Is The Keto Diet Safe?
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There are all kinds of benefits to following a low carb Keto diet.
If you want a list of some of them you can read our post 20 Amazing Benefits of the Keto Diet.
But, everyone considering Keto should ask the question. Is Keto Safe?
The short answer is: Yes, a low carb ketogenic diet done properly and with common sense is not dangerous.
All together now: “Yeah but what about….. (enter your big fear here) ? Now read on.
I hope this post quells those fears and help you to be healthier, but if not please let me know. There is a comment section below, and I would love to hear from you.
To begin with we need to establish a few things.
First, when I say the “Keto Diet is not dangerous” I am not talking about all “low carb diets” I’m not even talking about all ketogenic diets.
I am not talking about Atkins, Carnivore, Mediterranean, Paleo. All of these can be done in a healthy way. To be sure I have some issues with all of them but that is a subject for another post.
And I am not even talking about all “Ketogenic” diets. Just eating bacon and cheese would be very ketogenic, but that would be really bad for you on so many levels.
What Keto Diet is Safe
When I say “Keto diet” what I mean is: high fat (75% calories from healthy fat), moderate protein (20% calories from protein), low NET CARBS (5% calories from carbs) and lots fiber. This means at least 21 to 25 grams of fiber daily for women and 30 to 38 grams for men.
To be sure, the diet I’m promoting – and that I follow – includes lots and lots of salads and nutritious veggies, as well as nuts and seeds that are high in both good fat and fiber. The diet that I promote DOES NOT include huge amounts of processed meats, or any other processed food for that matter.
Dangerous is a relative term.
Dangerous compared to sitting in my big leather recliner? Almost anything is dangerous compared to that.
Rock climbing without ropes? I guess that would be more dangerous than eating bacon as part of a balanced diet.
So when I say that Keto is not dangerous what I mean is that my Keto diet (above) is not dangerous compared to other diets.
Compared to what most Americans eat – SAD (Standard American Diet) that has made us fat and sick, Keto is not only safe but it will be a monumental improvement in your health.
SAD has made us obese, insulin resistant, and inflamed. It has given us heart disease, metabolic syndrome and high blood pressure.
People with type 2 diabetes and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease did not get those diseases from eating Keto, they got them from eating too much high fructose corn syrup, sugar and way too much highly processed crap.
I have done a good deal of research on this because I am that kind of nerd.
What I have found about nearly all of the claims that Keto is dangerous are based on one of two things: Either they have the Keto diet wrong, or they have the facts wrong.
I don’t have the space in this one post to go into the all of the examples of what I mean.
So I am just going to give you one of each. If you want to see more just Google, “dangers of Keto.”
This might look like an exaggeration but these are examples that I found all over a bunch of official looking sites…
Example of Having the Keto Diet Wrong
What Keto critics say is this:
If you cut the carbs out of your diet what your left with is meat and dairy, and if you only eat meat and dairy you will be missing a lot of important nutrients and you will never get enough fiber.
Then the critics say the Keto diet is too restrictive and is hard to follow.
I could apply the same argument a low fat diet: A low fat diet is unhealthy because you don’t get enough nutrition and fiber.
If you take all the fat out of your diet all you’re left with is soda-pop and wonder bread.
A low fat diet is too restrictive and hard to follow because I can’t find recipes for soda-pop and wonder bread. Do you see how nonsensical that is?
The Keto diet that I promote says what proportion of calories you should get from carbs (about 5%) and the rest protein (20%) and fat (75%).
I suggest that you get your healthy fat from coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, butter, etc. And, I would suggest that you get your protein from a variety of sources, not only chicken, beef, lamb, fish, eggs and full fat dairy, but also plant sources like peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds and chia seeds.
I don’t think you should deprive yourself of bacon and cheese if you like it. But I suggest that you consider it more of a flavoring than a staple.
If you are like me and you like bacon and other processed meats, have a vitamin C supplement with it. The vitamin C mitigates the dangers of the nitrates.
This I cannot stress enough so I put it in bold… EAT FIBER. Eat leafy green veggies, nuts and seeds. This will make everything work better in your gut and make you feel better.
See also my post; what to eat on keto. The truth is that you could actually be Keto and not eat any animal products at all. (google: Keto vegan)
The idea that the Keto diet does not have enough variety of allowed food is just BS.
If you’re concerned about having enough variety, I refer you to our shopping list or to our recipes page.
And if you don’t find something you like tell me what you want in the comment section of one of our posts, and I will see what I can do to help you.
Example of Having the Wrong Information About Keto
What Keto critics say is that eating a high fat diet is unhealthy because it is going to make you fatter and clog up your arteries with cholesterol.
Then they say that’s true because “studies show” that a diet high in animal products has been linked to heart disease.
I know, that’s what the FDA and the food industry say.
I also understand how easy it is to believe that if you eat cholesterol it goes right into your bloodstream and clogs up your arteries.
