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What Is the Keto Diet (Explained) – Weight Loss Benefits & Dangers

You’ve likely heard of the ketogenic diet; it’s become all the rage lately. According to Google’s Google’s Year in Search report, keto was the No. 1 most-searched-for diet in 2018.

As the percentage of Americans who are obese – nearly 40% of adults and one in five children, according to the CDC – continues to rise, many Americans turn to fad diets in desperate attempts to lose the weight. Fat is notoriously difficult to lose, however, especially when you’re genetically predisposed to it. And unfortunately, research consistently shows that most diets fail. Yet many Americans continue to look for solutions that hold a promise of working.

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Many are turning to the keto diet as a potential solution, as researchers are discovering some exciting new information about the effects of upping fat intake while lowering carbohydrate intake. One common benefit is easier and more significant weight loss.

Keto is still a diet, however, and therefore may not work for everyone. It’s also true that being overweight or obese might not be the danger we think it is. Americans are unquestionably “fat-phobic,” demonizing obesity for a whole host of health conditions that research shows it may not directly cause.

But weight loss aside, there may be some other very good reasons for following a keto diet, if you’re able to sustain it long-term. Numerous studies have demonstrated that low-carb, high-fat eating plans can alleviate several health issues.

If you’ve been wondering what the keto diet is all about, here’s what you need to know to decide if it’s right for you.

What Is the Keto Diet?

The ketogenic diet, more commonly known as “keto,” focuses on controlling macronutrients, a type of food the body requires in large amounts. There are three macronutrients through which the human body derives the energy necessary for life: fat, protein, and carbohydrates.

In essence, the keto diet is all about eating fewer carbs and more fat while keeping your protein consumption in the moderate range. Specifically, keto guidelines include getting 60% to 75% of your calories from fat, 15% to 30% from protein, and 5% to 10% from carbs.

The diet is called ketogenic because when carbs are reduced and fat is increased, the body enters into a metabolic state called ketosis. When you consume the standard American diet, which is heavy on carbohydrates, the body burns glucose for fuel. All carbs that enter the body are automatically turned into glucose, and the excess is stored in the liver and the body’s fat cells.

But when the body enters into ketosis, a state created through glucose depletion, the body turns to fat for energy. Dietary fat, as well as the fat stored in your body, is converted into ketones, which can also be used for energy by most tissues in the body, including the brain.

Keto-Adaptation

After a few days or weeks on a keto diet, the body and brain become efficient at burning fat for fuel instead of carbs and switch from primarily using glucose for fuel to primarily using fat. This process is known as keto-adaptation.

Your body is always using a mix of glucose and fat for energy. Even if you consume zero carbohydrates, your liver manufactures glucose from fat through a process called gluconeogenesis. In a non-keto-adapted state, it will reach for glucose first; in keto-adaptation, your body and brain begin the process of adapting to using ketones for fuel. This process takes about three days for most people. After this point, you’ll enter into ketosis.

Unfortunately, keto-adaptation can come with a few initial side effects collectively referred to as the “keto flu.” These can include fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, headache, and brain fog. You can manage these symptoms by resting; eating fiber, including a lot of green, leafy vegetables; staying hydrated; replacing lost electrolytes; and making sure you’re getting enough good, healthy fats.

How long the keto flu lasts varies for everyone, but the body typically becomes keto-adapted after one to two weeks. Once you’ve adapted, you should begin to feel the positive effects of your new eating plan, including improved mental sharpness and increased energy.

After your body adapts, it will continue to make subtle changes the longer you stay on the diet. For example, although keto dieters – especially athletes and those who regularly engage in vigorous workouts – may find it difficult to keep up with their normal level of performance for the first few weeks or even months, over time, the keto diet results in less lactic acid buildup in muscles after long training sessions, which means less fatigue and soreness.


Health Benefits of the Keto Diet

Although low-carb diets have been controversial for decades, in most scientific studies, they’ve proven to be both healthy and beneficial. Here are just a few benefits of ketosis.

