If you’re into health and wellness, then no doubt by now you have heard of the ketogenic diet. The term “ketogenic” was one of the most popular diet searches on Google in 2017. But what exactly is a ketogenic diet? And is it good for everyone?
The goal of a ketogenic diet is to eat a lot of fat so that your body becomes adapted to burning it for fuel. We’re talking good fats that come from clean sources like avocado, nuts, seeds, and grass-fed or pastured animal sources. For most people following this eating plan, the aim is to consume 60-80% of your calories from fat, 15% from protein, and less than 10% from carbohydrates. The idea is that if you fuel your body with more fat while restricting carbohydrate intake, you’ll potentially lose weight, regulate insulin levels, and lower inflammatory markers within your body. However, this way of eating can be difficult to maintain. It’s not exactly right for everyone, so do your research before you decide to embark on a ketogenic eating plan.
Here’s a little video with this information in slideshow form:
Sure, there are many people who claim to thrive on a ketogenic diet. Take Mark Sisson from Mark’s Daily Apple, for example. He wrote an entire book about becoming fat-adapted because he had so much success with it. Just because a lot of people find success with this way of eating does not mean it will fit your needs.
In fact, after my own experiences with specific diets including vegan, paleo, and keto, I thought it would be helpful to share some info about what to watch out for when thinking about trying a restrictive diet such as ketosis.
Who is the ketogenic diet not right for?
1. People with a history of an eating disorder. If you have a history of an eating disorder then you might not want to embark on a ketogenic diet. Why? Well, it can be restrictive and some people can become a little too obsessed with macronutrient ratios. As an example, some people with a disordered eating past may still have an extreme fear of weight gain. They may look at the high fat content of this diet and feel like they don’t need as much of it. This is dangerous because a ketogenic diet is already low in protein and carbohydrates. If they don’t eat the proper fat ratios, starvation can occur, especially if their bodies aren’t yet fully recovered from their eating disorder.
2. Pregnant women. Because a ketogenic diet only contains around 15% of calories from protein, it may not be right for women who are pregnant. It’s recommended that a woman who is pregnant get at least 20% of her calories from protein. This jumps up to 25% during the third trimester of pregnancy when the fetus is rapidly growing. Plus, this diet which is higher in fat and lower in the other macronutrients, may signal food scarcity for the body. This is not good for women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.
3. People with adrenal fatigue. People with adrenal fatigue often develop this condition from various stressors. Studies have shown that people with adrenal fatigue who adopt a ketogenic diet tend to make their condition worse because their cortisol levels often spike. Symptoms they experience may include lethargy, an irregular heartbeat, insomnia, muscle soreness, increased irritability, irregular menstruation, depression, and/or anxiety. A ketogenic diet is just an added stressor that they don’t need.
4. People with hypothyroidism. Insulin is needed to convert the inactive thyroid hormone T4 into the active hormone T3. People on a ketogenic diet generally restrict carbohydrates to the point where not enough insulin is available for this process. Some people with hypothyroidism who adopt a keto diet report that their hypothyroid symptoms get worse following this way of eating. A recent study indicated that a ketogenic diet can cause thyroid malfunctions in some people.
5. People with no gallbladder. If you have had your gallbladder removed, you may want to think twice about starting a ketogenic diet. Because the gallbladder is generally where your body breaks down fats and a ketogenic diet is one high in fats, complications can occur when you adopt a ketogenic diet with no gallbladder. There is a lack of bile to break down the fats which can lead to malabsorption and unwanted side effects. It has been shown that some people without a gallbladder can successfully follow a ketogenic diet, but they must be careful and consult with a medical practitioner who should closely monitor them. Dr. Jockers touches on 7 strategies for a ketogenic diet without a gallbladder.
6. People with a history of gut dysbiosis. A ketogenic diet has been shown to alter gut flora. Those with a history of gut dysbiosis need to be careful when following a ketogenic diet since it’s possible that this way of eating reduces the diversity of the gut microbiota. We need prebiotic fiber for a healthy gut. Many beneficial prebiotic fibers come from carbohydrate sources. Without these sources the gut microbiota may shift in an undesirable direction contributing to digestive illness, autoimmune disease, skin issues, and more.
7. Children and teens. Children and teens are still growing and developing. A ketogenic diet, which has been shown to be a major bodily stressor if not implemented correctly, can have a negative effect on their development. Teenage girls who adopted a ketogenic diet saw amenorrhea (the absence of a menstrual cycle) and delayed puberty.
8. High performance athletes. A ketogenic diet may be challenging if you’re a competitive or high-performance athlete since higher activity levels require more calories and quick fuel that often come from carbohydrate sources. Athletes that adopt a ketogenic diet and don’t follow it correctly are at higher risk for adrenal fatigue and hormone dysregulation. Here is a study with more information.
Of course, a ketogenic diet can benefit certain groups of people. Traditionally, a ketogenic diet has been used in the treatment of epilepsy on both children and adults to control epileptic conditions. People with type II diabetes have shown improvement in biomarkers as well when placed on a well-managed ketogenic diet. One study showed that adults with type II diabetes that followed a ketogenic diet for 12 months lost more weight and were more likely to not need medications compared to a similar group of people following a moderate-carbohydrate diet.
The bottom line is that there is no one right diet for everyone. Through all of my trials and errors, I’ve determined that a gluten- and dairy-free diet is best for me. But, what works well for someone may not work well for you. Know your body and know what you can and cannot handle. If you fit into one of the above categories of people that may not benefit from a ketogenic diet, then it’s wise to think twice before adopting this lifestyle. Just because everyone seems to be adopting a ketogenic diet does not mean that you have to do it as well. Please consult your physician if you have any further questions or concerns about whether or not a ketogenic diet is right for you.
Please feel free to share your thoughts or experiences in the comments!
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