Food Babe Kitchen - New York Times Bestseller - Header

Is The Keto Diet Healthy?

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. 

Xo,

Vani

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.

ORDER NOW

Feeding You Lies

Available in stores everywhere

 
Food Babe Kitchen - Book
Food Babe Grocery Guide

Sign Up For Updates

And Get A FREE Healthy Grocery Guide Sent To You Now!

Find out what to buy and where at the top grocery stores near you

Posts may contain affiliate, sponsorship and/or partnership links for products Food Babe has approved and researched herself. If you purchase a product through an affiliate, sponsorship or partnership link, your cost will be the same (or at a discount if a special code is offered) and Food Babe will benefit from the purchase. Your support is crucial because it helps fund this blog and helps us continue to spread the word. Thank you.

30 responses to “Is The Keto Diet Healthy?

  1. I have been eating organic for a long time but never gave up sugar or wheat. I went on Keto to loose weight and to get rid of sugar and things that spike insulin. Because I ate pretty healthy I only felt bad about a day or two. I made sure I learned all I could before starting. I lost weight in the first couple of months and felt more energy for sure. I did loose my craving for sugar and learned that I didn’t need as much food. I also practiced interment fasting and could go 16 to 18 hours before eating. At times I would experience heart palpitations and read that I needed potassium, magnesium and extra salt. I added that but at times still felt the irregular heartbeat. I drank lots of water but still felt thirsty. I was following a health Keto but by month 3 wasn’t feeling all that great. I started to feel sad which was so odd because I never struggle with depression or anything close to it. Sometimes the amount of fat required made me almost nauseous. Then having to test to see if I remained in Ketosis got expensive. I was also always thinking about weather I was getting the right amount of macros. When the sadness became evident and the palpitations continue I knew my body was off. I decided that I needed to add whole, healthy grains. I did and immediately felt better. I read that long term Keto is not healthy and there are no long term studies to prove that it is. I eat a whole food, plant based diet with moderate protein and some organic dairy and feel great. No sugar or processed foods. Thanks for all your info to help us in our choices.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience – there’s no one size fits all diet – hope you are back to feeling great again!

      1. So far, the best lifelong diet I’ve found is F Factor. It’s a high fiber, low fat, low carb lifestyle. when paired with Vani’s food sources is easy to stick to.

    2. I also forgot to say that after about a month I developed sinus issues. I would sneeze, and was so full of mucus. I don’t have allergies. I didn’t use any Keto foods, just ate whole food. It must have been the extra dairy because you do tend to eat more. As soon as I added, whole, healthy grains, beans, sweet potatoes, beets, etc all symptoms were gone. I only eat some dairy like goats cheese, some hard sheep’s milk cheese, French Feta and grass fed butter. Btw, I continued to loose weight and was satisfied with 2 meals a day. I love intermittent fasting and I know that it is so good for you digestive system and gut. I don’t go crazy worrying about carb and macro counting. I’m convinced that sugar, wheat ( not whole grain) and anything processed is what causes information and cravings. Of course once in a while I’ll enjoy a croissant, a French or Italian pastry, or a little gelato but only a little and no seconds.

    3. We are so individual! I can’t eat gluten and besides, it doesn’t have much bio-available nutrition and causes leaky gut temporarily in everyone (check the work of Alessio Fasano, MD). I have a work mate who did the keto diet and experienced a great deal of weight loss and more energy followed later by depression and more intense PMS, so she’s off of it now and still doing well. You CAN cycle in and out of ketosis within a 24 hour period once you’ve trained your body. The inuit (eskimos) have traditionally eaten a ketogenic diet and naintained excellent health but I’m sure they have supporting genetics and gut flora. Their environment demands more energy dense food, too.

  2. I am on again, off again keto and IF. It works for me. the heart jitters, as I call them, is because I have higher then normal calcium levels caused by parathyroid disease, which in me is hereditary. So I take a lot of Vit D3 and K2 to help there, as well as the magnesium and potassium. I went from 269 to my current 180 and am happy for awhile to stay here. I only gain when I eat too many carbs which is VERY easy to do. I am not a veggie eater because I just never acquired the taste. At 66 I am not likely to change. I have craved meat all my life and now I crave fat. Some days food has no alure for me and other days I can’t get enough. It is MY normal. My blood work has been great and I have to be monitored because of calcification in a heart valve which means surgery one day. So between the cardiologist and the endocrinologist I get seen a lot. They both know what I eat and do not say no because for me it is working. I am not active as I once was. Bone spurs hit both hips and I had to have both replaced. Now have bone spurs in the right shoulder so I know where that will lead one day. I do what feels comfortable for me and what I can live with. Sure it puts a damper on my life sometimes but I would rather live without then suffer with and be a burden. This life style allows me to be functional and take care of my family.

    1. Good for you that you’re taking control of your health and following what works for you! While I respect the research on foodbabe.com, I don’t the Keto assessment is fair. I’m one month into it and had a few pounds to lose but more importantly, I wanted to get control of my cravings, eliminate migraines (I did!), recompose (only lost a pound on keto so far but lost an inch off my waist!).

