Wondering how long it is safe and effective to follow the ketogenic diet? Here is a look at the short-term and long-term pros and cons of this popular weight-loss diet.
The keto diet is known for its weight loss properties.
Relying on your body’s ability to adapt to its new environment metabolically is the key practice in this type of eating plan.
You probably have heard that the best eating plan is the one you can keep for a very long time.
However, is it safe to do keto in the long run?
Or it’s better to do it with a short goal in mind?
In this article, I will dig into the current evidence to determine how long it is safe to do keto.
Let’s jump right in.
The Keto Diet – Overview
The keto diet is a low-carb, moderate protein, and high-fat eating plan.
This type of eating plan aims to make your body metabolically adapt.
Typically, your body relies on glucose to serve as your body’s primary energy source. Glucose comes from carb sources like rice, pasta, bread, and other starches.
When you stop consuming carbs, your body doesn’t have its primary energy source. It needs to come up with a new way to provide energy.
To compensate, your body digs into your fat stores to create ketones. An increased release of ketones produces a state of ketosis in your body.
There are several benefits of your body being in a state of ketosis.
Let’s talk more in detail about the short and long-term benefits.
Keto – The Short-Term Benefits
Short-term benefits are those that happen within the first month of following a keto diet.
While they can get stronger after the first couple of weeks, they are noticed at the beginning of following a keto approach.
Increased energy levels
While in the first few days you might feel fatigued, after the keto flu has passed, you will have more energy than you used to have.
One of the benefits of the keto diet is the reduction in cravings (especially when it comes to sweets and starchy foods).
Fats and proteins are very filling. They help reduce your ghrelin (hunger hormone) and increase your leptin (satiety hormone), helping you stay full during the day.
You can find yourself having a good weight loss in the first couple of days. However, the first couple of pounds you drop are mostly water loss. Afterward, it’s fat loss, but more on long-term benefits later in the article.
The Short-Term Risks of the Ketogenic Diet
While there are several benefits of following the keto diet, you also need to know about some short-term risks.
Fiber plays a crucial role in fighting constipation. In the beginning, since you drastically reduce your carb intake, you also reduce your fiber consumption.
To avoid this, ensure you have enough non-starchy vegetables throughout the day.
When your body is adapting from using glucose as your primary energy source to ketone production, it might experience some side effects commonly known as the keto flu.
You might experience fatigue, foggy brain, nausea, and headache.
To prevent this from happening, you can take some keto pills to help you ease into the process or make sure to take electrolytes when you are starting.
Proper hydration on keto is crucial, so make sure you are drinking lots of water to help ease you into ketosis.
Keto – The Long-Term Benefits
Not only are there short-term benefits of doing the keto diet, but there are also several long-term benefits.
Here are the most common ones you might experience whenever you follow it for more than one month.
Improved blood tests
It roughly takes 3-4 months to improve lab results when you switch a diet.
A study showed that 95% of people who had diabetes and followed a ketogenic diet for 24 weeks removed all of their diabetes medication2.
Besides seeing a reduction in your glucose levels, you can also expect a reduction in your cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure.
Reduction in seizures
The keto diet was created for people with epilepsy.
A study showed that in children who followed a keto diet, 16% were seizure-free, and 50% saw a reduction in their seizures4.
What are the risks of being in keto for too long?
More research needs to be conducted to determine the possible risks of doing keto for too long, especially when discussing following it for years5.
Here are a few risks you might experience when following a keto diet.
Limiting your car intake to less than 50 grams daily reduces your fiber and nutrient intake since most of the vitamins and minerals come from carbs.
Some of the most common nutrient deficiencies are thiamin, folate, zinc, calcium, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, vitamin D, and vitamin E.
While taking a multivitamin can help reduce the risk of nutrient deficiency, it is not the same as having the natural vitamins from fruits and vegetables.
These foods are also high in antioxidants and other essential plant-based nutrients that can help reduce inflammation in your body.
While this might not happen to everyone, one risk for athletes is a reduction in their performance.
A study showed that cyclists and runners reduced their performance when they switched to a low-carb diet6.
One theory stated is that since a ketogenic diet creates a more acidic environment in the body, it can affect your peak performance and recovery.
Increased risk of heart disease
Depending on the type of fat you choose, it can increase the risk of heart disease.
A study showed that people who followed a low-carb diet had better weight loss results. They saw a greater increase in their cholesterol levels7.
Finally, one of the possible complications when doing a keto diet long-term is the increased risk of conditions like
- Kidney stones
- Fatty liver
- Gall bladder problems
- Low levels of protein in the blood
While these might not happen to everyone, following a keto diet might increase your risk, especially if you have a family history of any of these conditions.
Precautions to take when doing keto long-term
There are a couple of things you might want to consider whenever you are doing a keto diet for the long term.
Choose healthy fats
There are two types of fats: saturated and unsaturated fats.
Saturated fats tend to come from animal products such as mayo, cream cheese, sour cream, butter, ghee, and fatty animal tissues.
Consuming too many saturated fats throughout the day can increase the risk of heart disease. While dirty keto is popular, you end up consuming a lot of saturated fats that can be harmful long-term.
On the other hand, consuming unsaturated fats (vegetable sources), like avocado, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, tend to be a healthier choice.
If you plan to do keto long-term, make sure most of your fat sources come from vegetable sources.
If you are thinking of doing keto long-term, you might want to consider keto cycling.
This means following keto for a couple of months and then taking a break by increasing your carb consumption.
While many dieters have concerns about keeping the weight off after or when they are off keto, it’s not impossible.
After you’ve taken a sufficient break, you can go back to your traditional keto diet.
Have food variety
As mentioned before, nutrient deficiency is one of the possible risks of following a ketogenic diet.
To prevent this from happening, ensure you get a wide range of nutrients throughout the day and the week.
This can be achieved by including 2-3 different color vegetables daily.
Also, have variety in your protein and fat options.
Having the same food each day can be helpful. However, you are not getting different nutrients.
Two to three days in a row, it doesn’t matter, but after that, try new foods. There are plenty of foods that are keto-friendly and can give you the nutrients you need.
What are some signs that I should stop doing keto?
If you feel your performance has reduced, you are constantly cranky, and you don’t have the same energy levels as you used to, it’s time to switch to a higher carb intake.
Everyone might have different symptoms, but these are the most common ones.
How often should you take a break from keto?
While there is no set duration for taking a break from keto, I typically recommend taking a break every 6 months.
This can also help with sustainability and avoid getting off the wagon and regaining everything you worked so hard for.
The Bottom Line
A keto diet is an excellent approach with both short and long-term benefits.
However, like any change in anyone’s diet, it can also have risks like nutrient deficiency, constipation, and the keto flu.
While most of the risks can be decreased with an intelligent choice of your food sources.
There are other risks like kidney problems or gall bladders problems that rely on your genetics.
Ensure you are on the right path to get frequently tested whenever you are following a keto diet.
More Keto Diet Guides and Articles
9 Keto Diet Tips and Tricks for Beginners. Get started with the keto diet the right way with these nine proven tips and tricks for beginners.
How Do Vitamins Affect Keto? (And Will Vitamins Boot Me out of Ketosis?). The keto diet is a proven way to lose weight. But can vitamins kick you out of ketosis? Here’s a detailed look at best practices supplementing with vitamins while doing keto.