Your friend looks amazing these days. You would never have the courage to wear such a form-fitting dress, and it seems like just a few months ago, neither did she – but now she’s rocking skinny jeans too? What’s the deal?
You ask her secret and she says keto.
Obviously you’d love to replicate her success, but you’re a little wary: After all, the internet is awash in warnings against the dangers of the ketogenic diet. While glucose, the main molecule on which the body relies for energy, is responsible for a raft of ills in the world, a diet that effectively does away with glucose altogether still gets a bad rap.
To be fair, there do exist some dangers of keto, a diet which calls for severe restriction of carbohydrates. Once they – and by extension glucose – are gone, your body starts breaking down fatty acids into ketones and burning those for energy instead. Done correctly, this can lead to weight loss and greater health. Done incorrectly, though, your health can suffer … but that doesn’t mean you have to do it incorrectly, of course.
Ready to learn how to avoid the dangers of keto easily? Here are a few of the main tips you need to know.
Avoid Imbalance: Pay Attention to Variety
As with any relatively strict diet, the main “secret” to using keto safely is to monitor what you eat and always strive for balance. Many people fall into food ruts, ways of eating in which we engage over and over again. When that rut is a salad, great. When it’s two donuts every morning, not so great. Similarly, when it’s a quarter pound of salami for lunch, not so great. You already know this.
The point is a rut is totally possible with keto too. We’re all busy, and it’s easier to eat what you know than to plan meals every week. However, the restrictions inherent in keto will sometimes cause cravings. You can’t satisfy those cravings with carbohydrates, so your body will often drive you toward fat and salt instead.
The problem? If you start listening to those cravings then you will create an imbalance in your diet. You can’t just eat salami every day (though we all want to); you have to strive for a healthy combination of meat, nuts, seeds, cheese, oils, eggs and veggies. Otherwise, your body won’t get the nutrition it needs, you won’t feel well and you probably won’t stick with the diet long-term.
The solution is simple: Use a meal planner and stick to it. Once you’ve done keto for several months and really have a handle on its foods, only then should you consider switching things up.
Avoid Fatigue: Supplement with Electrolytes
Your body is used to a certain way of doing things: Eat carbohydrates, make energy. When you switch things up, it’s natural that your metabolic system will need a little while to adjust. As with any change in eating – restricted calories, intermittent fasting, low-fat diets – you will notice the “missing” element at first, and that often manifests as fatigue. Over time, though, that feeling will go away once you are in full ketosis (usually between a week and a month).
In the meantime, you can combat feelings of tiredness by increasing electrolyte intake. Healthline recommends you “try to obtain 2,000–4,000 mg of sodium, 1,000 mg of potassium and 300 mg of magnesium per day.” As you enter full ketosis, you can back off those supplements and rely on your body to do its job keeping you energized and awake – which most people who manage to stay on the keto diet report it does much more effectively after the switch.
Avoid Bad Breath: Chew Sugar-Free Gum
Bad breath is sometimes one of the side effects of keto and occurs when you reach a state of full ketosis. At this point, you’ve got far higher levels of ketones circulating in your system, one of which is acetone, known for causing bad breath. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about it. Fortunately, it tends to taper off and eventually disappear if you stick with the diet. Like many of the dangers of the ketogenic diet, this symptom will fade once your body adjusts.
In the meantime, you might want to brush your teeth more than usual to keep your mouth cleaner and freer of acetone. You can also feel free to chew gum, but if you do, make sure to check the label very carefully beforehand. Even a small amount of carbohydrates in your system can disrupt ketosis and prevent your body from making the full transition. Not only do you not get the weight loss effects when that happens, but you extend the transition as well, so you can enjoy those negative side effects that much longer.
And when we say “enjoy,” we mean “rocking back and forth while desperately waiting for them to go away.” You see where we’re going with this.
Learn more on how to beat bad breath.
