Keto lifestyle: Health benefits and common mistakes

Pulak Sahu
Jun 4, 2018 · 10 min read
Image for post
Image for post
My story in a single chart

All people on earth want— healthy body and mind, clear young skin, protection from chronic diseases, sound sleep, low stress, freedom from fear of obesity and in short eternal fountain of youth. The answer is so so simple.

On keto, I have experienced enormous health benefits of this lifestyle, most specifically body fat loss, increased mental focus and mental strength, increased energy, remarkably decreased hunger, freedom from having to eat every 3–4 hours, better sleep cycle, increased athletic stamina, decreased inflammation, and clear skin.

Having done this for more than 9 weeks now, I feel that I am qualified to guide others about the common mistakes that can be easily avoided and the enormous potential of this diet.

Under this diet, I consume less than 30g of carbohydrates per day. I take no sugar and add enough fats to feel satisfied till the next meal. The only carbs I take is vegetables and sometimes nuts. However, there are a number of things to be taken care of while following this way of life.

Historic Perspective
For millions of years humanoid apes and then prehistoric humans ate meat filled with saturated fats and plant foods. Also fasting for long durations was very natural because it was not possible to hunt everyday or store meat in refrigerators. Fruits were not available year round. Carbohydrates were rare in nature as agriculture had not been invented yet and honey was hard to obtain. Also fruits and vegetables had not been bred for high sugar content yet. PUFA oils were rare to find and everything was organic.

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by 🔮🌊💜✨ on Unsplash

These humanoids/prehistoric humans ate rarely and ate a diet full of saturated fats, proteins and vegetables. Vegetables and plant foods were full of minerals because the soil had not been exploited for farming yet. In terms of geological time, agriculture and over dependence on carbohydrates is a very new event in human history.

The age old belief that cholesterol in diet gives you heart disease is a myth. There have been no studies that directly link cholesterol in food to heart disease. We need to understand that cholesterol is a healing mechanism when sugars/carbs damage the inside of the blood vessels. Without sugars/carbs damaging the blood vessels, cholesterol in the blood does not harm at all. In fact cholesterol is very important component of many hormones, brain tissue and muscle tissue. Without enough cholesterol in the body, many important functions including testosterone would not function properly. On keto life, the cholesterol might go up a little but it is not a thing to worry because you are not taking any significant amount of carbs/sugars.

Image for post
Image for post
Butter is not the culprit

Saturated vs Unsaturated fats
Saturated fats like butter, lard, palm oil and coconut oils are solids at room temperature because they have no double bonds in the carbon chain. So the molecules are long straight chains that can lay close to each other like fibers. This is the reason why saturated fats are solids. They do not have any double bonds in the carbon chain and hence they are heat stable. Unsaturated fats (PUFA) or industrially manufactured fats like canola oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, peanut oil, vegetable oil etc. have multiple double bonds in their carbon chains, hence the molecule itself is squiggly. These molecules are farther from each other, therefore these oils are liquids. These are not at all heat stable because of the double bonds. If you cook food in PUFA oil, then the oil molecules break down into toxic and unpredictable components like aldehydes which are carcinogenic. PUFA oils therefore cause lot of inflammation in the body. It is better to use saturated fats like coconut oil or butter for cooking because these are heat stable.

There have been no studies that have directly been able to prove that saturated fats are the cause of heart disease. Olive oil is MUFA i.e. it has a single double bond in the carbon chain. It is also not heat stable so not very suitable for cooking. However it has a great ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids. Olive oil can be used raw on top of salads.

Insulin is the hormone released to digest carbohydrates. Insulin is a fat store hormone i.e., all dietary fat will be stored for future use in presence of insulin. The basic idea is to not spike insulin through carb restriction.

Frequent meals or snacks spike insulin every time. In absence of insulin, fat will not be stored. In absence of carbs, body will try to find alternative source of energy, ergo fats will be mobilized for energy.

Image for post
Image for post
Sugar and whole grains are the real culprit behind obesity NOT fats

Apple Cider Vinegar
While ACV might have extraordinary benefits for the liver, kidneys, insulin resistance, fat burning and what not, it is highly corrosive(acidic) for the teeth. Rinse your mouth after having a apple cider vinegar drink or use a straw to drink the beverage.

When you are on a low carb diet, the body is a low insulin environment. In this environment, the kidneys are losing sodium all day. There is serious chance of sodium deficiency. Throw out the old myth of sodium giving you high blood pressure. You also need 5000 mg of potassium per day. Make sure get it from vegetables (or cream of tartar if you don’t eat enough veggies on a given day). Drinking huge amounts of water will also flush out the electrolytes. Drink water only when thirsty. Keto side effects can be easily avoided by eating more potassium rich vegetables (not bananas, think greens).

Most of the people on keto/off keto are deficient in magnesium. Without magnesium, you will feel stressed and sleep will not come easy. Magnesium soothes the entire body and is essential for muscles during exercise. Get magnesium from vegetables or Magnesium glycinate supplement, but make sure you get enough of it. I have realized that a highly sugary diet of mine (before keto) depleted my Magnesium and gave me grey hair.

Note: Do NOT take Magnesium Citrate as it tends to make you excessively thirsty.

When you exercise or sweat (like say in a humid environment), you are losing valuable electrolytes especially sodium. In a low insulin body, sodium will go down very rapidly. It is imperative that you must supplement sodium otherwise you may feel excessively thirsty. I generally take Himalayan pink salt in water after a workout or a walk to feel hydrated. Do not over do salt as it may increase your thirst.

Keto flu
It is common to feel lethargic (almost sick) on your first few days of keto diet. This is because the body does not know how to use fats (ketone bodies) for energy yet. Give it some time. As you get fat adapted, you will gain energy. Ketone bodies are high intensity fuel for the body compared to carbohydrates.

