10 Risks of The Keto Diet According to a Nutritionist
Keto Diet: A Blessing or a Curse?
How many of you have either tried or know someone who has tried the Keto Diet? I mean, just do a simple search on Instagram and you will see success story after success story. The inches seem to melt right off when you choose to live the carb-free life. But what many people don’t talk about, are the hidden risks associated with the Ketogenic diet.
Despite what you might think, the Ketogenic Diet is nothing new; in fact, it has been around since the early 1900s as a treatment of diabetes and epilepsy in children. What sets it apart from other low-carb diets such as the Atkins, Paleo, and Dukan, is its focus on fat-rich meals as opposed to high protein. Essentially, it is a low-carb, high-fat eating plan which has recently gained attention as a potential weight-loss strategy.
Although there are some benefits associated with the compelling Keto Diet, there is still no significant scientific research to support the long term benefits of the diet.
So before you throw your potatoes out the window, read up on the 10 potential risks of the Keto diet.
1. Nutrient Deficiencies
Something that’s not always realized is when you get carried away eliminating carb sources you’re also eliminating many essential nutrients. For example, there are numerous fruits and vegetables that are not permitted while following a Keto diet plan. As a result, you may encounter various nutrient deficiencies, if you are not mindful of the fruits and vegetables that are included in the diet.
One particular nutrient of concern that plays a huge role in overall gut and digestive health is fiber. Prebiotic fiber is the non-digestible component of food which is eventually fermented. This fermentation process feeds the “good bacteria” in our gut which promote optimal health. A lack of prebiotic fiber can result in a weakened immune system and can put you at risk for other chronic diseases.
Before making any lifestyle change ask yourself, “Is this something I can do for the rest of my life?” If the answer is no, then it’s probably not the right route to take. The restrictive nature of the Keto diet makes it challenging to maintain on a long term basis. Even if you follow the keto diet plan but are slightly off on your numbers, you may still see negative results. For instance, if your protein intake isn’t as prescribed in the plan, it will get converted into glucose, which completely defeats the purpose of the keto diet.
So, what’s the big deal? The big deal is the weight gain once you veer off this strict diet. While on the keto diet your hunger hormones are suppressed. What do you think happens the minute you’re off it? They shoot right up.
3. Irregular Menstrual Cycles
Weight isn’t the only you will lose on the keto diet: your period may disappear as well! Many women reported irregular menstruation while on the keto diet. Menstrual dysfunction is quite prevalent and shouldn’t be overlooked.
The main cause for this isn’t necessarily the dietary components of the keto diet, but rather the major weight loss. As your weight falls, so do your estrogen levels, which is responsible for regulating menstruation. Other side effects associated with low estrogen are vaginal dryness and the risk of bone loss.
Doctors and health specialists recommend taking a supplement of natural estrogen while on the keto diet.
Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite topic – diarrhea. The keto diet isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, it also has its ugly side. When you make the switch from a balanced diet of all macronutrients (carbs, fat, and protein) to high fat and moderate protein, your gallbladder takes a hit. When there’s a delay in the digestion of fat by bodily enzymes, the colon signals for gas, bloating and typically results in loose stool due to the fat content which should have been properly digested.
5. Sleep Issues
At this point with little research around the exact impact of the keto diet on sleep, we can’t say much apart from the fact that sleep patterns will be disturbed initially. Let’s talk science. Carbohydrates elevate an amino acid called tryptophan in the brain. This amino acid is converted to serotonin which helps facilitate sleep and then further produces a major sleep hormone called melatonin. When you are on a low carb diet, tryptophan isn’t producing the serotonin and melatonin your body needs for sleep.
6. Respect Your Organs
The liver is responsible for metabolizing fat and the kidneys metabolize protein. Both of these organs are put at risk once they’re overloaded. This is especially true if there are pre-existing liver or kidney concerns.
The liver works hard to convert fatty acids to either energy or ketone bodies. In the presence of liver disease, fatty acids are not properly metabolized and can accumulate in the body and cause cellular damage to your brain, peripheral nervous system, liver, spleen and bone marrow.
If that’s not concerning enough, meat and fish tend to be frequently consumed in large amounts while on the keto diet. These food sources may increase uric acid and calcium levels which could potentially increase the risk of kidney stones and gout.
7. Stress & Mental Health
Another risk of the Keto diet is the toll it takes on your mental health. This is something that most people shrug off, but it is highly important to mention.
The keto diet is one of the most restrictive diet regimens out there. One small slice of bread can put you way over your daily carbohydrate limit. This is incredibly taxing on your body both physically and mentally. In response to this stress, your body produces more cortisol which is a major stress hormone.
8. Bad Breath
Stock up on gum and mints because the Keto Diet can give you bad breath.
When you are on the Keto Diet, your body goes into ketosis and starts to produce ketones which are produced as part of the fat-burning process. These ketones then exit your body through your breathing. Ketones can range from smelling like heavy metals to acetone nail polish remover.
9. Keto Flu
During the first few days (and sometimes weeks) on the keto diet, you may experience fatigue along with mental fog and reduced clarity of thought. This is also known as the “keto flu”.
Think you can still manage to hit the gym 7 days a week? Well, think again! Going on the Keto Diet will make it more difficult to perform well in the short term. Your muscle glycogen (or sugar) stores are rapidly depleting and these are the most efficient sources of fuel for all forms of high-intensity exercise.
The keto flu can disrupt your exercise regiment which will impact your dieting progress.
It’s true when they say an apple a day keeps the doctor (or colonoscopy specialist) away. Are apples allowed on the keto diet? Exactly.
It’s not just constipation we need to worry about. It’s the hemorrhoids, abdominal pain and anal fissures that we should be afraid of. It is very difficult to get enough fiber intake without consuming whole grains and fibrous fruits and vegetables. Is it worth compensating the weight loss with stomach pain or worse?
Find What Works For You
At the end of the day, there are benefits and risks to any major lifestyle change. It’s up to you to look past the transformation posts on Instagram and critically research the pros and cons of whichever diet you choose. My aim is not to shed a negative light on the keto diet, but rather to share some of the potential risks that are associated with this eating pattern. I recommend finding a sustainable dietary pattern that complements healthy living and works with your lifestyle.