Keto Diet has gained so much popularity in last couple of years that it is difficult for anyone to overlook it. I have tried to experience Keto myself and understand how it fairs with other diets. I am sure if you are trying to lose weight, you must have consider switching to Keto at certain point. If you haven’t then this is your chance to know all the facts before jumping into the keto craze. Even if you have, I am going to present 4 such keto facts towards the end of this article that can make you reconsider this diet.
Source – Google Trends
Let’s get started.
1. The Keto diet was not originally developed for losing weight
Ketogenic diet was introduced in 1920 to treat difficult to control (refractory) epilepsy in children. Since then several studies have been done on the effectiveness of Keto diet to control seizures.
It was found that children on Clinical Ketogenic diet have atleast 50% reduction in the number of their seizures. Some children, even become seizure free (usually 10-15%). Interesting fact is that though Keto helps in reducing seizures, children still need to continue with seizure medicines (on reduced dosage).
2. Your body doesn’t magically start burning fat on Keto
The goal of keto diet is to burn fat for fuel. But, our body is not efficient in using fat directly for fuel. This is where liver comes into the picture.
Once the body realizes that it is not getting carbs to fuel it’s various functions, it signals liver to switch to fat. This switch doesn’t happen immediately as the liver needs certain enzymes to accomplish this task.
Since the main goal of our body is to survive, it tries to make these enzymes available to the liver eventually. This is called the adaptation phase. This period can last from 2 days to couple of weeks. It is post this adaptation phase that the body enters into ketosis.
The fat from food and our adipose tissue (stored body fat) can be converted to Ketones in the liver. Most cells in our body can readily use fatty acids for energy, while our brain. liver and nuerons need ketones.
3. Ketogenic diet can be difficult to adopt
This is specially true for people coming from SAD (Standard American Diet). If you have been eating carbohydrate from sunrise till the time you go to sleep, you can’t expect your body to switch to burning fat overnight.
You need to consume less than 20 grams of carbs for your body to start utilizing fat. Most people find it difficult to get away from carbs initially and tend to underestimate their carb intake. This coupled with the adaptation phase (time needed to up regulate ketone production) can make you feel miserable in the first few days. There is no shortcut to get into ketosis.
4. Low Carb Diet is not same as Keto Diet
A typical low carb diet is usually a diet high in protein There are many low carb diets. Atkins, Carnivore diets are the most popular low carb diet.
Atkins Diet restricts carbs initially until your body becomes more insulin sensitive. Whereas, Carnivore diet is a zero carb diet where meats, eggs and fish are it’s staple foods.
While these diets do help you to lose weight and provide some health benefits, none of these diets result in your body burning fat for fuel as Ketones. Most of the health benefits on Keto diet comes from staying in Ketosis where fat forms the majority of calories.
5. Your blood Ketone level is up-regulated in Ketosis
6. Getting into ketosis can take longer than what you have been told
If you are coming from a low carb diet or have been following some form fasting protocol regularly, it is easy for body to transition into ketosis. However, if you were previously on a high carb diet, the body might take sometime to shift it’s metabolism.
High insulin level which is very common in people now, prevents the ketosis to kick in.
I have known people who get into ketosis within a day, while others may take couple of weeks. That’s why I recommend people first cutting sugar and other processed foods before transitioning into keto.
The quickest way to get into ketosis is to fast for atleast 20-24 hours. Post the fast, you need to ensure that you are consuming high fat foods, with low to moderate amount of protein. You should stay away from carbs until your blood ketone levels are up-regulated.
7. You cannot get into ketosis without severely limiting carbs
Keto diet limits the intake of carbs to 5% of the total daily calories. For most people, that roughly translates to 20 grams or less.
When you first start with Keto diet, you will surprised to find how carb is in almost everything you try to put in your mouth. And no, I am not just talking about refined grains, sugar and junk food. Everything except for pure fats (like butter, oil) and meat (chicken, beef, fish) has some amount of carbs.
Over a course of day, this quickly adds up and staying below 20 grams of carb becomes very difficult. Your best bet is to avoid all grains, vegetables and fruits except for green leafy and cruciferous vegetables.
