Have you been filling your plate with meats, eggs, paneer and avoiding carbs like the plague? Nibbling on cheese and nuts is part of your snacking routine? And what’s more, you have shed the kilos faster than ever before. It’s the wonder called ketogenic or keto diet. People following this diet have boasted happy and quick results. But, as it’s often and rightly said, there’s no fast route to fitness. According to experts, this popular high-fat, low-carb diet can have devastating long-term health effects.

The ketogenic diet became popular as a therapy for epilepsy in the 1920s and ’30s. It recommends consuming 70–75 per cent fat, 20 per cent protein and 5–10 per cent carbohydrates. A keto diet typically includes plenty of meats, eggs, processed meats, sausages, cheeses, fish, nuts, butter, oils, seeds, and fibrous vegetables.

It works on the principle that when starved of carbohydrates, the body turns to fats as a source of fuel by kick-starting a process called ketosis. Richa Anand, chief dietician, Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai says, “Ketogenic diet, when used to control seizures, is a teamwork of the dietician and neurophysician. The first stage of this diet, when the body is in a keto positive state, is extremely crucial and needs medical supervision. After all, it is a super advanced form of a carbohydrate-free diet, originally devised to treat epilepsy. If used for aesthetic purposes, it can totally backfire.”

So, can keto be called a fad diet? “Absolutely yes,” says Richa, adding, “Apart from irregular bowel movement, nutritional deficiencies and hormonal disorders, keto can also lead to heart problems. It is an extremely unhealthy way of losing weight. But these days, people in the 20-30 age group want a short-cut solution to everything, and with such hectic professional and personal lives, you really can’t blame them. But, they should know that keto is not advisable as a weight-loss method and can harm your body in the course of time.”

The keto diet may result in the following health complications:

  • Constipation: Vegetables are rich sources of dietary fibre. As the keto diet limits the amount of veggies you can consume, people may suffer from severe constipation.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: A low-carb or no-carb diet means cutting out health-beneficial foods such as whole grains, fruit and vegetables that contain essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals.
  • Loss of salts: The body starts using up its stored sugar, which releases water into the blood stream that gets passed out through urine. As the fluids get excreted, salts in the body can get depleted too.
  • Leg cramps: Due to the loss of salts in the body, one can suffer from a condition called hyponatremia, which occurs when sodium levels in the blood are too low.
  • Hormone disruption: Hormonal levels are affected due to reduced thyroid function. For men, this would translate into a reduced production of testosterone, while women would suffer from lower levels of progesterone,. This could lead to musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues.
  • Heart ailments: Despite proponents of the diet claiming otherwise, nutritional experts and healthcare organisations such as the National Health Service (NHS) warn people against having too much saturated fat in their diet because it raises cholesterol levels which can cause heart disease. In fact, the UK guidelines are no more than 30g saturated fat per day for men, and 20g for women.

So the next time you chew that juicy steak, pause a bit before pushing the veggies and mashed potatoes away.