The Negative Effects of the Ketogenic Diet (Pros and Cons)

Consuming large amounts of fat has been popularized today with the ketogenic diet. A ketogenic diet is one where very few carbohydrates are consumed daily. When carbohydrates are not consumed, the body still needs a source of fuel. Ketones are byproducts of the body breaking down fat for energy that occurs when carbohydrate intake is low. The body will burn through fat for fuel. Many people report feeling amazing after getting into a state of ketosis three or four days after restricting carbohydrates. One of the benefits of this diet is being conscious of restricting carbohydrates that often are so toxic to the body, as is the case with wheat. This alone may cause you to feel better quickly.  A ketogenic diet also has been proven to be very beneficial for certain health conditions like epilepsy, diabetes, brain diseases, brain cancer, and losing weight.

So many people in the USA today consume wheat products and refined sugar as their primary sources of carbohydrates. Eliminating these from the diet has powerful benefits. But removing most carbohydrates from the diet will create imbalance over time. Chinese medicine is about balance and removing a macronutrient indefinitely is not the answer. Too much fat consumption in the diet can produce dampness in the body, the same way sugar does. Additionally, many on the ketogenic diet are consuming lots of fat from dairy products and pork, which are not healthy.  

It makes sense to  me that people would feel great right away after going on this diet. Yet, I have seen many people in the clinic who after about 1-3 months begin to have some awful digestive symptoms, which are related to the overburden of having to process all the fat being consumed. Fat is the hardest substance for the digestive system to process and puts tremendous strain on the liver to produce more bile. The liver of most people today is already so stressed out due to all the toxic heavy metals and chemicals it has to process. 

Many studies have been done touting the beneficial effects of the ketogenic diet on blood sugar levels.  However, as this study points out, when you do consume large amounts of fat AND eat any carbs (healthy or otherwise), insulin sensitivity is significantly reduced and impairs your body ability to deal with any kind of carbohydrates consumed. While on paper, eating more fat and restricting carbs may show positive results, excessive fat in the body severely inhibits your body from processing sugar. What if diabetes wasn’t so much a sugar intolerance issue as it was an excessive fat problem that inhibits the body from processing sugar correctly? This study shows how insulin needed for diabetics went down significantly on a high-carbohydrate diet (restricting fat). It may be that it is not the sugar that causes the problem but all the problem fats that so many people consume.

The second problem I have with this diet is that it mildly vilifies carbohydrates. Fruits are some of the most strengthening, anti inflammatory, and nutrient dense foods on the planet. The body was designed to have sugar, but good clean moderate amounts of it, not the bad kinds or large amounts consumed today. Chinese medicine is about balance and many have found that completely restricting one whole macronutrient is hard to do. Good quality plant and animal based fat in low amounts along with good organic carbohydrates can be just as protective for health as any diet that removes one thing over another. Consuming both allows for more movement, wider choices, isn’t as restrictive and is more sustainable. 

I have done both the ketogenic diet and a complete fat restrictive diet and have found value with both. However, I truly believe that a balanced diet is what falls more in line with the wisdom of Chinese medicine and is more sustainable. You may benefit from trying a clean ketogenic diet for a while, but I don’t think ketosis was meant to be sustained for long periods of time. In many of the “blue zones” around the planet, where there are concentrations of people that live to be over 100, carbohydrates are the main macronutrient found in thier diets. 65% of the diets in blue zones are composed of carbohydrates. Our ancestors were not obese like much of the population is today. Using the ketogenic diet for a period of time may be very useful in helping you burn through unwanted fat.  Be flexible, recognize that this diet has its uses and limitations and make choices wisely for yourself. 

Fats that are included in so many processed, fried and packaged foods are the ones that we should be avoiding. These fats are sunflower, safflower, soy, corn, and canola oils. Even in organic foods like chips, they should be avoided. These are polyunsaturated and are awful for health. Corn, soy and canola are all genetically modified. Any fried foods (hydrogenated) consumed are like dropping a hydrogen bomb into the digestive system. It requires massive resources to process these fats and the damage and stress they put on the immune system. 

Healthier oils are monounsaturated ones such as avocado and olive oil. Due to them not being as stable as saturated fats, it is wise not to use heat with these oils. Heat will break these oils down, denature them and cause them to oxidize, which requires antioxidants to counteract their effects. They can be used on salads and to make dressings. 

The healthiest cooking oils are butter, coconut oil, and red palm oil in very small amounts. The other fats that are essential for the body are omega 3’s. They are polyunsaturated, so it is critical they are consumed fresh and are never heated. This applies to the consumption of flax, chia, sesame and hemp seeds. They are wonderfully nutritious seeds that contains good amounts of these life-giving fatty acids. Take 1-2 tablespoons of whole golden flax seeds, grind them in a coffee grinder (do not buy them already ground) and sprinkle them into smoothies or oatmeal. Chia and hemp seeds do not need to be ground and can be consumed fresh. Other naturally occurring fats from nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, cashews are good as well. Avoid cooking these nuts also. 

Overall, due to how much stress the ketogenic diet puts on the liver, I am not a huge fan of it. The liver of the average person is already under so much stress due to the accumulation of heavy metals and chemicals and chronic bacterial and viral issues in the body, adding more fat into the diet only further put strain on the liver.

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