What do yakon syrup, juice cleanses, baby food, and the keto diet have in common? They are all diet fads people might try so they can lose weight. But one of these is not like the others: the ketogenic diet. It has been a Western medical practice for at least a century. So what are the pros and cons of ketogenic diet plans?
Before delving directly into ketogenic diet pros and cons, we should first take a look at what keto is. Why have doctors been using ketosis for at least 100 (if not hundreds) of years? What is the medical purpose of keto diets? Hint: it’s not weight loss!
What is a Ketogenic Diet?
Following a ketogenic diet means you will eat almost all fat – for every meal, every day. Specifically, a strict ketogenic diet means that 75% of what you eat would be fat. 20% of your diet would be protein, and the remaining 5% of your diet would consist of carbs.
That doesn’t mean much until you compare those numbers with what most Americans typically eat. Americans usually have a diet made up of about 50% carbs, 35% fat, and 15% protein. The biggest change for the average person on a keto diet would be to reduce their carb intake from about 50% to 5% or even less. That means (almost) no bread products, manufactured sweets, or even many fruits and veggies in your diet!
Why would doctors come up with such a drastic diet? What purpose could there be to reducing carbs and increasing fat intake by so much?
The History of Ketogenic Diets
Doctors developed ketogenic diets not with weight loss in mind, but rather to help people suffering from epilepsy. Since ancient Greece, people have noticed a connection between fasting and reduced epilepsy symptoms. In the early 20th century, scientists learned that patients could enjoy these same benefits through a high-fat, very low-carb diet. That is why the ketogenic diet was first developed.
But how is it possible to have positive effects of fasting without actually fasting? The answer has to do with the bodily process of ketosis.
What is Ketosis?
Ketosis is when there are more ketones in your body than usual. Ketones are produced by your body when you fast for more than a couple days. Another way to produce ketones is to consume a very low-carb, high-fat diet for a while (the ketogenic diet). Finally, some people take ketone supplements to reach a state of ketosis.
While in a state of ketosis, you mostly do not use carbs to produce energy. Instead, you burn ketones for energy. In ketosis, your body switches from using carbs to using fat to produce the energy you need to live. Now that we know more about what a ketogenic diet is – let’s take a closer look at ketogenic diet pros and cons.
The Pros of a Ketogenic Diet
There are several advantages for some to try a ketogenic diet. Remember that if you want to follow a keto diet, it’s best to consult with your doctor or a nutritionist first. Keeping that in mind, here are a few reasons that some people choose to go keto.
Improvement of metabolic problems
A ketogenic diet can improve metabolic issues from type-2 diabetes to other problems associated with inflammation. A ketogenic diet helps keep insulin levels in check, which can aid in balancing your metabolic system overall.
May improve your brain health
Remember how the keto diet was developed as a way to control epilepsy? A ketogenic diet may also help your brain heal after an injury – or even prevent some forms of dementia.
May contribute to weight loss
People often lose weight once they commit to a ketogenic diet for at least several days or weeks. A ketogenic diet reduces the water weight that a carb-heavy diet helps you retain. Also, eating more fats than carbs may help you feel fuller longer, which may allow you to eat less overall.
On a strict ketogenic diet, you will be consuming very little sugar. After all, sugars are carbs, and your daily amount of carbs on a ketogenic diet would be about an apple’s worth. Therefore if you follow a keto diet, you will be going almost cold turkey on sweet things. Of course, it’s easier (and recommended by some) to reduce your carbs more gradually.
Whether you start slow or cut out carbs all at once, the results should eventually be the same. If you aren’t eating sugar and carbs, you can’t be dependent on them any longer. Since sugar addiction can be a serious problem, this in itself is a big deal! Being able to detox from sugar can be a great advantage to people on a ketogenic diet.
Other possible benefits
Besides the other reasons listed here, other sources claim numerous other possible ketogenic health benefits. A ketogenic diet may aid in the treatment of:
- Heart disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
However, remember that the ketogenic diet is rarely (if ever) a miracle cure. There are many pros and cons of keto diet plans, and it’s not for everyone. Even if you do suffer from one or more of the conditions listed above, don’t just suddenly commit to keto. Make sure to talk to your doctor before following a keto diet to address health issues you may have.
