Is the Ketogenic Diet bad for you?

Written by Huda Fareed – Reviewed by Zoha Matin

The ketogenic diet (aka ‘the keto diet’) has been the topic of discussion among various groups- friends, gym buddies, work colleagues, and family. Even most social media influencers encourage their followers to try the keto diet, promoting the numerous small-scale businesses that provide ‘keto meals’. All of this may appear quite appealing and it is easy to get caught up in these tactics. But before diving into this trend, read this article to discover whether the keto diet is actually good for you. Is it the right way to lose weight?

It is important to understand the mechanism and effects of the Keto diet on the body before you choose to follow it.

The Ketogenic diet was first introduced in the 1920’s as a treatment for paediatric epilepsy. (1) It has helped in reducing the epileptic seizures in children. Research shows that it can also benefit adolescents and adults with epilepsy. In addition to this, the keto diet can influence brain function and thus it has been used to successfully improve various neurological diseases. (1,2)

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

The Keto diet consists of high amounts of fats (55-60% of total calories), moderate-low amounts of protein (30-35% of total calories) and very low carbohydrates (5-10% of total calories). Carbohydrates consumed in a day should be below 50g. (2)

How does the Ketogenic Diet Work?

You may already know that carbohydrates are our bodies’ main source of energy. But when enough daily carbohydrates are not available (such as on very low carbohydrate diets), the body then uses up our Glycogen stores (stored glucose in our liver and muscles). Once glycogen stores are also depleted, the body turns to fat as the primary source of energy. As a by-product of fat metabolization (a fancy term for fat cells releasing their stored energy), ketone bodies are formed and they start circulating in our blood. The body then reaches a state of ketosis. It stays in a ketonic state as long as limited carbohydrates are eaten. Ketones then provide energy for the brain, heart, muscles and kidneys. (2)

Are there side effects?

There are many short-term and long-term side effects of the keto diet. Common short-term symptoms, also known as the ‘Keto Flu’, include fatigue, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, insomnia, difficulty in exercise tolerance and constipation. Dehydration and imbalance of electrolytes may lead to an irregular heartbeat. (3) These symptoms take a few days to a few weeks to resolve.

So far, there is limited research on the long-term side effects of the keto diet. However, there are some that are known:

Liver Problems:
The liver will have to metabolize high amounts of fat. This could lead to Hepatic Steatosis also known as fatty liver. (3)

Bone Problems:
The Keto diet may decrease bone density that could lead to breakdown of bone. A low-carb and high fat diet may decrease the chance of building new bones and increase bone breakage. (4)

Heart Diseases:
If saturated fat is consumed in large quantities and vegetables and fruits are consumed in limited amounts, then LDL (bad cholesterol) levels can increase. This could lead to blockages of arteries and heart attacks. (5)

Ketosis can lead to ketoacidosis – a state when the body stores up ketones and acid leading to the blood becoming acidic. This can damage the liver, kidneys and brain. (5)

Mineral and Vitamin Deficiencies:
The keto diet might lead to deficiencies in selenium, magnesium and phosphorous and vitamins B and C. (6)

Poor Gut Health:
The Keto diet can adversely affect the microbiome present in the gut. Due to the scarce use of vegetables and fruits, people may suffer from constipation or diarrhoea. (7)

Kidney Problems:
Kidneys help in metabolising proteins. Large number of proteins could cause adverse effects on kidney function. There is also a chance of forming kidney stones. (7)

These days, many people start the keto diet on their own without consulting a dietitian and a doctor. This is risky as this diet may not be suitable for everyone. People following this diet need to be closely monitored with frequent check-ups and medical tests. Instead of helping, it may cause harm. Moreover, this diet should be adopted with caution by people who are hypoglycaemic, diabetic or those suffering with pancreatitis, liver diseases and thyroid disorders. (7)

There are many other diets that could help you reach your ideal weight. Diets that are suitable for you, according to your health status. For a customised diet plan, feel free to contact Zoha Matin for a 1:1 session.