While the ketogenic diet (or, “keto” for short) is on the verge of celebrating its 100th birthday, its popularity and public awareness has skyrocketed only over the last few years. With its growing bounty of searches, followers, and resources, the keto lifestyle has, quite simply, gone mainstream. In fact, searches for keto have far outpaced those for Paleo and intermittent fasting, two other rapidly growing diet concepts.
Right here on the BioTrust blog, for instance, you can find numerous keto resources like:
- The ABCs of the Keto Diet
- How to Start a Keto Diet? (Complete Keto for Beginners Guide)
- Is the Keto Diet Actually Good for Weight Loss?
- Is the Keto Diet Safe?
And with the explosion of the keto diet, more and more people are starting to ask about the benefits. Meanwhile, others are stumbling with how to best follow this very unique diet, and in the process, making several common mistakes. So today, we’re going to dive into the 3 most popular health benefits along with the 3 most common mistakes of the keto lifestyle—and how to avoid them.
What is the Keto Diet?
As explained by our own Coach Tim, “The ketogenic diet is a very-low-carbohydrate, high-fat, moderate-protein dietary approach. It’s more commonly referred to as a very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet (VLCKD). Or ‘keto’ for short.”
3 Health Benefits of the Keto Lifestyle (other than weight loss)
Low-carb diets in general—and the keto diet in particular—have been the center of the never-ending, controversial diet “debates.” Because these diets tend to be higher in fat, many traditionalists have raised concerns about their impact on cholesterol, heart disease, and weight gain. Yet, when we dig into the scientific evidence, it seems to lay these concerns to rest, and contrary to popular belief, sometimes even suggests the opposite.
These diets are now being praised for their health benefits by doctors, researchers, health professionals, and everyday people. Past articles have already addressed the potential positive effects of following a keto diet on weight loss, including decreased appetite and greater weight loss from the belly, yet the keto lifestyle has also been shown to have other benefits, such as:
#1 Helping reduce the risk of heart disease. 1 Because the basic tenet of the keto diet is to virtually eliminate carbs—including foods high in sugars and refined grains—it has been shown, perhaps surprisingly, to help lower triglyceride levels. In addition, very-low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets often help raise levels of the “good” HDL cholesterol and may help lower blood pressure, which may also protect against heart disease.
#2 Reducing blood sugar and insulin levels. Millions of folks suffer from high blood sugar levels and insulin resistance, which can ultimately lead to diseases like type 2 diabetes. While exercise is one key to helping reduce risks, consuming fewer carbs can also be beneficial. 2, 3
The combination of benefits from a low-carb diet may also help fight metabolic syndrome, which is a collection of symptoms, including increased belly fat, high blood pressure, high fasting blood sugar, high triglycerides, and low HDL cholesterol. 4
#3 Increasing focus and concentration. The ketogenic diet was originally used to help children suffering from drug-resistant epilepsy and continues to be used for that today. Researchers are unsure why it has been so effective for preventing seizures, but many believe it may be tied to increased stability of neurons, upregulation of the mitochondria and mitochondrial enzymes in the brain, and/or dysfunction in the body’s ability to use glucose for fuel. 5
Beyond disease states, many of those following the ketogenic diet report improved mental clarity and focus, as well as fewer migraines.
Other potential health benefits from following a ketogenic diet may include decreasing the risks for or improving symptoms of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, polycystic ovary syndrome, brain injuries, acne, and more. There is a considerable amount of ongoing research being conducted on this unique, highly restrictive diet.
But that doesn’t mean the keto diet is right for everyone. In fact, some would argue that a full-time, full-fledged ketogenic diet should be reserved for medical reasons.
Additionally, many have advised that keto should be avoided if you’re pregnant or nursing, are underweight, have suffered from an eating disorder, are experiencing nutrient deficiencies, have a history of kidney stones or disease, or have a disorder involving fat metabolism.
Like any diet, keto should only be done under the care of a healthcare practitioner if you have diabetes or other blood sugar issues or have a thyroid condition. And, it’s best to work with your healthcare practitioner with any diet that could affect any medicine you are currently using. Of course, some people will find that they are just better off with a less restrictive, modified low-carb diet or a low-glycemic index diet.
