‘Is this diet healthy?’ is a legitimate question to ask about any diet, regardless of how effective it is at fat loss, energy production or athletic performance. The Keto Diet is no different when it comes to this question. With the amount of press the diet has received in recent years, it’s reasonable to assume that there will be a huge outcry against it – especially those who subscribe to the current nutritional guidelines which tout ‘heart-healthy whole grains’ and other low-fat options.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, we always encourage you to do as much research as possible, which includes speaking to professionals when it comes to nutrition, medicine and athletic performance. The reality is that everyone’s circumstances are different – each person’s genetics cause them to react differently to everything in their environment – not just food. So, don’t just dive in to any diet or workout plan without doing your due diligence (sounds like you’re buying a property, huh?).
Now that the disclaimers are out of the way, here are some of the potential health upsides and downsides related to the Keto Diet.
Health Benefits of the Keto Diet
The below are just some of the reported benefits of those who have switched to the Keto Diet from a standard diet plan. Obviously everyone is different, but these are some potential health benefits to consider:
Probably the most commonly-reported benefit of the Keto Diet is weight loss. Much of it is water, due to a decrease in carbohydrate storage within the muscles of the body that hold water, and most people will see a decent weight loss result within the first week or so. Aside from the water loss, though, the Keto Diet promotes a better fat-burning environment as compared to a high-carb diet, and this is ideally where you want weight loss to come from – body fat.
When working at optimal levels, your body is an efficient and complex machine that undertakes a whole host of processes, most of which you won’t notice. Autophagy is one of these processes, and is kind of a clearing house for damaged cells within the body. Basically, your body finds cells which are not functioning correctly, or are damaged, and they are sent to the body’s recycling plant to be used for new cells. One of the reported benefits of the Keto Diet is that autophagy is enhanced – and this is often due to longer periods without food, which gives the body ample time and environmental factors to ‘clean house’. Damaged cells, of course, are the start of many detrimental health consequences – you can probably guess which ones they are!
Research shows that a ketogenic diet has proven effective at improving the blood markers for those at risk of, or suffering from, type-2 diabetes. While it’s not as simple as ‘cutting carbs kills diabetes’, that’s definitely a large factor involved in the benefits of a ketogenic diet for those suffering from diabetes.
Over the past 10-15 years, much research has been devoted to using the Keto Diet as a therapeutic tool for treating Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive impairment disorders. These studies have suggested that Alzheimer’s disease might be considered ‘type-3 diabetes’ – a powerful statement that suggests an excess of high-carb, and particularly high-sugar foods can damage brain cells and cause cognitive impairment. The studies utilising a high-fat, low-carb diet, as well as keto supplements such as MCT oil and ketone salts have shown dramatic improvements in cognitive protection and function, in both humans and mice.
Side Effects of the Keto Diet
For all the potential benefits of the Keto Diet, there are plenty of people who report negative consequences from switching their diet to a low-carb, high-fat one – so we’d be remiss not to mention some of the potential drawbacks of this diet.
Some people who switch to a Keto Diet report flu-like symptoms, especially in the first 1-2 weeks of the diet. These include brain fog, dizziness, fatigue and headaches. It’s generally-accepted that these symptoms are temporary – and usually a result of toxin removal from the body, as well as switching fuel methods from carbohydrates to fats. For most, these symptoms disappear within a couple of weeks, but it’s important to pay attention and make sure these symptoms are transient.
With the removal of carbohydrates from the diet comes a flushing of water, and with it – minerals. A lack of minerals (particularly magnesium) is usually the reason people experience muscle cramps, so supplementing is recommended, at least until your body self-regulates mineral levels. We encourage magnesium supplementation for most athletes, anyway, so this might not even be an issue for you.
Another key drawback (and again, usually temporary) of the Keto Diet is upset stomach issues, being constipation or diarrhea. Your digestive system often needs time to adapt to the food changes that come with a change in diet. For constipation – ensuring that you’re getting enough fibre from vegetables is key – psyllium husk can help as well. For diarrhea, be sure to keep fluid and mineral intake up, and be careful about your MCT oil dosage – you need to start very low and gradually increase as you tolerate it better.
A Keto Diet commonly raises total cholesterol (both HDL and LDL) and reduces triglycerides. On the face of it – higher cholesterol appears to be a big negative, and something your doctor might even give you medicine to combat. There is, however, much conjecture among doctors and researchers about cholesterol – what’s a healthy number and how does LDL, HDL, triglycerides and particle size fit into the equation? Unfortunately we aren’t qualified to give advice here, but from all the research we’ve looked at – total cholesterol (and even total LDL) is not the best-predictor of heart disease and other cholesterol-related issues. In fact, recent research has shown that higher LDL levels (‘bad’ cholesterol) are associated with lower rates of heart disease and all-cause mortality. Research does show, however, that your triglyceride to HDL ratio (that is, your triglyceride number divided by your HDL number) is a decent predictor of heart attacks. The Keto Diet commonly lowers triglycerides and increases HDL, which lowers your ratio. Obviously, this is a point of argument among the medical community – so do your research.
Final Word on the Ketogenic Diet
This being the last article in the All About Keto series, we’d like to mention that all the info here is to be used as a starting-point, a guide and in some cases a motivation tool. Read books, speak to health professionals and listen to podcasts to get educated on whether it’s the right diet choice for you. We stock a wide range of supplements to help you on your Keto journey – but we also stock traditional high-carb supplements such as carb powders and weight gainers, because we understand that there is no one-diet-fits-all approach. We always give the advice – find out what works for you, with your circumstances, and stick to it!
Part One: What is Ketosis?
Part Two: How to Know if You're in Ketosis
Part Three: How do you Get into Ketosis?
Part Four: What to Eat on a Keto Diet
Part Five: Is the Keto Diet Healthy?