I’ve seen people in some of the online health groups asking “Is keto safe long term?”. If you’ve been asking yourself the same valid question then I’ll try to answer it here.
If you’ve been following the keto diet for a while now or even just thinking about it then you’ve probably seen and heard a lot of negative views about the diet especially when it comes to the high fat content and lack of fiber.
Related reading: Is The Keto Diet Bad For Some People?
While some experts argue that following the keto diet for the long term is bad for your health, there are those who believe otherwise. In fact, the keto diet is being used as a long-term treatment for kids suffering from epilepsy with no apparent problems.
But what about the adults who use keto for losing weight? Is keto safe long term? By long term I mean several years or more not just weeks. Let’s find out.
Possible Drawbacks of a Long Term Keto Diet
Thanks to its extremely low-carb eating plan, the keto diet has been found to be truly effective in helping someone to lose weight. However, some researchers warn that following the diet long term may come with drawbacks.
Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies
One of the problems that experts point out could be a problem if you follow a keto diet long-term is the deficiency of certain vitamins and minerals. If you’re on keto, the aim is to restrict your carbohydrate intake to between 25 and 50 grams a day.
Related reading: Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies in a Keto Diet
Aside from cutting back on processed foods, bread, and sugar, you also need to eliminate high carb vegetables and fruits on your diet, which can be a problem.
Loren Cordain, proponent of the Paleo Diet, points out that it is extremely hard to devise a very low carbohydrate diet that is not deficient in potassium, calcium, magnesium, folate, and vitamin C and high in sodium.
Related reading: Paleo vs. Keto: Which is Best for Weight Loss?
Related reading: Is The Paleo Diet A Low-Carb Diet?
Folate is found in leafy greens such as kale and spinach, turnip and mustard green, which are encouraged on the keto diet but many people simply do not like the taste of them.
Potassium and magnesium is found in fruits and vegetables many of which are excluded on the keto diet.
Related reading: 5 Healthy Fruits You Can Eat On A Low Carb Diet
Magnesium is also found in high fiber foods such as grains and beans which are also excluded. It is however is found in dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, fish and avocados which can be and should be should be eaten in abundance on a ketogenic diet.
Related reading: Best Nuts to Eat On A Keto Diet
Vitamin C is found in organ meats which are a great food for the keto diet but many people dislike their strong taste so don’t include them. Alternative good keto sources are peppers, kale, broccoli, strawberries and cauliflower
According to Annette Frain, program director of the Weight Management Center at Wake Forest Baptist Health,
“Fruits and vegetables are good for us; they’re high in antioxidants and full of vitamins and minerals. If you eliminate those, you aren’t getting those nutrients over time.”
Lack of Fiber
It’s also difficult to get enough fiber if you are severely cutting back your carb consumption because whole grains are among the biggest sources of this nutrient. This could make you suffer from constipation, diarrhea, and other digestive problems.
Related reading: How to Fix Low Carb Constipation
According to Dr Paul Saladino, proponent of the carnivore diet, you don’t need fiber in the diet. He points out that the Inuits eat only meat and fat and no fruit or vegetables and yet are very healthy and are able to survive harsh weather conditions.
Related reading: Is The Carnivore Diet Better than Keto for Weight Loss?
Some of the best sources of fiber on a keto diet are avocados, chia seeds and flaxseed, nuts especially pecans and almonds, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli.
Poor athletic performance
Another possible problem that experts find if you follow the keto diet for the long-term is that it could affect your performance if you are an athlete.
The keto diet is now so very popular that there are plenty of athletes who have jumped onto the keto bandwagon. However, experts believe that the keto diet could be sabotaging the overall strength and physical fitness if you compete in high-intensity, short-duration sports.
Some health experts are also concerned about the high-fat aspect of the keto diet. They believe this could affect the heart and arteries in the long-term leading to chronic diseases.
Related reading: How a Low Carb High Fat Diet Affects your Cholesterol
Related reading: Doesn’t A High Fat Diet Clog Up Your Arteries?
This is why in order to minimize the risk, health experts suggest eating mostly plant-based protein like the Keto Alkaline Diet.
There are however many people reporting in some of the Facebook groups that their previously high LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels had reduced on a keto diet much to their doctor’s surprise.
Keto Diet as a Long Term Treatment for Epilepsy
One of the most promising benefits of the keto diet is its ability to treat children with epilepsy especially for the long-term. In order to address the question, is keto safe long term, let’s take a look at the effects of long-term keto therapy for children suffering from epilepsy.
You may not be aware of this, but the keto diet has long been used as a treatment for epilepsy. In fact, it was specifically developed in the 1920s to treat seizures.
Almost half of the epileptic kids who followed the keto diet have been found to drop the number of their seizure incidences. In another study, it was found that long-term use of the keto diet on the treatment of epilepsy has been found to be effective and safe.
“If you put kids on the diet, efficacy can be maintained for a long time.”
However, she stated that the keto diet would require a bit of tweaking during the early stages in order to make it even more effective.
Is Keto Safe Long Term?
As you see, the keto diet is indeed effective when used as a long-term treatment for epilepsy. But is keto safe long term for adults who use it as a means to lose weight?
There have been several studies done on keto to prove its effectiveness in helping people to lose weight and in managing their blood sugar level. However, there are not enough studies done on its long-term effects.
As of now, there’s no research that analyzes the diet’s long-term effects on the treatment of diabetes and managing blood sugar levels. Perhaps this is due to the fact that it’s one of those diets that are a bit difficult to stick to for the long-term due to its restrictive nature.
Although there are no reported cases of serious consequences that resulted from following the long-term keto diet, some followers of the diet have observed a weight loss plateau after being in it for some time.
While weight loss plateaus are normal, it can be frustrating for those who have put so much effort on the diet but are not getting the results that they expect.
Cyclical Keto Diet
To prevent weight loss plateau and address those issues concerning the long-term effects of keto, some health experts recommended going on a cyclical keto diet.
This diet requires adhering to the standard keto diet for 5 – 6 days and followed by 1 – 2 days of carbing up. To carb up refers to consuming carbs that are higher than the usual carbs you’re allowed to consume in a keto diet.
Related reading: What Is Keto Carb Up and How Do You Do It?
With this diet, experts believe that you’ll be able to better reap the benefits of the keto diet. Aside from helping you to lose weight, cyclical keto is also safer since you will not be totally depriving your body of carbs. It is also said to help minimize the unpleasant side effects of keto, such as the keto flu.
Unfortunately, we still don’t know much about the long term effects of keto since there are not enough studies done on its long term effects for adults. One study looked at 24 weeks on the diet but we want to know if you can stay on the diet for several years or more.
If you believe that the ketogenic diet is right for you and you are seeing good results, then go ahead and continue with it. It is a good idea to try to get a nutritional blood test done to look at your vitamin and mineral levels to be sure.
You can then take steps to replenish any deficiencies with foods or supplements. Many people have deficiencies whatever diet they are on. So hopefully that has answered the question “is keto safe long term?”