8. You will have to monitor your protein consumption
Insulin and Ketosis are two opposing states. Your body cannot produce or use ketones for energy in the presence of insulin.
Protein is more insulinogenic than fats but less than carbs. However, the affect of certain amino acids like – Leucine is acute. It means that if you are consuming whey proteins or a high protein meal, you can easily get kicked out of ketosis. This may not be a permanent state but an acute state that can last till the period of digestion of food.
There are couple of ways to prevent this.
- Ensure that you are working out before a high protein meal.
- Try to get protein from whole food sources like eggs, meat and fish instead of whey protein powder
9. Saturated fat intake is high on Keto diet
Eggs and meat are go to sources of fat for most on keto. As a result, this diet includes a substantial amount of saturated fat consumption. But, there is no need to be alarmed. Recent studies have shown that there is no significant link between saturated fat and risk of heart disease.
Contrary to what we have been told for years, there are many health benefits of including saturated fat in your diet. Saturated fat improves HDL to LDL Cholesterol ratio. It boosts hormones (like testosterone), improves immunity and bone density.
10. Side Effects of keto diet are real
There are no long term studies of keto diet available to ascertain if there are any major risks or side effect of Keto diet in adults. But there is enough data available to conclude that Keto diet just like any other diet is not without its demerits.
Studies done on children treated for epilepsy show a range of side effects. This includes: Constipation, Hypoglycemia, Kidney stones, stunned growth, Ketoacidosis, etc. Other side effects that are more of speculative in nature, include – Increased risk of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver disease, increased risk of respiratory and Colon Cancer, Increased Cardiovascular risk.
11. Keto flu is real and can last for several days
Insulin’s primary role is to allow glucose to move into cells. When you stop consuming carbs, insulin level in your body drops. It drops to baseline after few days on Keto diet.
The liver starts converting fat to ketones. Ketones can be used by most cell in your body. But brain and few other organs in the body may not readily adopt to change in metabolism which results in most of the side effects of keto.
It is common to experience fatigue, headache, brain fog and dizziness when first starting with keto. Most of these side effects are result of slow adoption to keto and significant drop in sodium levels in the body. Insulin regulates level of sodium in your body. When insulin is low, kidneys start flushing sodium. You may experience increased urination as a result.
To counter this, you need to increase your salt intake on Keto. It is recommended to increased your salt intake by 2-3 times upto 3-5 grams daily on keto. Apart from sodium, potassium and magnesium levels also drops on Keto. The best way to regulate these electrolytes is to supplement them.
12. Your breadth may sting on Keto
Once the liver starts ramping up ketone production, you may experience a funky smell in your breadth.
Many people describe this as fruity or smell of nail polish remover (acetone). This is called Keto breadth and is often accompanied by a metallic taste in your mouth. This is a sure sign that you are in ketosis.
This breadth usually goes away after few weeks, once the body adapts and is able to use ketones more efficiently. In the meanwhile, you can try chewing some sugar free gum and drinking more fluids to combat the Keto breadth.
13. Calorie counting is not necessary on keto
Energy balance (Calories in and out) forms the basis of any diet and is still true on Keto diet. But, there are certain physiological adaptations that need to be considered on keto.
Keto diet mostly incorporates food rich in good fats and whole food protein sources. Fat makes you feel full easily and protein helps you to stay satiated for longer. The combined effects of high fat and protein makes it easy to naturally eat less without counting calories.
To top it off, insulin stays very low on keto diet which provides the right environment for your body to tap into it’s fat reserves (adipose tissue).
Losing weight becomes easier when you don’t have to consciously monitor how much you are eating.
14. You still need to be in calorie deficit to lose weight on Keto
This may seem counter-intuitive compared what we discussed previously but hear me out.
When you start with keto diet, most people experience weight loss without monitoring the quantity of food they eat. But, after a month or two they usually stall.
This happens due to the fact that they are eating more calories then their body can utilize. If this happens, the only way to kick start weight loss is to start monitoring your calories or eat slightly less than before.
