11 Things you might not have known about the Keto diet

Everytime someone asks me why they haven’t been feeling well despite losing a lot of weight, I ask them what “diet” they’ve been on. I know the answer, but I must ask anyway. “Keto”, comes the answer. 

If you’ve ever tried to follow the keto diet, you were obviously convinced of its weight loss promise. But did you know how the keto diet could adversely affect other body systems? The Keto diet, which is incidentally one of the most popular diets in the world right now, was actually voted the second-worst diet of 2020 among 35 diets for healthy eating, and scored second last overall, after the high-protein Dukan diet.

My goal isn’t “keto bashing”, but to glorify good-ol’ lifestyle changes and mindful eating. 

Am I trying to convince you not to try the Keto diet or to gradually come off of it (if you are following Keto)? Depends how you look at it. I’ll get to that in a minute . But first, let me talk about something I hear from people who’ve been on the Keto diet for a while.

The most common words I hear from people when I tell them that complex carbohydrates are healthy and actually do belong in a healthy diet are: “I lost a lot of weight on the Keto diet so I love it”. I’m not arguing for one second that Keto is a great way to lose weight quickly. I’m just trying to say that Keto isn’t the ONLY way to lose weight. There are many ways to lose weight in completely safe and sustainable ways.

The other most common words are : “I ate a little brown rice the other day and felt really bloated, so a low-carb diet must be right for me!”Hmmmm. After weeks or even months of not eating carbs (and that includes good, whole food carbs), if you eat a little brown rice (or any carb) and feel bloated, do not just assume that restricting carbs is the way to go.

But if complex, whole carbohydrates from fruits, whole grains and legumes are good for you then why would you be bloated? Simply because your body needs to get used to digesting carbohydrates again. The longer you’ve been on a Keto or very low carb diet, the longer it may take your body to re-adjust.What this means for you is that after being on keto for a long  time if you decide decide one day to eat some brown rice and feel bloated afterwards, it’s not because there’s something wrong with brown rice, or carbs in general. It’s just that your body wasn’t expecting you to eat brown rice and therefore wasn’t prepared with the right enzymes.

By no means am I the only one, or the even the first one saying that there are better ways to lose weight.

Dr. David Katz, one of the 24 experts who voted to rank the Keto diet the second-worst diet (after the Dukan diet, which ranked last) says about the Keto that “It was recognized long ago that denying the brain access to glucose, and converting to ketone-based metabolism, dampens brain electrical activity,” Katz said. “But why on Earth would you want to dampen brain electrical activity unless you had refractory (unmanageable) epilepsy?” He also says that most people who eat Paleo or Keto do so just to justify eating their favourite processed meats such as bacon, pepperoni and burger, and only a tiny majority of people eating these diets are actually taking the trouble to eat clean.

Jillian Michaels, celebrity trainer maintains that the Keto diet is bad for the liver, thyroid and telomeres.

Christopher Gardner, Stanford Professor and low-carb diet researcher at Stanford Prevention Research Center stated that most Health Professionals are concerned about the restriction of healthy foods to meet the carb restriction requirements of the Keto diet.

Here’s why the Keto diet isn’t the healthiest way to lose weight:

1. There have been no long term studies on the effects of the Keto diet on people. The keto diet has been found to be beneficial only for people with epilepsy. For all other people, weight loss is the only real benefit.

2. It begins with “weight loss” as the goal. Remember, the aim of any good diet should be to make you a *Healthier person*. Weight loss should happen naturally. If any diet attracts you with the promise that it’s going to make you lose X amount of weight, find out how exactly, and what other body systems that diet may negatively impact. If there’s not been long term research on the diet, stay away. 

3. The diet restricts an entire category of WHOLE foods that your grandparents ate and thrived on. Don’t follow a diet that puts healthy, complex carbohydrates in the same category as refined grains. Whole food, complex carbohydrates are good for you. They are very nutritious and contain a lot of essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and by cutting out this essential category of food, you are depriving your body of a lot of nutrients. Refined carbohydrates and added sugars are bad. Not whole grains. Not fruits. 

4. The body’s preferred source of fuel is carbohydrates. The brain’s preferred source of fuel is carbohydrates. If you force your body to use another source for fuel, you are trying to change what nature intended. Messing with the way nature designed your body to work is never a good idea, unless you have epilepsy and Alzheimer’s or cancer. The body wasn’t designed to eat too much fat (even good fats), and the body wasn’t designed to be ‘trained’ to no longer depend on carbs for energy and fuel. And, like I’ve explained before, your body stops producing the enzymes needed to break these foods down if you’ve avoided the said foods for a while, causing you to experience digestive discomfort such as bloating. The lack of enzymes in your body is what’s causing the problem. Not the carbohydrates. However, if you’re only looking at weight loss while still getting to eat your favourite processed meats, it’s easy to overlook these points and glorify the Keto diet. If you’ve lost weight, chances are you aren’t complaining too much.

5. High fat, low carb diets can cause an increase in oxidative stress and free radical damage. The only way to lower the risk of free radical damage is through the consumption of antioxidant-rich foods (whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables – most of which are restricted in the Keto diet). Most people following the keto diet aren’t taking extra antioxidants and liver supportive foods . This, I feel is complete irresponsibility on the part of people promoting and swearing by the ketogenic diet. Again, if you’re like most people on the keto diet, you might not care if you’ve found success with weight loss – but you should care. What good is any weight loss program if it doesn’t make you a healthier person? What good is a weight loss program if it burdens your liver and kidneys or increases your risk for DNA damage and cancer? Taking care of the body is much more important than losing weight. Fortunately, there are healthier ways to lose weight. 

6. If done correctly, the Keto diet can help manage diabetes and high blood sugar levels, but the opposite is also true as blood sugar levels could dip dangerously low for people with diabetes. People with diabetes could be risk for dangerously low blood sugar levels with the keto diet. Complex, whole foods based carbs such as whole grains, and beans and legumes are beneficial for people with diabetes (and even those without diabetes) for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and weight loss because of their high fibre and nutritional density. If you have ANY medical condition, please do the right thing and consult your doctor before beginning the Keto diet.

7. The Keto diet unsustainable in the long term because of its restriction of healthy food groups, it isn’t even a good idea to try to be on this diet for long for this very reason. When a diet isn’t sustainable, you simply put on all the weight that you might have lost while on the diet. Most fad diets only tell you what to eat and what not to eat – without focusing on education and mindfulness and building a healthy relationship with food and your body. The secret to long term health and weight loss is a sustainable “diet”, where the focus lies entirely on your health and well being through mindfulness and developing healthy habits (the weight loss follows automatically).

8. You are very likely to develop a deficiency of essential nutrients. Complex, whole food carbohydrates such as all fruits and vegetables and whole grains and legumes provide fibre, essential vitamins, minerals, electrolytes and antioxidants, all of which have been linked to a long, healthy life. When a diet restricts these nutritious foods, you are likely to become deficient in at least some essential nutrients. That brings me back to the point, that the sole focus on any diet should be nutrition and health and wellness in its entirity and NOT.JUST.WEIGHT LOSS.

9. When you hear about the great success people have had from the Keto diet (namely, weight loss), you are far less likely to hear about the not-so-glamorous “side effects” people have endured (and probably still are enduring). A lower intake of fibre due to the restriction of nutritious complex carbohydrates, and a higher intake of sugar alocohols from sugar-free, processed foods that the diet may allow can cause unpleasant and unhealthy reactions such as constipation and diarrhea respectively. For women, periods may become irregular or completely stop from the rapid weight loss – which is NOT a good thing, in case you’re wondering. Both, rapid weight loss and irregular periods. The only exception is women with PCOS, in which case the keto diet can help to regulate periods but mind you, this was a very small study on just 11 women.

10. The Keto doesn’t differentiate between fats. There’s a world of difference between almonds and bacon. If you’re mindful, you will probably (and hopefully) choose a handful of almonds over a greasy, processed bacon. But then if you’re mindful of what you eat in general, why do you need to be on a Keto diet? Just be mindful of all healthy, natural, and whole foods and include them in your diet, and avoid refined, processed junk. If you just do that, you never have to be on any diet ever again. That’s a promise.

11. The Keto diet restricts many nutritious, whole foods (apples, brown rice, beans) but allows man-made, processed foods. How can a man-made, processed food with tons of additives and chemicals – ever be better than something natural and wholesome?

So are there any benefits at all of the Ketogenic diet? Yes. The Keto diet undoubtedly helps people with seizures. If you suffer from seizures, speak to your doctor and give the Keto diet a go. And as we already know, the keto diet also scores on weight loss. But then so does a lifestyle change and mindful eating. The Keto diet does lead to a reduction in intake of refined carbohydrates and refined sugar because it restricts all carbohydrates, not because it differentiates between healthy and unhealthy carbohydrates – which a good diet should. So why not simply cut out refined carbohydrates and refined, added sugar – which are the ONLY bad carbohydrates because these provide no nutrition. Why cut out the healthy ones such as fruits, whole grains and legumes which are chock-full of nutrients?

A simple, whole foods based diet is much better for health and weight loss. The only thing people really need to cut out from their diets is refined sugar and refined carbs. All other carbs are good for the body and belong in a healthy diet. So instead of a low/no carbohydrade diet, aim for a low/ no REFINED CARBOHYDRATE diet, or a whole foods-based diet.. The best thing about a whole foods based diet is that it focuses on nourishing the body in its entirety (and not ignoring or straining any body system),  and weight loss follows automatically. A whole foods based diet actually tells you to differentiate between good, whole foods found in nature and processed foods including the harmful processed meats. Oh, and you also get beautiful, glowing skin and healthy hair, and have increased energy, focus and look and feel a lot more positive. In short, a complete picture of health 🙂 . Isn’t that much more positive?

If you’ve been following the Keto diet or its variations, do not get overwhelmed and upset because it’s not too late to put your health first. Hopefully some of you have been inspired to give other cleaner options a try. If you’re going to reintroduce carbohydrates in your diet, do it gradually and do not forget the digestive enzymes!

Still not convinced? Well, at the very least, consult your doctor before you go on a Keto diet, and strive to stick to healthier fats and avoid the processed meats. If you’ve been on the Keto diet and wish to continue with it, get regular health checks done to ensure everything’s fine with your body.

That’s all, folks!

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