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Understanding Keto: Benefits, Challenges and Should You Do It (Hint: No!)

Do you want to lose weight quickly? Are you thinking of starting a keto diet?

But do you know all the facts about the keto diet, its health benefits, risks, and challenges?

Well, keto is not only about weight loss, but much more than that.

Read this article for a deeper insight into the keto diet.

The Keto diet has been used to treat particular medical ailments for millennia. The ketogenic diet was popular in the nineteenth century for diabetic management. It was launched in 1920 as a successful treatment for epilepsy in children who had failed to respond to medicines. A Keto diet is a diet which shifts your body's primary source of energy from glucose to fat. This diet is high in fats, moderate in protein and low in carbohydrates.

Normally, cells get their energy from blood sugar, which comes from carbohydrates. But when we start with a keto diet, i.e. low carbohydrates and high-fat diet, our body begins breaking down stored fat into molecules called ketone bodies due to low circulating blood sugar from food. This process of production of ketone bodies is called ketogenesis. During ketosis, three major ketone bodies are formed and utilised by the body acetone, acetoacetate and β-hydroxybutyrate. Now, most of the cells will use these ketone bodies to generate energy until you eat carbohydrates again. The transition from using circulating glucose to breaking down stored fat as an energy source normally takes two to four days of consuming very less carbohydrates each day.

Confused as to what should be included in the keto diet? Here's a good list of foods to be included and excluded from this diet.

Eat this:

  • Low-carb veggies

  • Cheese, mayonnaise, butter

  • Avocados

  • Poultry

  • Eggs

  • Fish and seafood

  • Nuts, seeds and healthful oils

  • Plain Greek yoghourt and cottage cheese

  • Berries

  • Unsweetened coffee and tea

  • Dark chocolate and cocoa powder

Avoid this:

  • Grains

  • Starchy vegetables and high-sugar fruits

  • Sweetened yoghourt

  • Juices

  • Honey, syrup or sugar in any form

  • Chips and crackers

  • Baked goods including gluten-free baked goods

Let's take a look at the benefits of the keto diet:-

  • Reduced Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels

People with diabetes and insulin resistance, which afflict millions of people worldwide, may benefit from low-carb and ketogenic diets. Cutting carbs decrease blood sugar and insulin levels dramatically, according to some studies. Some diabetics may need to cut their insulin dosage by 50%, nearly immediately after starting a low-carb diet. Within six months, 95 per cent of people with type 2 diabetes had lowered or removed their glucose-lowering medication, according to one researcher.

  • May lower blood pressure

Hypertension is a significant risk factor for many diseases, including cardiovascular disease and kidney failure. Low-carb diets are an effective way to lower blood pressure, which should reduce your risk of these diseases and help you live a long and healthy life.

  • Low-Carb Diets Reduce Your Appetite

Dieting's worst negative effect is usually hunger pangs or cravings. It's one of the key reasons why so many people are unhappy and give up. Low-carb eating, on the other hand, causes appetite suppression and helps you feel satiated.

  • Low-Carb Diets Lead to More Weight Loss in the First

One of the simplest and most efficient strategies to reduce weight is to cut carbs. Low-carbohydrate diets shed weight faster than low-fat diets, according to studies. This is because low-carb diets allow your body to expel extra water, decreasing insulin levels and causing rapid weight loss in the first week or two.

  • A Greater Proportion of Fat Loss Comes From Your Abdominal Cavity

Excessive visceral fat is linked to inflammation and insulin resistance, which may be at the root of today's metabolic disorders. Low-carb diets are highly successful at getting rid of this abdominal fat. It appears that a bigger share of the fat lost on low-carb diets comes from the abdominal region.

  • Triglycerides Tend to Drop Drastically

Carbohydrate consumption, particularly the simple sugar fructose, is one of the main causes of high triglycerides in sedentary adults. When people consume low amounts of carbohydrates, the liver produces fewer triglycerides, which may be involved in raising HDL cholesterol levels. Low-fat diets, on the other hand, frequently cause triglycerides to rise.

Now let's take a look at the other side of this diet i.e., negatives of the Keto diet

  • Keto–flu

When following a keto diet, the body enters a state known as nutritional ketosis, which is characterised by irritability, headaches, and exhaustion commonly referred to as "keto flu". This could be happening because our bodies are trained to run on glucose (97% of our brain can only run on glucose) and switching to running on ketones causes change in our biochemistry and hormones. Glucose and starchy foods lead to producing serotonin in our brain. Serotonin makes us calm and happy and also promotes good sleep. So, when we switch to ketones, these neurotransmitters also go awry. All these can contribute to feelings of irritability, agitation and headaches.

  • Risk of chronic disease

Long-term impacts of this eating habit are difficult to investigate, with conflicting information emerging on how parameters like blood LDL cholesterol and cardiovascular health are altered. However, when people try to exclude particular foods from their diets, the meals that replace them may not be the healthiest or most sensible options for chronic disease prevention.

