The keto diet has caused a huge buzz and experienced a surge in popularity of late, with people turning to this diet as their lose-weight fast strategy, but Dr Anthony Gustin is not convinced. “Ketosis is not healthy. Elevated ketone levels do not equal elevated health levels,” says Dr Gustin.
What is the Keto diet and how does it work?
A ketogenic diet is one which enables the body to produce ketones. Restricting carbohydrate intake and eating only moderate amounts of protein enables the liver to produce ketones from fat, and they are used as a source of fuel for the body, and especially the brain.
The brain consumes huge amounts of energy, and it can only run on glucose or ketones. Instead of running on glucose from carbohydrates, a ketogenic diet enables your body to use its fat as fuel. Low insulin levels increase the rate of fat burning and make it easier for your body to access fat stores as fuel. When ketones are being produced, the body is in a metabolic state of ketosis. The ultimate goal of the keto diet is to achieve ketosis.
Dr Gustin says, “Being in a state of ketosis isn’t a magic bullet. Ketosis can be a great tool to help you achieve better health, but it’s not a shortcut”. People make so many mistakes when they are on the keto diet and this makes the diet dangerous. Common mistakes as identified by Dr Gustin include:
- Opting for food quantity as opposed to food quality;
- Forgetting that health is a whole body approach;
- People get fixated on what they can and can’t eat and become lazy; and
- Thinking being in ketosis means your healthy.
What are the side effects of the keto diet?
Anytime we make changes to the nutrients we are consuming there are side effects. Given that the Keto diet is such an extreme change to our body there are considerable side effects to consider before opting for this style of eating. According to Healthline some of the side effects to keep in mind include:
The “Keto flu”
Some people suffer flu like symptoms including vomiting, headaches, irritability, difficulty focusing (brain fog), gastrointestinal distress, fatigue and lethargy. While most of these pass after a few days, fatigue is the most common symptom and will likely continue for a little longer as the body starts running out of sugar to burn and transitions to burning fat.
You can reduce the symptoms of keto flu by ensuring you are drinking plenty of water and getting enough salt.
Running to the toilet may be due to your gallbladder feeling overwhelmed with increased fat in your diet. It may also be caused by a lack of fibre or an intolerance to increased intakes of dairy products and artificial sweeteners.
Leg cramps are a side effect of the loss of minerals, specifically magnesium from increased urination. To alleviate leg cramps, drink lots of water, consume enough salt, take magnesium supplements, and if the cramps persist try increasing your carb intake minimally.
If this is your first time on a low carb diet you may experience constipation while your digestive system adapts. Ensure you are drinking plenty of fluids, consuming plenty of fibre, and as a last resort opt for Milk of Magnesia.
In the first few weeks of a low carb diet it's common to experience an elevated heart rate.
Reduced athletic performance
In a recent study in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, Weiss and his colleagues found that participants performed worse on high-intensity cycling and running tasks after four days on a ketogenic diet, compared to those who’d spent four days on a high-carb diet. Weiss explained that when the body is in ketosis, it is in a more acidic state which may limit its athletic performance.
Ketoacidosis occurs when your blood becomes too acidic and is as a result of your body storing too many ketones. This condition can damage the kidneys, liver and brain, and if left untreated it can be fatal.
Symptoms of ketoacidosis include a dry mouth, frequent urination, nausea, bad breath and breathing difficulties. If you experience any of these while on the keto diet, consult with your doctor as soon as possible.
Loss of muscle mass
Keto-related weight changes may cause a loss of muscle mass. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so a loss of muscle mass will ultimately affect your metabolism.
Is the Keto diet dangerous?
The restrictiveness of the keto diet makes healthy eating difficult. Most people will struggle with the severe restrictions placed on carbohydrates, as it makes it extremely difficult for them to plan their meals in a way that will ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need. Restrictive diets, like this one, can promote unhealthy eating habits and disordered eating.
There are unpleasant side effects and health risks associated with ketosis and if these are not managed in the right way then this diet has the potential to be unsafe. As with any diet, if you want to ensure that you are staying healthy and safe, you need to seek advice from your doctor. Once you have determined you are healthy enough to follow a keto diet, don't try and do it alone. Enlist the help of a nutritionist or a dietician for a time, until you know what you are doing. This will increase your chances of success and ensure you are fueling your body with the right nutrients.
According to everydayhealth.com you must avoid the keto diet if you have any of the following health conditions:
Type 1 diabetes
As people with this condition are insulin dependent and ketosis can cause blood sugar to plummet to dangerously low levels.
History of eating disorders
Restrictive diets that eliminate food groups can trigger a relapse if you have a personal history of eating disorders.
The gallbladder aids in fat digestion and is necessary in high fat diets such as the Keto diet. If you opt for this diet and do not have a gallbladder you may suffer negative side effects, including diarrhoea.
A keto diet may suppress levels of thyroid hormones.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has raised concerns about this diet's long-term safety for MS, and warns of the possible side effects; particularly fatigue and constipation.
If you suffer from any other medical condition, including those listed below you should seek medical advice before considering this diet:
- Kidney damage;
- Type 2 diabetes;
- High risk of heart disease; and
- Pregnant or breastfeeding.
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