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The keto diet is one of the most popular dietary plans right now, but for those outside the loop there are definitely a lot of questions such as… “Can it help me lose weight?”, “What am I allowed to eat?”, “Are there side effects?”, and “Is the keto diet safe?”
While advocates of keto rave about how it’s helped them drop pounds and enhance their health (giving them more energy and mental focus), it’s always good to know what you’re getting into before you start a diet yourself.
Let’s start by clarifying what the keto diet plan is…
The keto diet is a low-carb dietary plan that focuses on switching up the primary source of fuel in your body from carbs and sugar (glucose) to ketones – which are produced as a result of your body burning fat for fuel.
It all starts with the foods that you eat. When you stop consuming large amounts of carbs (and keep your total carb intake between 20-50g per day), your body starts burning fat, and you enter into a metabolic state called ketosis. The goal of the keto diet is to not only reach but maintain this state so you can reap the lasting rewards.
Some potential health benefits of the keto diet may include:
• Less inflammation
• Weight loss
• Reduced appetite
• More energy
• Enhanced mental clarity
• Lower risk of disease
To delve into the basics of the keto diet and the keto diet foods you should eat and avoid to stay in ketosis, check out this intro to keto article first.
Since keto requires that you eat a much lower amount of carbs than most people do – and carbs are typically the body’s main source of energy, not to mention provide essential fiber and other nutrients – it leaves us with the question… Is keto safe?
The good news is that your body doesn’t need to just run on carbs (glucose), as studies show that ketones are a highly effective fuel source for both body and mind. And since the reduction of carbs helps reduce inflammation in the body, following a keto diet could help protect against and treat certain diseases – plus give you an elevated health report at your next yearly physical. (1)
But there is also a healthy and unhealthy way to do keto – and unfortunately most people do it the unhealthy way…. Eating an overabundance of fatty meats, saturated fats, processed and salty foods. The better way to do keto is to focus on healthier, unsaturated fats (which provide heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids), lean proteins, and low-carb fruits and veggies, providing needed fiber.
Though eating lots of cheese, butter and meat technically can get you into ketosis – it’s probably not the best route for long-term health. There is still some controversy over whether the keto diet negatively impacts cholesterol levels or benefits them. However, some research shows positive effects on body weight and cholesterol over time.
The bottom line is that while the keto diet has been proven to be beneficial to most in the short term – especially for those who have a lot of weight to lose or really need to clean up their health – it should be done the right way. And especially since long-term studies are lacking, it may not be the best or most realistic plan to continue on for life.
That being said, there are some definite keto side effects to watch out for (both uncomfortable ones as you’re first starting out and eventual positive ones). Many people actually use these side effects as a way to know if they’re actually in ketosis. Though some of the side effects won’t start until your body has reached ketosis, others are an initial result of reducing your carb intake, and some call it the “keto flu”. (2)
Bad Breath – Switching to a low-carb diet may cause some initial bad or “fruity” smelling breath that some people compare to nail polish remover! This is because one of the natural ketones your body produces is acetone (also used in some nail polishes). To combat the smell, try some sugar-free gum so it won’t throw you out of keto, or brush your teeth multiple times per day. The bad breath may start within days or weeks of starting keto but will stop after your body adjusts to low carb diet (whew)! (3)
Fatigue – Though you may experience some initial fatigue when you first drop the carbs, power through it, because it will get better! It takes about 7-30 days before you reach a state of full ketosis, and after that, your fatigue will dissipate. Consider taking electrolyte supplements during this time to replace what you lose from rapid water reduction and salt from processed foods.
Insomnia – You may experience this symptom during the first few weeks of keto – finding it harder to fall asleep or waking in the middle of the night. But once you reach ketosis, people actually claim to sleep much better than before.
Digestive issues – In the beginning, you may have some digestive upset such as constipation or diarrhea. This should subside after your body has adjusted to a low-carb diet, but you still need to include plenty of fiber from low-carb, fiber-rich fruits and veggies to keep things running smoothly.
Sugar cravings – It probably won’t be easy in the beginning to give up your nightly dessert or usual sweet treat, but don’t stress… Once in ketosis people report that they don’t have the same cravings for sweets, since their bodies are used to and satisfied by high amounts of healthy fats.
Increased focus and energy – Once your body reaches full ketosis and you’re simply managing it, you can expect the tables to turn on how you feel! Many people on keto diets report increased mental focus and physical energy, since ketones are a great fuel source for your brain. Low-carb diets also help stabilize blood sugar levels, helping you avoid energy crashes.
Weight loss – You may see weight loss fairly quickly after reaching ketosis, since you’re using up stored carbs and water. Many people continue to see significant weight loss while following the keto diet, since it’s an effective way for the body to burn off stored fat.
Reduced appetite – Another major benefit of the keto diet is that you won’t feel as hungry throughout the day, since the foods you’ll be eating keep you full for longer. Plus, ketones control your hunger and satiety hormones, so you won’t feel the need for much snacking.
Want to get on board with the keto diet? Or maybe you have some tips for those who are just starting out? Leave your input in the comments below!