Fans of the keto diet swear by its ability to help you lose weight, but what if it doesn’t seem to be working? Is the keto diet a healthy choice for everyone, and what should you do if you hit a plateau? Read on for answers to these and other keto-related questions.April 28, 2022 5:17 pm December 06, 2021 4:47 pm
What is the keto diet?
In a nutshell, the keto diet is a low carbohydrate, moderate protein and high fat diet. It was originally developed in 1921 by a man named Dr Russel Wilder. He used the diet to try to reduce epileptic fits in children.(1)
Indeed, the Epilepsy Society still recommends it in specific circumstances, where seizures can’t be controlled by anti-epileptic drugs.(2)
Some athletes also use tweaked versions of the keto diet to help with their performance.
However, most of us will know the keto diet as a weight-loss tool. In recent years, it has surged in popularity as an easier way to lose weight quickly.
In this article we’ll be looking at this type of keto diet, rather than one which is prescribed by medical professionals to treat disease.
What is ketosis?
The keto diet works by putting your body into a state known as ‘ketosis’.
When you eat a normal diet including carbohydrates, your body’s main source of energy is glucose.
However, if you drastically reduce the amount of carbohydrates you eat, your body has to look elsewhere for the energy it needs.
Instead of using glucose, your body starts to use ‘ketone bodies’ as your primary source of energy. These are made when fats are broken down.(3)
This state of ketosis is thought to be quite safe, and your heart, brain and muscles can all use ketone bodies as an energy source. In fact, they are actually a more efficient source of energy than glucose, as gram for gram they can produce more ATP.(3) (Adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, is the ‘energy molecule’ of the body. For more on ATP and how your body makes and uses energy, check out our article on healthy energy foods.)
What is the appeal of the keto diet?
Transferring your body’s source of energy from glucose to ketone bodies essentially means that your body will burn fat to power your normal activities.
This has several advantages in terms of weight loss.
Firstly, you can lose weight very quickly. Some estimates suggest you could lose up to 10lb in two weeks.(3) However, it’s likely that some of this initial weight loss is water, before you then begin to lose fat.
Unlike most other diets, you don’t need to restrict the number of calories you’re eating on the keto diet. There is no restriction on your intake of fats.
Eventually, you may even experience a decrease in appetite which helps with further weight loss.(3)
As such, the keto diet can be quite an effective way to lose weight quickly.
In addition to this, scientists are investigating whether it could help with medical issues such as dementia, brain trauma, metabolic disorders and acne.(3)
What are the downsides?
The keto diet remains quite controversial among scientists and nutritionists. While it can help people to lose weight, there are also some risks to consider.
Firstly, many people find it difficult to stick to, as it requires a substantial change from most normal eating patterns. Low compliance means that you’re unlikely to see the kind of weight loss described above, or could mean that you undo all your hard work after falling off the wagon!
Some of the benefits of this diet seem to disappear in the long term. For instance, weight loss, decreases in blood pressure and increases in ‘good’ HDL cholesterol may be present in the short term. However, by the 12 month mark, one study noted that the changes were no longer statistically significant.(3)
The keto diet may also be unsuitable for people with pre-existing health conditions. For example, while it may help people with diabetes, there is a risk that they may become hypoglycaemic during the early stages of the diet when carbohydrates are first removed. There are also risks for patients with other illnesses such as liver failure and pancreatitis, among others.(3)
There are also concerns around drastically increasing your intake of unhealthy fats – which is allowed under the keto diet. For instance, eating lots of saturated fat is linked with increasing your levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, and subsequent heart health issues.(4)
What is “keto flu”?
Even if you don’t suffer from a health condition, starting the keto diet can make you feel crummy.
Many people experience symptoms during their first transition into the diet. These have come to be known as “keto flu”.
Keto flu symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headaches, fatigue, dizziness and poor exercise performance.(1)
These symptoms tend to subside after a period of a few days to a couple of weeks. However, you might not find this period of feeling ‘under the weather’ acceptable.
How long should I be on keto?
The duration of your keto diet is really up to you, and how well you can stick to the diet over the long term.
You’ll need to follow it for a minimum of 2-3 weeks to see the effects, but you can continue it for up to a year. After this point, the safety of the diet becomes less clear.(3)
When undertaking this diet, your doctor may need to monitor its effects on your kidneys to make sure they are not damaged.(3)
"Keto flu tends to subside after a period of a few days to a couple of weeks. However, you might not find this period of feeling 'under the weather' acceptable."
Is keto safe and healthy?
While doctors do use the keto diet to help manage specific illnesses (such as epilepsy in children), its safety as a weight loss tool is less clear.
Being on the keto diet short term is likely to be relatively safe. However staying on it for a long time brings health risks.
Long-term side effects include a higher risk of vitamin deficiency, kidney stones, fatty liver disease and hypoproteinemia (low protein levels).(1)
Because few studies have been done on the keto diet over a long period, it’s very difficult to give a firm answer on whether it’s safe or not as a long-term lifestyle choice.
However, the increased risks of serious health conditions such as those listed above should be taken into consideration. You should also think about whether it’s worth running these risks when any health benefits are likely to have diminished within 12 months.