1. It Lowers the Risk of Heart Disease

Despite decades of research, there remains no evidence that natural, saturated fats – found in foods such as butter, eggs, cheese, and coconut oil – are harmful. In fact, consuming dietary fat may actually be good for the heart, as discovered in a wide study of 42 European countries. High-carbohydrate diets, on the other hand, were linked with an increase in heart disease. And it’s only one of the many studies that have come to a similar conclusion.

A report from The New York Times noted that we may have known this information for decades and yet received contrary advice, anyway. A 2008 analysis of all studies of low-fat diets undertaken by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization found no evidence that high levels of dietary fat cause heart disease and a 2016 meta-analysis concluded that the current U.S. dietary guidelines, which recommend a low-fat diet, are not supported by evidence. The real culprit behind heart disease, the New York Times reports, is sugar.

Further, although a 2010 study found some benefit of replacing saturated fats in your diet with polyunsaturated fats, no other study has come to this conclusion. It’s also worth noting that the 2010 study found that this benefit came only from altering the composition of fats, not reducing overall intake; eating a high overall volume of fat was not found to be harmful.

Eating a low-carb, high-fat diet doesn’t seem to have any long-term negative effects on the heart. Another 2010 study uniquely tracked low-carb, high-fat dieters over a two-year period and found they had a reduction in atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque on the inner walls of the arteries. It concluded that this might be due to the ability of these diets to reduce other heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure.

2. It Reduces Triglycerides

Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood, and high levels have been shown to raise the risk of heart disease and stroke. Ironically, consuming dietary fat does not raise triglycerides, but consuming a high amount of carbohydrates does.

Contrary to popular belief, fat does not make you fat. In fact, a study on the effect of high-carb diets found that they lead to greater stimulation of the body’s production of fatty acids. Eating a diet high in fat, on the other hand, did not have this effect. To the contrary, it’s been shown to reduce triglycerides.

3. It Improves Cholesterol

Doctors have long relied on cholesterol levels as predictors for heart disease. Although a 2018 study suggests high cholesterol levels may not actually lead to heart disease, the standard practice is to consider it a risk factor. A keto diet has been consistently demonstrated to improve overall cholesterol.

Our bodies make two types of cholesterol: LDL and HDL. According to the CDC, LDL is “bad” cholesterol, and higher levels of it mean a greater risk of heart disease and stroke. HDL, on the other hand, is “good” cholesterol and reduces your risk.

One of the best ways to increase your good HDL cholesterol is to eat fat, and the keto diet certainly provides plenty of that. Numerous scientific studies have confirmed that the diet leads to dramatic increases in HDL levels. Low-fat diets lead to only moderate increases, or even declines, in HDL.

4. It Decreases Insulin Resistance

In many cases, the keto diet has been shown to lead to not only improved blood glucose control but also potentially the reduction or even elimination of a need for diabetes medication.

This is welcome news because, as a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found, medical interventions to treat diabetes have been largely unsuccessful and can even worsen the condition. The study also found through more than seven random, controlled trials that managing diabetes with medication does not reduce heart disease, which is the No. 1 killer of people with diabetes.

Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are progressive genetic disorders that, when uncontrolled, can lead to severe complications. In Type 1, diabetics’ bodies don’t produce any of their own insulin and, therefore, they must regularly inject themselves with manufactured insulin. Without insulin, energy can’t get into the body’s cells. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is characterized by “insulin resistance” – the body produces insulin, but the cells aren’t able to utilize it properly and resist it.

Although little research has been done into the effects of a keto diet on Type 1 diabetics, research abounds on Type 2, and studies consistently show that low-carbohydrate diets improve glucose control. A 2013 study concluded that replacing carbohydrates with fats leads to increased insulin sensitivity, meaning the body’s cells are better able to utilize available insulin.

Why Keto Works for Me

Conventional advice for diabetics typically includes lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet and exercising, in addition to medication regimens. Having witnessed my own diabetic mother get progressively sicker, I’ve been highly motivated to follow any and all advice related to diabetes management. Yet my own Type 2 diabetes didn’t improve on a conventional “healthy” diet. Despite restricting calories, eating nutritious low-fat foods, and taking up physical fitness with a vengeance, my diabetes progressively worsened.

