When I was in my 20’s overweight, upset and ready to change my life – I went on a diet. Little did I realize at the time, that diets do not produce long lasting results – for my body, for my health or for my mental state. This is why I think it’s important to demystify the latest diet trends to help people see through the lies they promise. One of the biggest trends in the diet world right now is KETO. Here’s what I’ve uncovered for you…
What is the Keto diet?
The word “keto” comes from the word “ketosis” – which is a metabolic state that your body can go into to efficiently burn fat when you dramatically reduce the amount of carbohydrates you consume. In the Keto diet, it is typical for fat to make up about 70% of what you eat. Your remaining diet on Keto is roughly 15-25% protein and 5% carbs. These amounts vary a bit by person, but carbs are severely restricted to fewer than 50 grams per day (some need to go as low as 5-15 grams to reach ketosis). To put this in perspective, the average person eats over 200 grams of carbs (from sugar, grains, fruit, etc) per day. The reduction in carbohydrates is similar to the first phase of the popular Atkins Diet in the 90’s.
It’s common for people to lose significant weight on Keto – especially at first. After a few days on the Keto diet, your body will kick into ketosis and starts burning fat for energy instead of glucose (carbs). When you stick to it, you dramatically change how your body processes these nutrients – leading to weight loss without food cravings and increased energy (1). (At least that’s what most people who’ve done Keto say about it.)
Sounds great so far, right?
You’ll eat lots of healthy foods on Keto… like avocados, wild salmon, coconut oil, and leafy greens. When Keto is done right, you won’t eat processed food and will eat way more vegetables than the average person. And, you’ll stop eating sugar. Eating too much sugar is truly toxic to the body – and sadly, it’s super easy to overdo it. Sugar can be implicated in many cases of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer (2). It’s the hidden link to so much pain and suffering. So, the fact that the Keto diet helps people get off of sugar (a highly addictive substance) is AMAZING. On Keto you typically won’t eat meat at every meal either, which is better for the planet.
Besides losing weight, Keto lowers inflammation in the body, may fight cancer, and can be used to help manage type 2 diabetes. The Keto diet has been used to treat symptoms of epilepsy in children for over 100 years (3).
The right way to do Keto (and wrong way!)
Not everyone on Keto is eating healthy food. The diet is not focused on the source of ingredients (organic, grass-fed, etc…) or whether the food is nutritious. It’s okay to eat pork rinds and factory-farm salami for example. Organic, grass-fed, and unprocessed animal products are FAR healthier than conventional versions, with more healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and without residues of antibiotics, artificial hormones, and other drugs that are given to most farm animals. It’s especially unhealthy to eat processed meats like salami with cancerous nitrates and other risky additives like BHT (4).
There are also packaged Keto snacks and drinks coming out that are filled with processed additives. To sweeten them up without carbs, they’ll often use sugar alcohols (erythritol, xylitol) – or even worse, they’ll sometimes use artificial sweeteners like sucralose. Sugar alcohols may be low carb, but they are made in a laboratory with a complex fermentation process (often from GMO corn) and consumption may wreak havoc on gut health and cause gastrointestinal issues (4). Sucralose is an artificial sweetener linked to leukemia and should be avoided at all costs (4).
You’ll also find fiber additives like cellulose in many of these products. We should be getting our fiber naturally from fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds, whole grains, and not from processed fiber additives that were manufactured in a lab. The industry calls these “functional fibers” but they do not function in your body the same as fiber in real food (5).
Keto can be done healthfully (olive oil, avocados, nuts, organic grass-fed dairy) or unhealthful (“sugar-free” candy, conventional cheese, processed sausage and bacon). It’s a lot easier to do the latter… but the “right” way to do Keto is with home-cooked whole foods.
Even if you do Keto the healthy way, it has its drawbacks…
You can’t eat fruit for instance. Maybe a small handful of berries per day, but that’s about it. There’s a long list of healthy foods that you aren’t allowed to eat on Keto if you want to stay in ketosis which includes almost every fruit, sweet potatoes, lentils, beans, quinoa, brown rice, and oatmeal. Some say you can eat a few bites of non-Keto fruits, like 1/3 of a banana a day, but these healthy foods are pretty much banned from the Keto diet…
Avoiding these foods doesn’t come without a cost! You’re missing out on all the beneficial vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients abundant in some of the healthiest foods on the planet (6) which may lead to nutrient deficiencies over time. You’re lowering your fiber intake significantly, which is detrimental to your gut heath. A healthy gut is crucial for healthy digestion, clear skin, and a strong immune system (7).
The lack of fiber is one reason why people on Keto commonly get constipated. The other reason is that your electrolyte levels go out of whack…
While on Keto, your kidneys become more efficient at expelling excess sodium and water. This can leave you dehydrated and constipated. The mineral potassium commonly gets depleted too, which is essential for healthy heart and muscle function. This is why many people on Keto supplement with electrolyte supplements and drinks (which are sometimes heavily processed with added flavors, colors, and artificial sweeteners).
