I’m sure you’ve had well-meaning people tell you why keto is bad. Let’s take some time to build the case against keto and then rip it to shreds with proper information rather than misinformation!
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The Case Against Keto
Today we are going to lay it all out there and talk about the case against keto. Meaning, all the “reasons” why keto is not a good lifestyle for the average person.
Now, before you throw keto stones at me, remember that I am a fan of keto, I am in nutritional ketosis and I plan to stay keto for a lifetime.
Having said that, I think talking about the potential pitfalls will help arm you with knowledge for your own resolve but will also help with ways to discuss why keto is NOT unhealthy with the well-meaning person who tells you that you are ruining your body and will die of a heart attack.
Let’s talk about the top 5 arguments against keto. There are plenty more, but these are my favorites!
#1 You will not get all the nutrients that you need
I’ve been told that by eliminating whole food groups that I am putting myself in danger of being nutrient deficient. Oh, you mean more so than the anti-nutrients that you are eating that leech nutrients out of the “healthy” foods that you are eating?
Ok, ok, sorry. My snark has to come out on occasion.
Paleo folks get told they are unhealthy because they are eliminating (gulp) dairy and according to the FDA you need X number of dairy servings a day. I can’t recall the number and I don’t care to look it up because it is a dumb recommendation anyway.
I do not, under any circumstance, need to consume the product from the “breast milk” (udder milk?) or another species.
Now, if you want to eat dairy (and I eat cheese), cool. But don’t you dare tell me that a required part of my nutritional health is based on consuming a product meant to fatten a baby cow. This is just a leftover of trying desperately to support the American Dairy industry.
Keto folks get told they are unhealthy because they are eliminating grains and fruits, to start with. Those are the main ones, so let me just touch on that.
But first, let me squash the whole “if all you eat is bacon and butter then you are going to be unhealthy”. Yes, I agree. Next? Remember, there is a right way and a wrong way to do keto. Leaving out vegetables and gorging on only animal fat sources is not the optimal way.
So back to grains and fruit. I wish I still had my old podcast episodes when I was Paleo.
Paleo is awesome by the way and I think it is a great maintenance lifestyle if people choose to not continue with strict keto. I switched to keto due to blood sugar issues, but I had a podcast when I was paleo and I talked all about grains and why they are not good for your body.
Sigh… Oh well….
I’m going fall back to the football analogy for gains. It was originated by Dr. Loren Cordain and goes as follows. If you think about a football field. Start at one side and go down the whole length of the football field until you get to the opposite 1-yard line.
Those whole 99 yards represent the last 2 million years of our evolution where our ancestors hunted and gathered. We ate what we could kill, pick from a tree or gather from the ground.
The point at which the industrial revolution came to be and we began to harvest and process grains – that is the 1-inch line. Our bodies have not adapted to grains and they are most certainly not something our bodies were ever accustomed (or evolved) to eat.
In an overly simplified nutshell, grains contain anti-nutrients. These are phytic acid or phytates. These little buggers bind to things like calcium, iron, magnesium and more.
This prevents our body from being able to properly absorb and utilize them. And what about the lectins? These horrible little things irritate our digestive system since the purpose is a defense mechanism of the plant for its own survival.
What else? Well, grains are high in carbs and can cause blood sugar spikes and let’s not forget the gluten!
Ah, gluten… Do I even need to talk about gluten?
Gluten is the root of all evil in my book. I mean, there are a few, but gluten is definitely one of them. I’ve done research papers on gluten (and dairy actually) being a trigger for autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 Diabetes.
And those with thyroid issues? Gluten has a similar molecular structure as some thyroid tissue and so when the body is irritated by gluten and the immune systems tries to eradicate it, and accidentally hits our thyroid tissue – guess what happens? Autoimmune thyroid disease.
Guess what? I have both Type 1 Diabetes and Hashimoto’s, so I’ve done a ton of research about this in grad school.
But I’m not a scientist so I talk in layman terms and probably use the wrong words. I imagine “Thyroid tissue” is not the official term. Maybe it is a protein? Compound? Molecule? Who knows. But you get the idea.
Ok, so I went off topic a bit and went more into the health issues with grains and gluten. But aside from the antinutrients – many grains are overly processed and the good stuff is stripped out. Sometimes it is enriched or fortified, but many people do not consume whole grains, rather processed grains. White bread and white flour seem to be preferred over whole grains.