Increasing poor quality fats or proteins in the diet, such as processed or red meat, elevates saturated fat and sodium intake, which are nutrients linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

  • Cancer risk

Cancers also feed on ketones. Ketones have been found to fuel human breast cancer growth. High-fat diets increase breast cancer risk by oxidative stress and hormonal dysregulation of inflammatory signalling. A strong association has also been found between saturated fat intake and prostate cancer. Acetone, a ketone produced on a ketogenic diet, can oxidise in the blood to acetol, which can result in the formation of methylglyoxal. This is why non-diabetic keto dieters have methylglyoxal levels as high as diabetics with uncontrolled diabetes or who suffer a heart attack.

  • Effect on exercise performance

An official policy document on ketogenic diets from the International Society of Sports Nutrition notes erotic properties For both high and low-intensity workouts, this is performance reducing, the polar opposite of ergogenic. Ketosis can increase the perception of effort and exhaustion during physical activity in non-athletes, thereby undermining exercise efforts.

  • Disturbed gut microflora

Ketogenic diets have also been shown to reduce the richness and diversity of our gut flora. Saturated fat in particular appears to cause obesogenic and proinflammatory changes in gut flora.

  • Micronutrient deficiency

When carbohydrate-rich meals containing vital nutrients are removed from the diet, several essential nutrients are also minimally received leading to micronutrient deficiencies.

  • Unsustainable diet

The weight-loss benefits linked with this type of diet often do not sustain since rigorous adherence to particular food restrictions becomes difficult to maintain over time.

What are the challenges of following this diet?

  1. Difficult to sustain: While following a keto diet may help you lose weight in the short-term and can be beneficial for some health conditions like type 2 diabetes mellitus, experts agree that the diet is hard to sustain, which is why many people opt for other choices.

  2. Too logistically difficult in terms of calculating Macronutrients: Calculating your diet’s macronutrients accurately to get enough fats and restricted carbs to initiate ketosis and maintain it gets difficult.

  3. Increases LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol: Several studies have suggested that this diet can affect your cholesterol levels, causing an increase in LDL and total cholesterol.

  4. Causes a drop in exercise performance, especially anaerobic: According to a study published in 2019, low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diets reduce exercise performance in activities that are heavily dependent on anaerobic energy systems.

  5. Causes mood swings because of a lack of serotonin. A very low carbohydrate diet may not be good for your mental health. It can cause depression, anxiety and mood swings, suggest researchers.

  6. Causes hormonal imbalance: According to research published in March 2016 in Endotext, changes in body composition (such as those associated with weight loss as a result of the keto diet or another diet) can affect gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) levels. Reduced oestrogen is caused by GnRH disruption, which can disrupt ovulation and lead to amenorrhea.

  7. A well-formulated ketogenic diet is very low in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and rich in fat. This comprises 70 - 75 % fat, 20 % protein, and 5-10 % carbohydrates. But people consume more protein than that which is bad for the liver and might cause insulin resistance.

  8. The keto diet encourages a high consumption of fats causing a high intake of saturated fats too. Saturated fat is an independent risk factor for CVD as it raises LDL.

  9. Most animal fats and proteins are also high in trans fat which is carcinogenic

  10. Since the keto diet restricts carbs, there's very low fibre in this diet. Low fibre intake causes constipation

  11. The gut microbiome is affected as the diet is low in fibre causing leaky gut, inflammation, and mood disorder.

Long term health risks associated with following a keto diet

The negative long-term consequences of ketogenic diets may far outweigh any potential short-term benefits, according to a comprehensive new review published in 2021.

A group of physicians, academics, and registered dietitians assessed more than 100 peer-reviewed publications on keto diets to find long-term impacts for this newest meta-analysis. People who follow such diets have a higher risk of heart disease, LDL cholesterol buildup, kidney failure, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and cancer, according to the researchers. They also determined that keto diets are especially harmful to women who are pregnant or may become pregnant. Even if the pregnant woman is taking folic acid supplements, low-carbohydrate diets have been associated with birth malformations, including neural tube defects, and gestational diabetes. Furthermore, for those with chronic kidney disease (CKD), the keto diet's high protein intake can put undue strain on the kidneys, worsening the

condition in the long run.

To conclude,

  • The weight-loss benefits associated with this type of diet also typically do not last, because, over time, adherence to strict limitations on certain foods becomes difficult for the individual to maintain (Campos, 2017).

  • Current fad diets are constantly evolving, with specific trends coming and going. Thinking about the diversity and quality of nutrients available from that diet is a great way to measure the relative benefits or drawbacks of any diet or eating pattern. The Keto diet may have some beneficial effects, but the negative consequences outweigh the benefits.

  • While a ketogenic diet may be recommended for some people with uncontrolled epilepsy, the high-fat content and especially high levels of unhealthy saturated fat combined with limits on nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables and grains is a concern for long term heart health.

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