Okay, I’m not afraid of the keto diet like I’m afraid of the boogieman. I’m afraid of what it might do to people. Specifically, the health repercussions after you go off keto. In that way, I’m TERRIFIED of the keto diet. Full stop.
I’ve been a nutritionist for over 10 years and many fad diets have come and gone. Some have been fine, some I’ve rolled my eyes at, but this one really worries me.
REALLY worries me.
But, until now, I haven’t found the need to actually write this down. I’ve always been happy to voice my opinion on this diet when asked, but I’ve kept my strong two cents out of the blogisphere. Until now.
I’m breaking my silence after WAY too many people have asked me about the keto diet because they assume it’s healthy.
And they assume it’s healthy because everyone is singing its praises. Everywhere I turn there’s another article or video about how to become keto. Health food stores all have big displays of keto food and shelf-talkers pointing out the keto-friendly food.
They’re doing this because it’s popular. Because it sells products. And because videos, articles, books about the keto diet are really good click-bait.
This IS the right diet for some people. It’s a medicinal diet that can be very beneficial for certain people. But, it’s not right for everyone…actually, it’s probably not right for most people.
I’m frustrated that the perils of the keto diet have been missing so far. The list of cons to balance with the pros that everyone needs to know about before they choose this diet.
So many articles, videos, and memes make keto look like a miraculous diet that’s perfect for everyone, and that’s simply not true.
We all need to walk into something new with our eyes wide open. We all need to know what’s great about something new, but also what might be wrong with it. We all need an opportunity to weigh both sides of the issue and choose for ourselves what is right for us.
And no one seems to be talking about the issues with keto. And there are so so so many. THIS is why I’m afraid of the keto diet.
Now onto the problems with the keto diet:
1. The Keto Diet is nutritionally poor unless done with absolute precision –
I’m a BIG fan of healthy fat. If you were to spend a day with me you’d watch me slather organic butter, avocado, coconut oil, and other healthy fats all over my food.
In my nutrition practice, I’ve spent years encouraging people to enjoy more healthy fat for their body to feel great. It helps balance the immune system, it helps produce hormones, and helps each cell work properly. Oh, and it also makes your skin glow.
But, there’s a big difference between eating more fat and eating the 70 – 80% fat diet needed on the keto diet.
While fat has TONS of benefits, it doesn’t contain a lot of nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It also doesn’t have any fibre for your good gut bacteria to munch on.
What DOES contain all of those important nutrients? Carbs. Specifically veggies, fruit, beans, and whole grains. All of the food that’s shunned on this diet are the nutrient-dense foods.
You also have to keep your protein intake low, and that can lead to the loss of lean muscle mass (an important factor for your metabolism).
Can you have a nutritionally balanced keto diet? Absolutely.
But it’s SUPER tricky and you need help from a nutritionist who’s trained in the keto diet (not someone who just sells keto supplements). The training is important, and for the record, I’m NOT one of those nutritionists.
2. It can mess with hormones, especially with women’s hormones –
Drastically reducing carbs is a stress on the body. Period. Our body needs fat, protein, AND carbs. It’s human biology* (see note below).
So, when someone reduces their carb intake as low as you need to for ketosis, this raises our stress hormone cortisol. High cortisol levels can increase our blood sugar, cause insulin resistance, can trigger inflammation, and trigger weight GAIN. (More on that is here).
This will affect both men and women, but it seems that women’s bodies are more susceptible to this. Plus, the keto diet can mess with women’s sex hormones too.
Women NEED carbs to create and balance their hormones. Without enough carbs in our diet, we can feel changes in our serotonin (our feel-good neurotransmitter), progesterone, and insulin.
If you’re a woman on the keto diet and you’ve quickly plateaued with your weight loss, you might find that a more balanced approach is better for your body.
There is one exception though. The keto diet might help women who are dealing with the very difficult to treat condition, PCOS. It might bring your hormone imbalances under control…or at least that what it seems to be helpful with :).
3. It lowers the diversity of your microbiome –
The health of your body overall = the health and strength of your microbiome (otherwise known as your gut bacteria).
In 2015 I recorded a TEDx talk on how our gut bacteria influence our brain chemistry. Currently, all of the research points to a rich and diverse microbiome (like a rainforest) for our brain health, immune balance, and our metabolism. Research from the American Gut Project backed this up.