3 Common Keto Lifestyle Mistakes
If the keto lifestyle does sound like a good fit for you, if you haven’t followed it for very long, or if you’re just following the advice of a friend, you want to be wary of making some pretty serious, albeit common, mistakes—mistakes that can cost you from enjoying the fat-loss and health benefits.
Many people simply hear the ketogenic diet involves eating more fat and fewer carbs and go for it, eating copious amounts of bacon, butter, and cheese along with the occasional “keto treats.” Then they wonder why they’re not getting any results. They may even think the diet doesn’t work for them because they feel awful and may be having a downright horrible experience. This is because a well-formulated ketogenic diet is quite nuanced.
Here are three top mistakes you’ll want to avoid.
Mistake #1: Forgetting Calories. It is true that most people who follow the ketogenic diet don’t necessarily count calories. Often, people naturally eat fewer calories on a lower carb diet. Most often, it’s because they increase their protein intake, which is highly satiating. And after one has adapted to keto, they’ll have higher levels of blood ketones, which seem to have direct appetite-suppressing properties.
But that doesn’t mean calories don’t count. In fact, they can add up quickly because fat contains 9 calories per gram (where as carbs and protein both contain 4 calories per gram).
Consider this scenario: You’re at your favorite coffee shop. You’re new to keto, and you know fat is your friend. Do you order:
- Your favorite latte only with sugar-free syrup and heavy cream instead of milk; or
- An Americano with a shot of cream?
If you chose option “1,” you might well have issues. A large latte is made with about 1 ½ cups of dairy, and in terms of heavy cream, that’s around 1,200+ calories and nearly 10 grams of carbs. That’s a huge amount of calories to swallow down, especially since the average person needs only around 2,000 calories per day.
That Americano, on the other hand, will provide around 50 to 60 calories with only about 1 gram of carbs. (It’s also worth noting that if that sugar-free syrup is loaded with artificial sweeteners, that can lead to another set of issues altogether.)
Many common keto snacks, like nuts, seeds, and cheese, are dense in calories, which can add up quickly. And with the increasing popularity of keto, more and more “keto treats” are popping up, and not unlike the “junk food” that lines convenience store shelves, they have been specifically engineered to eat (and overeat).
So, if you aren’t dropping weight, you may just be eating too many calories.
Mistake #2: Depending on Processed Foods. Many diets start out as healthy and then morph into something else as they get more popular and commercialized, and the keto lifestyle is no exception. The keto diet can be made up of healthy, whole foods like avocados, organic leafy greens and other low-carb vegetables, sustainably-caught seafood, organic, grass-fed dairy (e.g., heavy cream, butter, yogurt), pasture-raised eggs and poultry, coconut and MCT oils, nuts and seeds, grass-fed meats, and the like. In other words, real, whole foods.
Yet, in today’s fast-paced society, many people are looking for ease and convenience, and restaurants and grocery stores are increasingly offering “keto-friendly” processed junk foods and fast foods to meet growing demands. For a seldom grab-and-go option, these might be okay. But as an all-day, everyday option? Not so good.
No matter what diet you’re following, remember to reach for whole, minimally processed foods the majority of the time!
Mistake #3: Not Eating Enough Fat. For most of us, we’ve been told to eat less fat our entire lives. Along those lines, a complete 180—eating 70 to 80% of your calories from fat—can be a challenge. Yet, if you really want to tap into ketosis and the potential benefits that keto has to offer, it really does take a lot of fat.
Many people just starting the keto diet reach for protein rather than fat. The problem with that, however, is that excess protein may slow (or even prevent) your ability to get into ketosis because the body can oxidize (aka, burn) protein for fuel. The ketogenic diet isn’t high protein. It’s high-fat, moderate (if not “adequate) protein.
It’s also important to ensure you’re drinking enough water, getting plenty of electrolytes, and getting enough sleep.
Keto Lifestyle Benefits and Mistakes: A Wrap-Up
It’s easy to see why the keto diet has become so popular. In addition to how effective this diet can be to help people lose weight, it has numerous health benefits, and researchers are continuing to find more.
Yet the keto lifestyle shouldn’t be taken lightly. To ensure it is as healthy as it can be, it takes some nuance and understanding. It’s not just about restricting carbs and eating bacon, cream, and keto-friendly desserts to your heart’s delight. (Sorry!) Like any other diet, a well-formulated keto diet entails nourishing the body with a variety of whole, minimally processed foods consumed in appropriate amounts.