Once, you get your body in slight energy deficit, weight loss restarts. You may need to do this every time, you hit a weight loss plateau. Slightly reducing your food (calorie) intake will get you out of a stall every time.
15. Initial weight loss on keto is not just fat
Many people when they start with keto, experience a substantial drop in their weight. This usually happens due to loss of fluids.
Carbs retain water in the body. For every gram of carb you eat, your body holds 3gm (ml) of water. In the absence of carbs on keto diet, body stops retaining water.
It is coupled with kidneys flushing out sodium (with fluids) due to low insulin. This loss in fluids can be anywhere between 1-3 kg of your body weight over a period of 1-2 weeks. Post this, the weight loss usually becomes slow but the weight lost is mostly body fat beyond this point.
16. You can compound the effects of Keto by doing it with intermittent fasting
The purpose of both Ketogenic diet and fasting is to burn fat for fuel. Keto diet does it by converting stored fat and ingested fat to ketones, while intermittent fasting triggers fat burning directly.
Our body stores energy (glucose) in form of glycogen in muscles and liver. You can store about 200 grams of glycogen in muscles and 50 grams in liver.
Muscle glycogen is used when doing some form of physical activity. Whereas, liver glycogen is a reserve fuel tank for the body. Our body taps into it when there is no energy available from food (e.g. during night when we are asleep).
When you fast for more than 12 hours, your liver glycogen completely depletes. Once this happens, the body needs to tap into its fat reserves to supply energy to its cells. The longer you get into the fast, the higher is the rate of fat burned.
After about 24 -36 hours into fasting your body starts converting fat to ketones even in the absence of dietary fat.
But, you don’t need to fast so long, to get the benefits of fasting. Intermittently fasting for 12-16 hours daily coupled with Keto will substantially increase your rate of weight loss.
17. Your focus and cognitive ability will improve on keto
Many people experience increased brainpower and focus just after doing keto for few days.
Our brain is mostly fats. So it makes sense that increasing amount of fats in the diet can only help the brain perform better. However, all fats are not same.
There are some essential fats – Omega 3s and Omega 6s that our body can’t make. Omega 3s in particular – DHA is what is essential to brain’s cognitive ability.
Western diets are loaded with Omega 6s (inflamatory in nature) and the balance between Omega-3s and Omega-6s is completely out of wack. A ratio of 1:1 to 1:4 between Omega 3 and Omega 6 is critical to brain and heart health. On SAD (Standard American Diet) this ratio is anywhere between 1:20 to 1:40.
Ketogenic helps to restore this balance by burning fat for fuel and encouraging people to eat healthy sources of food like wild caught fish, pasture raised chicken and eggs, grass fed beef, etc. All these are loaded with healthy Omega-3s.
Once you are adapted to Keto, you will not only experience increased cognitive ability but higher focus as well. The brain is supplied with steady source of energy in the form of ketones and can perform steadily for hours without getting tired.
18. Urine strips are a waste of money
Urine strips are a cheap and convenient way to find out whether you are in ketosis or not. However, it is not a reliable way to measure the level of ketones in the body.
When starting out with Keto diet, you may register good reading on keto strips. As your body gets adapted to burning ketones for fuel, levels of ketone in urine goes down. This can make it very difficult to determine, if you are in ketosis or not through urine strips.
A more practical way to know whether you are in ketosis or not is simply by monitoring your energy levels and weight loss progression.
If you have hit a weight loss plateau by still being in caloric deficit, then it would make sense to measure your blood ketone levels to understand what’s really going on.
19. Weight loss is just a side effect of Keto Diet
Real benefits and potential are enormous for Ketogenic diet.
While most people jump on keto bandwagon just to lose weight, they quickly witness many more health benefits. Many see their acne disappear in the first or second week on keto. Elevated blood glucose and altered gut bacteria, result in acne episodes for many.
When switching to keto, blood glucose stays at baseline and helps to clear acne. Many women find that their PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) improves on keto. This might be due to improved hormonal balance and normalization of body weight.