The Cons of a Ketogenic Diet
Although there are both ketogenic diet pros and cons, let’s just say there’s a reason it hasn’t taken the world by storm. (And that’s in the nearly one hundred years it’s been around, too!) Let’s look at what’s kept this diet from being the magic weight loss cure people might hope it could be.
It might not be very effective for you
Most people will lose at least water weight on a ketogenic diet. However, there is no guarantee that the weight is gone for good. That is, if you stray from the keto diet, you’re likely to gain all that weight back.1 People that try the ketogenic diet report mixed levels of satisfaction and weight loss results.
It can be really difficult to follow, especially long-term
A strict ketogenic diet is hard to stick with. Sure, eating a buttered steak with a side of avocado and a little buttered asparagus sounds great. But keeping your diet down to low or no carbs (bread, fruit, grains, beans, etc.) on the long-term is difficult. That’s especially true if you ever like to go out to eat.
It’s not that a ketogenic diet is impossible to do. It’s just that it might be difficult to start – and fairly difficult to keep up with.
You’ll be missing out on some healthy nutrients
Even healthy fruits and many vegetables are often too carb-rich for a ketogenic diet. If you follow a strict keto diet, you probably won’t be able to get some important plant-based nutrients without taking supplements. One of these important nutrients is fiber, which has both digestive and heart-health benefits.
There are some risks to keto
By its very nature, a ketogenic diet is not well-balanced. You’re basically trying to change how (and what) your body metabolizes for energy. To do this, you are changing the proportion of the carbs and fats that you eat. A ketogenic diet can potentially help you, but it can be risky, too.
One important health risk with a ketogenic diet is something called ketoacidosis. It’s what happens when you have too many ketones in your system and not enough insulin. It’s a dangerous form of ketosis, and people with diabetes are especially susceptible to it. But since ketosis is what you want with a ketogenic diet, ketoacidosis is just too much of a good thing.
However, ketoacidosis is a serious condition; it can even be deadly. The good news is that it’s reversible and can be treated quickly – if you know that it’s happening to you. That’s why some people use ketone urine test strips to make sure their ketone levels aren’t too high. Remember, having too many ketones is what leads to ketoacidosis.
Tips for Keto Success
If you think this lifestyle could be for you after weighing the pros and cons of ketogenic diet plans, read on. The following are several tips to keep in mind for ketogenic success!
Don’t get dehydrated
Losing excess water weight means it’s extra important to stay hydrated. Remember to keep up with electrolytes, too, and maybe even consider taking a supplement to support your transition to ketosis. Drinking plenty of water can also help combat constipation, which can come up while on a keto diet.
Clear out non-keto foods from your house (and buy ketogenic-friendly foods instead)
If the temptation of carbs and non-keto foods isn’t there, you’ll be less likely to fall off the diet bandwagon. A great place to start is knowing what to cook. Check out our keto diet recipes.
Opt for the healthiest forms of fat you can get
The problem with eating a diet of mostly just fat is that there are so many unhealthy fat options out there. Try sticking with fats that come from real, whole foods – rather than refined or processed vegetable oils. Examples of foods with healthy fats include eggs, avocados, fish, and almonds (always pay attention to the carb count, though, even with these foods!).
Test to make sure your ketosis is on track
Since ketoacidosis is a real concern, do keep track of your ketone levels. There are several ways to do this, from breathalyzers and blood tests to urine test strips. The test strips are a quick, painless, and relatively inexpensive way to check where you are in ketosis. Just remember that if you experience extreme thirst, vomiting/nausea, confusion, or other symptoms of ketoacidosis, seek help immediately.
The Takeaway: Keto Diet Pros and Cons
There are lots of pros and cons of ketogenic diet plans. Pro: if you follow the keto diet, you will almost certainly lose weight. Con: it really isn’t a diet for everyone, and that weight might not stay off.
Only you (and your doctor) can decide whether the keto diet pros and cons make it worthwhile for you. Because if it is, its long history will be sure to prove it more effective than many modern fad diets. The Pros and Cons of Ketogenic Diet Plans are numerous. The bottom line, is the pros of keto diet plans often out weight the cons of a keto diet plan.
Find all the resources used in this article and the scientific basis of all our article at The Science Behind Fitness.