I was a Corpsman (not a corpse-man as some recent somewhat fanatical president would say), and I can tell you many stories of Marines and Sailors who maintained restrictive diets (aka picky eaters). Most obvious was lack of sustaining energy (hypoglycemia) at mile 15 (with 80lbs of gear including a 6.5lb rifle and 200 rnds of ammo, etc.) and depletion of essential vitamins, electrolyte imbalance. They were always the first to collapse and have to hear me scold “see I told you so.” An IV of D5W usually does the trick (D is for dextrose, OMG!)
Your kidneys flushing out all that water is also part of the reason people see dramatic scale drops in the beginning of their keto journeys. "I wish people knew that the weight loss they will initially experience on this diet is largely due to water loss," Brown says. That means you're most likely not actually losing fat in the first couple of weeks, but instead losing water that will come back in the form of glycogen stores if and when you start eating carbs again. (BTW, Here's How to Safely and Effectively Come Off the Keto Diet.)
Other experts say the long-term accumulation of ketones could be harmful. “Those ketones are emergency fuel sources, and we’re not meant to run on them long-term,” says Kristen Kizer, a registered dietitian at Houston Methodist Hospital. “Ketones are negatively-charged molecules, which means they’re acidic. When you build up ketone bodies in your system, you’re building up acid. One of the ways your body buffers acid is by pulling calcium from your bones.” Kizer also notes that the diet isn't very balanced and involves a very high intake of animal products, which generally do not protect against cancer, diabetes, or other diseases.
He was wrong. Originally used for epilepsy, studies show that keto diets are far from dangerous. In fact, they benefit numerous conditions, including cancer, dementia, and overweight/obesity, and modern history only supports these claims. During the early 19th century, physicians had dramatic success implementing keto diets, yet they eventually found that prescribing drugs was much easier that than scrupulously monitoring what people ate. (1)
The ketogenic diet is usually something that’s prescribed by a registered dietitian. For example, Jessica Lowe, a Keck School of Medicine of USC ketogenic dietitian, said she might prescribe it to a patient who has epilepsy, since there’s research that shows it can help control seizures. There’s also growing interest in whether high-fat diets could help with brain injuries or neurodegenerative diseases, Lowe said. For the everyday dieter, Lowe said, it’s important to consult a registered dietitian.
The mean initial weight of the subjects was 101.03±2.33 kg. The weight decreased significantly during all stages of the treatment period. The body weights at the eighth, 16th and 24th week were 91.10±2.76 kg, 89.39±3.4 kg and 86.67±3.70 kg, respectively (Figure 1). Similar to the loss in body weight, a significant decrease was observed in the BMI of the patients following the administration of the ketogenic diet. The initial BMI, and the BMI after the eighth, 16th and 24th week were 37.77±0.79 kg/m2, 33.90±0.83 kg/m2, 33.24±1.00 kg/m2 and 32.06±1.13 kg/m2, respectively (Figure 2).
Other potential risks include kidney stones, several vitamin and mineral deficiencies, decreased bone mineral density, and gastrointestinal distress. (7) Here’s why: When you’re eliminating certain food groups (like fruits, legumes, and whole grains) and severely limiting others (like many vegetables), it’s not uncommon to experience nutritional deficiencies. A lack of fiber, for instance, can make it more likely you’ll experience constipation.
Adding salt to food might be new to you, since most people are used to being told to limit salt intake. However, when you’re eating a ketogenic diet of less than 60 carbohydrates each day, you’ll need to make up for this loss of salt. That being said, those with high blood pressure who take medication should check with their doctors before making a change.
However, we need to consider that most of these studies failed to equate for both calories and protein, and it is likely that if similar weight loss was achieved, these health outcomes would look similar regardless of the diet used. This is supported by the Johnston study from Arizona state which saw similar outcomes when calories and protein were equated.
Initial research has found that the diet can help maintain lean muscle mass in active women — even as they shed pounds — and may also lead to increased appetite suppression. "A keto diet is an option for people looking to lose overall weight, lower fat mass, and even build muscle. As a dietitian who focuses on sports nutrition and weight loss, I also recommend it for my clients who need a strong break from their sugar cravings, as it lessens blood sugar spikes and the cravings that can accompany high sugar intake," Nisevich Bede says.
Although many proponents recommend this high fat version of Keto for weight loss, it first gained notoriety as a treatment method for Epilepsy. Going as far back as the 1920’s, medical professionals have recommended high fat Keto Diets as a treatment method for difficult to control seizure disorders. However, a diet that includes a high percentage of fats as part of its eating program increases the daily caloric intake. More calories means slower fat loss. Therefore, the higher calorie count is why this Ketogenic Diet type is considered a slower weight loss model for dieters and is why the Ideal Protein Protocol is a more effective Keto Diet for weight loss.
