Keto Diet: Benefits and Risks

plate of olives, cheese, nuts and sausage
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By: Madison Boissiere, Graduate of Food Science and Human Nutrition from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

 

 

The keto diet has become popular across social media these past few years. Yet, with so much misinformation floating around, many are still confused about what exactly the keto diet is, what the benefits are, and who should follow it. 

 

What is the Keto Diet?

The keto diet consists of low-carb and high-fat intake. Because carbohydrates are our primary energy source, the keto diet aims to strip away carb intake so that the body turns to alternative forms of energy from protein and fat. After a few days of minimal carbs, the body goes into ketosis, which is a starvation state that comes from continuously pulling energy from fat. Ultimately, this alternative route of energy production causes the metabolism to work harder, and many experience rapid weight loss as a result. 

 

Ketosis

To reach ketosis, you must intake only 20-50 grams of carbohydrates per day. To get an idea of just how small this is, two slices of bread contain about 30 grams of carbs. Around 90% of the rest of the calories should come from fat. While healthy fats like nuts, avocados, and olive oil are allowed, unsaturated fats such as lard, butter, coconut oil are heavily encouraged because of their high-fat content. Some fruits and vegetables are restricted as many are rich in carbohydrates, but some low-carb options are available, such as berries or broccoli in small amounts. As for protein sources, any protein is typically okay to eat, as long as it does not exceed around 80 grams per day (depending on a person’s specific needs), as it can interfere with ketosis. 

 

Rapid Weight Loss

While rapid weight loss is a major selling point for people looking into the keto diet, it is not usually recommended that healthy individuals follow it. Many studies show that although healthy individuals will lose weight, LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol, increases. In many cases, weight loss is only a short-term benefit, as cutting out an entire food group is not sustainable for the long run. Many people find themselves regaining weight shortly after ending the diet. For this reason, it is important to stick to healthy, attainable lifestyle changes that will benefit you throughout life.  

Who Benefits from the Keto Diet

So who exactly should follow the Keto diet? Emerging research shows that the keto diet can benefit those with certain health conditions and chronic diseases such as:

 

●      EpilepsyDoctors recommend that children with epilepsy follow the keto diet in addition to or in replacement of epilepsy medications. Studies show that over half of children who use the keto diet experienced a 50% decrease in the number of seizures, and some even become seizure-free. 

●      Type 2 Diabetes: Although studies are limited, one study found that following a keto diet for one year reversed diabetes for 60% of the participants. Lowering carbohydrate intake also helps to reduce insulin sensitivity in the body and maintain healthy blood sugar levels. 

●      Morbid ObesityThose with a BMI of 40 and over can benefit from the keto diet to help with weight loss and reset their metabolism.

●      Neurological conditionsConditions such as Alzheimer’s, autism, and some brain cancers have also been shown to benefit from the keto diet. 

 

It is essential that you speak with a dietitian before starting any diet to appropriately instruct you and measure your progress throughout the diet. 

Potential Risks

The keto diet has been shown to cause low blood pressure, high cholesterol, constipation, kidney stones, nutrient deficiencies, liver problems, brain fog, mood swings, and increased risk of heart disease. It is especially not safe for those with pancreas, liver, thyroid, and gallbladder issues. A keto diet can also take a toll on one’s social and emotional health and lead to isolation and disordered eating because of the drastic changes that can occur on the diet. 

 

Some also experience “keto flu” when first beginning the keto diet. Symptoms include upset stomach, dizziness, low energy, and mood swings as the body’s response to ketosis for the first time. 

 

For more information on ketogenic diets, join us for this free webinar UNDERSTANDING THE HYPE: EMERGING EVIDENCE FOR THE USE OF THE KETOGENIC DIET IN CHRONIC DISEASE, Tue, July 20th: 11:00 am ET

References

  1. Freels, Kaitlyn. “What Is the Keto Diet?” National Center for Health Research, 10 Apr. 2019, www.center4research.org/keto-diet/.
  2. Helms, Natalie. “Is the Keto Diet Safe? What Are the Risks?” At the Forefront UChicago Medicine, UChicago Medicine, 20 June 2019, www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/health-and-wellness-articles/ketogenic-diet-what-are-the-risks.
  3. Kossoff, Eric. “Ketogenic Diet.” Epilepsy Foundation, Oct. 2017, www.epilepsy.com/learn/treating-seizures-and-epilepsy/dietary-therapies/ketogenic-diet.
  4. “Should You Try the Keto Diet?” Harvard Health, 31 Aug. 2020, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-try-the-keto-diet.