So what do they add? Not much.
Now onto fruits. This is a tough one. I’m going to link up a youtube video from Dr. Anthony Gustin about fruits because he beautiful sums up all my thoughts on fruits. He also gives some suggestions for fruit if you are going to consume them.
Let me summarize the points he goes over which are very valuable and easy to understand.
- If you think about fruits in nature – they simply do not exist year round. Most fruits in most climates that is. Fruits are something that has historically been indulged on for just a few weeks a year. It is not in our traditional eating patterns over time to consume fruit year round.
- Fruit, like grains and many other food items, are so far removed from their original state.
- Fructose is one of the most harmful sugars there is. I’ve actually talked about this. People say fruit has natural sugars so it’s fine. Natural doesn’t imply healthy. Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring compound. So… natural does not imply healthy. Fructose is quite inflammatory and, again, we are consuming it in amounts that we simply are not meant to.
Should fruits be eliminated totally? That is a personal choice but they don’t have to be. Not over consuming fruits should be a goal – keto or not. Berries are good to have in smaller amounts. Dr. Anthony Gustin also suggested bitter fruits like lemons and limes and also kiwis.
Fruits are definitely high in certain nutrients like vitamin C. But a healthy keto diet full of colorful veggies with a small amount of berries is really the right balance.
#2 You will lose muscle
This one can be true but you can mitigate it. I’m going to say that my solution to this is different than most regular keto answers. Meaning the popular answer is to simply scale back your workouts.
Definitely not ok with me. You shouldn’t have to change your workout style due to changing your eating patterns and lifestyle. I mean, sometimes you might have to, but you certainly don’t have to for keto.
RELATED – Working out on Keto
Why do you lose muscle on keto? Several reasons:
- If you do not have a balanced diet your body can eat its own muscle instead of eating fat.
- Not enough protein (closely related to #1)
- Your muscles do, in fact, need glycogen stores to rebuild themselves.
So let’s break those down. #1 and #2 should probably be 1 item, but I broke them out into 2 to be extra clear. We will discuss them as though they were 1.
Here is where harsh, say-it-like-it-is Trina is going to come out. Here is a common conversation:
Newbie: I’m not losing weight, what is wrong? I stay under my carbs and fat and sometimes go a little over my protein.
Well-meaning keto’er: Protein gets converted to glucose so that is what your problem is.
Facepalm moment for me.
Can protein get converted to glucose? Yes.
Does protein get converted to glucose? Yes.
Does it always get converted to glucose? No
Does every gram over the number that some random internet calculator who knows nothing about your body get converted into glucose? No
Do some people need MORE protein than others? Absolutely
The process where the body creates glucose is called gluconeogenesis. It doesn’t do this for fun. It does do it every day and on an as-needed basis.
Your blood sugar will never be 0 or you will be dead. There are vital body functions that REQUIRE glucose because they cannot run on ketones.
So your body is beautiful and wonderful and creates the glucose that you need. It doesn’t just say “hey, there are 5g more than what the website told us, so time to start converted protein to glucose”. No!
Don’t fear this process. Be happy that it is there. Think of then you are sick with the flu and can’t eat for a week. Without ketosis and gluconeogenesis, you’d be in way rougher shape and might not even make it.
Let’s talk about #3. Your muscles DO need glucose. Listen to Episode 25 of The Keto Living Podcast or read my article titled “Working out on Keto” and you’ll get a more detailed explanation. In summary, do your muscles rejoice when glucose (and glycogen stores) are readily available? You bet! Is it 100% necessary? No.
If you are getting enough protein and are NOT in a calorie deficit, you should see little problems with building or maintaining muscle.
Now having said that, working out the same as you used to can come with challenges, but certainly not ones that you can’t overcome.
Refer back to my article Working out on Keto and podcast.
As for bonking during HIIT or heavy lifting workouts by not having ample glycogen stores, I combat that in 2 ways:
- A Keto Pre-workout designed specifically for keto’ers
- 1-2 carb up days per week.
If you are interested in what pre-workout I take, I take THIS ONE.
Now, I’m going to throw another wrench into this and it has nothing to do with keto. Building a large amount of muscle and losing weight at the same time can be challenging. That is why you see people build muscle with a calorie surplus and then cut. BUT, I’ve done it and it can be done.
