Is The Keto Diet Safe?
You Should Know the Risks of Any Diet You Do
Addressing some basic concerns about going low carb.
When your body’s energy source is ketones you feel different than if your body was running on glucose. That’s because ketones are a consistent source of energy whereas glucose is kind of a flake, like a romantic partner you let crash on your couch who seems to come and go as they please. Basically, glucose makes you feel like you’re being dictated by the whims of the couch surfer. You can’t be too loud in the morning because you’ll wake your guest and you can’t expect to sleep great either because the couch surfer comes home late at night with little regards for your needs. But you’re stuck with them anyway because you’re, “In love.” That is, until you grow up and realize that this couch surfer, like sugar, is not good for you!
Ketones, meanwhile, are wife and husband material. The benefits of the diet include mental clarity, focus, elevated mood, consistent energy, and they even help you lose weight more effectively because your body’s own fat is where ketones come from. And yet people are still wary of ketones even though they know how unreliable and destructive the couch surfer can be (also, it’s called “couchsurfing”; not “couch living”-- GO TO SOMEONE ELSE’S COUCH; THIS RELATIONSHIP IS OVER!).
So, what gives? Simply put: people don’t like change. They find it challenging, cumbersome, and cruel. But it doesn’t have to be! Especially since the changes entailed by being in ketosis can be so good. So, let’s assuage some fears and win over some hearts and minds.
Is eating very few carbs bad for you?
No! It’s actually a high carbohydrate diet that’s bad for you. That’s why you have to watch out for sneaky foods with added sugar. Too much sugar in your diet can lead to weight gain, bad skin,
diabetes, heart disease, and tooth decay. Meanwhile, a low carb diet literally entails the opposite of consuming too much sugar, which not only lowers your risk for these conditions but can actually reverse some of the damage done by a diet that previously was too rich in processed food.
Additionally, were it the case that the human body absolutely needed carbs to live there would be no ketogenic diet to begin with. Instead, when you lower your daily intake of carbs to 5%, a more consistent source of energy appears: ketone bodies. Were sugar an absolute necessity, it’d be up there with food, air, and water as a staple of life. No one’s died from giving up Snickers! And if you wanted to, you could even learn how to eat sweets on the keto diet!
But what about Keto Flu?!
“Keto flu” is what some people go through when they make the switch from a diet rich in carbs to one that’s keto friendly. It’s basically your body going through sugar withdrawal. Some side effects may include irritability, anxiety, headaches, brain fog, nausea, and dizziness. Keto flu only lasts one to two days, and you don’t even have to go through it thanks to exogenous ketones.
Ketones made outside of your body AKA “exogenous ketones” are supplemental ketones. They’re just beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), a ketone your body makes naturally, bound with salts to improve their taste (you can get pure ketones called “ketone esters” but most people find them pretty disgusting). You can take exogenous ketones while your weaning yourself off sugar to skip getting keto flu.
You can also use exogenous ketones if you just want a taste of what it’s like to be in ketosis. That’s because right after you take them, exogenous ketones will become your brain’s source of energy. Then you’ll experience mental clarity, elevated mood, and improved focus. Why doesn’t sugar give you that? Because blood sugar levels go up and down depending on when you’ve eaten. Ketones don’t have that problem because there’s always a source for them: your body’s own fat. Doctors even recommend a low carb diet for people with diabetes. Keto can even keep prediabetes from turning into full blown type 2 diabetes by helping you lose weight!
Ketones sound like drugs!
Actually, sugar sounds like drugs. Have you ever heard people talk about what it’s like to quit sugar? They compare it to quitting cocaine! People make this comparison so often that the National Institute for Health even conducted a meta-study called “Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit”. And sugar, unlike cocaine, is still considered socially acceptable. The ketogenic diet is popular enough at this point that there’s likely someone in your life who’s used it to great benefit, and yet people who could benefit in the same way say, “I could never give up bread!” Who does that sound like? Hmmm? HMMM? HMMM?! DRUGS!
The ketogenic diet was actually developed to treat childhood epilepsy.
As explained by the Epilepsy Society, the ketogenic diet has been prescribed for children whose epileptic seizures aren't responding to medication. It's the ketones themselves that reduce the prevalence of seizures in some children. One study even showed that 40% of children on a ketogenic diet experienced a 50% reduction in the number of seizures they experienced.
If the ketogenic diet were unsafe it would not be prescribed by doctors for so many decades (the diet began to be used as early as the 1920s). Also, if the diet were unsafe, it certainly would have wreaked great havoc on someone as vulnerable as a child who suffers from epilepsy.
Don’t take keto too far.
It’s easy to over do it with keto. You feel good and you experience quick weight loss because a bunch of water weight comes off right away. But keto, like everything else, is good in moderation. Sure, it’s tempting to consume fewer and fewer calories. After all, we say six-packs are made in the kitchen. So, it makes sense that the less time you spend in the kitchen the faster you get to that six-pack. But that’s not really how weight loss works. The body is a dynamic system and, as such, so is burning fat. Sometimes you lose a pound a week for a couple weeks and then sometimes you plateau. That’s why Lifehacker reported that you need to burn 7,000 calories to lose a pound, not 3,500.
What you need is a lifestyle change; not a quick fix. That’s why it’s important to consume the right amount of calories per day. As Lizzie Fuhr, a board-certified physician from Southern California explained to her readers on Popsugar Fitness, women should consume at least 1,200 calories per day and men should consume at least 1,800 calories. Otherwise your body may enter starvation mode, slow your metabolism, and even start to store fat.
So, stick to a high fat diet (or at least cut out added sugar), stay physically active, and eat well. That’s what it actually takes to be safe.