The keto diet is not new; in fact, for decades, it’s been touted as an effective treatment for conditions like epilepsy. Today though, Keto is being widely adopted as a weight loss diet, but there are some key things to consider.
Many people hail the keto diet as a miracle fat-torching diet, but has anyone stopped to ask: is keto healthy?
The science is mixed, at best.
There aren’t many long-term studies showing the after-effects of the keto diet, but there are many that show the short-term effects and they’re not all glowing.
One of the biggest criticisms of the keto diet is the emphasis it places on consuming meat and reducing carbohydrates like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
The problem is that it’s hard on our digestive system if we were to eat like this all the time, cutting out important fibre and nutrients simply to burn fat. It can also affect your overall health, potentially leading to serious conditions and causing long-term damage for short-term gain.
At the root of it, the keto diet is tough to sustain and it’s surprisingly expensive. Keep reading to find out for yourself, once and for all: is keto healthy?
Key concerns with the Keto Diet...
1. Don’t Eat Fruit
Exponents of the Keto diet say that one of the biggest no-no’s on a Keto diet is eating fruit due to its “sugar” content. The theory goes that getting your body into a state of “ketosis” (fat burning) requires the absence of sugar so that your body will instead tap into its reserves of fat for energy.
On the surface this makes sense, however the sugar in fruit is very different from normal sugar as we know it.
The sugar in fruit is whole and unrefined. Because of this fact, it is loaded with so many other vital nutrients that your body needs and which should not be avoided.
Fruit is packed with phyto-nutrients made by earth, water and sunlight - vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in a form that your cells and body recognise and thrive on.
Additionally, fruit is an astringent, meaning it is nature’s cleansing agent and detoxifier.
Any diet that restricts your consumption of a completely natural plant food that mother nature creates, leaves something to be desired. In the case of keto, it could be crucial nutrients that you’re missing out on for long term sustainable health.
Because of the complex nature of fruits and their highly assimilable nutrients, none of the nutritional components contained within them can be substituted with animal products, which are the staples of most keto diets.
Even doing the keto diet short-term can cause you to become deficient in certain key nutrients which you may not notice during the fat burning phase, but can have numerous consequences in terms of your overall health over time.
Learn more in Essential Plant-Based Foods for Balanced Nutrition.
2. Concerning Side Effects
If you’re wondering if Keto is healthy or not, it can often depend on the quality of foods you’re eating. By its very nature, Keto is about restricting carbohydrates (because they convert to sugar) so that your body is instead encouraged to use fat as fuel.
This means that Keto diets are more heavily weighted to the consumption of meat, fish, cheese, butter and oils for your calories every day. Most of these foods are high in saturated fat and some are heavily processed, which can seriously affect your heart health and digestive efficiency.
When is keto healthy?
It certainly doesn’t feel healthy at the beginning of the diet, if you experience what is commonly known as the “keto flu”, which is your body adjusting to the ketosis process.
You can feel sluggish from all the heavy food you’re eating, nauseous, have trouble sleeping, and feel constipated, while also being at risk for kidney stones, low blood pressure, and heart disease over the longer term.
3. Can Increase Cholesterol
Most diets and eating plans have the goal of helping you to lose fat, lower cholesterol, and become healthier. One of the concerning parts of the keto diet is that it can actually cause a spike in bad cholesterol levels, because of all the fatty, heavy foods you’re eating.
High cholesterol is a serious condition, because it can lead to diseases like heart disease and stroke, and is also linked to high blood pressure and diabetes. Eating a well-balanced, plant-based diet is a great way to control high cholesterol, but the keto diet works against that.
Learn more in How to Reduce Cholesterol Levels & Live Longer.
You may experience short term weight loss, boosts in your energy and reduced inflammation in the beginning on a Keto diet, but is it really sustainable? And what are the longer term effects on your health?
The reality is that our bodies are designed to run on “sugar” (derived from plants), which include fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
The jury is still out about the sustainability of the Keto diet, but more and more studies are proving that it’s tough to keep your body in a state of Ketosis over a long period of time. You can lose fat in the beginning, but just like other fads and diets, you can also end up gaining it all back and more over time.
A safer more sustainable approach, is to embrace quality lifestyle changes that you can make work for you the rest of your life - things like practicing the 7 principles of health: Air, Water, Sunshine, Walking, Wholefoods, Healthy Relationships and Passion.
If lifestyle and longevity is the goal, you’re probably better spending your time and energy on these time-tested ideals rather than the Keto diet.
It’s not to say that you can’t experiment with some of the ‘good’ principles of the Keto diet e.g. eating more good fats in the form of plant based foods like Avocados, Nuts, Seeds, Olive Oil, Coconut Oil etc. and time restricted eating (intermittent fasting). It’s just that if your diet becomes extremely weighted to animal products and saturated fats, it’s cause for concern over the long term, despite what short term benefits you might experience.
It’s simply not realistic for most people to eat almost no carbohydrates a day in and day out, especially when you consider that most fruits, vegetables, and grains are considered off-limits on the keto diet.
6. Alternative Options
There are always going to be new fad diets that come and go; what’s most important is that you do everything in moderation and find a lifestyle that works for you. There are alternatives to the keto diet, including keto cycling.
Keto is a tough diet to sustain, so an easier option involves one day on the keto diet followed by one day off, where you can eat normally (including carbohydrates). This allows you to still shed fat while ensuring you’re getting vital nutrients on the days off, and it’s a lot easier to sustain.
Another option is following a plant-based diet and cutting out highly processed food, refined carbs, and sugar. This is probably the most sustainable, environmentally friendly, and healthiest option for long-term change that you can maintain.
Learn more in 10 Plant Based “Keto” Friendly Foods.
The long-term benefits are limited and controversial at best. When your body is in ketosis (burning fat for energy instead of carbohydrates), it’s essentially using your liver waste by-products for fuel. This is a lot like running your car on dirty fuel—it might get the job done quickly for now, but it’s not going to last and it can’t be good for your car.
Most importantly, think of your diet and lifestyle holistically, rather than zone in on one dietary format as a means of solving your entire health puzzle.
Tolman Self Care.