are temporary and once your body acclimatizes to the new diet, these should disappear.
How safe is the keto diet?
Just like any other diet that restricts foods in specific categories, the keto diet is not without risks. As you are not supposed to eat many fruits and vegetables, beans and lentils and other foods, you can suffer from lack of many essential nutrients. Since the diet is high in saturated fats and, if you indulge in the ‘bad’ fats, you can have high cholesterol levels upping your risk of heart disease.
In the long-term the keto diet can also cause many nutritional deficiencies since you cannot eat grains, many fruits and vegetables and miss out on fiber as also important vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants among other things. You can suffer from gastrointestinal distress, lowered bone density (no dairy and other sources of calcium) and kidney and liver problems (the diet puts added stress on both the organs).
Is the keto diet safe for you?
If you are willing to forego your usual dietary staples and are really keen to lose weight, you may be tempted to try out the keto diet. The biggest issue with this diet is poor patient compliance thanks to the carbohydrate restriction, so you have to be sure that you can live with your food choices. If you simply find it too difficult to follow, you can go on a version of the modified keto diet that offers more carbs.
However, the keto diet is definitely effective in helping you lose weight. According to a recent study many of the obese patients followed were successful in losing weight. Any problems that they faced were temporary. If you do not have any significant health problems except for obesity and have been unsuccessful in losing weight following any conventional diet, the keto diet may a viable option. You must be absolutely determined to lose the weight and be prepared to go on a restricted diet as specified. Even if you have any medical problems, you can take your doctor’s advice and a nutritionist’s guidance and go on this diet.
Another study that was carried out for a longer time showed that going on the keto diet is beneficial in weight loss and also results in reduced cholesterol levels with a decrease in the bad cholesterol and an increase in the good cholesterol.
Is the keto diet safe for you? Most doctors and nutritionists are agreed that the keto diet is good for weight loss over the short-term. As for the long-term, more studies are needed. Do keep in mind that obesity is not an apt choice as it comes with its own risk of health problems.
Anupam Ghose, a physician by training, was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM) in 2017. After the diagnosis of T2DM, he followed a low carbohydrate high fat diet and reversed his T2DM within a year. Now he has one main goal in life. Yes, it is to make people understand that the conventional method of treating T2DM is not beneficial. The best way to reverse and fight T2DM is through diet and lifestyle modification. He decided to help people suffering from T2DM in their new journey by offering consultations and working together with them in order to achieve a T2DM free life.