Terrified I was headed down the same path as my mom, I reluctantly tried a keto diet, and I’m happy to report that my diabetes is now progressively getting better. I’ve been able to reduce my medication by half, and I’m hoping that the longer I stay on the diet, the less of it I’ll need. Research studies show that many Type 2 diabetics have been able to successfully eliminate all medication while following a keto diet.

I’m a lifelong dieter; I’ve tried them all. But no other diet – including other low-carb, high-protein diets – has ever resulted in a reduction of medication, even when they’ve led to significant weight loss.

Keep in mind that any lifestyle change will affect everyone differently; my experience may not be the same as someone else’s. And you should never undergo dietary changes, especially if you’re taking insulin, without a doctor’s supervision. But research continues to show a number of beneficial effects of a keto diet on diabetics that might make it worth checking out.

5. It Helps With Weight Loss

Following a specific dietary plan should always be for health first, not for fitting into a pair of skinny jeans. Research demonstrates a number of negative health effects of yo-yo dieting, the cycle of losing and then regaining weight that’s typical of anyone who diets and then returns to their old eating habits once they’ve lost the weight

Further, not only has research shown it’s possible to be healthy at any size, but I’ve personally known “thin” people with so-called obesity-related disorders, such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. I’ve also known overweight – sometimes significantly overweight – individuals who are perfectly healthy. And the jury is still out on whether losing weight can impact the severity and rate of progression of some diseases.

Nevertheless, though you may decide to pursue a keto diet for health reasons, weight loss is rarely an unwelcome byproduct. A number of studies have noted the beneficial effects of a keto diet on obesity. Low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diets have been consistently demonstrated to work better than high-carb, low-fat (HCLF) diets, and they even outdo low-carb high-protein (LCHP) diets.

In one 24-week study, men on an LCHF diet lost twice as much weight as those on an HCLF diet. In another study, the National Institutes of Health conducted a trial of 150 men and women, limiting the amount of either fat or carbs they could eat but not their total calories. At the end of one year, people on the LCHF diet lost an average of 8 pounds more than the HCLF dieters. The LCHF group lost more weight from fat tissues, while the HCLF group lost it from muscles. And these aren’t the only studies with such findings.

Granted, some studies have found that the difference between LCHF and HCLF diets is no longer statistically significant at the one-year mark, but a 2018 study discovered another potential reason why low-carb diets might work better: Not all calories are created equal.

This study of overweight adults found that those who replaced the carbs in their diets with fat significantly increased their metabolisms. After five months on the diet, they burned 250 more calories per day than those placed on an HCLF diet. That suggests that not all calories are metabolically similar to the body, so the old advice to control merely for overall calories-in versus calories-out may not be the most effective.

6. It Can Save You Money

Anything improves your health can also help your finances. Better health, especially if you suffer from any of the health issues a keto diet is shown to benefit, can result in less need for expensive medications such as insulin, which can cost hundreds of dollars per month depending on the type and dosage. Each year, Americans spend an average of $1,112 on prescription drugs, and CNBC reports that some Americans spend as much as $50,000 per year on prescription medications.

Moreover, conditions such as diabetes are often progressive, potentially leading to a whole host of complications, including loss of eyesight, kidney failure, and heart disease, all of which can be expensive to treat. According to the CDC, heart disease alone costs Americans $200 billion per year.

Even if you don’t currently suffer from a condition such as diabetes, your health often declines as you age. Research by Fidelity shows that the average couple retiring in the year 2019 will need $285,000 in savings to cover their health care costs from the age of 65 on. The better you take care of yourself today, the less you may need to spend tomorrow.

Ketogenic Diet Plan Fats


Potential Dangers of Ketogenic Diets

Although most of the controversies that surround the keto diet have been debunked (see below), there remain some potential downsides to going keto that you should consider.

1. It Can Cause Social Isolation

So much of our lives, especially our social interactions, revolve around food. That’s the part of the diet I’ve struggled with the most, as it’s meant having to rethink some of my family traditions and social get-togethers.

For example, when families gather at the holidays, it’s usually to share a large, carb-heavy meal. Because I’ve typically been the one to host gatherings, I’ve had to rethink how I show my love to my family through food. I’ve also had to rethink food being the centerpiece at all and instead focus more on enjoyable activities.

