Pros and Cons of the Keto Diet For Weight Loss

What is the Keto diet, and can it help you to lose weight and keep it off?

The Keto diet has become a lot more popular in the past few years. There’s no doubt that some people use the Keto diet for weight loss, but how safe and effective is it long-term?

In this blog we‘ll explain exactly what the ketogenic diet is, how it works, and the pros and cons of this diet. If you’re considering the Keto diet for weight loss, this blog is for you.

What Exactly is the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic (keto) diet is designed to use dietary fat (in the form of ketone bodies) rather than carbohydrates for its primary source of fuel for your body. This is a state known as ketosis.

Normally, our bodies use carbohydrates as their primary energy source. We process carbohydrates through a process known as the Krebs cycle. In fact, our muscles and liver store extra carbs, essentially saving up for periods when we don’t eat.

But if we consume very few carbs or don’t eat for a long period of time, our bodies will run out of stored carbohydrates. When this happens, our bodies use fat (both stored fat and fat from our diet) for fuel in the place of carbs. This stored fat is broken into units of energy called ketones, which are used for energy production.

While the ketogenic diet may seem like a new idea, each and every one of us has been in a state of ketosis before. Ketosis occurs anytime we’ve burned through both the food that we’ve eaten, as well as stored glucose in our bodies. Examples include any fasting state: while you’re sleeping, when you’re too sick to eat, after a strenuous workout, or even during pregnancy.

Keto Origins

For over 2000 years, humans have used fasting to help treat epilepsy, a condition characterized by seizures. In the 1920s researchers created the ketogenic diet to help reduce seizures in people suffering from epilepsy. Later, pharmaceuticals became the go-to treatment for epilepsy, and the keto diet was largely forgotten.

In the 1970s, Dr. Robert Atkins created the first low-carb diet, the Atkins diet. The idea was to reduce carb intake to promote weight loss. That launched a new interest in understanding what happens in our bodies when we eat carbs, and the ketogenic diet resurfaced.

Does the Keto Diet Promote Weight Loss? Benefits of Keto

Many people have used the keto diet for weight loss, and have seen improved health and a slimmer waistline. Research suggests there may be benefits to this diet for some people when it comes to losing weight and alleviating certain health conditions.

Keto Diet Benefit #1: Produces Rapid Weight Loss

As anyone who’s successfully followed the keto diet can tell you, when followed correctly, many people will lose weight very quickly in the first few weeks. This rapid weight loss can then serve as reinforcement for people to stick with it, as fast results are exciting. It may also be helpful if you’re expectation is to shed a quick 5-10 pounds for an upcoming event.

But it’s important to understand that this rapid weight loss does not equate to a rapid loss of fat. Because of biological changes that occur when our bodies switch from utilizing carbs to utilizing fats for fuel, people lose much of the stored water in their body. This can result in losing 5 or more pounds of weight extremely quickly. But it’s important to realize that the results you see for the first few weeks aren’t replicable—you aren’t going to lose 5 pounds every few weeks on the diet forever, as transient water loss does not continue.

Keto Diet Benefit #2: Reduces Sugar Intake

Most of us consume far too much sugar, especially processed sugars like high fructose corn syrup or white sugar. Refined sugar and processed carbohydrates are pro-inflammatory and can lead to chronic diseases. By dramatically reducing the number of carbs you consume, the Keto diet helps you to automatically cut out many of these these unhealthy foods from your diet. Reducing refined sugars and carbs is one of the best benefits of this diet. Eliminating processed carbs, which is a principle that the keto diet shares with several other diets, can help to improve your overall health and may even help protect you from certain diseases. However, it is very important to note that not everyone responds the same way, and the higher fat content of this diet may be dangerous over long periods of time for at least some people.

Keto Diet Benefit #3: May Promote Long-Term Weight Loss

When followed carefully for long periods of time, the Keto diet can facilitate long-term weight loss (as can many other diets). One study by the National Institutes of Health found that the diet helped patients to lose weight, and as a result health often did improve over 6 months. Studies have even demonstrated sustained weight loss until the 2-year point, although more studies need to be conducted to see if this weight loss continues (or even remains) after 2 years. However, high fat diets can also create health consequences over prolonged periods of time including heart and kidney disease. They may also be a driver behind insulin resistance, leading to diabetes. Additionally, many people attempting the keto diet eliminate most plant food sources, which can independently cause chronic disease by causing micronutrient and phytochemical deficiencies.

If you want to be successful on any diet, then you’ll need to be very intentional about the quality of foods that you eat and follow the diet closely. This is the most important principle in losing weight through dietary choices.

Does the Keto Diet Promote Weight Loss? Drawbacks of Keto

Drawback #1: The Keto Flu

Many people that attempt this diet experience the dreaded “keto flu” and this must be overcome in the beginning. The keto flu occurs as your body adapts to using fats rather than carbohydrates for energy and you struggle through mild dehydration. The symptoms can include brain fog, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, insomnia, constipation, trouble exercising, and vomiting.

