Should You Try the Keto Diet – Here Are 6 Risks & Rewards to Consider

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Ketogenic diets involve eating very little carbohydrates, high amounts of fats, and moderate amounts of protein. Although glucose (a simple sugar) in large quantities, is not good for our health, our brain does require it in small doses for energy and cognitive function [1]. Carbohydrates are converted into glucose for the brain. When eating very little carbs, your body has no glucose for energy, so it enters a metabolic state of ketosis, in which it uses your fat cells for fuel when it is low on energy.

Whenever ketosis is reached, either from eating a low carb, high fat, high protein diet, or during fasting or starvation, your liver is working to metabolize fat at a fast rate and convert those fatty acids into ketone bodies. Ketone bodies are three different molecules known as acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate, and their byproduct, acetone. [2]

These ketone bodies are then used by the tissues outside the liver, converted into acetyl-CoA, which enters the citric acid cycle, where it is oxidized by the mitochondria for energy. The brain also uses ketone bodies to produce long chain fatty acids. This constant use of fat burning for energy results in weight loss. Although many people swear by the weight loss results from practicing a Ketogenic diet, it is still controversial in the health and nutrition world. Let’s take a look at 6 risks and benefits of the ketogenic diet.

Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet

1. Fat and Weight Loss

Studies have shown low carb diets to be very effective at helping people lose more weight, at a faster rate than those who are on low-fat diets, even when the person on the low-fat diet is cutting back on calorie intake. Low carb dieters, when compared to low-fat dieters in studies, have lost two to three times the amount of weight and did not experience hunger in the process. [3]

Not only is this due to the burning of fats into ketones, but also thanks to the fact that low carb, high protein, and fat diets have been proven to cause a reduction in appetite. In addition, ketosis lowers the body’s insulin levels, which causes the kidneys to begin shedding any excess sodium and water, resulting in rapid weight loss.

2. Lowered blood sugar, Triglycerides, and Bad Cholesterol

A decrease in Triglycerides: Triglycerides or fat molecules are produced in large quantities by the consumption of carbohydrates. They pose a strong risk factor for heart disease. On a low carb, ketogenic diet, peoples blood triglyceride levels too down significantly. Low-fat diets, on the other hand, cause an increase in blood triglyceride levels. [4]

Increase in HDL Levels: High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is known as the “good cholesterol”. It carries cholesterol away from the body, to the liver, where it is either reused or expelled. Low-density lipoprotein, (LDL), or the “bad cholesterol” carries cholesterol into the body from the liver. Having higher levels of HDL, the good cholesterol, means you will have a much lower risk of heart disease.

In order to increase the HDL levels in your body, you need to eat more fat. Low carb, high-fat diets like the keto diet is perfect for this. Interestingly, your triglyceride to HDL ratio can determine if you are at risk for heart disease as well. If the ratio is pretty high, you are more prone to heart disease. The lowering of blood triglycerides and the increase in HDL levels that comes with a ketogenic diet result in a lower, healthier ratio.

Lower Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels: Carbohydrates are consumed and broken down into simple sugars, such as glucose, in our digestive tracts. The glucose then enters the bloodstream and causes a spike in blood sugar levels, which then signals the need for insulin. If you have insulin resistance, and your cells don’t recognize the insulin, you may end up with the disease, type 2 diabetes. Cutting carbs out of your diet results in much lower blood sugar and insulin levels, making it great for diabetics.

3. Enhanced Brain Function and Improvement in Brain Disorders

The ketogenic diet was originally created to help treat children who have epilepsy. Even though we are not getting any carbs to turn into glucose while in ketosis, our brain has the ability to burn the ketones we produce when in ketosis. It then uses these ketones for energy and functionality purposes.

A study done on children with epilepsy who were put on a ketogenic diet showed a more than 50% decrease in the number of seizures the kids experienced. Out of these epileptic children, 16% became completely seizure-free after starting the keto diet. [5]

Risks of a Ketogenic Diet

As with most things, there are negatives and positives to starting a ketogenic diet. Here are 3 risks to consider before beginning this low carb, high-fat diet.

1. Diarrhea and/or Constipation

Such a dramatic increase in fat and reduction in carbohydrates can cause temporary bowel movement issues such as loose stools, diarrhea, and constipation. This is not uncommon to experience in the first week of practicing a keto diet, and it tends to go away by itself fairly quickly.

There are remedies and ways to prevent this, including drinking more water, focusing on eating high carb vegetables like broccoli, eating more fiber, taking some sort of digestive enzyme. It might also be a good idea to get yourself checked for any allergies or dietary intolerances.

2. Nutrient Deficiency

Although it is possible to eat very healthy on a keto diet, it does remove a lot of the foods that are great sources of vitamins and minerals. This puts you, the dieter, at risk for developing a micronutrient deficiency if aren’t careful to add in some keto friendly substitutions for those missing foods.

The most common nutrients that you can become deficient on when trying out a ketogenic diet include biotin, iodine, potassium, magnesium, vitamin E, vitamin D, and sodium. The best way to avoid this is first by acknowledging that limiting your diet will also limit certain nutrients. And second acting accordingly by eating a variety of keto friendly veggies, and ramping up your electrolyte and fiber intake, which usually has the most dramatic effect on your overall well being during keto.

3. Bad “Keto Breath”

As we mentioned, during ketosis, our body produces the two ketone bodies acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate. Their byproduct, acetone, is most well known as one of the primary ingredients in nail polish remover. Since our body cannot utilize acetone for anything, it gets gradually excreted out through our breath. This can result in our breath smelling like either fruit or nail polish remover.

This, though unpleasant, is a good sign for the keto dieter, as it shows your body is accepting the new ketogenic lifestyle and you are soon to see the benefits of it. As you progress into the new diet, making more and more ketones, your body will start to learn how to make better use of the acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate, eventually leading to less acetone production and improvement in the smell of your breath.

Final thoughts

A lot of people have seen great results with the keto diet. The good thing about keto diet is that it has additional health benefits than merely weight loss. Others have not been successful and have seen adverse health effects, but in most cases, this is the result of not planning ahead and not following this eating style correctly.

Everyone has different dietary needs and lifestyles and ketogenic eating style definitely is not meant to be followed by everyone. Weight out the good against the bad to see if the ketogenic diet might work for you. Low carb lifestyle is definitely something worth trying out, as it has a strong positive effect on body weight.

Author bio

An author and health enthusiast Alex Reed, started with a mission to help you to take charge of your weight and health using the keto lifestyle. Through personal experience and extensive research, he offers insightful tips for everything keto.

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