Keto diet: Expert warns that the low-carb diet could pose surprising health risks
The ketogenic or “keto” diet was originally known as a way to help treat epilepsy in children, but over the years it has become another weight loss plan that’s caught the attention of many celebrities. Halle Berry, Kourtney Kardashian and Gwyneth Paltrow have all reportedly tried the low-carb plan before, but what if it could do more harm than good? One expert has warned that it might not be for everyone.
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The keto diet involves eating as little as 20 grams of carbohydrates a day, which is less than a tenth of the recommended daily intake for women.
But unlike other low-carb diets such as the Atkins and paleo plans which put an emphasis on protein, the keto plan focuses on increasing your fat intake.
With carbs usually being the main source of your body’s energy, a diet that doesn’t include enough will lead to the body finding energy elsewhere, by using up stores in the liver and even the muscles.
But doing this on an ongoing basis can lead to ketosis, where the body uses fat and protein to create ‘ketone bodies’ in the liver; this is often seen as the goal for those following the diet, but it’s incredibly hard to maintain and not without its side effects.
Though some studies have suggested the keto diet plan can be good for heart health, this could simply be down to the resulting weight loss that can ease some of the strain on the heart.
In fact, Consultant Dietitian Maeve Hanan believes the keto diet could have a negative effect on your health.
The expert, who has written extensively on health for The Food Medic website as well as in her own book, Your No-Nonsense Guide to Eating Well (out this month) has warned of the potential downsides of the keto plan.
As well as worrying that the restrictive diet could lead to an unhealthy relationship with food, Hanan cautioned that the high fat, low-carb nature of the plan could pose a health risk for some people.
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“A low intake of wholegrains, a more restricted intake of fruit and vegetables and a higher intake of saturated fat may lead to a higher risk of constipation, bowel cancer and heart disease over time,” Maeve explained.
Higher-carb vegetables such as potatoes, squashes and carrots are all out of bounds on the diet plan, which prioritises low-carb options such as broccoli, kale, spinach and mushrooms.
Grains and foods such as pasta and couscous are also off limits in the restrictive plan, as well as beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas.
Even fruit is discouraged, with food such as butter, oils, avocados, chicken, eggs and cheese on the menu instead, in order to up your fat intake.
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Maeve also warns that the diet can have a serious effect on your energy levels – which may affect your workouts.
“Carbs are the main fuel for our brain and body, and a keto diet can lead to a very low energy intake which could lead to burning muscle for energy and reduced exercise performance,” explained Maeve.
There’s even a condition that’s known as “keto flu”, caused by the restrictive nature of the high fat plan.
The phenomenon can cause symptoms such as tiredness, headaches, diarrhoea, cramps, and weakness.
But Maeve is especially wary of the keto plan when it comes to women who are looking to lose weight, as it could have much wider health implications.
“It can contribute to triggering a type of ‘starvation mode’ called relative energy deficiency in sports (RED-S),” Maeve noted, “which is most likely to occur in active women who don’t consume enough calories – this can lead to issues with fertility, the immune system, bone health and more.
“Similarly, there is research emerging that a very low carbohydrate intake (such as the keto diet) may disrupt hormonal function for pre-menopausal women.”
Any new diet that involves cutting out food groups or significantly reducing calories should be talked through with a professional first to ensure it’s right for you, and that it’s not going to interfere with any medical conditions or health worries.
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