It also seems logical that eating fat will make you fat.
But that is simply not how our bodies work.
Your body only burns fat for energy when there is no insulin.
A lot of insulin is secreted by the pancreas when you eat carbs, some insulin is secreted when you eat protein, and almost none when you eat fat.
Your body will always burn carbs first. So if you want to burn fat, you are going to have to burn the carbs out of your system first.
Only 15% of the cholesterol in your body comes from food that you eat.
Most of the cholesterol is synthesized from triglycerides that are in your body, and the reason that your body makes cholesterol is in response to inflammation.
Furthermore, the major cause of inflammation is the metabolizing of carbs, especially the highly processed variety.
So when you see a person with high cholesterol having a double cheeseburger with fries and supersize coke, it is wrong to blame the clogged arteries on the burger and the cheese.
The bun, fries and especially the coke, are causing the inflammation, and the cholesterol is created in the body to help relieve the inflammation.
A Keto diet does not cause the inflammation in the first place, so your body does not make the cholesterol, and the cholesterol that is never made can’t clog your arteries.
Eating fat does not make you fat if you burn fat for energy.
The problem is that Ketosis is the only way that you can burn fat.
I bet I am going to have some naysayers on that statement but it’s true.
Generally, if you are not in ketosis you’re not burning fat.
Don’t confuse this with building muscle…we are only talking about burning fat here.
You can see some of the benefits of the Keto diet in my post 20 Amazing Benefits of Keto.
Common Fears/Myths About Keto
There are a bunch of common myths about the Keto diet and dieting in general that we should have a look at.
Let’s just break this down.
To Say that the Keto diet is dangerous you would have to say that either Ketosis is dangerous, or what you do to get to Ketosis is dangerous.
What is ketosis? Simply put it is the process by which your body burns fat.
Body fat or dietary fat is converted into Ketone bodies by your liver, and then those Ketones are circulated in your blood to be used by your cells for energy.
This is a natural process. But Ketosis only occurs when your body is not burning sugar/carbs for energy.
When you eat carbs, your body will either burn them or turn them into fat.
If you stop eating carbs you will eventually get to Ketosis, and you can do this in one of two ways.
You can just stop eating altogether, this is called fasting Ketosis.
Or you can just not eat carbs – nutritional Ketosis. Nutritional ketosis is how the Keto diet works.
Fasting Ketosis is where you consume no calories at all.
Is fasting Ketosis dangerous? I thought it was until I looked at the actual facts.
The fact is that if you have the proper vitamin supplements, a little salt and enough water, you can just not eat until you run out of body fat to burn… and it won’t hurt you.
The world record for the longest fast was set by a man in Scotland in 1965-66. Under medical supervision, he ate nothing except vitamin and salt supplements for 382 days. He started at 456 lbs, and finished at 180 lbs (he lost 276 lbs). He suffered no ill effects.
You should not try fasting this long without medical supervision and 276 lbs of excess body fat, but the Ketosis part is safe. You can read about it here.
I normally fast for 16 hours a day and I strongly recommend you do the same. Intermittent Fasting combined with a Keto diet has even more benefits than Keto by itself.
If you just don’t eat carbs to get into Ketosis, that is called nutritional Ketosis. This is how the Keto Diet works.
What will happen is: Without the carbs, your insulin levels will drop and tell your body to start burning fat.
This will not affect your base metabolic rate.
You will continue to burn the same amount of calories, but they will be fat calories, not sugar/carb calories.
With the right eating plan nutritional Ketosis can be done in a safe and healthy manner.
This healthy Keto friendly lifestyle is the easy and delicious way to do Keto.
This is also the way that I personally eat, and the Keto that I promote.
I have been Keto for over 2 years, and I continue to feel great – i.e. it is sustainable
There is unfortunately a number of ways that you can get to nutritional Ketosis that are not healthy.
No Fiber – the bacon and Cheese Diet
You could get to Ketosis with no fiber and no nutrition.
If you ate nothing but bacon and cheese, you would get to ketosis.
You would probably also end up painfully constipated and suffering from vitamin deficiencies.
On the bright side I don’t think it takes more than a tiny bit of common sense to see and avoid this pitfall.
Eat a salad.
Too Much Protein
The other unhealthy nutritional Ketosis is eating too much protein.
Protein is an important part of any healthy diet. You need it to maintain and repair muscles.
But too much protein can cause constipation, diarrhea, bad breath, dehydration, weight gain, all of which can be avoided by watching your protein intake.
There are a few issues that come from eating too much protein that are permanent.
These include: Increased cancer risk, calcium loss and kidney damage.
The ideal amount of protein is between 0.6 and 1.2 grams per pound of lean body mass.
The 0.6 grams is for less active people and 1.2 grams is for active people who do high intensity workouts.
A big fear that almost everyone has heard is the great boogieman Ketoacidosis – ohhhh.
