Is the Keto Diet Healthy?

Many people rave about the keto diet. For many I know, it is not just a diet, but a lifestyle (similar to how we classify vegans as a group or culture). And from my first experience with it, I noticed extreme and fast weight loss. While that was an expectation I had, my main goal of keto is mostly to cut out sugar (sugar addict here, and I don’t use the term lightly. My struggle with cutting out sugar has had a huge impact on my mental and physical health). You might just say, why not just eat your regular diet but cut out sugar? But I feel like that’s telling an recently recovering alcoholic to go sit at the bar everyday but not engage in drinking. Sometimes we need to completely cut out the habit and the triggers to the habit. For me, I feel like the more carbs I eat the more carbs I crave, and even when I’m eating healthy carbs, I will still crave sugar.

All that being said, I don’t believe the keto diet is all that healthy. Here are some potential concerns I have about it:

  1. The effects on my organs.

Out bodies use glucose as a primary source of energy. In fact, glucose is the only molecule (out of fat and protein molecules) that can cross the blood brain barrier and fuel our minds (this might be why I get brain fog after a hard workout or if I haven’t eaten in a while. But in ketosis the liver can take fat and turn it into ketones to use as energy. I also learned in my nutrition class (that I took 5 years ago so don’t quote me on this), but somewhere in the process there are unneeded molecules produces (waste) that the kidneys must filter out. So this is extra work that the kidneys and liver must do. Most of us have two kidneys (but I hear kidney stones are the worst and this is a risk), but once our liver gives out we are donezo. Is a beach body worth the long term health of our organs? How long before this process truly wears down our organs? Is it a slow enough process that we will most likely die of other causes and it won’t matter much or is this diet something like cigarettes that could lead to an early death? The problem is this diet only became a trend somewhat recently, so I’m not sure if the research has reliable conclusions on the long term ramifications.

2. Risk of heart disease

As I mentioned in another article, a study found sugar and saturated fat to be equally bad for heart health. Let me break things down real quick: There are carbohydrates and within carbohydrates there are complex carbs (e.g. whole grains) and simple sugars. Within the fat category there are saturated fats and unsaturated fats (and within unsaturated fats there are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated – these are super good for you e.g. fish oil). So complex carbs and unsaturated fats are considered part of a healthy diet. But simple sugar and saturated fat can both lead to increased risk of heart disease. Now the benefit of the keto diet is that it eliminates sugar. However, if we are replacing that sugar with saturated fat we’re really not getting any benefit, just switching one evil for another. I plan to keep my diet low carb, but focus on getting those unsaturated fats through fish, nuts, and oils, and decrease saturated fat consumption by eating more poultry/lean meat and less red meat (even though I love a good steak, I shouldn’t eat that every day.)

Note: some studies suggest not all saturated fat is bad, like coconut oil for example. The problem is when saturated fat becomes oxidized in our blood vessels and becomes plaque, which builds up and clogs arteries.

3. Lack of nutrients like antioxidants from vegetables

Some will argue you can get all the nutrients you need through animal products. In truth, I haven’t done any research on this. I do know though that antioxidants are super important to fight free radicals that can cause cancer and heart disease. Maybe you have no family history of cancer and have never thought about trying to prevent it, but my family history of cancer is vast and I think about this every day. Studies show we have not yet found a way to get antioxidants in supplement form (they somehow become “deactivated” once out of their food source). Most antioxidants are found in colorful fruits and vegetables, so it’s important to still include these in any diet (unless your doctor says otherwise, idk I’m just a psych major that likes nutrition).

4. Constipation

So if I’m eating all meat where is my fiber coming from? I miss oatmeal and honestly don’t know how to live without it. I’ve found that coffee only helps in the beginning of the keto diet. What about the later stages?

5. Stupid business marketing

This isn’t a health concern, but a financial concern. Most businesses will take advantage of trends. We all desire to be the best versions of ourselves (at least the average human does) and businesses play into our desires to take our money and not really give us the benefits they claimed they would. I see tons of products now that have “KETO” written in huge letters on the packaging that are definitely not keto? What is going on here? All I’m saying is be careful with your money and don’t believe everything you read.

Even this. I write this article with so many questions to get you to question your diet and all the trends out there too. Sometimes, even the research has it wrong. I am still learning to read the cues my body is telling me and going off of how healthy something makes me feel rather than how healthy someone is telling me something is.

P.S. If you enjoyed reading about the potential cons of the Keto diet, you might also like my post about my experience with Crossfit. Check it out here.

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