Today, there’s more and more research connecting our overall health to our microbiome and to create the diversity we need requires lots of plant-based fibre.
Lots of veggies, fruit, beans, nuts, and seeds. Something the keto diet is sadly lacking in.
Researchers have looked at how a high-fat diet affects the microbiome, and they found that the gut bacteria shifts after just 6-months in ways that could negatively affect their health.
They also found an overgrowth of bacteria that has been connected to Type II Diabetes and less inflammation regulation in the gut.
Keto-inspired constipation or diarrhea are pretty common symptoms, but the change to our microbiome may be a long-term and more serious consequence.
4. No cheat day allowed (it messes with your heart) –
Most diets allow for real-life. Like a dinner out or a BBQ at a friend’s house. Most diets allow you to have a bit of fun and still reap the health benefits of whatever diet you’re on.
But, not keto. No cheat days allowed.
First, to stay in ketosis, you need to follow the strict fat/protein/carb guidelines perfectly. Otherwise, you fall out of ketosis and it’ll take 4 or more days to get back.
All of the benefits of this diet are when your body shifts into ketosis and starts to burn ketones instead of glucose. Throughout time our body has primarily used glucose for fuel and uses ketosis only when necessary (temporary starvation).
And since our body likes to live in balance, it will shift back to its preferred fuel source the moment it’s available (ie, enough glucose in the blood). Diet-induced ketosis is a newish concept, created as a medicinal diet for epilepsy in the 1920s.
The trouble is, falling out of ketosis is more than just a temporary annoyance, it can cause serious health issues.
This study out of UBCO followed young healthy men and found that 1 cheat day after 6 days in ketosis can cause cardiovascular problems in healthy young men. That’s not a group that’s considered prone to cardiovascular issues…so this study is pretty significant.
But, it was a small study and a larger study needs to be created, but it does point to a previously unknown issue for an on-again-off-again keto diet.
5. Most people on the keto diet aren’t actually in ketosis -
This is one of the most unfortunate truths…it’s very hard to get into and stay in ketosis. And many people I’ve met are only “kinda doing” keto.
That may work for every other diet out there, but keto is special. To be in ketosis you must manage your macros PERFECTLY. There’s no kinda. No treats. No splurges.
I have met a few people who are rocking keto. But not many. And I get it, the keto diet is HARD! I don’t blame anyone for struggling with the perfection of it.
But there’s a big problem with only kinda doing keto. There are repercussions for being on a nutrient-poor, cortisol spiking diet…but without the benefits of ketosis.
And a “kinda keto” diet is also very energy heavy, and for many, it can cause weight gain.
These are just some of my main worries with the keto diet, but there are more. Like the hair loss, bad breath, and possible kidney issues.
The most important thing to keep in mind with the ketogenic diet is that it’s a medicinal diet, meant to help with difficult-to-treat conditions like epilepsy and other neurological conditions. For these conditions, the benefits may absolutely outweigh the concerns.
If you’ve read all of this and still want to try keto, go for it! You know exactly what you’re getting yourself into, now it’s time to try it. I would suggest seeking out a trained keto-expert to make sure you’re doing it properly (again, that’s not me, I’m not trained in it).
Also, run it by your doctor first and make sure it would be good for you. Some conditions that can be affected negatively by the keto diet, so it’s important to make sure your doctor gives their thumbs up.
But, if you’re just looking for a quick weight-loss solution, might I recommend something else less dramatic? There are SO many other options for weight loss.
Might I suggestion Conscious Eating? It’s super effective. If you’d like something specific to follow, the Paleo or Pagan Diet is much more forgiving and nutrient-dense :). If you’d like some support to find a new option, I’ve very happy to help :)
If you’ve read this and are now questioning if this is good for you, please don’t be disheartened. It wasn’t my intention to cause you any more stress or created more confusion.
I just want you to walk into this diet/lifestyle change with your eyes wide open. If it still feels right to you, go for it!!
Note from #2 -
* Pretending that human biology doesn’t exist or that we’ve discovered a new truth to human biology is a hallmark of a fad diet. And, at least so far, we’ve been dead wrong. Remember the low/no fat diet of the 1980s? It caused a spike in obesity and heart disease rates that was an unexpected shock to all of the low-fat diet experts. We don’t fully know yet what shunning carbs will do to our overall health.