Going keto has also meant having to give up some of my old favorite activities, such as enjoying carb-heavy food at summer and fall festivals. Some people report similar struggles, including dealing with how to explain “I can’t eat that” at social gatherings. Because so many of our social interactions involve food, not eating what everyone else is eating can make you feel left out.

One way to deal with the social isolation of eating a special diet is to focus less on food and more on activities. Another way is to make sure to always bring something keto-friendly to social gatherings or make sure you pick a restaurant that has several low-carb options.

Finally, one of my friends suggested that I treat my diet the same way I’d treat a food allergy. Many people are gluten-intolerant, for example, and thus similarly struggle to find gluten-free foods. This mind-trick has worked well for me. Because I’m diabetic, I really can’t tolerate too many carbs, anyway, and it’s helped me feel less “left out” by remembering there are others who also struggle with what they can and can’t eat.

2. It Can Be Difficult to Follow for the Long-Term

Because the keto diet is so restrictive, it can be challenging to stick to for the long term. Every day, we’re surrounded by sugar-laden and carb-rich foods. They’re a staple of the American diet. Eating low-carb means giving up a lot of the foods that others are freely consuming, which can become discouraging.

Moreover, the keto diet has been popularized for its ability to help dieters shed weight fast, and losing weight through any diet plan can lead to regaining weight once the diet is stopped. Dieters then often turn to the next diet to lose weight, and the cycle continues. Yo-yo dieting can have lasting negative effects on the body, including decreased metabolism. A 2019 report from the American Heart Association (AHA) found that losing and regaining as little as 10 pounds places stress on the heart and can increase the risk for heart disease. In fact, they claim yo-yo dieting can be far more harmful than if you just lived with those same 10 pounds and never dieted.

To avoid the yo-yo cycle, whatever diet you decide to follow should be one you can stick to for the long-term, and for many, that’s not keto.

3. There’s No Room for Cheat Days

Because the main feature of the keto diet involves putting your body into a state of ketosis, even one “cheat meal” – much less a cheat day – could kick you out of ketosis. Your body will give preferential treatment to the incoming carbs, quickly turning them into glucose, and you’ll need to burn that glucose off before you can re-enter ketosis.

4. It Can Lead to Weight Obsession & Disordered Eating

Any diet has the potential to lead to weight obsession and disordered eating, including eating disorders such as binge eating, bulimia, and anorexia. Being overweight or even obese might not be as dangerous as we’ve thought, but chronic dieting can be.

If you plan to undertake any diet, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. It might make sense to look for a long-term solution to manage diabetes or heart disease, for example, but a short-term crash diet to go down one clothing size isn’t healthy and can even be dangerous.

5. It Could Cause Body Image Issues or Eating Disorders in Children

Kids learn from watching their parents. Even if you never put your child on a diet, if Mom or Dad is constantly obsessing about their weight, kids pick up on that. The same goes for demonizing certain foods. Because the keto diet severely restricts the consumption of carbs, foods that are high in carbs may get labeled as “bad.” This kind of black-and-white thinking may have lasting effects on children’s relationship with food. It’s much better to instead talk about which foods they should eat in moderation.

As a mom, I struggle with this issue myself. Having grown up in a weight-obsessed family that was always experimenting with one diet or another, I never wanted my own kids to be similarly weight- or food-obsessed. I deal with this by reminding my son whenever he wonders why I won’t eat something that Mommy is diabetic.

I’m hopeful this will instill in him that I eat this way to take care of myself so that I can live a good, long life and stick around for him. I’m equally hopeful that having these kinds of conversations will help him understand that food is a source of health and nourishment and not a source of self-punishment. In addition to encouraging healthy eating and including a diet rich in whole foods, I moderate sugary foods but don’t generally restrict what my son can eat.


Keto Controversies: Fact or Fiction?

Although some controversy surrounds the keto diet, to date, no scientific research has proven any negative health consequences. In fact, the few studies to research the diet over the long term have discovered only neutral or positive long-term effects.

A 2010 study surveyed children suffering from epilepsy who were treated using the keto diet – its original clinical purpose when it was first created in the 1920s. The children in the study had followed the diet for a median of 1.4 years, with some following it for as many as eight years. The study found no statistical evidence of any negative long-term health effects.