I have seen websites that say that Ketosis is a mild form of Ketoacidosis. That is not true! They are not the same thing.
Ketosis is your body burning fat.
It is your body’s natural reaction to lower insulin due to non-consumption of carbohydrates.
Ketosis is the result of low blood sugar and low insulin.
Ketoacidosis, on the other hand, is a dangerous life threatening condition where you have high blood sugar, and not enough insulin.
In Ketoacidosis the body produces extremely high amounts of ketones.
Ketoacidosis is very high blood sugar, low or no insulin, and ketones at least three times higher than nutritional ketosis.
This combination lowers the Ph of the blood to an acid. Hence the name.
Ketoacidosis is a real danger for type I diabetics because they don’t produce any insulin. Although rare, type II diabetics, severe alcoholics and some Hepatitis patients can also get ketoacidosis.
For the rest of us, Ketoacidosis is so rare that you shouldn’t worry about it.
Starvation Mode is not caused by Ketosis
I know that everyone has heard that if you restrict you caloric intake your metabolism will slow down, so if you ever eat normally again you will blow up like a balloon.
When you are talking about the feast and famine cycles that we are evolved for, you can see how that just doesn’t make sense.
Your body saves up all this fat for the lean times, and then those lean times arrive and the fat says oh-hell-no, not my job so go ahead and burn your muscles. Really?
What actually happens when you get to Ketosis is you have increased consistent energy.
This makes sense, because in the bad-ol-days the lean times were also cold and you would need to keep warm, and if the opportunity arose to kill something to eat you would need to have the energy to catch it.
Starvation mode caused by ketosis is a myth.
STARVATION MODE CAN BE CAUSED BY LOW CALORIE, LOW FAT DIETS.
If you eat a calorie restricted low fat diet where you eat too many carbs too often, you can cause the dreaded starvation mode.
As I explained above, when your insulin level is up you cannot burn fat. Insulin blocks fat burning.
Your insulin spikes when you eat carbs, and then returns to a fasting level within a few hours after you eat.
But if you eat more carbs before your insulin returns to the fasting level, your insulin won’t ever get low enough to burn fat.
Imagine you burn of 2000 calories per day normally. This is your base metabolic rate or BMR.
But you’ve eaten too much for a while and got fat and now you want to lose that bulge.
So you go on a low fat diet where you only eat 1200 calories per day (1000 calories of carbs).
You decide that you will follow what is a pretty common plan to eat six times a day – three small meals and three snacks.
You wake up in the morning and have 300 calories of cereal with skim milk for breakfast. This spikes you insulin and stops you from burning fat.
Just about the time your insulin gets back to a level where you could burn some fat you eat a 100 calorie pack of mini Oreos, and this spikes your insulin and stops you from burning fat.
And then about the time that your insulin drops far enough to burn fat it’s lunch time, and you eat more carbs and your insulin spikes.
And then the afternoon snack, and then dinner, and then bed time snack.
The effect of this pattern is that your insulin would never get low enough to burn fat.
This means that the only energy available to your body would be 1200 calories of low-fat-food that you would be eating.
Your body will adapt to low energy availability by slowing your metabolism so that you use less energy.
Because even though you have body fat you could burn for the extra energy, insulin is blocking the process.
So your body temperature will drop and you will be cold all the time.
And if you really have to have energy you will burn your muscles.
It seems to me that low fat and eating often might be dangerous and unnatural…
And these low-fat low-cal eat often actually can cause STARVATION MODE.
Conflicts with Medications
This seems like a really great time to remind you that I am not that kind of doctor, and if you have concerns about your personal diet and medication situation you should talk to your own doctor.
Conflict with medications is something you should talk to your doctor about, but my personal experience, and people that I have heard from, Keto actually reduces the need for many different medications.
I was taking three different meds for high blood pressure and one for gout. Now I take no meds for anything and my blood pressure is on the low side of normal. Plus, my muscles and joints feel better than they have in twenty years.
I went to my doctor to make sure this was all cool, and she said that based on my blood work and vitals I have half the risk of heart attack or stroke as the average person my age.
Again, I am not your doctor, and there are probably millions of medications out there that could be affected by being in Ketosis, but from everything that I have read, the need for most of them are either reduced or eliminated by Keto.
The Last Word – An Invitation
I really want to get this right because I know that your health is as important to you as mine is to me.
So I invite you to check my work.
If you think I have something wrong – especially if you have some proof – let me know.
Or if you have any other questions about anything Keto, I would love to help you with that too. Or if you think I am the greatest Keto blogger in history you could put that in the comment section as well.
The last thing I will say about the dangers of Keto: Keto is safer than the Standard American, and it is absolutely better for you than being fat.
Cheers and Keto On,
We have a lot of great posts on everything Keto:
How to Lose 10 pounds in a Week Without Starving
Hair Loss & Keto – What can be done?
Ten Powerful Reasons to Exercise on Keto