Another thing to consider is whether you can commit to such a restrictive diet over a period of months or years. Unfortunately, as soon as you change your diet to include carbohydrates once more, your body will come out of ketosis.
What is “dirty keto”?
“Dirty keto” is an informal term used by the keto community to describe a diet which conforms to the rules of keto, but includes foods which are not particularly healthy.
A person consuming 2000 calories daily would need to eat about 165g fat per day with only 20-50g carbohydrates. (A banana contains about 27g carbohydrates.)
However it doesn’t specify which types of fat you should eat.
A “dirty keto” diet might include fat from processed foods high in saturated fat and salt. For instance, sausages, hamburgers and salami would be acceptable foods to eat on keto. However, we know that eating lots of saturated fat increases your risk of heart disease.(4)
On the other hand, a “clean keto” diet would source the required fat from healthy unsaturated sources such as nuts and plant oils. This is also likely to provide you with a wider range of nutrients, helping to prevent deficiency.
These are undoubtedly healthier options, although little is known about the long-term effects of following either a “dirty” or “clean” keto diet.
Why am I not losing weight on keto?
If you’ve been following the keto diet for a while, but aren’t seeing the results you want, it is likely because your body has not fully entered ketosis.
In short, you need to further reduce your intake of carbohydrates.
It can be really difficult to do this in the early stages of the diet, as carbohydrates are present in a lot of foods you wouldn’t necessarily expect. For example, fruit and vegetables include plenty of carbs.
Using a meal planning app or nutrition tracker can help with this, as it gets you to think about the carbohydrates in all the foods you eat. It can also help you add up your carbohydrate intake throughout the day.
Another possibility is that you are eating too much protein. Because the body’s preferred energy source is always glucose, if you’re eating enough protein your body will preferentially break this down into sugars before it makes a start on your fat stores. As a result, you’ll hold on to the fat you were hoping to lose.
You can also make use of tests to see if your body is in a state of ketosis. Blood, urine and breath tests are all available.
Perhaps the least invasive is the breath test. It usually involves a tube you breathe into, a bit like a breathalyser test, which is linked up to an app on your phone.
You can then easily check if you’re in ketosis or not, and make adjustments to your diet accordingly.
What happens when you come off keto?
Because the keto diet is so restrictive, transitioning back to your normal diet can be quite a challenge. This is because reintroducing normal levels of carbohydrates and protein will bring you out of ketosis.
The key is to go slowly, gradually introducing more carbohydrates and protein over a long period of time. If you have the help of a nutritionist, even better. They will be able to help plan your ‘exit strategy’ to avoid unwanted weight gain.
However, it should be noted that many people do put on weight when coming off the keto diet. This is partly because while you’re on it, your appetite may be suppressed, but your normal hunger levels will return once you start eating carbs and protein again.
Should I go on the keto diet?
It’s not 100% clear if the benefits of the keto diet outweigh the risks.
For instance, you may have a lot of success in the early days of your keto diet in terms of weight loss, and even see some improved health markers (such as lower LDL cholesterol).
However, you’re also increasing your risk of long-term health problems. Many people find the diet unsustainable as it is so restrictive, and there is little safety information available about continuing it for more than about a year. What’s more, many of the health benefits you experience in the early days are l likely to have vanished by the 12 month mark.
When compared to other types of diets such as the Mediterranean diet, keto seems to come with more inherent risks, including an increased risk of heart disease.
Finally, it’s quite common for people to regain weight after coming off the keto diet. It doesn’t seem to be a diet that many people can comfortably follow over a long period, and there isn’t sufficient evidence to suggest that it would even be worth it to do so.
Having said that, there are some genuine clinical uses for the keto diet, such as treating epilepsy in children and polycystic ovary syndrome in women.(5) It may also be of some help in treating diabetes.
However, if you suffer from any of these illnesses you must consult a doctor before attempting any kind of specialist diet. There are risks to trying it without supervision (such as hypoglycaemia in diabetics).
Clean keto products to add to your routine
If you decide to follow the keto diet for weight loss, or have been instructed to follow one by your doctor, we’d recommend following the “clean” version of the diet.
This focuses on getting your required fats from healthy sources. For instance, you should avoid heavily processed meats and instead focus on nutrient-rich cold-pressed plant oils, nuts, seeds and avocados.
At Erbology we stock a number of products which may be useful if you’re on a keto diet. For example, we offer a wide range of cold-pressed, unrefined plant oils. These are naturally rich in healthy nutrients.
Including a range of cold-pressed oils in your routine will also help offer a bit more variety to your diet, in terms of flavor and nutrients. Both of these are an advantage when following a restricted diet.
We also stock raw, unpasteurized Organic Italian Almonds and Organic Transylvanian Walnuts. Both are rich in healthy fats and contain fibre to help with digestion. They’re also bursting with nutrients such as vitamin E and ellagic acid. We shell our nuts to order to make sure they reach you as fresh as possible.
All of these healthy fats can replace unhealthier options to make sure your experience with the keto diet is as safe and healthy as possible.
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