The Darker Side of Keto Diet

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

By: Lara Ahmed

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Celebrities like the Kardashians, Le Bron James, and Megan Fox live by the keto diet.  While many have heard the name, few understand what it means or how it works. The ketogenic diet is a weight loss plan where the dieter cuts down on carbohydrates instead of sugar, sometimes consuming less than 30 grams.  The diet also eliminates flour, corn, rice, and potatoes along with low dairy products. High fat diary products are allowed. Ketone bodies are produced from fat instead of carbohydrates. Ketone bodies are chemicals that the body makes when there is not enough insulin in the blood and it breaks down fat instead of the sugar glucose for energy.

This metabolic state can help achieve quick weight loss, or a “ketosis” metabolic state.  Studies have also shown it can be used to treat epilepsy and other conditions. Still, the core objective of the diet is to lose weight fast; which is why it’s worth understanding the health risks it may present. 

Hidden Side Effects of Keto Diet

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Keto Flu: 

When starting the diet, some people soon develop symptoms of heavy fatigue, nausea, and gastrointestinal issues. These side-effects are part of the “keto flu“. Though these effects usually disappear after a few days, managing them can disrupt their activities as they need to get more sleep and drink more water than usual. Dieters my also experience lack of energy because the brain is usually fueled by glucose, which is produced most easily from carbohydrates. Some people might take longer than other to adjust as the symptoms may last for weeks. 

Nutrient deficiency 

Even when the “flu” passes, consuming a greater amount of dairy when beginning a keto diet may lead to diarrhea. Also, since keto simply emphasizes reducing carbs, inexperienced dieters may forget to substitute them with more fibers.  Some fibrous foods are allowed, but the diet is still  too restrictive by excluding most food groups. This gives mixed results, especially for those who already have existing health conditions.

Muscle loss

Medical professionals are still investigating keto’s link to muscle loss. A study in 2018 published in the journal Sports found that though people following keto diet experience the same muscle changes as with other diets, keto dieters lose more leg muscle. The concerns also voice that much of the weight people are losing could be muscle mass. Once dieters stop the keto diet they might regain weight rather than lean muscle. 

Yo-Yo dieting : 

Keto is  an example of a yo-yo diet, where people follow a cycle of losing and gaining weight regularly.  Dieters typically only follow it  for a few weeks or months because of how demanding it can be on their bodies. This can increase their risks for heart disease, fatty liver, and other complications. They also often feel that even after losing weight, maintaining their desired body weight is even harder.  Diet plans that are more health conscious and not overly restrictive could help foster a more long-term solution. 

Is Keto Diet Worth It?

​​​Photo © iStock / Aamulya

Few diets are completely helpful or dangerous, but a significant problem with the keto diet is how it’s presented and marketed by some of its supporters. The diet is often glamorized by celebrities, and is also an example of our fast-paced modern culture. Those with busy lifestyles are tempted by shortcut solutions.  Getting in shape seems like a miracle if you look through the “keto” lens, but what about long-term solutions? 

Many people who have tried keto have fallen in love with the diet, but it is dangerous when its supporters don’t address any of its disadvantages in the media.  It is up to both medical professionals, and concerned dieters to understand the risks and benefits of keto.  The diet can be healthy, but it should only be approached if it’s in line with your current health and goals, and defiantly no one should diet without medical supervision. 

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