Pros and Cons of the Keto Diet

From product lines to celebrity endorsements, the ketogenic diet appears to be sweeping the nation. This popular eating trend seems to have captured the attention of countless people seeking to lose weight, improve their health, and for some, to control the progression of various disease states. But does this popular diet trend really work? Are there any pitfalls associated with the keto diet that may thwart its popularity?


What is the ketogenic diet?

The ketogenic diet is simply a low carbohydrate, high fat eating plan. In a standard ketogenic diet 75% of your calories come from fat, 20% from protein, and 5% from carbohydrates. These macros are quite a change from the USDA recommendations that advise that 50% of your calories come from carbohydrates, 20-35% from protein, and 30% from fat.  Moreover, the traditional American diet tends to be even heavier in the carbohydrates as most Americans exceed the recommendations set for carbohydrate consumption.

So, if you’re restricting your carbohydrate intake, what can you eat when following the keto diet? The keto diet allows you to indulge in meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy, cheese, and plenty of fat while you forgo breads, pastas, fruits, legumes, and anything with added sugar.


What is ketosis?

The ketogenic diet is simple enough, but what happens within your body when you drastically reduce your carbohydrate intake is rather complex. The cells in your body, particularly your brain cells, prefer glucose (carbohydrate) as a fuel source. When you consume little to no carbohydrate, your body goes into a state of ketosis.

Ketosis refers to a metabolic state in which your liver converts fats into compounds called ketone bodies that can be used as an alternative fuel source. The goal of ketosis is often to lose weight by forcing the body to rely on fat for fuel rather than carbohydrates.


Benefits of the Keto Diet

Like any diet plan it’s important to weigh the pros and cons particularly when making the shift to the keto diet.

Weight loss

The keto-diet can result in rapid weight loss. In a review of the research surrounding the use of the ketogenic diet for the treatment of obesity, researchers found that the ketogenic diet, when supported under a physician’s supervision, can be a very useful tool to lose weight. The authors of the study acknowledged that more research should be done to assess whether a diet as restrictive as the keto diet contributes to sustained weight loss over a significant amount of time.  

Improvements in blood pressure and cholesterol levels

The ketogenic diet may decrease the risk of heart disease by improving blood pressure and cholesterol levels. One study looked at low fat diets versus the keto diet for overweight and obese participants over the course of 1-2 years. Researchers found that the keto diet significantly reduced triglyceride levels, LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, while increasing HDL cholesterol compared to the low fat diet group.

Effective treatment of epilepsy

The ketogenic diet has been used as a treatment for epilepsy since the 1920’s. A recent review of the research has found that the keto diet remains a good alternative for patients of any age with epilepsy who may not respond to traditional medications. Researchers suggest that keto diets should be personally designed to cater to patient’s individual likes and dislikes as this will enhance sustainability. 


Drawbacks of the keto diet


The keto diet is highly restrictive, and as with any highly restrictive diet, it often results in decreased success over the long term. It can be very difficult to eliminate an entire food group and when you eventually “fall off the wagon”, you’re likely to regain all the weight back. Additionally, more research is required to examine the long term effects of the keto diet with respect to sustainability and potential health benefits.

Keto flu

Significantly cutting back on carbohydrates can lead to some unpleasant side effect known as the keto flu. The keto flu usually presents itself around 2-7 days after beginning the keto diet. While your body adapts to receiving little to no carbohydrates you may experience headaches, nausea, fatigue, irritability, constipation, diarrhea, and brain “fog”. The severity of symptoms can vary from person to person and generally lasts for a week. Staying hydrated and getting plenty of rest will help to minimize the effects of the keto flu.

Nutritional deficiencies

If you eliminate most vegetables, all fruits, and all grains there’s potential for nutrient deficiencies in many micronutrients including magnesium, phosphorous, selenium, and vitamins C and B. Additionally, when eliminating all carbohydrates, you also eliminate fiber which can lead to constipation. You may need to consider taking a multivitamin to ensure all of your nutritional needs are met when on the keto diet.

Before hopping on the keto diet bandwagon, or any diet, it’s important to understand the drawbacks and benefits. Eliminating or severely reducing an entire food group can lead to unpleasant side effects and may make compliance tough.  However, if it’s rapid weight loss that you’re looking for, the keto diet will likely help in meeting that goal in the short term.

Ana Reisdorf

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