A keto diet is, in the simplest terms, a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet.
By significantly restricting carbohydrates, your body enters a metabolic state known as ketosis, which begins to burn fat for energy instead of glucose.
While the keto diet can be effective for weight loss and possibly help with other health conditions, there are some risks you should be aware of before starting this fad diet.
The Keto Flu
Although this isn’t the flu, the early stages of initiation into a keto diet can cause flu-like symptoms, such as:
You shouldn’t experience a high fever, but you may feel sick, tired, and achy for a little while.
When you’re eating carbs regularly, your body breaks them down into glucose, which is used for energy immediately, while the fats you eat are stored away.
When you drastically reduce the number of carbs you eat, your body will enter ketosis and begin to burn stored fat for energy. This transition can be a bit nauseating and may lead to acidosis, mild dehydration, and temporary electrolyte imbalance.
As long as you drink plenty of water and eat nutritious foods, you should start feeling better after a few days.
Increased Risk for Kidney Stones
Keto diets are centered on high-fat animal foods, such as red meat, cheeses, and dairy.
Unfortunately, the proteins associated with these same foods have been linked to an increased risk for kidney stones. This, combined with the high acidity (acidosis) related to ketogenic diets, tends to elevate urinary calcium levels while lowering urinary citrate levels, leading to stone formation.
The high-protein, high-fat ketogenic diet for people with chronic kidney disease can further damage the kidneys and should be avoided.
If you have a history of kidney stones or kidney issues, talk to your doctor before starting the keto diet.
Raised Cholesterol and Heart Disease Risk
Losing weight is typically associated with lower cholesterol levels and a reduced risk for heart disease.
But how weight loss happens with ketogenic diets does not appear to have the same effect. Instead, going keto may lead to higher cholesterol levels and an increased risk for heart disease.
This is because the keto diet is high in saturated fats, which are associated with conditions such as:
- elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol
- high blood pressure
- insulin resistance (pre-diabetes)
All of these are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
In addition, keto diets are low in fruits and vegetables, which contain valuable antioxidants essential to reducing cell and tissue damage.
If you already have high cholesterol, are at risk for heart disease, or have any other chronic health conditions, talk to your doctor before starting the keto diet.
Unsustainable and Less Helpful Long-Term
While the keto diet may provide some benefits in the short term, there isn’t good evidence that these effects continue beyond the first year. And that’s assuming you can stick with the keto diet for that long, which is quite difficult given its restrictive nature.
As with other fad diets, people who have lost weight on the keto diet tend to regain it as soon as they stop following the diet.
If you are looking for a healthy way to improve your relationship with food, the keto diet may help you get on a better track.
But for sustainable and lasting results, you may be better off following a more balanced diet that includes whole foods from all food groups, including healthy unsaturated fats and plant proteins.