The most significant trend in the world of diet and nutrition is the high-protein, low-carbohydrate Keto diet. It is similar to other low-carbohydrate diets like Paleo and Atkins, but this one focuses on fat first. A ketogenic diet works by putting the body into ketosis, which is efficient at burning fat. It can be an attractive solution to lose weight.
But a ketogenic diet is an extreme approach to nutrition and may have other health consequences for some individuals. Before deciding if the keto diet is a good fit for you, let’s talk about some of the risks.
How a Ketogenic Diet Works
A ketogenic diet works by depriving the body of quick-fuel sources like sugar and carbohydrates. Doing this forces the body to burn fat to produce the energy needed for metabolic processes. A typical keto diet includes less than 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates like those from fruits, vegetables, and grains.
Most of the calories consumed with each meal come from fat. A ketogenic diet encourages high-fat foods like coconut oil, lard, butter, nuts, and avocado. After fat, the next most important nutrient is protein.
However, eating too much protein can interfere with ketosis. Most diets focus on lean proteins like chicken breast, but keto encourages saturated fats, so red meats are an acceptable protein. Each meal can be filled out with leafy greens like spinach, chard, kale, and small amounts of berries.
Risks of a Ketogenic Diet
There are plenty of risks to consider before beginning a keto diet. As much as it is an excellent solution for short-term weight loss and those who suffer from seizures, it can be unsafe if you are not informed about the risks.
For one, a diet high in saturated fats is linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Labwork has confirmed that those who use ketogenic diets long-term have higher bad cholesterol levels, which is also a risk for heart problems.
Other common problems associated with keto diets include:
- Nutrient Deficiencies
- Liver Problems
- Kidney Problems
- Brain Fog
- Mood Swings
The significant restriction on fruits and vegetables takes away primary sources of nutrients like magnesium, selenium, and some vitamins. You may be able to offset this risk of nutrient deficiency by taking a supplement.
The high fat and protein content in the diet may also cause problems for the liver and kidneys. The liver metabolizes fat, and the kidneys help metabolize protein, so if you have existing conditions, they may worsen as these organs are overtaxed with higher demands.
Constipation may be a problem for some due to the lack of fiber in the diet. Balancing meals with a lot of leafy greens can help this condition. Unfortunately, as you deprive your body of quick-fuel sources like sugar and carbohydrates, your brain will respond in kind (that you are depriving it.) This often comes in the form of fatigue and mood swings which can be especially severe when you first begin a ketogenic diet.
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Types of Ketogenic Diets
There are a few different iterations of ketogenic diets that are used for different purposes. For example, an overweight person looking to drop some weight will have different nutritional needs than a bodybuilder looking to turn fat into muscle.
Standard Ketogenic Diet
The typical keto diet is high in fat, moderate protein, and low in carbohydrates. A standard ketogenic diet typically falls in the range of 70% fat, 20% protein, and 10% carbohydrates.
Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
The cyclical keto diet is a variation of the standard keto diet that alternates periods of low-carb intake with periods of higher-carb intake. People on a cyclical diet tend to follow the low-carb keto guidelines for five days and then increase carbohydrate intake for two days.
Targeted Ketogenic Diet
A targeted diet is used by some athletes that have intense workout periods. These individuals will follow a ketogenic diet with the addition of carbohydrates targeted around their high-intensity workouts.
High-Protein Ketogenic Diet
Like a standard ketogenic diet, the high-protein version still focuses on high-fat and low-carbohydrates but allows for higher protein intake. Individuals on a high-protein keto diet might consume 60% fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbohydrates.
Why Ketogenic Diets are Good for Fat Loss
Ketogenic diets have been proven to help individuals lose more fat than low-fat diets. The biggest draw to these diets is that the high-fat content is filling, so it is unlikely to overeat and unlikely that you will feel unsatiated, leading to higher success rates.
Despite the risks of nutrient deficiencies or liver and kidney problems, ketogenic diets can improve some conditions. Keto diets are effective at stabilizing blood sugar levels and improving insulin resistance. It is also linked to lowering triglycerides and blood pressure.
The Bottom Line
Ketogenic diets are good for weight loss and have a positive effect on many health conditions. However, these diets are extreme and are not without their own set of risks. Ultimately your doctor will consider your individual health history when determining if a ketogenic diet is appropriate for you.
It is not unusual to experience mood swings and brain fog when beginning a ketogenic diet. Some people refer to this period as the ‘keto flu,’ which usually passes within a few days. What you are experiencing is your body acclimating to the deprivation of easy energy as you eliminate sugar and carbohydrates. For most people without underlying conditions, a ketogenic diet is an effective way to burn fat.