I’ve been hearing a lot about the keto diet, and I’d like to go on it. Please can you give me more info?

To give you an overview, there are more than 69 million keto diet recipes on Pinterest alone. Interestingly, the original plan wasn’t actually created to help anyone fit into a smaller pair of pants.

The ketogenic diet was developed in the 1920s as a treatment for epilepsy. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, US, noticed that some epilepsy patients who had low blood sugar levels or were starving had fewer seizures. So they created a diet meant to trick your body into thinking it’s starving.

When you starve, your body will figure out a way to generate glucose for the brain because the brain needs it at all times.

Seizures are abnormal electric discharges from the brain and the ketones that are formed in your body to give you energy on a ketogenic diet seem to have an anti-electrical effect on the brain. So an epileptic patient will have fewer seizures.

The main goal of a keto diet is to put your body into ketosis — a state where your body burns fat instead of carbs for fuel. The diet consists of mostly fat — 75 per cent of your daily calories, in fact, with moderate consumption of protein (20 per cent) and very few carbs (less than 5 per cent).

This can be great initially because of the satiating quality of fat. Most people aren’t hungry for the first few days and they tend to lose a lot of water and muscle initially before the fat loss kicks in and that motivates them to move forward. But what happens after the first few months matters more if you want the change to last. You need to be able to maintain the same lifestyle beyond the first few months.

There are many who jump on a keto diet because it means they can eat cheese and meats. But here are a few things that can go wrong when you go low on carbs for too long.

Dry eyes

Our stomach lining needs carbohydrates for the muscus lining to stay protected. With less carbs, this mucus lining is affected causing apart from gut and food sensitivities and allergies, dry eyes as well. Our eyes are also protected by a mucus lining and we need enough glucose to make that lining. When we consume fewer carbs (less than 50g but this could vary from person to person), this mucus lining starts to disintegrate and causes dry eyes.

Poor sleep

When you consume less than 50-80g of carbs, your brain starts to starve of glucose and will wake you up many times in the middle of the night to feed your body carbs. So your deep restorative sleep will be affected and you wake up feeling tired affecting your productivity and mood during the rest of the day.

Hair fall

Keto diets allow just 15-20 per cent protein so don’t be surprised if you notice that you have hair fall. The main iron storage molecule, ferritin, is a protein. So when your protein intake is low it can affect your iron levels and this causes hair fall.

Thyroid

Having low T3 levels is common when it comes to keto diets. Within two months of being on keto check your T3 levels to make sure they are fine. Here’s the problem: Your thyroid gland needs glucose to produce its hormones T3 and T4, and to convert these hormones from inactive to usable efficient active forms. When not enough carbs are present, hormone production and conversion slows, which can actually worsen a hypothyroid condition.

High cholesterol

A main reason your cholesterol goes up is because you are eating the wrong kinds of fats. If you are only consuming good fats like avocado and ghee or coconut oil then even if your total cholesterol is high, don’t sweat it. You need to get a more advanced test done to see what’s going on with your cholesterol. Checking other inflammatory markers like CRP; a simple lipid profile is not enough.

If you do take up a ketogenic diet evaluate your intention behind it.

I’ve realised, every time I’ve done any extreme diet… it’s mainly because I had put on some weight or had binged on junk food on a trip and I am anxious to lose it quickly. But this constant need for stuffing and then starving ourselves is just so unhealthy and pretty much what the weight loss industry makes money on.

So always try to think about the intention before you take up a plan like this. It should not come from a place of ‘lack or feeling not good enough’ because it always backfires. I hate how deprived it made me feel and the way I stared at other people’s carb loaded food. I did not like how I gorged on carbs after I was done with the diet either. Needless to say, I quickly gained all the weight I lost.

The best time to use keto is if you are stuck in your weight loss journey and have hit a plateau. It can really help stir up your metabolism and hormones too and get you back on track.

[‘I lost 38kg — here’s how I’ve kept it off’]

I am a big believer of high-fat diets. I’ve had to struggle with hormonal issues but I was able to reverse it without the use of drugs. So I prefer to take the high-fat route. There are ways in which you can take the best out of keto diets to benefit from the good undamaged fats without going so extremely low on carbs.

Rashi Chowdhary is a nutritionist, diabetes educator and creator of The Protein Bake Shop. Got a problem? Our fantastic panel of renowned experts is available to answer all your questions related to fashion, well-being, nutrition, finance and hypnotherapy. Email your queries to friday@gulfnews.com.