The keto diet is drastically different from your standard “health” diet. High in fat and low in carbs, this diet contradicts everything you heard about healthy eating. So, it really doesn't come as a surprise that there's so much talk about keto diet dangers going on.
But is there any basis in such fearful thinking? In short — no. The ketogenic diet is neither quackery nor snake oil but pure science. Medical professionals designed it a century ago to treat epilepsy. Today, countless studies show that the diet provides a wide range of benefits, just one of which is weight loss.
But if you're still feeling skeptical about this diet, take a look at these 5 keto diet dangers myths debunked.
1. You Can't Live Without Carbs
Although your body prefers using carbs for energy, carbs are not an essential nutrient . Your body is perfectly capable of surviving, even thriving, without them. Fats and proteins are a different story. These are made of essential fatty and amino acids that are absolutely necessary for normal functioning and health.
So, why do medical experts and nutritionists keep putting so much emphasis on carbs and talking as if you couldn't live without them? Because it's what most of us are used to eating, and because even experts know very little about energy metabolism.
Energy metabolism is the process of generating energy (ATP) from macronutrients (fats, proteins, and carbs) . When you eat these three nutrients, your body will always favor carbs for energy production and use the other two for tissue building, enzyme production, and storage.
However, if you eat few carbs, your body is perfectly capable of using fats and proteins for energy. It breaks down proteins to make a small amount of glucose via gluconeogenesis. And it breaks down fatty acids to make ketone bodies (ketones) to replace glucose in the brain, the muscles, and heart.
Ketosis is a metabolic shift from how your body normally works. But just because it's different, doesn't make it dangerous. In fact, even medical experts agree that ketosis is a completely normal metabolic process . What's more, a growing body of research shows that ketosis even comes with a range of health benefits .
Here are some of those benefits explained:
- Improved mitochondrial functioning
High levels of free radicals damage the mitochondria – the power plants of cells. Moderate levels, however, make mitochondria stronger, and this is known as mitohormesis. Ketosis generates less free radicals and, in this way, boosts mitohormesis.
Numerous studies show that ketosis improves brain health. That's why the ketogenic diet is used as treatment for epilepsy, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ADHD, and even traumatic brain injury . Ketones improve brain health via better mitochondrial functioning and less oxidative stress.
Studies show that cancer cells can't use ketones to grow but rely solely on glucose to spread . The other reason ketones help prevent cancer because they generate fewer free radicals and reduce inflammation as already mentioned.
As you can see, being in ketosis is healthy. So why do so many people consider ketosis another of the many keto diet dangers. Well, one reason is because ketosis is often confused for ketoacidosis.
Ketoacidosis is a state of having abnormally high blood ketone levels which makes the blood acidic. The condition is most common in those with type I diabetes and alcoholism. It's a direct result of impaired insulin functioning and has nothing to do with the ketogenic diet.
3. Keto Causes Nutrient Deficiencies
On keto, you stop eating foods you're normally told to eat in abundance: whole grains, legumes, fruits, and some vegetables. These foods are touted as being dense in key nutrients, so excluding them is said to lead to nutritional deficiencies.
However, this is simply not true. When well-planned, the ketogenic diet provides all necessary nutrients to keep you healthy and well nourished. “How is this so?” you may ask.
First of all, keto staples such as meats, fish, butter, dairy, nuts, and seeds are much denser in nutrients than fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Secondly, the ketogenic diet includes a range of low-carb plant foods to meet all your nutritional needs.
There are a couple of weak spots when it comes to keto nutrition, though. Nutrients most difficult to get on this diet include:
You can get fiber only from plant foods. This nutrient is essential for normal gut functioning. On keto, you satisfy your fiber requirements by eating avocados, leafy greens, berries, nuts, and seeds. You can also take fiber as a dietary supplement.
Adults need between 90 and 120 mg of vitamin C daily . One cup of broccoli, which contains only 3.6 grams of net carbs, will give you even more than that. Other keto-friendly sources of vitamin C include avocados, spinach, and strawberries. Eat them daily and you won't have to worry about deficiencies.
Flavonoids are plant compounds that function as antioxidants in your diet . Although not essential nutrients, they are nevertheless important for health. Most plant foods contain flavonoids, and as long as your diet includes some plant foods, you will be getting enough flavonoids.
Some dieters also worry that keto can lead to magnesium deficiencies. However, there's no reason to worry about this as most nuts, seed, and leafy greens contain enough magnesium to meet your daily needs of 300-400 mg per day. Another keto-friendly source of magnesium to consider is mineral water.
Another keto diet dangers myth is that keto causes calculus — another term for kidney stones and gallstones. Being drastically different from what most are used to, some believe that keto is too much for the body to handle leading to such health problems. But such belief isn't really based on scientific fact.
First of all, kidney stones happen as a result of diets too high in animal protein, sodium, refined carbohydrates, and oxalate foods . Keto is moderate in protein and low in carbs, sodium, and oxalates so there's no way you can blame kidney on keto. However, a more common cause of kidney stones is dehydration.
Your risk of dehydration on keto is higher during the first week when you lose water and electrolytes. But as long as you are drinking your fluids and eating electrolyte-rich food, your risk of kidney stones during your initial stages of keto dieting.
As for gallstones, many people have asymptomatic gallstones , and they are not directly linked to high-fat, low-carb eating but genetics. Gallstones are hardened deposits of bile due to chemical composition imbalances in the gallbladder. Rapid weight loss can increase your risk or worsen gallstones. That's why it's always safer to lose weight gradually.
5. Keto Increases Heart Disease Risk
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death worldwide. For a long time, researchers believed that CHD is a direct result of eating too much fat . However, current research suggests things are not that simple.
Now, a growing body of research shows that refined carbohydrates are more likely to increase the risk of CHD . The role of saturated fat in heart disease is also now brought into question . Saturated fats also have their unique role in biological functions, so excluding them is not really that beneficial or even possible.
Besides fact is that fat is an essential nutrient. Fat provides energy, regulated body temperature, protects your organs. Fats also make up the membranes of our cells, carry vitamins, and some fats act as hormones. Unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids provide health benefits and protect against a range of diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and depression.
Another thing worth noting is that studies show that low-fat diets are actually causing people to gain weight and develop metabolic diseases . That's because people are compensating for the lack of fat in their diet by eating more carbs.
Opposing everything the public knows about healthy eating, it's no wonder keto has gotten such a bad rap. The diet is often touted as unhealthy and even dangerous. However, most talk about keto diet dangers is myth rather than science.
Truth is that keto can benefit your health in many ways. When well-planned, the diet provides all necessary nutrients while at the same time lowering your risk of diabetes, weight gain, heart disease, cancer, and neurological conditions.