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Can the Keto Diet be Maintained Long Term?

As we know by now, the keto diet is both practical and popular. Like many diets that came before it, it is low-carb and high-fat. Before going any further, though, if you are not familiar with the keto diet or what it means to direct your body into a state of Ketosis, then it’s best to check out our article detailing Everything You Should Know About the Keto Diet -Read it HERE.

No time for another article? No problem! Here’s the shortlist:

What is the Keto diet?

Before understanding how to get there, we need to know where we are going. So, what is the ketogenic diet? The ketogenic diet has been popularized by celebrities and health and fitness enthusiasts the world over. Aimed at putting the body into a metabolic state called Ketosis, this is a diet that is low-carb and high-fat based with several similarities to Atkins and other low-carb diets. The drastic reduction of carbs means that the body is forced to burn fat for fuel. It also can turn fat into ketones, which then, in turn, supply the brain with energy.

The goal of the ketogenic diet is to put the body into Ketosis, however, is this just for weight loss? Or are there other reasons that could make this diet worthwhile? 

What are the benefits of eating according to a keto diet?

There are numerous health benefits to a well-planned out the keto diet. One is the reduction in blood sugar, help with insulin sensitivity, weight loss, and even increased energy and mental focus. Although similar to a low-fat diet, keto has more benefits because of its emphasis on protein and fat intake.

The keto diet has also shown to improve symptoms that are often associated with heart disease, cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, PCOS, Alzheimer’s, and even acne.

What is Ketosis, and what does it do for the body?

As mentioned, the goal of the ketogenic diet is to get the body into Ketosis as quickly as possible and keep it there in order to burn fuel or fat effectively. When you are “in ketosis” your body is burning ketones for fuel.

Is the Keto Diet sustainable?

Once you are familiar with the diet and you have tried it for yourself, the next question will be inevitable. People see reasonably quick results while on the keto diet, and especially at the beginning, are so enthralled with the processed that it’s impossible not to ask: Can the keto diet be maintained long term?

It would be great if the answer was an easy yes. But like everything else, no answer is that easy. Nothing is that black and white. Keto is still in the early stages, and many health experts are not yet aware of any long-term effects on the body. Here’s what is known, though. Following the keto diet for an extended period, can be challenging. A big part of that is the carb reduction. While on keto, your carb intake is restricted to 20-50 grams per day. If this is followed continuously for months at a time, there could be significant drawbacks and even dangerous health risks.

So, let’s break down the good and the bad news and how it affects the long term sustainability question of the keto diet.

The GOOD NEWS about a HIGH FAT, LOW CARB DIET

Benefits of fat to the human body.

Dietary fats are essential to give the body energy and support healthy cell growth as well as balance hormone levels. They protect the organs and even keep the body warm. Good fats can also help to absorb nutrients.

 Here’s a comprehensive list of areas in the body that good fats are essential for:

  • Brain Function

Good fats are critical to brain health and function. In fact, the brain is actually made of 60% fat! It is the fattiest organ in the human body, and it needs more of it regularly to continue operating at an optimal level. Ingesting fats have even been proven to improve memory levels.

  • Healthy Body Weight

The reason that fats are essential when you are trying to maintain healthy body weight is because of the lack of carbs. Low carb and high-fat diet will help to keep your body closer to or even right in that ketosis zone. This is where the body is burning good fats for fuel and not sugars -hence the weight loss.

  • Makes Hormones and Cell Membranes

Fats make up the protective layer around cells and give them the structure to function correctly. It also balances and regulates hormones like estrogen and testosterone. All crucial elements of having a body that runs smoothly. Good fats can also release leptin. Leptin is that incredible hormone that tells your brain when your body is full and does not need to eat anymore. In many junk and fast foods that are filled with trans fats (harmful fats), there is also a substance that inhibits the production of leptin.

  • Mood Regulator

Fats and, in particular, good fats are actually mood regulators. This is because fat makes you stay full longer and keeps your blood sugar at a comfortable level. No getting “hangry” late in the day when you are on a keto or low carb/high-fat diet. Those drops and subsequent spikes in blood sugar after consuming a sugary snack do not happen when you have enough good fats in your diet.

  • Nutrient Absorption

Good fats are incredibly important when it comes to how specific vitamins and minerals are absorbed in the body. For example, vitamins A, E, D, and K need fats to be adequately absorbed. The fats carry these vitamins throughout the body and help the body store them until they are required.

  • Good Heart Health

Good fats actually keep your blood sugar at a low level and are therefore good for the heart. Higher carb and sugar ridden diets do the exact opposite. That is the reason it puts people at risk for heart diseases.

