LeBron James reportedly turned to the keto diet in 2014 to “test his mental fortitude.” INSTAGRAM | @kingjames

LOW-CARB diet plans are nothing new. For as long as the wellness industry has sought to control our relationship with our bodies, they’ve positioned carbohydrates as something to be avoided. To see yourself walking down the bread aisle of the supermarket is to be confronted by an enemy most don’t have the means nor power to resist. But as dieticians can attest, our bodies need carbohydrates to thrive. Even so, this hasn’t stopped a number of individuals from swearing them off entirely in favour of ketosis for weight loss. 

Essentially on the keto diet, carbohydrates get the axe and are replaced instead by a high-fat diet that allows protein, but only in moderate amounts. On the diet, the daily intake of total carbs is around 50 grams—the equivalent of one cup of rice. Such an upheaval in one’s diet plan has seen many champion the keto diet as being beneficial for weight loss. But while it might see you shed some excess kilos in the short-term, just as many people have gained the weight back due to the restrictive nature of the diet which makes it unsustainable in the long-term. So, should you give the keto diet a go? And if so, what side effects can you expect? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is the keto diet?

Health lessons in school proclaimed the importance of the food pyramid and eating sources from each tier, but those following a keto diet cut out carbohydrates. The macronutrient serves as our main source of glucose, helping our bodies to perform as they power our cells and provide energy. When we exercise, it’s typically carbohydrates that our bodies burn to power through a workout.

By cutting out carbs, the body has to turn to other sources of fuel. Thus, the keto diet was born as it attempts to stimulate this same bodily response. When there is a lack of glucose to burn, the liver goes to work, taking fatty acids in the body and breaking them down into ketone bodies. By becoming the body’s main source of fuel, ketone bodies provide energy for muscles as well as the heart, brain and kidney.

How do you get in deep ketosis?

In order to enter a state of ketosis, the body needs to turn to other energy sources. That’s why the diet champions fatty foods and fewer carbs, as these replace glucose as the main energy source.

To trigger ketogenesis, aim for no more than 50 grams of carbohydrates daily, which equates roughly to one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. Then, to make up the rest of your daily intake, look to mono and polyunsaturated fats. While some tend to get a little carried away and find themselves standing around a stovetop frying off bacon by the kilo, it should be noted that you can’t eat as much fat as you want. Rather, you need to take into account your daily caloric intake and proceed accordingly.


What is the ‘keto flu’?

Many who have switched to a keto diet report something called the ‘keto flu’ in the first few days. As the body adjusts to entering a state of ketosis, you’re likely to experience flu-like symptoms like an upset stomach and headaches.

Why is the keto diet beneficial for weight loss?

For many, the keto diet has led to weight loss but just how rapidly this occurs differs for each individual due to varying metabolic rates. It’s also important to remember that for every person who has lost weight following the keto diet, just as many have gained the weight back. Due to its rigidity and the fact it requires followers to cut out food groups that most of us are used to eating, the keto diet isn’t considered a sustainable plan.

Are there negative side effects of the keto diet?

In recent years, carbs have come to be vilified. They might be delicious, but that hasn’t stopped many from swearing them off entirely. As dieticians have been quick to note, everything in moderation is healthier than cutting out entire food groups and as the keto diet cuts out carbs, those who subscribe to it are missing out on essential vitamins like A, C and K. This can lead to long-term health effects like kidney stones and liver disease, so it’s recommended those who suffer from liver conditions don’t follow the diet.

As well as this, research suggests diets high in saturated fat may increase the risk of heart disease and other health conditions, however there is not enough evidence analysing the long-term cardiovascular health of keto dieters.

Can you supplement with ketone bodies?

Peruse the aisles of any health store and you’ll discover that ketone supplements already exist. That said, research is lacking in this area and we don’t have enough evidence to confirm whether these are safe or effective (just yet). Unlike the keto diet, these may allow people to experience greater mental clarity and fewer headaches, but they won’t necessarily lead to weight loss. Simply taking ketone supplements without changing your diet won’t trigger the bodily response the diet does.

Should you do the keto diet?

Ultimately, the best diet plan is the one you can sustain and incorporate into your lifestyle. Due to the nature of its restriction, for many the keto diet isn’t a long-term answer to health, but rather a short-term weight loss tool.


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