Keto is also finding its application in management of patient suffering from cancer. There are even claims that a low carb diet like keto, may reduce risk of cancer or even prevent it. More research is needed in this regard.
20. It’s difficult to dine out with friends and family when practicing Keto
If you are someone who likes to gorge on buffets, you will find it extremely difficult to stay in ketosis.
Buffets are usually large and loaded with both fast and processed carbs. Once you binge on carbs, it might take anywhere between 24-48 hours for you to get back to ketosis depending on how much fat adapted you are.
If you eat out once a month or so, this is not a concern. But, if you plan to go out with friends and families on every weekend, Ketogenic diet will be extremely difficult for you to follow.
That being said, with keto awareness reaching everyone, many restaurants have started offering keto friendly meals. If you can give up on buffet, you can still dine out with your friends and family. Just consciously eliminate carbs by asking the waiter to skip starches and desserts.
21. You may lose muscle on Keto
Muscle retention on Keto diet is difficult even when compared to diets with moderate carb intake. This may be more to do with mTOR signalling. mTOR is responsible for muscle protein synthesis. mTOR is triggered by resistance training and ingesting protein. mTOR along with insulin create a anabolic state for muscle protein synthesis.
On Keto diet, both carb and protein consumption is limited. It doesn’t create an optimal environment for your body to maintain the muscles. Muscles are the most metabolic (energy demanding) organ in our body. They need optimum protein and carbs for maintenance.
I have seen people lose lean muscle mass even when consuming more calories on keto. Most people in an effort to stay in Ketosis, limit their protein intake to an extent that they start losing their muscles.
People following a targeted or cyclical ketogenic diet may get away from muscle wasting and may even be able to put on substantial lean muscle mass.
22. It is difficult to build muscles on keto
Keto diet is not the optimal diet if you are trying to put on muscle.
Building muscle requires an anabolic response. Insulin is an anabolic hormone. On a keto diet, you don’t get the acute benefits of insulin to assist in muscle protein synthesis when compared to a moderate or high carb diet.
There are other mechanisms by which it is still possible to build muscle. Increasing your protein intake does trigger muscle protein synthesis but it may not be optimal for bodybuilders.
Also, when you eat less carbs, your workout intensity might take a hit. During resistance training, body uses muscle glycogen (stored carbs) exclusively. When carb intake is low, it becomes difficult for the muscle glycogen to get replenished which affects your subsequent workout(s).
Muscle building is a tedious process for the body and it only makes sense to optimize it through proper nutrition in whichever way possible. So, Keto may be the best diet for weight loss, but is not an ideal diet for someone, who works really hard at gym and is trying to put on, every inch of muscle possible.
23. Keto is not for everyone
While keto diet is an excellent tool to manage weight, it is not a blanket solution for Obesity epidemic and it’s not for everyone.
The mechanism by which keto diet works is that it helps to reduce blood insulin. Most people on SAD (Standard American Diet) are either pre-diabetic or have high insulin levels. This group of people are the ones who mostly benefit from this diet.
If you are already insulin sensitive, you may not get best out of keto or may not see same weight loss results as others.
Also, people with Diabetes Type 1 and 2, may find it difficult to adopt to keto. If you suffer from any of metabolic disorder, reach out to a health practitioner before starting with keto. It is important to monitor your blood glucose and insulin levels, and make adjustments to your diet as needed.
Here is a quick summary of the most important facts about Ketogenic Diet.
Keto just like any other diet has its merits and demerits. Compared to other diets that focus on restricting calories, Keto has a steep adaptation phase.
I do not recommend keto as the first resort to lose weight. You should first try to clean up your diet and focus on getting proper nutrition from whole food sources. Keto should be used as an advance tool when you reach a stall or unable to lose those last couple of inches of stubborn fat.
New to Weight-loss? Read the below article to get up to speed on how to lose weight in the most scientific way.
This article was an attempt to answer most questions that may be in the mind of someone who is currently on a Keto Diet or wants to adopt Keto as a lifestyle. I hope it was helpful to you and was a good read.
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