The Keto Diet Is Dangerous — Don’t Do It

The collective memory of the waking public is short indeed. After George W. Bush nearly bankrupted our country we turned around just eight years later and elected another serial failure with a long history of bankruptcies and financial mismanagement. When it comes to diets the same lapse of history lessons is even more severe. It wasn’t that long ago that the Atkin’s diet took hold of America and excited dieters who reveled in the possibility of an all meat and fat diet being healthy. Experience bore out, as it always does, and soon the general public became wise to its ineffectiveness, and the fate of the Atkins diet was sealed along with the unfortunate death of its namesake.

The Keto diet is only a slight variation on the Atkins. If the Atkins diet didn’t work, why would the Keto? People are stressed and looking for solutions to their problems, so anything which holds a promise of concrete and lasting changes excites us, even if it doesn’t really hold any merit. The possibility of relief—that is what intoxicates people, because the solutions to our problems seem so dishearteningly elusive.

If you don’t know what the Keto diet is, it was a way of eating which was devised a few decades ago to help children who suffered frequent seizures. The success of the diet was measured in the reduction, not elimination, of seizures. Because medical science regards even the slightest measurable difference in study groups as significant, the profound reduction in the rate of seizures was regarded as a sign of success of the diet. But the fact is that the children with this disease still suffer seizures while on this diet. It does not cure them, only providing a partial reprieve.

How the Keto diet came to capture the imagination of the dieting public is a bit perplexing, as fat has long been derided to be the cause of being fat. Suddenly people are like, “I know we said fat is bad for you and you need to eat low fat but now you can eat only fat and you won’t get fat anymore!” Humans are not renowned for their powers of rational thought.

The Keto diet can help you lose some weight. But just like the Atkins diet the long-term effects (and even short term effects) are troubling and dangerous and will actually undermine your ability to lose unwanted weight in the future. In my book, Fuck Portion Control I talk frequently about the purpose of fat on our bodies and how it protects us against death when our metabolic rate slows or when we suffer environmental stresses which impact the quality of our health. Fat is literally a protective mechanism against assault by bacterial pathogens, nutritional insufficiency, and social and environmental stresses. Fat retention is triggered by these various stresses, and the reason that dieters always see a rebound in fat stores after the cessation of dieting is that dieting exacerbates physical and emotional stress and compounds the stimuli which trigger fat gain rather than alleviating them. The Keto diet’s limited positive effects are due to a couple factors which have nothing to do with the diet or ketone bodies. The first is that on this diet people suddenly begin to ingest large amounts of generally healthy fats—fats like butter or that which comes from ruminants (animals such as cows and sheep) is far healthier than the kinds of fats they normally ingest which come from food made with cheap restaurant or processed food oils, or copious amounts of olive oil or coconut oil which all have serious health-improving properties. In my book I talk about how consuming a full stick of butter a day (8 tbsp) in addition to my healthy diet helped to raise my metabolic rate. It is the addition of copious amounts of these healthy fats which is the cornerstone of the limited benefits of the Keto diet and not actually the diet itself. Dieting often has this effect, when suddenly people turn to dietary trends they usually make better health choices which is where the real benefit occurs, but because it coincides with their decision to do this diet or that one they mistakenly believe it was the specific diet which benefitted them and not the simple improvement in food and dietary quality which can be done in spite of the diet and is where the real benefits originate. These benefits of better quality fat intake can be applied to any well-balanced diet and the benefits will be the same, if not better, than what occur in the Keto diet because it has nothing to do with the keto diet. For instance, coconut oil helps produce massive amounts of our master hormone, pregnenolone, without which we suffer insufficiencies in steroids and metabolic rates. Suddenly adopting the Keto diet and consuming large amounts of coconut oil confuses people to think the Keto diet is responsible rather than the addition and amplification of healthy fats. 

