It wouldn't be an overstatement to say the keto diet is having a moment. Whether you’re watching TV, reading a magazine or scrolling through Facebook, you’ve likely seen a testimonial describing a miraculous transformation from simply cutting carbs - from overweight to thin, sluggish to energized, foggy to productive and the list goes on.
While there is a decent amount of research backing up the benefits of the keto diet, it’s important to remember that everybody is different and that there isn't a one-size-fits-all when it comes to any diet. Any time you change your eating habits, it’s best to be safe rather than sorry, and to ask your doctor or a dietitian whether it is right for you.
However, if you’re just getting started researching this diet, here are some questions you can ask yourself to find out whether or not you should take the next step and talk to your doctor. If you answer yes to any of these questions, keto might not be right for you:
Do you have difficulty digesting fat or protein?
You may have a hard time digesting fat or protein if your digestive tract is chronically irritated, functioning at less than 100% and/or you’ve had surgery to your digestive tract (or its accessory organs). This would include things like having your gallbladder removed, chronic pancreatitis, liver failure and bowel removal. Difficulty with protein digestion can also be a result of metabolic disorders.
The keto diet is high in fat and often higher in protein than the standard American diet. To maintain sufficient nutrition and avoid complications, your digestive tract needs to be firing on all cylinders.
Are you a picky eater and not willing to budge?
The keto diet requires some major shifts in eating and often involves replacing high carb diet staples with lower carb options. For many people, this means trying new foods and incorporating them in new ways to add variety to meal time. Regular pasta might be replaced with zoodles, cauliflower rice for grain based rice, almond flour for wheat flour, you get the idea…So if you’re unwilling to give up pizza night and you’re not ready to try cauliflower crust, its likely you’ll have a hard time making the shift to a ketogenic lifestyle.
Do you have a complicated relationship with food? The keto diet is excellent for reducing hunger and managing food cravings, which makes it ideal for classic overeaters. However, it may not be the best approach for someone with more restrictive, disordered eating patterns including anorexia and orthorexia, a type of obsessive eating behavior. As the keto diet is restrictive in nature, it may restart a pattern of unhealthy behaviors Its best to work with a multi-disciplinary team to manage these complex health conditions.
Do you hate vegetables?
Now this may be controversial as you can absolutely go keto without eating a single vegetable. But, it is my duty as a respectable, vegetable-loving dietitian to warn you that if you don’t eat any veggies, you’ll be missing out on some vital nutrients like vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients -- aka the chemicals produced by plants. Skipping out on these nutritional power houses leaves you at risk for micro-nutrient deficiencies. To enjoy or all the health benefits of a low carb diet, you’ll want to make sure you include plenty of leafy greens and other low carb vegetables.
Do you treat weekends as a free for all?
If you’re the type that likes to hit the gym hard and eat healthfully Monday through Friday, and then throw in the towel on the weekend, the keto diet may do more harm than good. Recent research has suggested damage to the arterial lining of even young healthy individuals who indulge in ‘cheat days’ while on keto. If this sounds like you, rather than give up on the idea of keto all together, why not revamp your weekends to maintain consistency?
Do you have a chronic health condition or are you taking medication?
In a matter of days, the keto diet can help maintain healthy blood sugar and blood pressure. However, it is important that you talk to your doctor before you start the keto diet, especially if you are being treated for a chronic issue or are on any prescribed medication.
Do you have a bun in the oven?
I’ll avoid the obvious bakery pun here but kidding aside, the keto diet in pregnancy has not been well-studied. However, it is not generally recommended to restrict entire categories of food while growing a human. After the baby is born, there may be a case for using the keto diet to lose baby weight, but many women are able to do this simply by nursing.
As research continues to evolve, people with other health conditions such as certain types of cancer, dementia and heart disease should also exercise caution and make sure they talk to their doctors before starting a keto diet.
The ketogenic diet has a number of well-documented health benefits but it may not be for everyone. This drastic lifestyle shift requires healthy digestion, a reasonable commitment to stick to the change, an open mind and taste buds, and the support of a knowledgeable health care provider for those with chronic health conditions. Without all of those components, a well-meaning diet change can quickly go south.
If you’re thinking about keto but still aren’t sure if its right for you, check in with your health care provider or make an appointment with a registered dietitian to help you weigh the risks and benefits.