A second study tracked adults following a keto diet plan for two years. Not only did it find no negative effects of following the diet long-term, but it also discovered that dieters had a significant reduction in atherosclerosis.

Granted, there are very few studies that have tracked those following a keto diet over the long term, and more research is needed to firmly rule out any negative long-term effects. However, many of the prevailing criticisms of the diet have been debunked by scientific studies. Here are some of the prominent questions that have surrounded the keto diet and what research says in response.

1. Does the Keto Diet Cause Nutrient Deficiency?

A 2017 study published in the British Medical Journal concluded that a low-carb, high-fat diet can be nutritionally complete depending on what dieters actually eat. It’s certainly possible to get into a state of ketosis by eating nothing but ground beef, but as with any diet – including the standard American diet – it’s all about what you choose to put on your plate.

The keto diet leaves plenty of room for adequate nutrition. Although the plan focuses on consuming approximately 75% fats, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrates, these are merely proportions of total calories, not what the volumes on your plate might look like. When it comes to volume, most of your plate could easily be filled by low-carb vegetables, which are both low in calories and nutrition powerhouses. Consider, for example, that some of the lowest-carb vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, and kale, are also the most nutrient-dense.

In fact, because the keto diet focuses on eating whole, natural foods, it can be far more nutritious than the standard American diet, which is loaded with low-nutrient carbohydrates. Refined flour, the basis for most pasta, is pretty much devoid of nutrition. Most modern fast food and junk food is also devoid of nutritional value.

The Case Against Fruit

One reason why many continue to believe the keto diet isn’t nutritionally complete is that not many fruits are keto-friendly because many are high in carbs. The exception is nutrient-dense, cancer-fighting berries – strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries – which can be eaten on a keto plan.

But the truth is that though eating fruit is enjoyable, it isn’t nutritionally necessary. All the vitamins you can obtain from fruit can be found in vegetables. Moreover, most fruits today don’t contain as many nutrients as we think because they’re genetically engineered to be large and sweet.

Fruit is essentially candy from nature. For example, one apple contains as much sugar as the AHA recommends you consume in an entire day. Granted, the AHA is referring to added sugars, not the naturally occurring ones found in fruits and vegetables. And there’s definitely a benefit to getting your sweet fix through natural fruit instead of a candy bar; fruit contains some fiber, which slows its impact on blood sugar levels.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that many fruits are still high in sugar. As a diabetic, I’m used to being told by doctors to stay away from fruits such as bananas and grapes because of their impact on blood glucose levels. And the sugar contained in fruit is fructose, which many nutrition experts believe could potentially be worse for you than table sugar.

If you’ve ever heard about the perils of high-fructose corn syrup, then you already know fructose isn’t so great for you. While glucose can be used as a primary fuel for the body, fructose must be turned into glucose in the liver. When people eat a diet high in fructose – which is in nearly every processed food in America – the liver gets overloaded and starts turning the glucose into fat, contributing to fatty liver disease. Many scientists believe a diet high in fructose is one culprit behind the obesity-related diseases Americans face today.

2. Does the Body Need Carbohydrates?

The short answer is no. The minimum amount of carbohydrates required by the human body is zero. The reason many people believe carbohydrates are necessary is that they’re turned into glucose in the body, which is then burned for fuel. The body does require some glucose; for example, the brain, which is capable of getting up to 70% of its fuel from ketones, needs at least 30% of its fuel to be glucose.

But that glucose doesn’t have to come from your diet. The body is capable of manufacturing all the glucose it needs in the liver through a process called gluconeogenesis.

Some scientists believe that ketones might actually be good for brain health, especially in people with neurological or mental disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and epilepsy, and in cases of traumatic brain injury. Although researchers are unsure of the reason, the keto diet has been found to increase mental sharpness. That may be because the brains of those with mental or cognitive impairment are not able to adequately process glucose, which is why Alzheimer’s is sometimes called Type 3 diabetes.

