Food and beverage product descriptions including the term ‘keto’ have doubled in the last year, according to Food Navigator’s article . The increased popularity of the keto diet has been apparent in the industry, but what exactly is the keto diet?
The keto diet is a low carbohydrate, high fat and protein plan that forces the body into Ketosis, a metabolic process where the body does not have enough glucose to exert energy and must resort to burning fat  . When you consume carbs your body turns those resources into glucose (blood sugar), which it uses for energy. As we over-consume carbohydrates in our diets, extra calories are stored rather than released through exercise. The keto diet is an often-used tool for weight loss because Ketosis occurs when you limit carbohydrates intake and fat becomes a readily available fuel to burn.
What foods are included on the keto diet?
The keto diet is focused on a minimal amount of carbohydrates, so it is recommended to include more lean meat and poultry in the diet, as well as low-carb fruits and vegetables. Since the diet is high-fat, certain condiments are keto-approved too. The list includes food like:
- Broccoli and other leafy greens
- Berries (strawberries, blackberries, raspberries)
- Greek yogurt
- Olive oil
- Cream cheese and more
Disadvantages of keto diet
Keto dieters often experience flu-like symptoms (“keto-flu”) as their body adjusts to a low-carb diet. This can feel like poor mental function, sleep deprivation and nausea. Another major disadvantage of the keto diet is the vitamin and mineral deficiencies that occur when your diet is deprived of certain carb-rich foods.
Vitamin & Mineral Deficiencies from the Keto Diet
Because eating keto has specific diet requirements, important vitamins and minerals are withheld and can result in major keto diet nutrient deficiencies. The following vitamins and minerals are most commonly missed in a keto diet:
- Vitamin D
- B Vitamins
Your body needs vitamin D for strong bones, teeth and muscles, to prevent inflammation and support a strong immune system. Keto diets and vitamin D deficiency are often linked because a keto diet reduces the intake of vitamin D-rich foods and beverages like milk, orange juice, yogurt and fortified cereal. Some common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include weak muscles, fatigue, pain, appetite loss, nausea, high blood pressure and even depression . To supplement vitamin D when you’re on a keto diet be sure to get 15-20 minutes of sunshine daily or try to incorporate keto-approved foods like salmon, tuna and eggs.
B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, folate, cobalamin and more) are essential for the proper functioning of the body. Without them, metabolism will slow down and many chemical reactions involving fats or carbohydrates can be delayed or otherwise impaired, resulting in weight gain. Your body needs vitamin B12 for energy, and without energy your body may experience anemia, memory loss, anxiety, fatigue, constipation or muscle weakness. Vitamin B12 is commonly found in certain fortified nutritional yeasts like bread and fortified cereal, which are not included in the keto diet .
Since the keto diet includes low carb, high fat foods, keto dieters typically lack Thiamin (B1). The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of Thiamin for adults is 1.2mg/day for men and 1.1mg/day for women, respectively. Since fatty foods contain little thiamin, this presents a problem. Thiamin deficiency symptoms include fatigue, irritability, memory loss and sleep issues . Keto-friendly foods containing Thiamin include salmon, beef, mussels and pork.
Folate (Vitamin B9) is an important nutrient that helps with red blood cell production and repair body tissue. It is an important mineral during pregnancy when the body is experiencing rapid growth. Folate levels are hard to meet through a natural diet, so supplementation can be necessary. Keto dieters lack folate found in whole grains and many plant-based foods but can focus on incorporating leafy green vegetables, seafood and eggs to increase their folate intake.
Calcium is an important mineral for strong bones and teeth, as well as muscle and nerve communication. High-carb fruits and enriched grains like brown rice and oatmeal contain appropriate calcium levels and are not included in the keto diet plan. Calcium deficiencies are common amongst the keto diet population as dieters tend to have acidic urine, leading to painful kidney stones . Keto dieters looking to avoid a calcium deficiency can eat salmon, spinach and sardines.
Choline is an essential nutrient required for your body to regulate memory, mood and muscle function. It’s one of the most important nutrients for brain development as well. A keto diet limits the intake of potatoes and whole grains like rice, whole wheat bread and quinoa, and in turn can create a choline deficiency. Top choline deficiency symptoms include anxiety, restlessness, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and muscle damage . We recommend getting your necessary choline intake from foods like beef, fish, chicken and eggs.
Having a healthy sodium balance can be tricky, however keto dieters are prone to sodium deficiency levels (especially keto dieters who are athletes and sweat often). Your body needs sodium to maintain blood pressure and fluid balance. The keto diet plan limits foods rich in sodium like whole grains and low-fat milk products. Sodium deficiency symptoms include fatigue, headaches and poor cognitive and physical performance. It’s best to incorporate foods in your keto diet plan like nuts and fatty fish to ensure you’re getting appropriate sodium intake.
Similar to sodium, your body needs potassium to help maintain blood pressure and nerve/muscle function. Since some high-carb foods like brown rice, bananas and potatoes contain large amounts of this mineral, keto-dieters are at risk for potassium deficiencies . A lack of potassium can lead to low blood pressure, fatigue, digestive problems and muscle cramps and spasms. Keto-friendly foods containing potassium include home-made bone broth, avocado, salmon, edamame and beef.
Magnesium is a mineral that helps our bodies produce the energy we need and also supports brain function. Magnesium deficiency symptoms include headaches, anxiety and panic attacks, muscle cramps and more. Foods that are keto-friendly and include adequate levels of magnesium are salmon, spinach and avocados .