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The Pros and Cons of the Keto Diet

Unless you have been living under the rock, you must have heard of the keto diet. It’s been all the rage lately. Many food suppliers have started a range of keto products, restaurants have set up special menus, and it’s all across social media. The latest diet eating trend has many famous followers, like JLo, Halle Berry, Kylie Jenner, and Kourtney Kardashian, to name a few. In short, it seems everyone is talking about the keto diet right now.

But, before you decide to jump on the bandwagon, you should know what you are stepping into and what this apparently new (it has actually been around since the 1920s) diet trend involves. But, most importantly, you need to understand how it affects your body and what healthcare experts think about this effective diet. This is essential because just like with most other things that gain the spotlight, what you are seeing may not be the whole truth.

Ketosis – The Science behind the Keto Diet

While everyone knows that keto is a high-fat and low-carb diet, not many people know how it works or what the science behind this seemingly highly-effective diet is. There are also people who have difficulty in accepting the basic notion of this diet – taking 75% of your daily calories from fat.

No matter what category you belong to, here is a roundup of the science behind the keto diet, as put forward or believed by its proponents:

The keto diet changes the basic metabolic function of our body and trains it to use fat, instead of carbohydrate, to produce energy. This metabolic state is called ketosis. Your body will take some time to enter the state of ketosis, but once it does, your liver will start converting fats into ketone bodies and use them as fuel, instead of glucose. As a result, the fat doesn’t get stored into your body and since you are already not taking too many carbs and proteins, you start to lose weight; the biggest reason people try out different diets.

Is Ketogenic Worth the Hype? The Pros and Cons of the High-Fat, Low-Carb Diet

It is natural for your body to undergo some changes with such drastic dietary changes. But, are they all good, as we have been made to believe, or there are some downsides as well that we are not being told about or we simply don’t pay heed to?

Let’s take a look at some pros and cons of the keto diet to gain a better understanding!

The Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet

Here are some of the reasons why people are going gaga over the keto diet:

· It Helps Lose Weight, Fast

The primary reason why people, all over the world, have been going crazy over the keto diet is that it causes rapid weight loss[1].

According to research, this happens because your body starts metabolizing fat instead of storing it.  Another factor that contributes to quick weight loss with keto is that high-food fats are filling and boost satiety. This means you don’t feel like snacking during meals and can easily control your calorie intake.

· Helps Reduce Insulin Levels

Reducing the amount of carbohydrates in your diet will naturally affect the glucose concentrations in your body and lower the blood glucose level over time. Due to this reason, the ketogenic diet is often recommended to people with diabetes or those who are at risk of it.

In addition to reducing insulin levels, the keto diet is also considered helpful for reducing insulin sensitivity and inflammation – high blood sugar is known to trigger inflammation in the body.

· Helps Reduce Epileptic Seizures

Do you know what the first clinical use of the keto diet was? It was to treat epileptic seizures!

This is probably the only use or benefit of the ketogenic diet that has been backed by a considerable amount of research. The high-fat and low-carb diet has successfully been used to reduce the frequency of seizures in epileptic patients, particularly in children, for years[2].

· May Improve Brain Health and Functioning

The impact of dietary fat on the brain[3] health and functioning has long been studied. There is also evidence that it can help reduce inflammation that triggers nerve pain.

Cherubino Di Lorenzo, a researcher at the Sapienza University of Rome, who studies the effects of the keto diet on the brains of migraine patients, is of the opinion that the keto diet helps reduce the frequency of headaches in overweight or obese migraine patients.[4]

While there is no conclusive evidence, studies show that the ketogenic diet may also help prevent the development of or reduce the severity of the symptoms of degenerative neurological diseases, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Children with ADHD may also exhibit reduced symptoms and improved concentration from the keto diet.  However, research regarding these brain benefits of the keto diet is still underway and the results are not confirmed, yet.

There is also evidence that the ketogenic diet can also improve cognitive function by supplying ketones to the brain, which the brain cells use as energy.

· May Prevent or Slow the Spread of Tumor Cells

Relying on the theory that the tumor cells feed on glucose and can be starved to death by cutting-out (or severely reducing) the amount of glucose in the body, scientists have been studying the potential benefit of keto in preventing or slowing down the spread of cancer cells. However, research is still far from conclusive and nothing can be said, for sure, at this point.