Keto Rash
On a low carb diet, you might get itchy rashes on areas like arms, neck etc. I could not find a convincing reason why this happens. I learned to live with these rashes as I could easily manage these rashes with moisturizing lotion. These rashes vanished after 8 weeks on keto.

I fixed my snoring disorder by sleeping on my sides. I would still recommend to get checked for sleep apnea. Once my weight reduced, snoring went away and I could sleep on my back again. A good night sleep helps a lot to control stress.

For me the main problem was having to wake up more than once to pee. Sodium holds on to water. If you are low on sodium, the potassium is thought to be in excess. The body tries to expel this excess potassium by feeling thirsty. Also if body is low on potassium, sodium is thought to be in excess and the body tries to rid of excess sodium by peeing. Then you drink more water and then you pee again in a vicious circle. Just get enough sodium and potassium throughout the day to avoid this.

Important: Breathing through the nose instead of the mouth while sleeping gives you the full parasympathetic restorative (healing) effects of sleep.

A major life hack, that I have learnt is to avoid lights and phone screens 2 hours before sleep. This significantly improves sleep quality. I guess, this is because brights lights suppress melatonin which is responsible for sleep.

Image for post
Image for post
Fasting becomes super easy on Keto

Hunger and Intermittent Fasting
When you do not eat carbohydrates, the phenomenon of being constantly hungry vanishes. This makes intermittent fasting VERY EASY.

Keto is a powerful tool to streamline health. If you add IF to keto, the combination is seriously potent. On a diet without carbs, doing IF for 18 hours per day is not as hard as it sounds. Following a eating window really helps the overall health and regulates sleep cycle nicely.

Insulin is the opposing hormone of melatonin (the hormone responsible for sleep cycle). Therefore, digesting food is the opposite of sleeping. This is why early dinner should promote a sound sleep. Fasting, should take the sleep to the next level.

Cancer Prevention
A lot of cancers survive on sugars/carbs. When you are on intermittent fasting or extended fasting or on keto, the cancer cells are starved and die out. This might seem too simplistic but this is what I have summarized out of all the exhaustive resources online. The cancer cells are hungry for sugar. In fact, PET scan detects location of cancer/tumor by feeding radioactive sugars and tracing the path taken by the sugar (something like this). So bottom line, avoid sugar/carbs, prevent cancer.

Fat adaptation is Nirvana (believe me)
Fat adaptation should be the ultimate target. If you are on strict keto for a long period like say 2–3 months, then the body is really trained to consider fat as the primary source of fuel. The body now has cellular machinery to burn fat efficiently. The world is a different place when you have chronic high energy levels, freedom from hunger and not having constantly to think about the next meal.

Fats are so GOOOOOOOD

Eat fats to lose fats
Dietary fats do not deposit in the body unless accompanied by sugars or carbohydrates.

Cheat days
If a person is truly fat adapted, and he cheats for a couple of meals on the keto diet, the person can still bounce right back into ketosis. I bounced back into ketosis after I indulged on an ice cream milk shake and biryani. Within a couple of days everything was normal and I was burning fat just like before. At times, I even had moderate amounts of low glycemic index foods like chickpeas, sprouted lentils and mung dal on some days (once a week) and still continued on my weight loss glory.

There is a slight propensity to develop kidney stones on keto diet, especially if enough vegetables are not consumed. Not that this should deter you from keto. But drinking lemon juice, enough vegetables (enough Magnesium /Potassium) everyday should prevent kidney stones. Overall, LCHF diets like keto are very good for kidneys. In fact, it has been shown to even revert kidney nephropathy (due to diabetes) in rodents.

Some people quibble over keto not being great for bathroom schedules. My answer to this is that when you do not eat whole grains and a lot of carbs, the quantity of solid waste generated by the human body automatically reduces by more than 60%. Some people might see this as constipation. The overwhelming benefits of ketosis easily tilt the balance back in favor of keto.

Image for post
Image for post

Green Vegetables and Eggs
Eat a lot of green vegetables (collard greens, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, spinach, kale, lemons, avocado) every day to avoid most common side effects of LCHF. I try to stuff myself with as much vegetables as I can. Eggs are super food because they have all the good fats and vitamins. Also eggs satisfy you for a very long time. The human body can feel that you are eating nutrition dense food and hence it stops being hungry very soon. If you are always hungry, it means that you are nutrition deficient.

Organic foods
Omega 3 and Omega 6 are in equal amounts in nature and both are important for the human body. However, in industrial societies like ours, most oils are Omega 6 (canola, peanut oils). Only in organic naturally grown foods, the ratio is still maintained.

When you eat nutritionally dense foods and cut out all carbs, cravings for junk food die out. Fatty foods fill you up very soon and it is difficult to overeat fats. Going long hours without food becomes easy. Life becomes easy when you do not have to worry about eating healthy every 3 to 4 hours.

As you can see, there are a lot of side effects and common pitfalls of this way of eating. However, the benefits of ketogenic diet are overwhelming. Fats/ketone bodies are like rocket fuel for the brain and the muscles. I used to be lethargic, low on mental energy and chronically tired on carb diet, but not anymore.

If this is done without fully understanding the basics, it is likely to be dangerous. Fortunately, the internet is filled with supportive online communities, online resources and a lot of relevant information. I would credit my weight loss and healthy life to Dr Eric Berg.

Also read this (has links to the published studies) to know how badly we have been blindsided on food and health for so long.

All the above is based on my experience and research alone. I have suffered many problems during the course of experimentation with food and health. I do not recommend that you try this without doing your own research. Please leave a comment or question about what you think of this post.

Food equals Health

Stories of nutrition and its impact on lives.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store