When considering taking on a low-carb diet plan, many people ask, “is the Keto diet safe, and is the keto diet bad for you?”
In general, the keto diet can be safe and healthy for many people, but you should speak with your doctor and/or work with a registered dietitian (RD) or knowledgeable nutritionist prior to starting the keto diet.
Keep reading to learn more about this nutrition plan as we answer the question, is the Keto diet healthy?
We will cover:
- Is the Keto Diet Healthy?
- 5 Common Keto Diet Mistakes
Let’s dive in!
Is the Keto Diet Healthy?
The purpose of the keto diet is to bring the body into a state of ketosis, which occurs in a metabolic state where the body is burning only fat for fuel rather than carbohydrates.
Ketosis is thought to not only promote weight loss and fat loss but also provide additional health benefits, such as a neuroprotective function and increased insulin sensitivity.
Many people who switch to the keto diet see a lot of initial weight loss results simply because it is often difficult to consume as many calories when you cut out high-carbohydrate foods. Therefore, there is a decrease in body weight that occurs when you cut out carbohydrates so significantly.
For every gram of carbohydrates that the body stores in the form of glycogen, about 3 to 4 grams of water are stored as well.
This water weight is shed once the glycogen stores are depleted, resulting in lower body weight on the scale. However, this is not true fat loss.
That isn’t to say that people don’t also lose a significant amount of body fat on the keto diet, but much of the initial success is changes in the body’s water balance.Although there is a lot of support for the keto diet, and it has been used in the medical community to treat certain seizure disorders and other medical conditions, there are also criticisms and potential downsides of the keto diet.
For example, especially with the strictest iterations of the keto diet that only allow 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates per day, it can be virtually impossible to eat enough fruits and vegetables, which are natural sources of carbohydrates.
These important foods are extremely nutritious and provide antioxidants and fiber that even the healthiest of fats and proteins do not provide.
Fiber provides many critical benefits to your overall digestion and gut microbiome, and antioxidants and polyphenols can protect the body from free radicals, oxidative damage, inflammation, and certain diseases.
Fruits and vegetables also contain essential vitamins and minerals that are not found in many animal-based foods, fats, and other proteins.
There is also some controversy surrounding the healthiness of eating foods high in cholesterol and high in saturated fat.
Newer research suggests that dietary cholesterol doesn’t necessarily increase serum cholesterol levels, and this idea is supported by the American Heart Association, and saturated fat does not seem to be linked to cardiovascular disease as we once believed.
Finally, as with any diet, the quality of the foods that you eat can greatly impact how “healthy“ the diet is. Just as you can follow a vegan diet by eating processed vegan foods like plant-based chicken nuggets and even Oreo cookies and not be healthy, you can follow a keto diet by eating fried pork rinds, sausages, and salami all day and not be healthy.
There are studies demonstrating the nearly toxic nature of trans fats and hydrogenated oils, and because the keto diet provides about 70 to 75% of your total daily calories from fat, it’s really important to make sure that you are eating high-quality, healthy fats such as monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and medium-chain triglycerides such as those in coconut oil.
5 Common Keto Diet Mistakes
To ensure the keto diet is safe and healthy for you, it’s important to avoid common keto mistakes.
Here are some of the more common keto diet mistakes:
#1: Not Drinking Enough Water
One of the common keto diet mistakes is not drinking enough water, which can lead to a state of chronic low-level dehydration and can impede your energy levels, metabolic rate, and kidney function.
This is typically problematic, especially early on when dieters first switch to keto, because the sudden decrease in carbohydrate intake can cause a dramatic shift in the fluid balance in the body.
Additionally, one of the functions of the urinary system is to flush excess ketones from the body in urine, often increasing not only the concentration of ketones in urine but overall urine volume as well.
Because the ketogenic diet, by nature, significantly increases the body’s production of ketones, urine output can be higher for those on the keto diet.
This depletes water and sodium from the body. As sodium is excreted in the urine, overall body fluid levels can drop even more because sodium increases water retention.
The general recommendation is to drink the number of ounces of water that is equivalent to half your body weight in pounds or your full weight in kilograms.
For example, if you weigh 165 pounds (75 kg), drink 75-82 ounces of water per day.
#2: Not Being Ready for the Keto Flu
There’s an interesting phenomenon that can occur when you first switch to the keto diet, termed the keto flu.