The second benefit from the Keto diet which comes from the elimination of carbohydrates occurs because carbohydrates can feed unhelpful and pathogenic microbes in our gut such as candida yeast or simple bacterial overgrowth and activity which can overwhelm our detoxification organs and stimulate weight gain. The reduction of this bacterial activity is what I believe benefits those on the Keto diet for medical purposes and the reduction of seizures, as many of the metabolic products produced by such bacterial activity are harmful like lactic acid, endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide), histamine, and ammonia (which originate from protein but also require carbohydrate and the B vitamins made by other bacteria to be synthesized). This reduction in metabolic toxins by eliminating carbohydrates suddenly relieves many symptoms and can even promote some weight loss, and so people believe it is the diet which benefits them rather than this marginal solution to the problem of gut bacterial activity. Some carbohydrates like common wheat and its associated gluten and artificially fortified iron also disproportionately support more harmful gut bacterial species as well, and since wheat is entirely eliminated on the Keto diet people also mistake the benefits of avoiding this Frankenstein monster of a grain for the benefits of the diet, when nobody should be eating common wheat at all, in any kind of diet (my book talks at length about the nuances of grain consumption, how to make it healthy, and which ones are edible). People on the Keto diet also often begin eating copious amounts of vegetables. Of course you are going to get health benefits from eating huge amounts of vegetables, and you can and should be doing that as part of your regular diet. But the main problem with going Keto is that reducing carbohydrate intake for us humans, which are biologically highly dependent on carbohydrate, has serious metabolic consequences. The first is that we experience a significant elevation in adrenaline and cortisol as our supplies of glucose diminish. Proponents of the diet claim that our body switches to running on ketones in place of glucose, but this is a mischaracterization of how the body works. When we do not have sufficient carbohydrates in our diet the body will instead catabolize our own protein and turn that into needed glucose to run the parts of the body, like the brain, which absolutely rely on it. This first eats up our own skin and muscle mass, and anyone who engages in this diet will begin to see a reduction in the quality of their skin and a decline in their muscle mass, which when measured on a bathroom scale makes it appear that you are losing weight, which you are, but largely from lean muscle mass and not just fat stores. Later this confounds weight loss because it is our muscles which largely burn fat, and in a tale as old as time dieters always rebound in weight gain precisely from the loss of muscle mass. But it is not only this loss in muscle mass which is responsible, as the body, which has just experienced significant dietary stress, perceives an insufficient nutrient supply and prepares for the eventuality of future episodes by lowering the metabolic rate to spare and store nutrients, thus promoting an increased tendency to gain weight. The lack of carbohydrates also downregulates the NAD pathway which I discovered (and discuss in my book) is the key to reversing hair loss, which is why those on these diets will also experience a reduction in the fullness, quality, and vitality of their hair, and with enough time will actually see increased hair loss due to this diet. While the reduction in gut bacterial activity is easy to achieve with such diets which eliminate carbohydrates it is an illusion of health which only buys you time and does nothing to permanently alter the health of the gut microbiome.

The key to restoring a healthy gut microbiome is in our exposure to sunlight and synthesis of both sulfate and vitamin D as I discuss in depth in my book. Vitamin D feeds our healthy gut microbes which allows them to suppress populations of unhelpful microbes and synthesize copious amounts of B vitamins which in turn raise our metabolic rate and stimulate natural, permanent, and effortless weight loss. Vitamin D is a diuretic for fat stores, stimulating fat loss without burning or exertion as the body perceives adequate vitamin D and the resultant increase in a healthy gut microbiome and supply of B vitamins as a sign that it no longer needs to protect against nutritional insufficiency or the presence of harmful gut microbes. It can be a slightly complicated process as such common agricultural toxins like glyphosate can entirely impair both sulfate and vitamin D synthesis, but with a little care and knowledge it is easily avoidable. The temporary reduction in gut bacteria which occurs through the Keto diet can thus be permanently achieved without dieting through this sulfate therapy which is outlined in my book through a diet which is hedonistic and satisfying and requires no physical exertion whatsoever. Because our bodies run on biochemistry and not willpower or athletic ability a little knowledge can not only reduce excess unwanted fat but can improve all markers of your overall health and thus your whole quality of life without resorting to potentially dangerous dietary fads. If you practice the Keto diet, low carb, intermittent fasting, and other strategies of nutrient or caloric reduction attempting to achieve weight loss you can see for yourself the harmful effects through reductions in sleep quality, occurrence of insomnia, unstable mood swings, feeling restless, agitated, and unfulfilled, and as we pass into adulthood more alarming symptoms like hair loss, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, and serious mental health consequences like depression and mania as the chronic elevation of stress hormones from the stress approach to weight loss begins to take serious tolls on your body. None of this is necessary, and all the supposed benefits of these approaches can be achieved through easy and accessible means while enjoying copious amounts of food, calories, and reduction in stress as is discussed at length throughout my book. If you’d like to read it you can get a copy here. There is no need to starve yourself to look and feel good, and food is our friend, not the enemy. Ideas of weight loss and fitness which are anchored in stress are not only outdated but harmful and entirely unnecessary. Do yourself a favor and stop. Not only will you get what you want, you will do so in ways which are entirely enjoyable and satisfying and achieve greater results than you can ever hope through the stress methods.

Nathan Hatch1 Comment