Avoid Eating Too Much Sodium: Don’t Rely on Processed Foods
Because the ketogenic diet requires so much protein, many people turn to a range of meats in an effort to satisfy the natural human urge for variety in the diet. While sodium is a necessary nutrient, and beneficial in the early stages for combatting fatigue, too much is a bad thing no matter what diet you’re on. It’s important not to rely on processed foods, even if you do experience those salt-and-fat cravings common in the absence of carbohydrates.
One of the biggest benefits of the ketogenic diet is its ability to lower blood pressure. In fact, studies such as this one from the Archives of Internal Medicine indicate that ketogenic diets may be more effective at lowering blood pressure than a low-fat diet combined with orlistat (an obesity drug). Don’t combat that effect by overloading on sodium!
Avoid Digestive Issues: Eat Lots of High-Fiber, Low-Calorie Veggies
One of the most common symptoms most people report when launching the ketogenic diet is trouble in the bathroom. This runs the gamut from diarrhea to constipation, both of which can make life unpleasant indeed, especially in a working environment.
No matter what you do, it will probably take time for your digestive tract to adjust to the rigors of your new way of eating. Prepare yourself for this intermediary period and remind yourself that it is temporary, no matter how frustrating it may feel during the days or weeks through which you suffer.
Make sure to eat plenty of high-fiber and low-calorie vegetables, too. Cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale are all great options. Bell peppers, onions and carrots are a little higher-calorie and contain a bit less roughage, but they’re still very good options. Don’t take dainty portions, either. You should be eating large servings the size of two fists at every meal.
Avoid Serious Side Effects: Follow Meal Plans
A quick Google search will reveal purported dangers such as increased risk of cancer or diabetes as well as acidosis, a condition in which your body contains acid levels too high for your systems to process effectively. These effects are likely due at least in part to the fact that in excessive amounts, red meat can be harmful to your health.
Scientists are still researching the ketogenic diet extensively, but for years, the scientific consensus – such as this study in Experimental & Clinical Cardiology – has been that keto is beneficial to health, even long term. Especially in patients who struggle with obesity (much more strongly linked to diabetes, cancer, etc.), it can help get and keep weight off while maintaining high nutrition levels.
Again, though, you must maintain balance. Keto’s benefits are based on the assumption that you’re getting tons of veggies, paired with healthy fats, eggs and nuts in addition to meat. Plus, you should be eating a variety of animal proteins to avoid an overabundance of the rich red meat that has been linked to multiple medical conditions. You can avoid any serious side effects pretty easily simply by following a detailed ketogenic diet plan.
Avoid Regaining Weight: Transition Carefully
Yo-yo diets are notoriously dangerous. As a recent American Heart Association study points out, yo-yo dieting or “weight cycling” is associated with increased risk of heart disease in postmenopausal women (just one example). It’s important to avoid that.
Therefore, if you are going to transition away from the ketogenic diet – which people often do when they hit their goal weight – it is extremely important you do so slowly and carefully. Don’t simply revert to a previous way of eating, which is almost guaranteed to result in weight gain. If you reintroduce carbs, limit them to a few high-fiber fruits and whole grains.
Even if you do transition, you can still keep many of the principles of ketogenic eating, even if your body is no longer in ketosis. Whatever transition you make, try to minimize the changes as much as possible.
No matter how long you plan to stay on the ketogenic diet, it’s crucial that you protect your body by “following the rules.” A diet so heavily based on metabolic science should never be taken lightly. The good news? If you do your research and remain vigilant by heeding the advice above, you’re bound to see good results and steer clear of any potential dangers. Happy ketosis!
About the Author Nate Arnold
I started this website because it was hard to find trustworthy, evidence-based information about the ketogenic diet. Information that was published and peer reviewed by respected scientific journals. After years of research, I'm sure you'll achieve great results in a healthy way following my advice. I do my best to translate scientific research jargon into plain English. Remember, it's always a good idea to consult a doctor before starting a new diet!