By Dr. Josh Axe
Never heard of the keto diet? Or maybe you have, but you’re discouraged from ever giving it a try due to some of the common keto diet myths you’ve encountered?
Since being in the metabolic state of nutritional ketosis is very different from the normal state in which you burn carbs for fuel, it’s necessary to go through a brief transition phase when starting the diet — and some adjustment time can be expected.
That being said, not every person will experience the same adjustment time or circumstances, especially if they take steps to help make the process easier, such as by using keto supplements like Ancient Nutrition’s Keto Fire. And contrary to popular belief, each person reacts a bit differently to the ketogenic diet.
Factors like your gender, age, overall health and physical activity level all affect hormonal health, your metabolism and your ability to adapt to and benefit from ketosis. As always, you should consult your healthcare professional prior to starting any diet or lifestyle regimen, including dietary supplements.
Now, let’s examine 14 keto diet myths and see what the real truth is …
14 Keto Diet Myths
In case you need a primer on the keto (ketogenic) diet: It’s a very high-fat, very low-carb diet that alters the source of energy your body uses to function. Instead of using glucose from carbohydrates (your body’s preferred energy source) for fuel, you begin using fat — whether it’s fat from your diet, or your own stored body fat.
When you eat a low enough level of carbohydrates (usually about 20-50 net grams) for several days in a row, then you typically enter the metabolic state called ketosis, which is what forces your body to break down fat for fuel. Ketosis is characterized by the production of ketone bodies that circulate in your blood; ketones become critical for supplying your brain, organs and cells with enough ongoing energy.
There are a lot of misconceptions floating around about the transition into ketosis, about how best to do it, and about how to maintain results while following the keto diet.
Below we’ll debunk 14 keto diet myths, including those related to what to expect during the adjustment time, ideal macro ratios, and potential benefits such as healthy weight management and support for cognitive and mental clarity:
1. Keto is a high-fat, high-protein diet.
Unlike other popular low-carb diets, the keto diet is not particularly high in protein. In fact, protein intake actually must be “moderate” while on the keto diet because this allows you to transition into ketosis and stay there.
Too much protein in your diet will actually result in some of the protein being converted to glucose (or sugar) once consumed — and obviously this can be counterproductive when it comes to keeping glucose levels very low.
So how much protein do you need?
A standard recommendation for following the ketogenic diet is to get about 75 percent of daily calories from sources of fat (such as oils or fattier cuts of meat), 5 percent from carbohydrates, and 20 percent from protein (give or take a little depending on the individual).
In contrast, high-protein, low-carb diets might entail getting 30-35 percent (or more) of daily calories from protein.
2. Keto is a weight management diet only.
No doubt about it, the ketogenic diet can definitely support healthy weight management. But if healthy weight management is not one of your goals, this doesn’t mean you can’t follow the keto diet and maintain a healthy weight.
The benefits of keto can extend far beyond weight benefits — for example, by generally supporting metabolic health, healthy body composition and healthy cognitive function.
Can you gain weight on the keto diet? It’s certainly possible, especially if you don’t follow the diet correctly and aren’t actually in ketosis.
It’s generally accepted that despite the type of diet someone follows, if calorie intake is less than someone’s needs, then weight loss can still occur, no matter where the calories come from.
The bottom line? If you eat more calories consistently than you actually need, even if the calories are from fat or protein sources, then you may start to see the scale creep up.
3. Health benefit claims are only claims. There’s no science yet.
This couldn’t be further from the truth! The ketogenic diet was originally developed in the 1920s by researchers working at Johns Hopkins Medical Center. Since this time dozens of studies have investigated the diet’s effects.
4. You can’t exercise on keto.
Exercise is something that’s beneficial for just about everybody, including those on the keto diet. Initially you might feel less energized during your workouts, but this should dissipate as your body adjusts.
Even in the midst of high-intensity workouts, the ketogenic diet doesn’t seem to cause any decline in performance for most people; in fact, some report having even more energy since the body can use fat efficiently for fuel.
In order to support your workouts, make sure you consume enough calories in general and plenty of fat.
And if you’re really struggling with being active while on the diet, then consider upping your carbs a bit and/or trying either keto-cycling or a more “modified ketogenic diet.”
5. You will lose muscle mass on the keto diet and lifestyle.
Can you actually gain muscle on the keto diet? There’s some evidence that yes, you can. Here’s how:
Combining the ketogenic diet with strength-training can be a great way to support building of muscle and for improving strength. And the keto diet shouldn’t cause a loss of muscle mass on its own more than any other diet, unless you’re limiting calories.
6. Ketosis and ketoacidosis are the same thing.
These two are very different and should not be confused.
Ketoacidosis is a serious diabetic complication that occurs when the body produces excess ketones (or blood acids).
Ketosis, however, is a metabolic state in which fat provides most of the fuel for the body.
7. Everyone experiences certain things during their adjustment time.
Every person reacts to the ketogenic diet somewhat differently, so it’s hard to say what you might experience.
Some people transition into ketosis smoothly, while others might not.
