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Ketogenic Diet: What Are The Downsides?

Medical Daily logo Medical Daily 2019-01-11 Sadhana Bharanidharan
a plate of food on a table: Eliminating high-carb foods could mean avoiding certain fruits and vegetables which are good sources of fiber and other essential nutrients. © Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash Eliminating high-carb foods could mean avoiding certain fruits and vegetables which are good sources of fiber and other essential nutrients.

Over the past couple of years, it has been hard to sift through nutrition-related news without hearing about the ketogenic diet. The name comes from ketosis, which is the state the body enters when it burns fat instead of carbohydrates. 

Involving a low-carb and high-fat eating pattern, it gained much popularity after being endorsed by many celebrities for accelerating their weight loss. Nevertheless, the keto diet was placed rather low on the 2019 rankings of best overall diets by U.S. News — and nutrition experts have offered some good reasons for this.

In a new rodent study from Augusta University in Georgia, rats saw an increase in their blood pressure levels after a month of being placed on their diet. While rats placed on a regular diet gained 7.2 percent of their calories from fat, the figure was 36 percent for rats on the keto diet. 

Dr. Jennifer Sullivan, the pharmacologist and physiologist who led the research, said people might be "underestimating how bad a consistently high-fat diet" could be for our health.

Eliminating high-carb foods could mean avoiding certain fruits and vegetables which are good sources of fiber and other essential nutrients. Hydration levels are also affected which means people on the diet are at risk of losing magnesium, calcium, potassium, and more in the long run.

One of the limitations in research is the lack of longitudinal data. As a result, experts are unsure as to how keto affects the human body over the course of decades. While the short term effects do involve that initial rapid weight loss, the process may not be smooth sailing.

"When your body first enters ketosis, you may experience a series of side effects termed the 'keto flu,'" Jennifer M. Brown, a faculty associate at Arizona State University, told Shape. "These include fatigue, dizziness, lightheadedness, poor sleep, difficulty with exercise, and constipation, all resulting from extreme restriction of carbohydrates."

Making weight loss the primary goal, even at the cost of damaging other aspects of your health, is the problem. Restricting large food groups without a medical necessity to do so can be problematic for some, raising the risk of eating disorders by creating an unhealthy relationship with food.

So what are some of the better options as far as eating patterns go? Most experts would recommend the DASH diet or a Mediterranean-style diet for those who seek structure. On the other hand, an "intuitive eating" approach has also been associated with well-being and long-term sustainability for many people.

It would help to speak to a dietitian and figure out what works best for you after taking various factors into account — these would include how much exercises you get, chronic health conditions, lifestyle choices, possible nutrient deficiencies, and more.

Related video: 4 Reasons You’re Not Losing Weight on the Keto Diet (Provided by Health.com)

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