The ketogenic diet, more commonly known as the ‘keto’ diet, is the latest weight-loss trend, recently touted by celebs like Jenna Jameson, Mama June, and Halle Berry.
The concept of the keto diet involves heavily cutting back on carbs, to 50 grams a day or less, so the body reaches a state of ketosis, making the body burn fat rather than sugar for energy.
Doctors tout the diet for treating epilepsy, and animal studies suggest the diet has anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, and cancer-fighting benefits, too.
When it comes to general weight loss, however, things get more controversial. Some health experts say stay away entirely, citing negative health effects, health risks, and the diet’s volatile nature. If it’s not done the right way, it can actually be detrimental to your health.
Here are a few other potential risks of switching to the keto diet that you should be aware of.
The ‘keto flu’
“Some people report that when they start ketosis, they just feel sick,” says Kristen Kizer, RD, a nutritionist at Houston Methodist Medical Center. “There can sometimes be vomit, gastrointestinal distress, a lot of fatigue, and lethargy.”
Though it passes after a few days, Josh Axe, a doctor of natural medicine and clinical nutritionist, says roughly 25% of people who try a ketogenic diet experience these symptoms.
“That happens because your body runs out of sugar to burn for energy, and it has to start using fat,” he says. “That transition alone is enough to make your body feel tired for a few days.”
The effects of the keto flu can be minimized by drinking lots of water and getting lots of sleep. Axe also recommends incorporating natural energy sources into the diet, like matcha green tea and organic coffee.
The keto diet can have you visiting the bathroom more regularly, which may be due to the gallbladder feeling ‘overwhelmed’, says Axe.
Diarrhea can also be due to the lack of fiber in the diet, explains Kizer, which is common when someone heavily cuts back on the carbs without supplementing them with other fiber-rich foods.
Related: The Ketogenic Diet: What is it?
Weak athletic performance
Edward Weiss, PhD, associate professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University doesn’t believe the keto diet improves athletic performance, which many athletes swear by.
In fact, he feels the keto diet has the opposite effect.
“I hear cyclists say all the time that they’re faster and better now that they’re on keto, and my first question is, ‘Well, how much weight did you lose?’” he says.
“Just losing a few pounds is enough to give you a huge advantage on the bike, but I’m very concerned that people are attributing the benefits of weight loss to something specific in the ketogenic diet,” Weiss continues. “In reality, the benefits of weight loss could be at least partially canceled out by reductions in performance.”
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