While these experiences might be uncomfortable at first, it’s common for them to go away within a week or two, so try to be patient. You can help reduce the changes that you’ll experience by consuming a “balanced” keto diet, drinking enough water, salt, fiber and electrolytes (like potassium or magnesium, such as from a Keto Multi and from vegetables), perhaps in addition to supplementing with exogenous ketones (such as in the form of Keto Fire).
8. You will always have low energy on keto.
Many find that after they adjust to being in ketosis their energy and concentration actually gets a boost.
Ketones do a great job of providing the brain with a steady fuel-source, so being in ketosis (and supplementing with keto friendly supplements) can help by supporting mental clarity, focus and a positive outlook.
9. You should only stay on keto for short periods of time.
Generally speaking, the first time you start the keto diet, it’s recommended that you follow the diet for about 2-3 months, then take a break. Give your body several weeks to adjust, then jump back into the keto diet if it’s working well for you.
You might choose to safely cycle in and out of ketosis for many months or even years, depending on how you feel. However, you should always consult your health professional.
There’s no specific time limit to the ketogenic diet; it’s all about figuring out what works best for you given your lifestyle and goals.
10. You can occasionally cheat on keto.
It might not be realistic to expect that you’ll stick to the keto diet guidelines 100 percent of the time. But unlike other diets, where “cheat days” might be encouraged to give you a break and even support your metabolism, cheating on the keto diet can cause you to transition out of ketosis.
This may not be a problem — if it’s intentional. As long as you’re aware that it’s happening and you adjust your diet accordingly, cycling out of the keto diet here and there is okay.
If you find that you’re no longer in ketosis due to “cheating” and increasing your carb intake, then you can simply take several days to transition back in by upping your fats and cutting your carbs.
11. Like popular low-carb diets, you should eat any kind of fat on the keto diet.
Because the ketogenic diet is not all about healthy weight management, healthy fats are encouraged, as opposed to any and all types of fatty foods. For example, most people on the keto diet choose to avoid processed meat products that are high in fat like bacon, salami and poor-quality sausage.
If you want to get the most from the diet, continue to “eat clean”; avoid trans-fats, processed foods made with low-quality vegetable oils, fast food, most fried foods, and poor quality meats and cheeses.
To get your fats from healthy sources, opt for organic, cold-pressed oils (like virgin olive or coconut oil), grass-fed butter and meats, pasture-raised poultry, wild-caught fish and cage-free eggs.
12. Keto is the same for men and women.
Overall, women seem to be more sensitive to dietary changes and weight compared to men. It’s definitely possible for women to safely follow the keto diet, and to practice intermittent fasting if they choose, but they should do so more carefully.
It’s recommended that women focus on eating a clean, alkaline diet in addition to a keto diet, meaning they include lots of non-starchy vegetables to make sure they obtain enough electrolytes and nutrients. The diet should ideally be approached in stepwise fashion, focusing on whole alkaline foods first before adding in fasting and the keto aspect.
Women should also reduce other sources of stress as much as possible and always listen to their bodies. If you’re a woman following the keto diet then always pay attention to how exercise impacts your energy and outlook, how much sleep you get nightly, the amount of sunlight exposure you get, your alcohol and caffeine intake, etc.
13. Intermittent fasting must occur while on the keto diet.
Intermittent fasting (IMF) is encouraged during the keto diet and may help accelerate results (such as detoxification and heading toward your weight management goals), but it’s not a requirement to achieve or maintain ketosis.
Many people find IMF to be easier when following the keto diet because ketosis is known to help decrease cravings and to help maintain a normal, healthy appetite.
If you’re feeling less hungry overall — not only due to eating lots of satiating fats, moderate protein and fiber from veggies during the keto diet, but also because ketones tend to curb hunger — then you’ll find that fasting may not be as challenging as it otherwise would be.
14. You can’t drink any alcohol on keto.
Some people choose to still consume alcohol in moderation while on the keto diet, especially organic red wine or hard liquor.
The key is to keep alcohol intake low-to-moderate and to consume alcohol with a meal that contains plenty of fat and some protein.
Drinks that are high in sugar and carbs, such as sweetened mix drinks and most beers, are not good choices. If drinking alcohol causes blood sugar levels to rise too much, and this makes staying in ketosis too difficult, then you’ll need to reduce or avoid alcohol to make the keto diet work for you.
- The keto (ketogenic) diet is a very high-fat, very low-carb diet that alters the source of energy your body uses to function — from burning carbs/sugar to burning fat.
- Some common keto diet myths are that the keto diet is only beneficial for healthy weight management, it always causes low energy and other symptoms, it’s unsafe for women or to follow long-term, and that it leads to muscle loss.
- Despite what you may have heard about the ketogenic diet, it’s safe for most people to stick with long-term (although keto cycling is a good option for many), it can be used to build muscle and gain energy when coupled with exercise, and it has many benefits beyond burning fat as fuel, such as supporting cognitive and metabolic health.
Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractic, doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food and nutrition. He operates leading natural health website DrAxe.com and is co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health supplement company. He’s also author of the books Eat Dirt, Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine, Keto Diet and Collagen Diet.