Without a doubt, the biggest health trend of 2017 is the ketogenic diet. Everyone is looking how to get “keto” for magical health benefits, but I’m here to tell you something different. Ketosis is not healthy.
That’s right, I said it.
Elevated ketone levels do not equal elevated health levels.
A ketogenic diet certainly can be an incredible way of eating to reduce inflammation, improve energy, regulate metabolism, lose fat, and more. However, just because you’re in a state of ketosis, doesn’t mean you’re healthy.
I see this all the time. People switch to a ketogenic diet, get a few immediate results, then plateau or eventually feel worse. What happened? Well, they ignored everything else they need to do in their life to promote health besides limiting carbohydrates. This is just one tiny part of the whole.
Being in a state of ketosis isn’t a magic bullet. It can be a helpful tool and addition, but it is just one component. If you switched from a wood burning stove for heat (carbs) to an energy efficient solar panel system (ketones) but your house is still a dilapidated dumpster fire with no plumbing or walls, you’re not going to notice much of a difference living in it.
Ketosis can be a great tool to help you achieve better health, but it’s not a shortcut. Want to have a ketogenic be part of a well-rounded approach to achieve the health you want? See where you stack up below for the main reasons people miss the mark on integrating ketosis in their life to improve their health.
Not eating a healthy diet is just one of the many keto mistakes people make that prevent weight loss and kick you out of ketosis.
Food Quality Over Quantity
At this point, I’d rather chew on broken glass than hear another keto blogger or social media “expert” talk about their keto approved meals. Yes, eating Kraft cheese singles wrapped around cheese sticks, dipped in butter, deep fried (but without breading, please!) then dunked in sour cream will keep you in ketosis. I can’t believe I have to write this, but no, that is not healthy.
The most foundational thing in nutrition is quality. And it is this simple: eat things that spoil. Real food always wins, no matter what. It doesn’t matter what type of energy system your body is running on, you should be eating real food.
Food quality is always more important than food quantity.
A ketogenic diet is a food quantity diet. You restrict carbohydrates and moderate protein so your body uses a different energy system. That’s great and all, but it misses the point of nutrition entirely. You technically don’t need to worry about food quality to be in a state of ketosis, and most people don’t, unfortunately.
Eating tons of weird, processed foods with ingredients you’d never be able to pronounce but in keto? Doesn’t work that way. They don’t just get a free pass through your digestive system. Your body has to process those little nasty bits, which means doing less of the things that actually help you thrive as a human. Things like regulating hormones, reducing inflammation, repairing cellular damage, and more. Your body requires countless micronutrients from real food for cellular health.
I would ten times out of ten rather have you eating a diet composed of 90% real food carbs and not have a single ketone in your body than eating a heap of processed junk and showing me little strips of colored paper you peed on that make you feel special.
Food quantity does not matter if you don’t have food quality hammered. Period.
If you don’t have food quality nailed down, I wouldn’t start worrying about ketosis or not. You’re going to have a much bigger bang for your buck eating a standard whole food (paleo-ish) approach to eating than you are elevating your ketone levels.
Start here: eat things that spoil.
Once you have that nailed down, then get started with ketosis with those rules in mind.
Health As A Whole Body Approach
Believe it or not, there’s more to health than worrying about how many grams of fat or carbs you are eating and even about what you are eating. As I’ve stated over and over, there are four main foundational pillars of health: nutrition, movement, stress, and sleep.
Like I mentioned above, nutrition itself is much more complex than just the amount of macronutrients you’re eating. Nail eating real food and you’ll probably feel pretty awesome and be covered on the nutrition aspect.
Movement should be varied and abundant. You shouldn’t be doing the same exercise over and over again unless you’re competing in a sport, and you should be having fun. You should probably do some conditioning, resistance training, bodyweight work and mobility work on a routine basis. Standing desks aren’t the solution, movement is.
Chronic stress should be controlled and avoided. Have low ketones in the morning? That’s because cortisol is naturally high then. Try having high ketone levels at any point in the day with being over stressed. Remove things in your life that you don’t like. Journal. Meditate. Turn off notifications and stop checking your email so much. Read. Learn. Grow as a person.
Sleep should be deep and restful. One night of poor sleep can lead to insulin resistance the next day. Good luck trying to go keto if your body and hormones are wrecked from lack of rest. Quit looking at your phone before bed, wear an eye mask, and sleep in a cool place.
If you’re missing points in any of these categories, it is going to bring down all other areas of your life. Being at 1.7 millimolar ketone levels in your blood isn’t going to fix any of these gaping holes in your health.
You need to address your entire lifestyle if you are looking for a healthy existence.
Health Is Individual… and Work
One of the largest downfalls of the ketogenic diet is that it is typically promoted as a rigid system which generally encourages mental laziness. Different things work for different people. The ketogenic diet comes with the usual advice of macronutrient and caloric recommendations for the masses, even though everyone is an individual.
This isn’t just physically unhealthy from the standpoint of people getting mixed results, but also mentally unhealthy. Relying on other people’s specific blanket recommendations for health and nutrition is a habit that leads to mental obesity.
Do the work to figure out what works for you in terms of a ketogenic lifestyle and you’ll learn you have more control than you thought in all other areas of your life as well. You’ll also have a framework of what applies to your own body in relation to whatever goals are most important to you.
No scientist can do research that will apply to you completely. The human body is like a snowflake, and no amount of general research will give you the guidance you need to figure out how you should live your life from any standpoint. Learn what is possible and what direction you can go in, then get to work in testing yourself.
Roll your sleeves up, try some things out, and see how you look, think, and feel. If you like how that’s going, keep doing those things no matter what popular opinion at the time is. Not feeling amazing? Then change it up. Keep doing that until you die and you’ll live a pretty healthy and rich life.
Overall, it’s important to think through problems on your own and use that skull meat between your ears. Only seek general advice for average people if you want to be average.. Chop your own wood and you’ll be warm twice.
Ketosis is NOT Healthy
Ketosis does not mean general health. It is a part of the whole. To have a solid handle on health, you need to not only look at if your ketone levels are increased but the entire system of your human body. You are in control. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
Eat real food, move often, get some solid sleep, and manage mental load and stress. Once you’re there you have my full blessing to go keto krazy (without making the mistakes that’ll kick you out of ketosis).
Disclaimer: As a caveat to this article, there are a few different conditions where levels of ketones do actually matter more than food choice or goals. This would be something like epilepsy. I am NOT talking about specific disease management here, I’m talking about general overall health. Even in those states, there is still no argument to NOT looking at food quality in conjunction.