4 Dangers of Keto
(and ways to remain on a keto diet despite them)
Despite the recent hype, a ketogenic diet is not something new. In medicine, we have been using it for almost 100 years to treat drug-resistant epilepsy, especially in children. And more recently it has also been used in Alzheimers and cancer patients.
In the 1970’s, Dr Atkins popularized his very low carbohydrate diet for weight loss that began with a strict two week ketogenic phase. Now low carb and ketogenic diets are popularized due to its weightloss effects as well as numerous health benefits that come with being in a state of ketosis and also carrying less fat mass.
What is the Keto Diet?
The keto diet restricts carbohydrates to a certain level, 20-50 grams of net carbs a day. By limiting your carbohydrates and increasing your fats your body starts producing ketones and you enter a metabolic state called ketosis. Once you enter this fat-adapted state, your body will become very efficient at burning your fat stores and using ketones for energy rather than glucose.
What are the benefits of Keto?
The benefits of being in ketosis started its benefits in brain function. Like the rest of our body, glucose is the main source of energy for our brain, but unlike muscles our brains cannot use fat as a fuel source. It can however use ketones which is made in our liver.
When we train our bodies to burn fat instead of glucose (sugar) on a keto diet, studies have shown it to be effective in epileptic children as well as a few small studies done successfully on Alzheimers and Parkinsons. The mechanism behind this is still unknown but there are theories that the ketones protect brain cells and reduces oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain.
The keto diet is also often used for improving health conditions where insulin needs to be regulated which includes weightloss but also diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol. In Hong Kong where 1 in 10 have diabetes and many more insulin resistant, learning to control insulin levels is imperative.
What to watch out for?
1. Muscle Loss
Small studies suggest that people on the ketogenic diet lose muscle even when they continue resistance training. This may be related to the fact that protein alone is less effective for muscle building than protein and carbohydrate together after exercise.
Therefore a keto diet may not be suitable for those who need to build muscle mass, the elderly and those completely inactive. For this group, they can consider an adapted version of the ketogenic diet that includes more protein. Having said that, keto diet done right should not be eating away at your muscle mass and you also won’t need to eat extra protein.
2. Mineral Imbalance & Kidneys
Some keto diets include both high fat and also high protein however this can be hard on the kidneys and make your blood more acidic, increasing calcium and uric acid build up which may cause gout and other issues like kidney stones.
The traditional keto diet does not overload on protein so if you’re looking to live off BBQ pork and steak this is not the way to do keto the healthy way. This is one of the biggest mistakes people make.
Excess protein can also turn into stored sugar if it’s not being utilized, so you really need to be on a high fat, moderate protein and low carb diet to gain all the benefits. To help offset the mineral imbalance, a mineral supplementation and specifically potassium citrate can help lessen the load on your kidneys.
3. Cholesterol & Genetics
When you first start on a keto diet, some people may experience high levels of their total cholesterol and LDL, however this should eventually level off after some time.
However those who have a specific genetic SNP (polymorphism), like me (!), that makes you absorb saturated fat 2-3 times more than the average person,may be wisser to stay away from those bulletproof coffees and focus more on the other healthier fats like avocado oils, flax oils and olive oils instead of coconut oil and butter.
You can also consider including Vitamin B3 which is excellent to help lower cholesterol and can give an added support to your keto regiment.
Lipopolysaccarides (LPS) are a type of bacteria that if in healthy individuals usually stay inside the gut wall and don’t cause problems. However with leaky gut, LPS can be absorbed and can cause inflammation and an overreaction in the immune system. How is this related to keto?
Saturated fat (read: coconut oil, mct oil, butter etc) increases the permeability of the gut and increases the absorption of these LPS endotoxins. If you’re already having gut issues, but want to still try a ketogenic diet, choose these oils below instead:
- Olive Oil - neutral effect
- Fish/Omega oil - decreases permeability
- Vegetable Oil/Avocado Oil - decreases slightly but not as high as fish/omega oils
The ketogenic diet, though with good science and testimonials to back up its many touted health benefits is still a diet, to me not a lifestyle. And all drastic alterations that we make to the way our bodies were made and designed to live and operate should be taken with great care and thought.
If you are wanting to start on a ketogenic diet, I would suggest seeking advice from a professional that can not only guide you but prepare your body so that the diet can be sustained and so you can receive the most benefits out of it. Our bodies are complex systems and it is not as easy as calorie in and calorie out or high fat, low carb.
There are a host of other implications that can rise up from these alterations and though you may be wanting weight loss to be one of your goals, health promotion should be your end goal as it is the one that gives the final say.
With this in mind, I hope these tips and caution points above will give you some food for thought before starting on a ketogenic diet.
Written by Denise Tam, Holistic Nutritionist