The keto flu describes flu-like symptoms that many dieters experience as their body transitions from burning primarily carbohydrates to burning primarily fats.
Many people complain of symptoms such as intense fatigue, body aches, muscle cramps, nausea, and headaches that may last up to two weeks. Although some amount of “keto flu“ symptoms might be unavoidable, mentally preparing yourself for feeling a little off the first couple weeks can help you stick with the transition, knowing that it should clear.
Additionally, nutritionists suggest that consuming foods rich in electrolytes like magnesium, potassium, and sodium, as well as staying very well hydrated, can potentially reduce the severity of the keto flu symptoms.
A good option is to eat almonds, Brazil nuts, pistachios, and sunflower seeds, as each of these nuts and seeds is high in electrolytes, and if you buy salted nuts, you will be getting plenty of sodium.
#3: Decreasing Salt Too Much
Although we often hear of the dangers of a high-sodium diet, as sodium increases water retention and, therefore, blood pressure, most of the salt intake in the typical American diet comes not from salting your food directly but from the high-sodium content contained in most processed foods.
When you switch to the keto diet, many of these processed foods are completely eliminated, and as long as you are trying to eat whole, natural, unprocessed foods, you might actually need to add additional salt to your food to meet your sodium needs. This is particularly true for endurance athletes who sweat a lot in training.
Additionally, because excess ketones are produced on the ketogenic diet, urine output is increased to eliminate this toxic waste. Sodium is also lost through the urine, so you will be depleting your sodium reserves more so than on a balanced macronutrient diet.
Meat, eggs, poultry, and cheese all contain some amount of natural salt, but you may find that if you are cooking all of your meals and snacks from scratch, you need to season your food with enough salt to support your body’s sodium needs.
#4: Not Eating Enough Fat and Eating Too Much Protein
The most common mistake that people make on the keto diet is not eating enough fat and eating too much protein. The keto diet is designed to be not just a low-carb diet but a high-fat diet. This differentiates it from certain other low-carb diets that focus more equally on consuming protein and fat.
You should be getting 75% of your daily caloric intake from fat, 20% from protein, and 5% from carbs.
Fat will help you stay satiated and will encourage your body to shift into a state of ketosis, which is the primary goal of the keto diet.
Moreover, eating too much protein can strain the kidneys, and excess protein is actually converted into glucose in the liver in a process termed gluconeogenesis.
The rate of gluconeogenesis is increased when glucose is not readily available, as is the case on the keto diet. Although some amount of gluconeogenesis is necessary because the brain cells and certain kidney cells can only use glucose for energy, if you eat too much protein and trigger too much gluconeogenesis, you may take your body out of the state of ketosis.
Most keto diet experts say that to really achieve the intended macronutrient ratio of the keto diet, you can’t just rely on consuming fatty meat because your protein intake will be too high.
Instead, you have to deliberately bolster your fat intake by consuming grass-fed butter, coconut oil, olive oil, and other healthy fats as a major constituent of your diet.
#5: Eating Too Many Calories
Depending on your goals, it may still be helpful to be mindful of calories on the keto diet.
If you want to lose weight, you need to be consuming fewer calories than you are burning in a day, but if you are just adapting the keto diet for medical reasons to shift your body into a state of ketosis but are not concerned about weight changes, calorie counting shouldn’t matter.
The keto diet is not intended to be a calorie-counting diet. In fact, most keto diet proponents say that you do not need to count calories on the keto diet because the foods are very satiating, and the metabolic benefits of being in ketosis can potentially facilitate some degree of fat loss naturally.
However, it’s still totally possible to overeat on the keto diet if you are not paying attention to your appetite signals or are not consuming high-quality fats and proteins that leave you as satiated as they should be.
Therefore, if you are really trying to lose a significant amount of weight on the keto diet, it is helpful to be mindful of your caloric intake and try to maintain a caloric deficit over the course of the week.
So, is the Keto diet safe? Is the keto diet healthy? Or is the keto diet bad for you?
Overall, the keto diet can be a healthy option for certain individuals if done correctly. However, it’s important to focus on food quality and speak with your doctor before switching to the keto diet to make sure it is a healthy option for you.
If you are still shopping around for the right diet for your lifestyle and goals, check out some of our other diet guides to see which will work best for you: