The ketogenic diet, or the keto diet, is a popular diet that promises quick weight loss. People from all walks of life have used this diet as a way to turn their bodies into fat-burning machines. The diet limits the intake of carbohydrates and focuses on fat and protein consumption to get the body into the state of ketosis. During this state, the body burns fat (rather than sugar) for energy, but health experts worry about the side effects of this popular diet.
Where other low-carb diets focus on protein, the keto diet’s primary focus is on fat. There are modified versions of the diet that vary the fat, protein, and carb percentages to achieve the state of ketosis. The restrictiveness of the keto diet forces the body to use fat as the primary fuel source, which helps you drop weight. Over time, though, experts have warned that the high-fat nature of the keto diet may lead to heart complications. This is because of the excessive meat, dairy, and unhealthy fat consumption. Granted there are healthier versions of the keto diet that include more fresh produce, but not every keto follower eats in this way.
Entering ketosis is new for the body, so there is an adaptation phase, during which you may experience temporary side effects. It takes the brain and body time to adapt to burning ketones for energy instead of carbs. According to health experts, you may experience the following side effects once you go keto.
Reduced Athletic Performance
A lot of athletes have been able to improve performance in their sport after losing weight on the keto diet. For example, many cyclists say that they pedal faster and better once they switch to keto. A 2018 study found that participants performed worse on high-intensity cycling and running tasks after four days of eating keto than participants who spent four days on a high-carb diet. The body is in a more acidic state during ketosis, which may limit its ability to perform at peak levels. Losing a few pounds won’t drastically improve athletic performance, but significant weight loss might. Just keep this in mind on your ketogenic journey.
One of the most common side effects after starting keto is a bout of constipation. Low-carb eating and constipation tend to go hand in hand, as you exclude many high-fiber foods from your diet. Beans, large amounts of fruits and vegetables, and whole grains are not keto-approved foods, and avoiding them can cause some bowel irregularity. The body also excretes more water, so that is a recipe for clogged pipes. If you want to keep things moving, enjoy keto-friendly, fiber-rich foods like avocado, nuts, non-starchy vegetables, and berries. Increasing your water intake also helps you avoid constipation.
The “Keto Flu”
Many people report that after starting the keto diet, they experience a range of flu-like symptoms. The “low carb flu” or “keto flu,” as people refer to it, affects about 25% of people who try a keto diet. Although the most common symptom is fatigue, people may experience headaches, brain fog, nausea, poor sleep, increased hunger, and decreased physical performance. These issues may discourage people from adhering to the keto diet before they start feeling or seeing the benefits. Symptoms tend to subside within a few days, though.
Acetone is a ketone that is a byproduct of fat metabolism, and it can make your breath a little stinky. Often described as fruity and slightly sweet, ketosis breath results from the rise of blood acetone levels. This is because the body gets rid of some of the acetone via your breath, in addition to sweat and urine. For most people, the unusual breath smell will go away within a few weeks.
Leg Muscle Cramps
If you experience leg muscle cramps on a regular basis when you switch to keto, you may need to drink more water. They can be painful and typically stem from dehydration or mineral loss. This is because keto can help get rid of water weight, as glycogen, the storage form of glucose in muscles and liver, binds water. The body flushes out glycogen as a result of low carb intake, and it’s one of the primary reasons that people see immediate weight loss on the keto diet. Continue to drink plenty of water to reduce the risk of dehydration and leg cramps and electrolyte imbalance.
In case you didn’t know, carbs are incredibly addicting. That’s why so many people have a problem giving up bread, for example. When you eliminate carbs from your diet, the brain releases neuropeptide-Y (NPY), which signals the body that it needs carbs. When the body doesn’t get those carbs, NPY builds up and can intensify your cravings, increasing your desire to eat foods that are not keto-approved. The cravings are a direct result of the body’s biological response to carb deprivation, and less so your willpower to resist the temptation.