3. Are Whole Grains Necessary for Health?

While it’s true that whole foods always trump processed ones, not all whole foods are necessary for the body. One reason many people believe whole grains are needed is that the fiber contained in them can help with blood sugar control. It does this by slowing down how quickly the carbohydrates are digested, which prevents blood sugar levels from spiking in response to the incoming carbs.

However, while a multigrain bread will have less impact on your blood sugar than highly processed white bread due to its higher fiber content, that fiber is only needed in the first place to mitigate your consumption of the carbs in the wheat. If you don’t consume the bread at all, then there’s no need to slow it down, which means there may be no blood sugar benefit to eating whole grains.

Further, another study compared people with Type 2 diabetes who were put on either a low-glycemic diet that included whole grains or a low-carbohydrate diet. It found that those in the low-carb group had better blood sugar control.

There’s also a belief that we need to eat whole grains to get certain essential nutrients. But, as mentioned, many low-carb options are far more nutritious.

Finally, some people believe we need whole grains because fiber feeds the good bacteria in the gut. However, while there’s plenty of research to support the importance of having good gut health, there are many low-carb foods, such as raspberries and avocados, that are far higher in fiber than whole grains, making whole grains unnecessary for good health.

4. Is the Keto Diet Harmful to the Kidneys?

Many believe the keto diet can cause harm to your kidneys, but a 2018 study of Type 2 diabetics – a population already at risk for kidney problems – found no harmful effects of a low-carb diet on the kidneys. In fact, low-carb diets have repeatedly been shown to improve glucose control in Type 2 diabetics, and high blood sugar is the source of kidney damage in diabetics, so it’s far more likely that a keto diet will only benefit the kidneys.

The notion that keto may be hard on the kidneys comes from the erroneous belief that keto is a high-protein diet, and the National Kidney Foundation recommends that those who have kidney disease moderate their protein amount because too much could overload the kidneys’ ability to filter blood. But the keto diet is actually a moderate-protein diet. And even if you were to consume a large amount of protein, this recommendation is only for those who are suffering from kidney disease. If a normal adult with healthy kidneys decided to eat more protein than their body needs, it would be unlikely to cause any real harm.

Another concern is that the keto diet may cause kidney stones. Although the exact cause of kidney stones is unknown, many theorize that an excess amount of protein requires your kidneys to work on overdrive and secrete too much calcium, potassium, and sodium. As the theory goes, this loss of electrolytes could lead to high blood pressure, which could stress your kidneys even further.

However, the science doesn’t support the idea that the keto diet causes kidney stones. A 2016 meta-analysis of the effect of low-carb diets on kidney function found no evidence that an excess intake of protein causes kidney stones. Further, a keto diet, as mentioned, is not a high-protein diet; therefore, there is no need to worry about any potential negative effects of high protein intake.

5. Is the Keto Diet Dangerous?

Many people confuse ketosis with something called ketoacidosis, but the two are not the same. Ketoacidosis is a dangerous condition in which the blood becomes overly acidic due to the combination of a high number of ketones and extremely high blood sugar. But this condition is very rare and typically occurs only in Type 1 diabetics if they don’t take their insulin. People with Type 2 diabetes who take a certain class of medications known as SGLT-2 inhibitors can also develop this condition, but it’s similarly rare.

If you’re diabetic and decide to undergo any kind of dietary change – keto or otherwise – you should always consult your doctor first, especially if you’re taking insulin or other diabetes medications. Even though the keto diet has been shown to benefit diabetics, that benefit could result in the need for less medication and thus put you at risk for low blood sugar, a far more likely result than high blood sugar. You’ll need to be carefully monitored by your physician, who can control medication changes.

Unlike ketoacidosis, ketosis is a natural and safe bodily process of breaking down fat to make ketones for energy. Under normal circumstances, a keto diet never results in ketoacidosis, only ketosis.

6. Does the Keto Diet Cause Bone Loss?

Some believe the keto diet can cause bone loss by making the blood overly acidic as a result of consuming large amounts of protein. When the blood becomes too acidic, it leaches important minerals, such as calcium, from the bones to rebalance the body’s pH. However, studies have shown that under normal circumstances, blood pH does not change according to what you eat. The body tightly controls the pH balance of the blood.