The Negative Effects of the Keto Diet

As much as we all wish for it, there is no perfect diet. Keto also has its fair share of downsides. Let’s take a look at them to help you decide if the high-fat diet is actually worth trying out:

· Weight Loss Can Be Temporary

Sadly, the biggest and the most obvious benefit of keto often turns out to be temporary. In many cases, the weight loss doesn’t last and people start to gain back the lost pounds as soon as they start returning to a regular diet.

· May Cause Nutritional Deficiency

The ketogenic diet is highly restrictive, especially when it comes to whole grains, fruits and vegetables. While this can provide some benefits by drastically reducing your carb intake, skipping on essential food groups may cause a nutritional deficiency in the long run. The deficiency of vitamins, minerals, fiber can also lead to other health issues, such as constipation and unexplained fatigue.

· May Cause Digestive Stress

As mentioned above, the lack of fiber in the diet is not good for your gut health and generally leads to constipation. Apart from this, some people may experience a little discomfort or heaviness eating large amounts of fat, as the body takes longer to break down and digest the fat.

· May Trigger Brain Fog

Since our body, including our brain, is primed to use glucose as fuel, suddenly stopping its supply can cause negative effects. Brain fog is one of them.

For those who do not know, brain fog is a term used for a group of symptoms that significantly reduce a person’s ability to think clearly and focus. It can also cause headaches, reduced and slower cognition, and even memory issues.

Although these effects are generally temporary and go away once the body and the brain adjust to the new metabolic system i.e. using ketones as fuel, they can cause drastic effects in people who are predisposed to or already struggling with mental health problems.

· May Affect Heart Health

One of the biggest concerns of committing to a very high-fat diet is its impact on heart health. According to the American Heart Association, only 5% to 6% of your daily calories (at max.) should come from saturated fats. While the keto diet generally recommends consuming healthy fats, it also includes a higher intake of animal protein, which contains quite a lot of saturated fat.

Cardiologists and lipidologists, and healthcare experts, in general, are concerned about the effects of high-fat content in keto on the heart. In a number of cases, an increased level of lipids in the blood or increased LDL cholesterol was noticed in people following the keto diet and that too within one to two months. This is alarming because a high LDL cholesterol level is the primary risk factor for heart disease.

· There Is No Long-Term Research

The lack of long-term scientific research is the biggest downside of the ketogenic diet. Although keto has been around for a long time, it became popular only recently. Hence, we don’t know how this highly restrictive dietary pattern affects our body and our health in the long run.

People may be experiencing weight loss, improved insulin levels, and improved brain functioning now, but will these positive effects last? We don’t really know. Well, we know that the weight loss isn’t permanent in many cases, but will other benefits be temporary too? We can’t say anything at this point. What’s even more important here is how consuming substantial amounts of fat and limiting carbs affect our health in the long run. Is it going to cause much more and severe side effects than the benefits we are experiencing now? Are the long-term side-effects of the keto diet going to outweigh its benefits?

All these concerns have left researchers with more questions than answers about the effectiveness of the keto diet and they cannot really do anything but wait.

The Wrap Up

Just like with most other fad diets, the ketogenic diet has its pros and cons. Whether the benefits of the keto diet are worth taking the risk or not, the answer can vary from person to person, depending on their overall health and certain lifestyle factors. If you are considering trying out the keto diet, it is recommended that you consult a healthcare expert to understand if it is safe for you to give this diet a try or not.

[1]
https://www.health.com/weight-loss/keto-diet-weight-loss-transformations, https://www.womenshealthmag.com/weight-loss/a20687519/keto-diet-before-and-after/

[2]
https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/treating-seizures-and-epilepsy/dietary-therapies/ketogenic-diet

[3]
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29046155

[4]https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303711260_Cortical_functional_correlates_of_responsiveness_to_short-lasting_preventive_intervention_with_ketogenic_diet_in_migraine_A_multimodal_evoked_potentials_study and  https://www.huffpost.com/entry/less-carbs-more-fat-ketog_b_12672220

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