These symptoms last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. You can relieve some of these symptoms by drinking more water and increasing your electrolyte intake, but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to escape the “keto flu” completely.

Drawback #2: Weight Regain If You Stop

If you decide to stop the keto diet, chances are you’ll experience rapid weight regain, even if it is just 5-10 pounds. You’ll also regain the water weight that you lost when you started the diet. If you’ve experienced the “yo-yo” of dieting before, where you lose weight only to watch helplessly as the scale climbs up again, you know how discouraging this can be.

Drawback #3: The Keto Diet Often Includes Unhealthy Foods

There are ways to follow this diet in a healthier manner, by emphasizing healthier plant-based fats and unrefined lower carbohydrate foods such as nuts, leafy green vegetables, and berries.

Unfortunately, some people use it as an excuse to eat any fats that they want while avoiding fruits and vegetables. If you eat less healthy fats (like saturated and trans fats) rather than healthy fats (such as polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats), this type of diet can be dangerous for your long-term health.

Foods Rich in Heart Healthy Omega Fats:

• Wild-caught salmon
• Wild-caught trout
• Wild-caught mackerel
• Walnuts
• Flaxseed
• Avocados
• Nuts and seeds
• Olives

Foods Rich in Unhealthy Fats:

• Cheeseburgers
• Bacon
• Dairy products
• Poultry
• Eggs
• Margarine
• Processed foods
• Fast food

If you decide to follow the keto diet, make sure to talk to your physician or dietitian to make sure that you’re not including excess trans fats and saturated fats; that you are taking as healthy of an approach as possible; and that your cholesterol levels, heart and kidney function are checked at regular intervals. Again, plant-based modifications may provide you with a much more favorable complement of micronutrients, essential phytochemicals, and antioxidants; and are strongly encouraged.

Drawback #4: Leaves Out Fruits and Vegetables

While a balanced keto diet does include some fruits and vegetables, it is not nearly enough to meet the recommended fruit and vegetable intake each day. This is concerning because plant foods contain the vast majority of vitamins, minerals, and other compounds that have beneficial effects on our health.

If you follow the diet too strictly, you may not get enough antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and other compounds essential for human health.

Drawback #5: Questionable Long-Term Safety and Efficacy

While studies up to two years have shows positive results when it comes to weight loss, the lack of long-term studies leaves us without conclusive information regarding the efficacy and safety of Keto.

Some studies have found long-term adverse health effects, including kidney stones, hepatic steatosis, nutrient deficiencies, and more. When it comes to the Keto diet for weight loss, long-term safety is a concern.

Alternatives to the Keto Diet for Weight Loss: The Mediterranean Diet

Unless you want to pay close attention to everything you eat, and know that you’ll have strong self-control throughout, the Keto diet probably isn’t for you. Even if you are willing to put in that level of commitment, this diet may not be safe or effective over the long term.

One alternative if you’re looking to lose weight is the Mediterranean diet. This diet is much closer to how most of us eat already. It also has more research and history supporting its use for both weight loss and health. This type of diet is rich in healthy fats like fresh-caught fish, olives, and vegetables.

However, if you truly desire to maximize your health as you lose weight, consider committing to a Plant Based Whole Foods diet. Like the keto diet, this dietary philosophy eliminates refined sugars and processed foods which reduces chronic inflammation. However, because it is rich in fiber it decreases overall caloric intake and is very healthy for your intestines. Additionally, the rich balanced assortment of more than 5000 essential phytochemicals has been shown to reduce your risk for (and even reverse) most chronic diseases including diabetes; increase your lifespan by at least 11 years on average; and lead to better function and higher quality of life.

Alternatives to the Keto Diet for Weight Loss: Weight Loss Surgery

If you’ve tried many different diets, and you’ve lost 50 pounds or even more only to watch helplessly as the scale creeps back up, then please understand that this is not your fault.

If you suffer from obesity, then your body is hardwired to gain and maintain weight. Diets like the Keto diet, or the Mediterranean diet, can help if you want to lose 20 or 30 pounds. But if you need to lose more than that, then dieting alone is unlikely to give you the results that you’re looking for.

If this is you, then we strongly recommend that you consider bariatric surgery in Colorado. Bariatric surgery, when combined with lifestyle modification, is a powerful tool to help you level the playing field in your battle with obesity. A surgery like the gastric bypass or duodenal switch, when paired with lifestyle modification, can help patients to lose 100-150 pounds or even more.

If you think bariatric surgery may be right for you, then go ahead and schedule an appointment with our friendly staff.

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This page was medically reviewed by Dr. Joshua Long, MD, MBA, FACS, FASMBS. Dr. Long is a double-board-certified bariatric surgeon and bariatric medical director for Parker Adventist Hospital.
Full Bio: Dr. Joshua Long, MD, MBA, FACS, FASMBS
Page Updated: December 6th, 2019

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