      I’m not sure if I’ll give up starchy veggies and fruits throughout my life but for now, I’m strict on the diet and want to make sure I’m fat adapted.

  3. There is some questionable information in this article but I don’t have the time to go into it…
    Bottom line is ANY diet is only as healthy as the foods that you ingest. Macronutrient ratios are important, but also is your micro and trace nutrient intake.

    1. Yes, the part about constipation is false. If you are eating real, whole foods and have at least a large salad daily, you won’t get constipated. That only happens if people don’t eat food rich in fiber. Many follow what I call, unintelligent Keto which is super high in fat, tons of bacon, red meat, lots of cheese and dairy which = too much protein. Also moving a lot helps. I heard a lot of people on Keto say they don’t have to exercise and they still loose weight. While that may be true it’s still best to do something like walking and daily chores. I never had a problem with constipation.

  4. PEOPLE GET CONSTIPATED FROM LACK OF FIBER? YOU’RE A MORON. OFFICIALLY REMOVING MYSELF FROM THIS DRIVEL. TRY READING “THE FIBER MENACE” AND LEARN SOMETHING.

  5. Thank you for this, Vana!
    I have avoided Keto partly because I am vegetarian and it would be so challenging in the area I live, as we don’t have much money or access to organic fruit & veg.
    Your explanation has answered the other questions I had floating around in my mind.

  6. Thank you for your activism. Would love to see you team up with The Medical Medium to help spread the truth.

  7. Keto diets are not sustainable.
    And, if you do it for a very long time you WILL do damage to your vital organs, including your brain.
    And by the way, coconut oil is NOT healthy. Good to use topically only!
    Sorry, Food Babe. Science based evidence behind my statements.

    1. I started to look into the science. You are right, it’s not sustainable. Maybe a month or two to get a hold of sugar addiction but there are some scientific studies showing some pretty scary things on those who have been on it for a year or more. It was originally used to help children with epileptic seizures. Higher fat was shown to help. There is so much science that shows the down side of very low fat, especially for children. Thank God for avocado, olives and other healthy fats that feed the brain and protect the organs. Keep it simple. Some of the longest living people eat a plant based, whole food diet, moderate animal protein and dairy, whole grains and legumes and plenty of fruit.

  8. Thank you for the article! I liked keto because it helped me remove so much sugar and processed food from my diet which in turn I lost weight. I do like the idea of balance though and I’m following you for advise on that.

  9. This is probably one of the few posts I wish was researched further because some of the statements made in it are false. :/ But I can’t blame you either. A lot of misinformation on this diet exists. And I’m not even following a ketogenic diet.

    For instance, the “healthy foods banned” image isn’t entirely accurate, but you’re also not entirely wrong either. Maybe that’s a “good list” for someone who isn’t active, has medical issues, and only sticks to “x-amount of carbs a day” as a purist. But for those people that are physically active, they can eat a lot more carbs on the “banned list” while still maintaining ketosis. There are athletes that can eat 250 carbs a day, and maintain ketosis. I know some “normal gym people” who can eat 100-150 carbs a day and maintain ketosis. While I also know people who have PCOS and have to avoid those “banned foods.” It’s purely individual.

    But I do agree that there is a right way and a wrong way to follow a ketogenic diet. And most people are following the wrong way.

    -LP

  10. It’s sadly so confusing for people these days. I speak to many families trying to do some kind of diet in hopes it lives up to the hype each diet sells. Bioindaviduality is real. The only truth I know at this point is my truth. I know what makes me function at my highest level. I have a good understanding of what makes my wife and kids function at their highest levels and help them attain it. So, when I help others in the diet arena I simplify everything. In my opinion true sustainability requires behavior changes. This requires one to assess their narratives and challenge their status quo. If my clients so choose to go down this road, and a bumpy road it is, they can change their story. Example: My own mother chooses weight watchers as her way. It’s ok but why. It fits her narrative. She can bank points and splurge when she wants. She’s been on weight watches on and off for 30 years. I leave the door open for her for when she’s ready to dive into her narrative and change her story but she isn’t interested. And that’s ok. It’s her choice. Here is the magic pill, be honest with yourself, only we know our truth so honesty is everything. Be willing to learn how to challenge your narratives and make the shift from what has never worked for you and discover what will. Once you have that comparison of a better looking and feeling you then maintaining it is simple. Hahahah that rant never answered the keto question. My family and I live as processed free as possible and consume little to now sugar. That’s what I teach others

  11. I’m not a fad diet person. After years of eating so much junk and sugar, which is what the typical American diet consists of, my immune system was shot. When my body was weakened by poor diet and emotional trauma, it was the perfect storm for bacteria and viral infection (that my immune system had been successfully fighting to keep dormant) took over and caused Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease (from a tick bit years before) and EBV to take hold and ultimately debilitate me. My weight skyrocketed and no matter what I cut out of my diet I couldn’t lose weight. I watched a documentary about the Keto diet. I researched the diet extensively before I decided to give it a try. I did it very strictly for 8 weeks (increased my Himalayan salt intake so I did not experience the keto flu much at all). Never experienced any constipation. Once the weight started melting off and my energy increased I slowly begin increasing my organic whole fruit intake. I have lost 30 pounds since June. I feel better than I have in years. I was able to work a temporary part-time job throughout the holiday season. I even enjoyed holiday pie and goodies in a limited amount and didn’t gain back anything. I now avoid most grains and beans because they’ve always made me feel bloated and unhealthy. I eat good quality grass fed and humanely raised meats, very healthy fats and lots of organic vegetables and fruits. I simply limit carbohydrates and gluten and sugar. The keto diet changed my metabolism. I do not allow myself to obsess over foods. After being so sick for so long and being overweight (adding to the misery), by committing to Keto for the limited amount of time, then limiting (or omitting) the higher sugar/carb foods, it literally gave me my life back. Like everything in life, finding the balance of what you are, and what you are not, willing to live with is the key.