So, stop fearing protein.
Watch this video on gluconeogenesis and why you shouldn’t fear it on keto.
Lastly, I also want to point you to a study that concludes this: “Although more long-term studies are needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn, it appears, from most literature studied, that a VLCARB is, if anything, protective against muscle protein catabolism during energy restriction, provided that it contains adequate amounts of protein.”
#3 Your cholesterol will go up
I’m going to plagiarize myself here because I don’t feel like reinventing the wheel and I think the content fits good here.
Back in the day, there was a battle between sugar and fat and sugar “won”. I use that term loosely, by the way. It was “shown” that saturated fats contributed to heart disease. The government told Americans that they should decrease saturated fats in their diets.
So, what happened? We listened! We decreased fats and replaced them with trans fats (oops – we all know what a tragic mistake this was) and crap carbs The result? A huge rise in obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and heart diseases. Hmmm…..
According to a 2010 study, “… studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD” (CHD -> Coronary Heart Disease, CVD -> Cardiovascular Disease).
Now, everything in moderation, right? This doesn’t mean go eat red meats only. But it does mean that perhaps saturated fats might not be the end of the world when consumed in moderation.
Next, let’s give a little background on cholesterol.
Did you know that 75-85% of the cholesterol in your body is produced BY YOUR BODY and the other 15-25% is from your diet?
Most people talk about Total Cholesterol, HDL and LDL. In short, HDL is the good stuff and LDL is the “bad” stuff.
What happens if you only look at total cholesterol? You may appear to have higher than normal cholesterol, but if your HDL is higher, then it makes your total cholesterol higher. So, you must dive deeper than just total cholesterol.
What happens if you only look at LDL as one large category? Well, you miss a lot of information. There are large particle and small particle LDL. The difference is that the small ones are the yucky, sticky ones that can clog up the pipes. The larger ones do not. So, if you are going to look at your LDL, then it is a good idea to have the test done to break it down even further.
According to the Healthline article
“Many people are being unnecessarily medicated because doctors tend to focus [only] on these numbers”.
Sometimes, it is just a matter of having a bit more extensive testing done and opening that line of communication with your doctor.
Now, there are studies out there that can show an (albeit weak) short-term association between saturated fat and raised cholesterol whereas it is much harder to show an association in longer-term studies.
My cholesterol rose significantly after 3 months of keto. At my 6 months checkup, all was back to normal.
I’ll leave you with this… I want to point out a study that says the following
“ Dietary cholesterol has been suggested to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), which has led to US recommendations to reduce cholesterol intake”. So they went off and reviewed a bunch of studies suggestion this and concluded “Reviewed studies were heterogeneous and lacked the methodologic rigor to draw any conclusions regarding the effects of dietary cholesterol on CVD risk. Carefully adjusted and well-conducted cohort studies would be useful to identify the relative effects of dietary cholesterol on CVD risk”.
#4 Your body needs carbs
100% false. But what is 100% true is that your body needs glucose. I’ll refer back to what we talked about above and that is gluconeogenesis. Our body can create glucose from not carbohydrate sources.
#5 Diets don’t work
I wholeheartedly agree with this one. Diets do not work.
Why don’t they work? Because they are temporary.
Sometimes people work super hard, achieve their results, and then say “woohoo” on their way to the grocery store to buy their favorite pasta dinner ingredients as a “treat”. Then one dinner leads to two which leads to candy and then maybe some guilt and then emotional eating and then more trips to the grocery store or maybe this time they stop at the little minimart for some twinkies. And they put all the weight back on PLUS some and then blame the diet for not working.
Or, better yet, they say “well I gained all the weight back as soon as I stopped so the diet is crap”. Well, no kidding.
If you go back to the way you used to eat then you will go back to your previous weight. To me, that is common sense, but apparently, it is not so common.
Let’s change that and make it common sense again.
A diet doesn’t work because it is temporary. A lifestyle change works because it is not temporary.
So the argument that once you stop keto you’ll gain all the weight back is both true and not true. It is true if you stop keto and go back to crap eating then you will end up just where you started.
If you stop eating keto, maintain a lower carb level (because it is the healthy choice) then you might put on some water weight once your body starts storing some glycogen but who cares about that? You can then maintain the weight with healthy choices.
Stay tuned for MANY more “Cases Against Keto” discussions!