In the absence of glucose, which is normally used by cells as a quick source of energy, the body starts to burn fat and produces ketone bodies instead (it’s why the keto diet is often referred to as the ketone diet). Once ketone levels in the blood rise to a certain point, you enter into a state of ketosis — which usually results in quick and consistent weight loss until you reach a healthy, stable body weight. See this keto diet review, a before and after trying keto for 30 days.
If you want to use a ketogenic diet as a health tool, it would be wise to do so for no more than a few weeks at a time, as nobody knows how long is too long. And, of course, the period of time during which ketosis is safe can vary from individual to individual. Breaking ketosis is as easy as upping protein intake or having a glass of wine or whole piece of fruit.
The New York Times pieces also points out that studies are disproving this concern and making a case for both children and adults with type 1 diabetes to consider a ketogenic diet. Specifically, a 2018 study published in the journal, Pediatrics, which took a look at glycemic control among children and adults with type 1 diabetes who followed a very low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet. The researchers found that both the adults and children who consumed this diet along with smaller doses of insulin than typically required exhibited “exceptional” blood sugar control without high rates of complications. In addition, the study data did not show an adverse effect of a very low-carbohydrate diet on children’s growth, although more research may still be a good idea, according to researchers.
But more than that, people just don’t like giving up carbs. Dr. Kevin Fontaine, a Professor of Health Behavior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health and an expert on the ketogenic diet points to this as one of the main drawbacks of the diet. “Many people find it very difficult to give up carbs, and may be unwilling to do it. Plus, if you’re on the diet and eat a few carbs, you feel physically terrible. It’s hard to stick with this diet, especially while traveling.”
The keto diet works by eliminating carbohydrates from the your daily intake and keeping the body’s carbohydrate stores almost empty, therefore preventing too much insulin from being released following food consumption and creating normal blood sugar levels. This can help reverse “insulin resistance,” which is the underlying problem contributing to diabetes symptoms. In studies, low-carb diets have shown benefits for improving blood pressure, postprandial glycemia and insulin secretion. (7)
The keto diet involves getting up to 80 percent of daily calories from sources of healthy fat, a significant change for most of her patients who were accustomed to running on carbs, caffeine and sugar for energy. It became clear that something else had to be adjusted in order to prevent the side effects associated with the keto diet. This is when she came up with the idea to focus on restoring alkalinity first and foremost.
On the flip side of the previously mentioned side effect, some people might experience minor issues with diarrhea in the first few days. This can simply be a result of your body adjusting to the macronutrient ratio change. In other cases, some people make the mistake of limiting their fat intake along with their carbs, which makes your intake of protein too high and can lead to diarrhea.
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“What many diabetics aren’t aware of, is that it is the fat that is the problem when it comes to type 2 diabetes. Nearly 100 years ago, healthy volunteers were split into two groups – half were fed a fat-rich diet, and the other half on a carb-rich diet. Within just two days, the fatty diet groups’ glucose intolerance skyrocketed to amounts twice as high as those fed a carbohydrate-rich diet (9).
Kidney stones are a well-noted potential side effect of the ketogenic diet. Research published in the Journal of Child Neurology observed that among children following the keto diet as a treatment for epilepsy, 13 out of 195 subjects developed kidney stones. Children supplementing with potassium citrate in the study noticed a decreased likelihood of kidney stones. Speak with your healthcare practitioner about supplementing if kidney stones are a concern.
This effect can also be demonstrated by researchers at Kraft Foods, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. For 12 weeks one group ate a low fat, calorie restricted date, and the other ate a low-carb, high-fat diet without restriction… other than low carb of course. After 12 weeks, the low-fat group lost 5.5 pounds and the low-carb group lost 10.8 pounds.
Beyond the short-term effects of the keto flu, the diet can also negatively impact your digestion and gut in the long run. One 10-year study conducted on using keto to manage pediatric epilepsy found the following GI side effects over time: constipation, high triglyceride levels, high cholesterol, diarrhea, lethargy, iron deficiency, vomiting, and kidney stones.
That’s why many health experts are concerned about people on the keto diet, especially those who try it without the guidance of a doctor or nutritionist. Doctors say that high-fat diets like this one may raise cholesterol levels, and some studies suggest that they increase the risk of diabetes. Some have even called it a “cardiologist’s nightmare.”
Increases in cholesterol levels need discussion too. We do see temporary increases in cholesterol levels often as individuals transition onto a ketogenic diet. However, when you examine lipid particle size (a more important way to look at the cardiovascular risks), the risk pattern doesn’t seem to increase with a ketogenic diet. Harvard Health has written about lipid particle size here before: http://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/should-you-seek-advanced-cholesterol-testing-