Healthy Lifestyle

The Keto Diet Is Popular, but Is It Healthy?

Published: March 23, 2020


What Is the Keto Diet? 

The keto diet is extremely low in carbohydrates and very high in fat with a moderate amount of protein. Carbohydrates shouldn’t exceed 50 grams a day, and fats should take up 70-80% of your daily caloric intake. Our bodies use carbohydrate foods like bread, milk, fruit and pasta for energy. So when our bodies run low on carbohydrates, fat is used for fuel instead – resulting in weight loss and a metabolic state called ketosis. 

The keto diet has been used in children with epilepsy to control seizures and has gotten more popular with diabetics. A variety of studies have found it can help lower hemoglobin A1c. It results in weight loss when followed for a short length of time – six to 12 months. But experts agree that more research is needed to determine the health effects if followed for a longer time.


What to Eat and What to Avoid

A typical ketogenic diet includes avocados, cheese, chicken, fish, beef, nuts and nut butters, oils, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, blackberries, strawberries, unsweetened almond milk, and low-carb vegetables, such as spinach, kale, broccoli and cauliflower. Restricted foods are milk, bread, pasta, cereal, beans, fruit (besides berries), corn, alcohol and root vegetables like carrots and potatoes. 

If you’re following the keto diet, focus on a few basic keto-friendly meals and snacks to make the diet more sustainable. Reach for heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (olive oil, nuts, nut oils, avocado, canola oil, seeds) over saturated fats (bacon, butter). 


Keto Diet Challenges and Side Effects

Because of the restrictive nature of the keto diet, it may be difficult to follow for a long time since in some people, it requires a complete overhaul of eating behaviors and tastes. There are also several potential adverse side effects to the keto diet:

  • Headache, nausea and vomiting at two weeks into the diet.
  • Missing nutrients because the keto diet is low in calcium, Vitamin D, folate, potassium and B vitamins. One way to combat this shortfall: You’ll need to increase your low-carb leafy green vegetables significantly.
  • Harm to your checkbook because beef, fish, chicken, pork and cheese tend to be more expensive at the grocery store than more budget-friendly items like pasta, potatoes, rice and bread. 
  • Chronic constipation from a lack of fiber and whole grains
  • Hair loss due to a lack of nutrients
  • Low blood sugar among diabetics 
  • Dehydration because carbohydrates are responsible for holding water and sodium in the body


Final Thoughts

Remember, when a person starts to pay attention to their eating habits, weight loss generally occurs. The American Diabetes Association recently said that eating patterns for people with diabetes need to be individualized and that there is no ideal distribution of calories from carbohydrates, fats and protein. 

The keto diet is not recommended for women during pregnancy and breastfeeding, children, anyone with an eating disorder. Research with Type 1 diabetics on the keto diet is limited and inconclusive. As with any other health change you make, it’s important to ask your primary care provider about the safety of the keto diet, especially if you have a particular health concern or are on medications. Seek the advice of a registered dietician to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients needed for good health. And finally, it’s important to have good common sense when eating and to be physically active daily for improved health.

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About the Author

Martha Nepper, PhD, RDN, LMNT, CDE, is passionate about healthy eating and nutrition. Her favorite part of being a registered dietitian nutritionist is seeing someone become healthier through better nutrition and adding more activity in their lives.

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