How safe is the keto diet: Everything you need to know about the popular way to lose weight

The keto diet has conquered the world as a wonderful diet for weight loss, but it is a medical diet that should not be experimented with.

On a long list of weight-loss diets, those that involve low carbohydrate intake and high protein intake often attract attention. Paleo, the South Coast diet, and the Atkins diet belong to that group. They are sometimes referred to as ketogenic or “keto” diets.

Forget the number of calories: the secret to losing weight is in quality, not quantity

However, the real ketogenic diet is different. Unlike other diets that are low in carbohydrates, and with a primary focus on protein, the keto diet plan focuses on fats that consume as much as 90% of daily calories. And it’s not a diet you should experiment with.

“The keto diet is primarily used to help reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures in children. Although it has also been tried as a weight loss diet, only short-term effects have been studied and the results are divided. We don’t know if it works in the long run, or if it’s safe, ”warns dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which is affiliated with Harvard University in an article published on the University Medical School website.

How does the keto diet work?

The keto diet aims to force your body to use a different type of “fuel”. Instead of relying on sugar (glucose) coming from carbohydrates, the keto diet relies on ketone bodies (ketones), a type of fuel that the liver produces from stored fat.

Burning fat seems like the ideal way to get rid of extra pounds. However, forcing the liver to produce ketones is not so simple:

  • requires you to lose carbs, to eat less than 20 to 50 grams of carbs a day (note that a medium banana has about 27 grams of carbs)
  • it usually takes several days to reach a state of ketosis (a state of elevated levels of ketones in the blood)
  • too much protein intake can interfere with ketosis.

What to eat?

Given the requirement to ingest such a high percentage of fat, people who adhere to a keto diet must eat fat at every meal. If it is, for example, a diet that involves a daily intake of 2,000 calories, it could mean 165 grams of fat, 40 grams of carbohydrates and 75 grams of protein. However, the exact ratio depends on the specific needs.

Some of the healthy unsaturated fats are allowed in the keto diet such as nuts (almonds and walnuts), seeds, avocados, tofu and olive oil. However, a high intake of saturated fats from oils (palm, coconut), fats, butter and cocoa butter is encouraged.

Protein is part of the keto diet, but there is usually no difference between foods that rely on protein and sources of protein that are rich in saturated fats such as beef, pork and bacon.

What about fruits and vegetables? All fruits are rich in carbohydrates, but you can consume some fruits (usually berries) in small amounts. Vegetables, which are also rich in carbohydrates are limited to green leafy vegetables such as kale or spinach, followed by cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, peppers, onions, garlic, mushrooms, cucumbers, celery and zucchini. A cup of chopped broccoli has about six grams of carbohydrates.

Risks and side effects of the keto diet

A ketogenic diet has a number of risks. The high proportion of saturated fats should be highlighted at the top of that list. McManus recommends that the daily intake of saturated fats does not exceed 7% of the total daily intake of calories because higher amounts are associated with heart disease. Indeed, the keto diet has been linked to increased levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, which is also linked to heart disease.

Other potential risks of a keto diet include:

  • Nutrient Deficiency – If you don’t eat a variety of vegetables, fruits and grains, you could increase your risk of micronutrient deficiencies, including selenium, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamins B and C, McManus said.
  • Liver Problems – Because of the amount of fat that needs to be metabolized, a keto diet can make any existing liver disease worse.
  • Kidney problems – Kidneys help with protein metabolism, and McManus points out that the keto diet can overload them (current recommendations for protein intake are an average of 46 grams per day for women and 56 grams for men.
  • Constipation – The keto diet contains a low proportion of fiber-rich foods such as cereals and legumes.
  • Confusion and mood swings – as McManus explained, the brain needs sugar from healthy carbohydrates to function. Diets that are low in carbohydrates cause confusion and irritability.

These risks are complementary, so be sure to talk to your doctor and dietitian before starting this diet.

What is fat fasting?

Fat fasting is a techniqe for people who do keto diet and want to achieve ketosis quickly. It works by increasing your fat intake even more than in the regular keto diet, and pushing your body into ketosis, mimicking the biological effects of fasting.

People usually do fat fasting to break  weight loss plateaus, getting back into ketosis after a cheat day, and losing a few pounds quickly.

A fat fast is a high-fat, low-calorie diet. It’s recommended to eat 1,000–1,200 calories per day, 80–90% of which should come from fat. This kind of diet typically lasts 2–5 days. 

Fat fasting is designed to get you into ketosis quickly or to boost ketone levels if you have already achieved ketosis by restricting both your calorie and carb intake.

What about other diets?

Popular low-carb diets such as the Atkins diet or Paleo are modified versions of the keto diet. But they come with the same risks if you overdo it with fats and proteins and cut out carbs. So the question is why do people indulge in such a diet? McManus explains this phenomenon by the fact that they are ubiquitous and people hear anecdotally that they are acting. Theories about getting results fast include a decrease in appetite because fats burn more slowly than carbohydrates. “But then again, we know nothing about long-term action,” McManus says, concluding, “Adhering to a restrictive diet, regardless of plan, is difficult over time. Once you return to a normal diet, you will probably regain the pounds. “

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