  12. I did keto hot and heavy for 6 months. I was bloated and my weight fluctuated by 5 pounds in a weeks time. Eliminating carbs took care of it. I didn’t need to lose weight, just wanted the bloating to go away. I did lose 15 pounds. Worked great for the bloating, except I am hypothyroid and my thyroid crashed at 6 months. Being in ketosis messes with T3. They recommend carb loading every 7 days to deal with it.. I find I feel better just eating some carbs daily, so technically I am not in ketosis anymore. Who cares. I am eating less carbs and have reduced inflammation. If I eat carbs, its between 3 pm and 9 so I don’t get insulin spikes. I think it impacts woman’s hormones in general. I also had issues with constipation, heart palpitations and leg- funky feelings (potassium). Eating a few more healthy carbs is the answer for that. Eating all that dairy is disgusting!! People stop losing because they eat too much protein. Eating fat does keep you from feeling hungry. I suggest cutting out all unhealthy carbs and sugar and eat more veggies! Also don’t eat fats with carbs which is what puts on the weight.

  13. Keto literally saved my life. I had chronic illness and beat it. After 16 years of having high blood pressure, heart issues, higher cholesterol, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), IBS-D, golf ball sized cysts on my ovaries, infertility, and major anxiety, I am now medication free and healthy. Now that I’m fat adapted I can enjoy a few things here and there when I travel and not miss out. However, on the regular I don’t miss anything I shouldn’t have. For me, it’s not worth it because this way (Keto) cured me. That’s just my story. I would hate for people not to look into it because they think they can’t have pizza in Italy. That’s not true. It shouldn’t be a habit but it you’re fat adapted there are ways to come back into it and continue to be in ketosis. I am a certified health coach and a big part of my practice is teaching people about Keto and or LCHF. The results my clients have gotten are incredible. Life changing for us. It’s not for everyone though. That’s for sure. People should listen to their bodies. Xo

  14. Been doing Keto almost 7 months. Started because of chronic pain and migraine. I would have 3-4 a week, now I’ve only had 3 in 7 months, and can tie them all to “cheat days”. My neurologist is putting together a study, given the known benefits with other neurological disorders. I’m down 38lbs and counting! (Bonus)

  15. Thanks Vani. You are correct. I have followed you for several years and Keto tempoarily did remove sugar and carb cravings. I did not need to lose weight but did need to heal from IBS and leaky gut as well as injuries in a motorcycle accident and hip replacement a couple years later. The sustainable diet of a little grass fed beef or pork, sheep cheese and milk, organic homegrowm chicken and their eggs, and mostly veggies, nuts, seeds, mushrooms and eatable Weeds some wild foraged at 65 and maintaining weight at 115 now. I am enjoy eating and life with enough energy to do most what I want. The keto bad food list is not bad later in moderation!

  16. Such a well thought out piece on keto! I applaud you for explaining some of the upsides as well as the downsides and brought to light that its not really great for the average person. I personally am more of an intuitive eater and have been eating relatively low carb and higher fats just instinctually but it’s by no means keto as I def have sweet potato and quinoa on the regs.

    Keto can be great for epilepsy and alzheimers though

  17. Thanks for your thoughts, Food Babe. It’s been through your website that I’ve become aware of just how toxic the American food supply has become. As a sixty-six year old male who has been a processed food and sugar junkie virtually all of my life, first and foremost, thank you, Food Babe, for helping to steer me down the path of a healthier lifestyle. However, as you know, there is no “one size fits all” solution. In my case, starting about two years ago, I finally broke free of the carbonated soda addiction by having kombucha in its place. Next, I broke the snack cravings by drinking Bulletproof coffee – – the fats in it kept me satiated so that I wasn’t tempted to stop for cookies or whatever (I’m a truck driver and truck-stop chow is the worst!). Then it was easy to substitute quality, organic, keto-friendly foods. Now I follow a ketogenic diet which I feel works for me. I think the key here is to be aware of the overall quality of available foods, and not to do something just because it’s popular or the latest fad.

    Keep up the good fight, you are a light in the darkness.

  18. Amy, thanks for sharing about your experience with keto and your migraines. I too have a chronic pain and migraines. I want to try keto to see if it will help. The only thing is that I have a HUGE sweet tooth and I’m not sure if I can give up my sweets. Have you or anyone on keto tried those Nui cookies or Lakanto syrup?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

food babe with grocery cart - footer image