Also, even though keto is not a high-protein diet, studies show that those who do consume a large amount of protein tend to have stronger, not weaker, bones. In fact, a 2017 meta-analysis discovered no negative effect of high-protein diets on bones but did find evidence for some protective effect. And a 2016 study found no negative impact on bones even after partaking in a high-protein diet for several years.

7. Does the Keto Diet Effect Athletic Performance?

The scientific literature is somewhat mixed when it comes to the effects of the keto diet on exercise. Certain studies show that the first few weeks when your body is adjusting to burning mostly ketones for fuel instead of glucose, your performance may go down. In fact, many keto experts recommend you not exercise at all until your body adjusts.

A keto diet may also not be great for athletes whose performance relies on short bursts of energy. That includes any field-based sports, such as soccer, rugby, basketball, and football. High-intensity performance requires quick energy, which is supplied by glucose stores. A 2019 study found that these athletes’ performances suffer when they follow a low-carb diet.

The biggest benefits of a keto diet have been shown for endurance athletes such as marathoners and triathletes. When their bodies are trained to use glucose for fuel, they must refuel their glucose stores whenever they run out, which is why marathoners typically refuel several times during a race. However, high-fat diets that encourage the body’s reliance on ketones instead of glucose can result in improved and prolonged performance. When the body is trained to use ketones for energy, it doesn’t need to rely so heavily on external refueling. Further, a 2016 study showed that endurance athletes who followed a keto diet long-term – for nine to 36 months – achieved higher peak exercise intensity than those following a high-carb diet.

8. Is the Keto Diet Expensive?

The keto diet has gained a reputation for being expensive, largely as a result of the extensive marketing of “necessary” keto products, including supplements, shakes, bars, and high-cost substitutions for beloved high-carb favorites like chocolate bars and gummy bears.

But the keto diet doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, it could actually save you money because you can follow it while relying on some of your standard grocery items – such as meat, eggs, and cheese – while ditching the processed foods and snacks. Plus, because the diet emphasizes a high fat intake, you can forget about spending extra money on lean cuts of meat and opt instead for fattier and lower-cost chicken thighs or 80/20 ground beef.


Final Word

In the end, keto may not be the way to go if you’re just looking for a short-term fix to drop those last 10 pounds. It may be far healthier to just live with the extra pounds than try to force your body back into your old jeans. We live in a weight-obsessed culture that repeatedly tells us we have to be a certain size to be “healthy,” but the statistics have shown that it’s possible to be healthy at any size. There is no one right size that suits everyone.

I often say I didn’t choose the low-carb lifestyle; it chose me. As a Type 2 diabetic, the keto diet has shown more promise for reversing my diabetes than anything else I’ve tried. And even though I’d much prefer not to have to be so conscious and careful of what I eat, I can’t deny the potential results for my long-term health.

No single diet is suitable for everyone, especially since individual metabolism, genetic makeup, lifestyles, and personal preferences differ. Further, certain individuals should exercise caution with a keto diet. Women who are breastfeeding should not try a keto diet. And anyone with diabetes or high blood pressure should be closely monitored by a doctor, as keto can result in both lowered blood sugar and lowered blood pressure and, therefore, may call for medication adjustments. Keep in mind that you should always consult your doctor before embarking on any diet change, keto or otherwise.

Are you currently following or interested in trying the keto diet? Are you excited about its potential health effects or reluctant to make such a drastic change?

Sarah Graves
Sarah Graves, Ph.D. is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance, parenting, education, and creative entrepreneurship. She's also a college instructor of English and humanities. When not busy writing or teaching her students the proper use of a semicolon, you can find her hanging out with her awesome husband and adorable son watching way too many superhero movies.

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9 Best Rewards Credit Card Sign-Up Bonus Offers, Deals & Promotions

Few credit card rewards and perks are more valuable than sign-up bonuses - also known as welcome offers, early spend bonuses, or new cardmember bonuses, depending...
Keys House Keychain Real Estate Purchasing Renting Home

8 Things to Consider Before Investing in Turnkey Real Estate Properties

Fixer-uppers aren’t for everyone.Sure, some real estate investors create equity by renovating properties. But hiring, managing, and negotiating with contractors comes with its own headaches. And...

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