Keto has other not-so-pleasant side effects…
Almost everyone experiences the “Keto flu” for about a week when starting Keto. You’ll feel tired, headachy, queasy, light-headed, and moody while your body gets used to burning fat instead of carbs for energy. This happens when you drastically cut out sugar from your life, and isn’t dangerous for a healthy person… but will throw you off for a few days, and some people throw in the towel at this point because it’s so uncomfortable.
This may explain why coffee is sometimes consumed in excess on Keto (to compensate for loss in energy that carbs provide). Drinking too much coffee makes the body acidic and can lead to problems sleeping – so this can really backfire.
Keto can also give you some nasty smelling breath. “Keto Breath” happens because acetone is a byproduct of ketosis, which is expelled in breath, making your breath smell metallic and fruity (8)
Women on Keto may start experiencing irregular periods or their periods may stop completely. This isn’t a healthy or safe side-effect and should be evaluated by a doctor if it happens to you.
What if you want to cheat on a Keto diet? Not so fast…
It’s easy to knock your body out of ketosis if you eat one too many bites of the wrong thing. Having a second helping of sweet potatoes at dinner or too many blueberries in your smoothie might just do it. Even eating too much meat can set you back for days getting back into ketosis. Keto “treats” made with certain sugar alcohols can cause blood sugar levels to rise in some people (my father who has diabetes experienced this). Keto hardly allows for any “cheating” and is really strict for this reason. Once cheating takes you out of ketosis, it can take 1-3 days to get back in, during which carb cravings skyrocket. So, you have to be very diligent and very careful about counting each and every macro to make sure you are eating the right amount of protein, carbs, and fat. If you occasionally like to indulge, Keto isn’t for you.
Going off Keto is a nightmare!
Most experts recommend not doing Keto forever (9) so at some point, you’re going to want to go off of it – and you don’t want to gain all your weight back when you do. There’s a very specific way to transition out of ketosis, which not everyone is aware of – such as forgetting to reduce fat intake when adding carbs back in. Going right back to eating fruit, oatmeal, and other healthy carbs will likely lead to weight gain after you’ve restricted carbs for an extended time, leading to an endless cycle of extreme dieting. If you’re not careful, you’ll be yo-yo dieting in no time.
If the Keto diet is working for you, great… But do you really think you can stay on it for life?
I don’t want to stop eating juicy oranges, crunchy apples, and savory sweet potatoes. It seems absurd to me to avoid these healthy foods. And, who doesn’t like to have some real chocolate chip cookies from time to time? During the holidays, I wouldn’t want a second helping of sweet potatoes to completely steamroll my diet. When I travel, I love to partake in the local cuisine… croissants in Paris and pizza when in Italy! I also love to eat Indian food – which is full of medicinal spices and healthy coconut milk, but generally way too high in carbs to be considered Keto. I can’t imagine life without dal and dosas!
My philosophy when it comes to eating is to create healthy habits that I can stick to for life and take with me wherever I go. I want my diet to be sustainable day after day, not feeling guilty if I eat something that is otherwise healthy, but not on “the plan”. Instead of worrying about how many grams of carbs or fat something contains, I have found it easiest to choose foods that are nutrient-dense, organic, and unprocessed. For me, this has helped me feel amazing. I can still enjoy basically any food, anywhere, at any time – I just make sure it’s made with healthful ingredients. Eating this way is how I lost excess weight when I was younger and how I am able to effortlessly maintain my weight now for over 10 years. Losing weight is one thing, and getting healthy is another. I want the best of both worlds.
Keto can be helpful for people with certain conditions and can help break an addiction to processed food and sugar – but I consider it extreme for the average person who just wants to drop some pounds. I believe there are healthier, safer, sustainable, (and more enjoyable) ways to lose weight and keep it off.
With as popular as Keto is right now, you are going to start seeing lots of new processed Keto snacks, treats, bars, drinks, etc, in stores. If you do decide to go Keto – make sure you do it the right way with organic whole foods and stay away from processed products full of sugar alcohols, natural flavors, and conventional meat and dairy.
If you aren’t on the Keto diet, you probably know someone who is! Please share this post so they can decide if the Keto diet is right for them.
P.S. Are you jumping from diet to diet and nothing seems to work? Are you sick of seeing contradictory health advice from experts? In my new book, Feeding You Lies, I blow the lid off the lies we’ve been fed about the food we eat – lies about its nutrient value, effects on our health, label information, and even the very science we base our food choices on. I guide you through a 48-hour Toxin Takedown to rid your pantry, and your body, of harmful chemicals – a quick and easy plan that anyone can do.