In the last article, we were looking at some of the shortcomings of the Paleo diet. In this article, we will have a critical look at a famous diet many people are using for rapid weight loss: the Keto diet, also known as the Atkins diet. We will see why this diet has profound effects on your body’s metabolism, and that it can cause serious health damage.
What is the keto diet?
The typical keto diet avoids foods like fruits, starchy vegetables (such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin), legumes, and whole grains. It includes large quantities of meat, eggs, cheese, milk, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables, and vegetable oils.
The typical keto diet is an extreme diet, with very low carbohydrate intake of just 5% of total calories (or as little as 20 grams per day), and very high fat intake of up to 80-85% from calories.
Those are extreme values! Our brain alone needs about 120 grams of glucose daily. In a healthy diet, 40-70% of calories should come from carbs and just 20-35% from fat. In short, a paleo diet provides way too much fat and way too less carbohydrates. Why is that bad?
The state of ketosis
Glucose, derived from carbohydrates, is the preferred fuel for our body. In order to supply our cells with energy when carbs are depleted, the body can break down protein and fat. Let’s look at fat first. Anyone following the keto diet, aims to reach the state of ketosis. Ketosis is a process that is meant for actual emergencies, such as starvation, to keep the body working. The alternative ‘fuel’ that is produced is not glucose. It is called ‘ketone bodies’. Those ketone bodies can fuel many cells, and especially the brain cells, in those situations. When we are in a prolonged state of carbohydrate depletion, the body will produce excessive amounts of ketone bodies.
Ketone bodies are acids. At high levels, they can make your blood acidic.
Ketone bodies are chemicals, such as acetone (you don’t want to have huge quantities of nail polish remover in your body, right?). In extreme prolonged cases, a keto diet can lead to a state of ketoacidosis, which can lead to confusion, motor impairment, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and, in severe cases, even coma and death. This risk is increased if you follow a very strict keto diet combined with very low calorie intake.