Keto – Definition, Safety & Side Effects

Jamie Sukroo - 16 Sep 2019

Keto – Definition, Safety & Side Effects

What is the Ketogenic Diet (Keto Diet)?

The Keto Diet is an eating plan that focuses on restricting carbohydrates in the diet. The goal is to eat 5% or less of your daily calories from carbs. A general rule of thumb is to eat no more than 30g of carbs per day. As an example this would equate to 1 medium banana worth of carbs.

The aim of the ketogenic diet is to get your body to burn fat to produce ketones as the energy source that your body runs on. The theory is that your brain and body perform way better on the cleaner fuel of ketones as opposed to your body’s default energy source of glucose (broken down from carbs).

Is the Keto Diet Safe for Everybody?

Although there seems to be a lack of long-term scientific studies into the Ketogenic Diet it is generally considered to be safe for most people. However the following groups should avoid it or seek medical advice before embarking on the plan:

  1. Pregnant & Breast feeding women are advised by doctors to avoid the diet and eat more carbs during this period in their life to avoid causing development problems to their babies.
  2. Children should seek medical advice before going on the diet.
  3. People at risk of hypoglycaemia (taking Insulin, Sulphonylureas, Glinides) or other Diabetes medication should only do the diet under medical guidance.
  4. People with a very low BMI who want to start the diet for the health benefits should first consult their doctor to discuss how to participate in the diet without causing further weight loss.
  5. Others with conditions that a ketogenic diet may exacerbate (check with your doctor).

Possible Side Effects of Keto & Remedies

Keto Flu / Keto Headache

As you are changing your body’s default metabolism mode from burning glucose from carbs to burning fat to produce ketones some potential side like headaches, brain fog, dizziness/confusion, irritability, fatigue and nausea can pop up in the first few weeks of the diet. These flu like symptoms are commonly referred to as “Keto Flu”.

Keto Flu primarily happens because your body needs some time to adjust to running on fat instead of carbs. So time can be the best cure for Keto Flu.

Other factors/causes may play a part in Keto Flu – below are the 5 most common along with the remedy:

  1. Electrolyte Imbalance:
    1. A side effect of switching to Keto is that your body starts to lose water quickly and along with all this water some of your electrolytes (sodium, magnesium, potassium).
    2. The solution is to drink lots of water and add back the electrolytes. If you search for “Water Electrolyte” on Amazon or elsewhere there are products you can use for this purpose.
    3. Avocado contains high levels of potassium and magnesium as do pumpkin seeds.
  2. Lack of Micronutrients:
    1. When people start out on the Keto Diet they cut out carbs but tend to eat the same high protein foods at every meal. This causes the micronutrient levels they previously were receiving to plummet.
    2. It’s essential to eat a wide range of nutrient rich keto foods such as fatty grass-fed meat, oils/fats such as coconut/olive/avocado oil, nuts and seeds, poultry, fish and shellfish, full fat organic dairy, and low-carb keto friendly vegetables such as alfalfa sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, olives, cucumber, asparagus, eggplant, peppers, spinach etc.
    3. Drink bone broth as it is a great source of trace elements. Himalayan pink salt should also be used on food in place of regular salt as it’s trace elements are higher
  3. Lack of the Right Type of Exercise:
    1. The type of exercise matters during the early period where your body is transitioning from burning carbs to burning fat.
    2. Light exercise (walking, swimming, yoga) is recommended 2-3 times per week during this period as fat is the primary source of energy for these types of exercise.
  4. Not Enough Fat in Your Diet:
    1. Switching to burning fats instead of carbs requires a little more “keto friendly” fat in the diet.
    2. You should up your intake of grass-fed butter/ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, Eggs, Full-Fat Cream, Nuts, Avocados and their oil, goose fat, fatty fish etc.
  5. Not Enough High C8 MCT Oil in Your Diet:
    1. In the early days of the keto diet your body may struggle to produce enough Ketones.
    2. High C8 MCT Oil helps to stimulate ketone production and kick you into ketosis quicker. By gradually adding this to your diet (start with 1 tablespoon at a time and work up to avoid upset stomach and “disaster pants”) you can boost the ketones.

Keto Breath

When you follow the keto diet and your body starts burning fat to produce Ketones. There are 3 types of Ketone Bodies that your body produces:

  1. Acetoacetate
  2. Acetone
  3. Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB)

When you have an excess of Ketones your body passes this excess via your urine or breath. Acetone is an ingredient in nail polish remover which can explain the strange, sweet smell of your breath. It’s actually a good sign that you are in Ketosis (burning fat to produce Ketones) if there are Acetones on your breath. Unfortunately it’s unavoidable apart from gargling with some natural mouthwash (minus the fake or natural sweeteners).

Additionally if you eat loads of protein on the keto diet your body uses ammonia to break down the protein and any excess ammonia gets excreted via your urine or breath. Ammonia has a super strong chemical like smell similar to cleaning products.

So if you want to eliminate the Ammonia smell you need to cut back on the protein you are eating.

High Cholesterol

It’s fairly common for those new to the Keto diet to be diagnosed with high cholesterol. But first check these 2 ratios:

  1. Total Cholesterol/HDL Ratio (T/HDL) – good indicator of how long LDL is hanging around (to measure heart disease risk. An ideal ratio is 1:1 but don’t go any higher than 2:1.
  2. Trygliceride/HDL (TC/HDL) ratio – good indicator of insulin resistance. This should be 3.5/1 or lower.

If you are outside of the limits indicated above the following remedies should fix the issue:

  1. Limit the amount of times you eat – stop grazing.
  2. Don’t over-do it on the fat you consume – be sensible.
  3. Balance the fats you eat – you should aim for a 50/50 saturated to monounsaturated fat ratio with a little Polyunsaturated Fat (PUFA) in there. So blend up Coconut Oil or Butter/Cream with Olive Oil or Avocado Oil.

Hair Loss

Some people who go on the Keto Diet suffer hair loss. This can be disconcerting when you are losing weight and feeling good, then your hair falls out!

The most common cause of unexplained hair loss is rapid weight loss or a change in diet. If this is the cause it is likely only a temporary change and the thickness of your hair should remain unaltered.

If you are eating a keto diet high in Omega 6 and depleted of essential nutrients like selenium and iodine this can lower Thyroid producing hormones like triiodothyronine (T3). So you should get your thyroid checked if this is the case. It is best to eat properly from the start by avoiding to many Omega 6’s and maintaining essential nutrients.

My Take on Keto

I definitely believe Keto works and in my opinion has numerous health benefits and also supports a healthy weight.

The trouble I have personally is that I love Carbohydrates. I like having a beer or two and I enjoy a glass of wine or a jacket potato / baked potato. I also personally believe that it is hard to be fully social and stick to a Keto diet long-term. Life happens, birthday dinners happen, 40th trips away to Lisbon happen!

I applaud anybody who can keep the Keto diet up long term. Perhaps the answer is to follow it for 3-4 days a week and then loosen the reins a bit the remaining days of the week?

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