The BAD NEWS about a HIGH FAT, LOW CARB DIET

The 5 potential dangers of following the keto diet long-term

  1. Low carb diets could induce potential vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  2. Diets like keto could lead to lower athletic performance on a long-term basis
  3. Different stages of keto (cheat days) could lead to gaining weight back again
  4. Potential to damage blood vessels
  5. High levels of fat in your diet can raise risks of chronic disease

Low carb diets could induce potential vitamin and mineral deficiencies

When you limit your intake to 20-50 grams per day of carbs, the first thing to go is the white bread, processed foods, and refined sugars. This part is, of course, a very healthy choice no matter what diet you follow. However, another part of keto that people don’t always think about is the fruits and even a few vegetables that you will be required to cut back on or even cut out. This is because of the natural sugars that exist in them that will inevitably turn to carbs if ingested.

This can definitely be a source of concern as fruits and vegetables of all kinds are healthy and packed full of antioxidants and essential vitamins and minerals. If you are following the keto diet short term, then this is not a huge issue; however, after months and months at a time, it could start to become one. Not to mention the concern for fiber. Our bodies need fiber, it’s one of the most essential nutrients. Without adequate amounts, the body will develop digestion issues like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, weight gain, and even more severe problems like elevated cholesterol and blood pressure. 

Diets like keto could lead to lower athletic performance on a long-term basis

It’s easy to find athletes who have tried the keto diet and claim their game has improved significantly. However, it’s important to remember that when in Ketosis, the body is in a more acidic state than usual. After extended keto, this may lower the body’s ability to achieve high-intensity tasks at peak levels. Keto will help anyone, athletes, or not to lose weight. Initially, this will help speed and endurance. However long term it may actually do the opposite.

Different stages of keto (cheat days) could lead to gaining weight back again

The keto diet is rigorous, so to help newcomers get adjusted, there are stages. The first stage, which is typical within the first few months, allows for very few “cheat days” and sometimes none at all. It requires you to be hyper-focused on your carb intakes and fat consumption. It can be a constant state of mind ensuring that everything you put into your mouth does not knock you out of Ketosis.

Then once you have lost significant weight and been in Ketosis for anywhere from one to three months, you are allowed to enter a more relaxed stage-maintenance mode. This can also be referred to as lazy keto or keto cycling. And this is where the problems can begin.

As soon as you begin relaxing on incredibly rigid rules, the re-weight gain is almost inevitable. Keto is an excellent jump-start to weight loss, but it is also challenging to follow in the long term. As soon as that keto cycling phase begins, people start to allow themselves even more leeway, and for many people, a cycle of yo-yo dieting can begin. Yo-yo dieting is also a proven method…a proven way to gain back more weight than you started with in the first place.

Drastic weight fluctuations are very disheartening emotionally, and physically they have been linked to higher risks of early death.

On top of this, the type of weight that you gain back is worth mentioning. At the beginning of keto, a loss of fat, as well as muscle mass, will happen. After following keto and eating a high-fat diet, the chance of gaining back even more fat than muscle is highly possible. This will look and feel different in your body, not to mention will affect your metabolism by burning calories at a slower pace and making it even harder for you to lose weight again in the future.

Potential to damage blood vessels

Cheat days while on short term keto can actually have long term consequences. Foods that are high in sugar like soda or desserts can impact and damage the blood vessels after following a high-fat, low-carb diet. 

High levels of fat in your diet can raise risks of chronic disease

An important question to answer is the following:

What kind of effects will a long-term keto diet have on the heart and arteries?

Some experts are starting to say that some people on low carb, high-fat diets are more likely to develop more heart rhythm disorders than people who eat moderate amounts of traditional carbohydrates (minimally processed whole grains, etc…) Heart rhythm disorders raise the risks of heart failure and stroke.

And heart and stroke issues are not the only problems. Low-carb, high-fat diets in the long-term can also produce more significant risks of dying from cancer. Large amounts of meat and dairy are known risks as compared to consuming carbs and a more plant-based diet.

Although much of these observations are still relatively new, they are worth considering if you are following the keto diet. The reality is that we will not truly know the results until further down the line. The more years that pass with people following this diet is really the best way to have concrete answers. Not very reassuring for those of us right now, though!

Overall, finding a diet that is sustainable for you is what is important. Many diets have significant benefits, but if they are not sustainable, they will not be of long-term use. You need to enjoy your food and have satisfaction from meals. Then in conjunction with satisfaction, being able to maintain a healthy weight consistently is essential. The keto diet provides excellent results; however, trying to live the rest of your life on a keto diet might prove too extreme for your health, not to mention challenging to stick to.

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