Medicine or Malarkey: Are Ketogenic Diets Safe?

keto diet plan - eggs, avocado, cheese, nuts

To understand the ketogenic ("keto") diet, you need to know a little bit about how the body’s metabolism works. When you eat carbohydrates, protein and fat, the body uses each substance differently. In greatly simplified terms, the body uses protein to build muscle. When your body is low on carbohydrates to use for energy, it starts to metabolize fat instead. Finally, the body uses carbohydrates to make energy.

However, the body can’t use carbohydrates directly for energy. First, they must be converted to sugar. If your body has excess carbohydrates, that sugar is stored in fat cells -- and that's what many people are trying to avoid.

A body on the ketogenic diet leverages the body's typical need for carbohydrates to produce energy. The ketogenic diet ideally involves only healthy fats like avocados, nuts or fish and modest amounts of protein. Low carbohydrate intake is also an important aspect of the ketogenic diet. When the body is deprived of carbs, it creates ketones from body fat to use for energy instead of using carbs. The result? Your body loses fat!

What Are the Benefits Associated with a Ketogenic Diet?

The purported benefits of a ketogenic diet include weight loss, improved insulin levels, reduction or elimination of seizures in epileptics, enhanced cognitive function, better cholesterol levels, and more efficient metabolism. Anecdotal evidence suggests that weight loss on a ketogenic diet can occur at a faster rate than on some other diets. But is the evidence concrete? And more important, is the ketogenic diet safe?

What are the Dieting Risks of a Ketogenic Diet?

In diabetics, ketogenic diets may produce harmful effects. Diabetics need to have their insulin levels carefully controlled, and ketogenic diets affect insulin levels -- so it's important for diabetics to keep these monitored on a regular basis, and maintain regular checkups with a specialist. Always consult with your healthcare provider before beginning any change in diet.

Other risks that have been associated with the ketogenic diet include increased chances for developing kidney stones, as well as osteoporosis. Malnutrition can be another side effect of this diet. Because ketogenic diets emphasize the consumption of fats and protein over carbohydrates, there’s an increased risk that dieters won’t eat enough fresh vegetables and fruits -- and those are primary sources of vitamins and nutrients. There may also be heart health risks for those on long-term ketogenic diets, but this has not been clinically substantiated.

Who May Benefit From a Ketogenic Diet?

There is abundant clinical and anecdotal evidence that shows that a ketogenic diet can help reduce or prevent seizures in epileptics. The ketogenic diet is thought to help neurotransmitters in the brain and prevent seizures from occurring in the first place, as well as over time.

Other people who may benefit from a ketogenic diet include those who are insulin resistant. Over the long term, heredity or poor diet choices can negatively impact the effectiveness of insulin to control blood sugar levels. It’s been shown that a ketogenic diet may help “reset” the body so that it is no longer insulin resistant.

Why a Ketogenic Diet May Not Be Good for Athletes

In studies, the ketogenic meal plan was not found to be particularly conducive to athletic performance. In fact, a ketogenic diet has been clinically shown to inhibit anaerobic processes, which are integral to athletic success. The effect seems especially detrimental to athletes who participate in high, short bursts of activity.

Anytime you undertake activities to drastically alter your metabolism, such as with the ketogenic diet, it’s critical to consult with your primary care physician. You'll need the professional guidance of a doctor to ensure optimal health if you're considering any new diet or lifestyle change. For questions or concerns about diabetes or insulin resistance, visit your nearest CareSpot Urgent Care location today, or schedule an appointment online. If you have a need for follow-up care with a specialist, CareSpot can help you arrange that. As more research on ketogenic diets emerges, stay informed in order to make the best choice for your body and lifestyle!