Had one too many cheese fries and considering going on keto? Learn about the potential benefits and risks of this diet strategy.
Once upon a time, before the era of single click meal delivery or acres of fertile farms, life kind of sucked. Food insecurity was the norm. Finding a honey-rich hive or root vegetable meant the difference between enough sustenance or starvation. But starvation, in the physiologic sense, is not a precursor to death. Starvation is a pathway for survival during lean times. When the body is starved of carbohydrates (the primary source of energy production), it starts looking for other energy sources. First, it burns glycogen and once that is depleted, it burns fat to produce ketones. The ketones help sustain body functions during starvation.
Today, in food-rich modern societies, we often use the term, “starving” to mean “I’m hungry and I really, really want cheese fries.” But we also recall the clever evolutionary adaptation to starvation and use it to our advantage to burn those love handles produced by too many cheese fries. A ketogenic diet of low carb, high fat, and high protein takes advantage of the survival mechanism of starvation. That is, we limit our carbohydrate intake to no more than 50 grams per day for 3 or 4 days to push our body to ketogenesis. In this process, we burn fat, feel less hungry, and keep muscle. In fact, people on a ketogenic diet initially experience rapid weight loss of up to 10 pounds, in 2 weeks or less.
Sounds great, right? Well, not so fast. The ketogenic diet is not for everyone. For example, people with liver failure, disorders of fat metabolism, or pancreatitis should not be on a keto diet. While a keto diet lowers blood sugar levels and improves insulin sensitivity, diabetics can get life threatening low blood sugar on a the diet. Since fats make up 55%- 60% of the daily macronutrients, bad cholesterol (LDL) can go to the roof if you use the keto diet as a free pass to eat bacon and sticks of butter. There may also be nutritional deficiencies in this restrictive diet. Constipation can be a real problem, since fruits and fiber rich grain intake is reduced. Then, there’s the potpourri of symptoms, collectively called “keto flu” that folks get while on the diet. And let’s not forget that it’s really, really hard to refrain from eating cookies, bread, and pasta, so sustainability is a real problem.
Given the potential benefits and risks of a keto diet, it’s a good idea to discuss with your provider whether you are a good candidate for the diet. And if you decide to go on keto, work with a nutritionist to optimize the success of eliminating any visual memory of those cheese fries.