By now I'm guessing you have at least heard of this thing called Keto or Ketogenic Diet. It's extremely popular and growing in popularity. And with popularity comes scrutiny. If you just do a search in Google right now for "keto diet" you'll see a list of around 99,000,000 results. You'll get everything from "What is Keto?" to "What are the worst side effects..." to "Keto cycling?". Maybe you even thought of giving it a try due to all the benefits you heard about but along the way you encountered some myths surrounding the keto diet. It's tough to decipher and sift through all the information and often misinformation to be an informed consumer.
So let's dive in and dispel some of the most popular myths floating around keto and the ketogenic diet.
Myth #1: Keto is High-Fat and High-Protein
Contrary to what you may have heard or read, protein isn't the focus on a ketogenic diet. Fat is. Actually turns out that too much protein can result in an increase in gluconeogenisis (create new glucose). This is counterproductive on a keto diet. Protein must be at moderate levels. This can range anywhere from 20g - 100g of protein per day depending on your protein tolerance level.
Myth #2: Ketogenic diets are harmful because they put your body into ketosis
This is a myth. A ketogenic diet when performed correctly can put you into ketosis. However this is a normal state. All that means is your body is burning fat for its primary fuel source not carbs and you are creating a byproduct called a ketone. Sadly people often confuse this with ketoacidosis. Even some medical professionals will tell you that keto is harmful because they believe you will enter into ketoacidosis.
Ketoacidosis is a serious condition where ketones build up to an extremely high and dangerous level due to lack of insulin. Insulin is required to reduce blood sugar levels. When we have high fat metabolism producing ketones and high blood sugar levels from lack of insulin, this can throw off our acid/base balance in the blood stream.
Myth #3: Low-Carb and Keto are basically the same
Keto is certainly low-carb, but simply eating a low-carb diet may not mean that your body is in ketosis. Remember, being kept-adapted, or being in ketosis means your body’s primary fuel source is fat and you are creating adequate ketones. Notice I said adequate ketones. For some people, low-carb may be around 100 grams of carbs per day. This is be drastically reduced on a ketogenic diet. For most to achieve ketosis on a ketogenic diet, carbs will be restricted to around 20-30 grams per day. If you are already close to being keto-adapted, fairly fit with low body fat percentage and lean body mass, you may be able to get away with near 100 grams of carbs per day. However having just a few carbs too many and your body will shift back to being a “sugar burner”.
Myth #4: Eating Fat Makes You Fat
This may be one of the biggest lies we as a society have been told. Just take a look at the grocery store shelves still to this day. Loaded with “low fat” and “fat free” labels people still are having a hard time shaking the idea that eating fat will make them gain weight and be fat. We have learned through research that the culprit was in fact not fat that was making us fat. The real culprit was processed foods and sugar.
People who are in ketosis or are keto-adapted have reported having fewer hunger pangs as compared to their carb-consuming counterparts. In addition, dieters in ketosis may even end up eating fewer calories due to feeling full or satiated from eating mainly healthy fats like nuts and avocados. So by feeling full for a longer period of time combined with eating fewer calories in general, dieters on a ketogenic diet tend to continue to lose weight by encouraging the body to tap into its fat stores.
Myth #5: Keto is only good for weight loss
Is the ketogenic diet good for weight-loss? Absolutely! Is weight loss the only thing it’s good for? Absolutely not! The benefits from being in ketosis extends farther than just weight loss however. Improved hormone regulation, improved sleep, improved mental clarity or another way to put it reduced brain fog, normalized blood sugar levels, improved athletic performance even from endurance athletes and body builders, improved digestive health and gut health, and reducing symptoms associated with certain inflammatory diseases such as Celiac’s, Crohn’s, Rhuematoid Arthritis, and Inflammatory Bowel. Also improved thyroid function for both hyper and hypo thyroid conditions such as Hashimoto’s and Grave’s Disease.
Myth #6: You can’t exercise on keto…you’ll die!
I actually have to chuckle on this one because this was me. I was under the impression (from fear of the unknown mainly) that I would “bonk” if I tried to do keto and keep up with my fellow cyclists. I had myself convinced that my performance as a high endurance, high intensity athlete would suffer immensely if I wasn’t stuffing carbs down my throat every 30 minutes on some of our long and hard bike rides. Or I would suffer in the gym on those days that I lifted or performed a HIIT (high intensity interval training). But as usual, nothing could have been further from the truth.
The truth is, initially there may some “pain” associated with going keto while trying to maintain your performance level. Not actual pain but feeling less energetic. However this “feeling” will dissipate quickly as your body adapts to burning fat for fuel. As your body converts and becomes keto-adapted, your body may actually be able to go stronger for longer. That’s right.
Sami Inkinen, one of the world's most accomplished endurance athletes took the keto experiment to the extreme. He proved and quantified in detail his journey to show what happens and what you're capable of doing when your body is fat and keto-adapted. (1)
"The bottom line is that sustained nutritional ketosis has allowed me to:
Increase my endurance capacity by providing me access to a larger fuel tank
Reduce post-workout inflammation and thus recovery time, increasing valuable training time
Reverse my prediabetes and improve my metabolic health"
You read that right. Sami, by fitness measures and on the outside looked like the textbook of health but he was very sick on the inside. Even as fit as he was, his blood sugar levels were by medical standards, at prediabetic levels. It wasn't until he used the ketogenic diet to reverse his prediabetes. Sami goes on to say, "It turns out you can’t exercise enough to outrun bad nutrition advice."(2)
Myth #7: You will lose muscle mass on the keto diet.
Can you actually build muscle on the keto diet? The answer is absolutely yes. But let's look at just how to build muscle in the first place. To build muscle you need to essentially meet three requirements 1) take in adequate protein, 2) consume enough (typically a surplus) calories, and 3) stimulate muscle into hypertrophy. (3)
Carbs are good at stimulating the release of insulin. Insulin's role is to regulate blood sugar levels in the bloodstream. Insulin helps to taxi the glucose out of the blood stream and into the cell where it can be used for energy. The left over glucose (the stuff not used for energy by the cell) gets converted to glycogen and stored primarily in the liver and muscles.
When you are fat-adapted however, your body will rely on the fat stores to create new glucose. Even a small athlete with 7% body fat contains about 30,000 calories of fat to power their body.
On top of that, carbohydrate restriction provides an adrenergic stimulus to the body that has been found to prevent muscle breakdown. In other words, when blood sugar levels are low, the body releases adrenaline, which prevents muscle proteins from being broken down.
Myth #8: There's no science to prove keto helps other health conditions.
This couldn't be further from the truth. Did you know that keto has been around for a long time but in the late 1920's keto was used to help patients with epilepsy? Since this time, research and studies continue to show evidence of the positive benefits on health from a keto diet. Conditions such as obesity, diabetes both type 1 and type 2, digestive issues, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, Alzheimer's, arthritis, and even cancer to name just a few.
Myth #9: Keto isn't sustainable
Bullshit! It's true keto isn't for everyone. But like any diet it takes structure and discipline to get the body to "shift". Do don't look at keto as a "diet". Look at keto as being a lifestyle change. And with any lifestyle change make sure you give yourself time and a chance to succeed. Be patient.
Keto research is still coming along even if keto has been around for a long while. As more and more research pours in, it is showing that keto is very much sustainable. Research is even showing that it not only is sustainable but also can aid with neuromuscular and neurodegenerative diseases.
To help you stay on track be sure to keep keto friendly snacks on hand like nuts and seeds, cheese sticks, and hard boiled eggs.