The Top 4 Mistakes Everyone Makes On The Keto Diet (And How To Fix Them)
As a society obsessed with the latest and greatest, it's no surprise we are always changing up how we are eating on a day-to-day basis. The ketogenic diet is the newest rising star, but beyond pop culture trends, the emerging keto science is pretty exciting: The diet has been shown to enhance brain health, restore energy, stabilize blood sugar, lower inflammation, and more.
While it seems like everyone is currently "going keto," this high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet isn't without its potential pitfalls. As a functional medicine practitioner, I see firsthand how this beneficial diet can quickly become unhealthy with a few simple unintentional mistakes. Here are the top mistakes I see most often that can inhibit people's success in reaching their ultimate health goals.
Mistake 1: Focusing on macronutrients over quality.
There are many foods on the market that are technically considered "keto" but are not necessarily healthy. It is easy to get hyperfocused on keeping your macronutrients (low carb, high fat) within your daily limits and overlook the quality of the food that you are putting into your body. This can leave us consuming inflammatory foods such as artificial sweeteners that further perpetuate the health problems that we are trying to heal through a ketogenic diet.
The solution? Use whole food sources and read labels.
These unhealthy ingredients are most often hidden in prepacked foods, so read labels for ingredients you recognize before purchasing. There are also many whole food options that you can always have on hand for quick snacking like nuts, seeds, olives, and canned wild-caught seafood, which will eliminate the temptation to grab something else. Also, downloading a food tracking app will make tracking macronutrients of whole foods without a label quick and easy.
Problem 2: Consuming too much dairy.
Dairy is a staple in the conventional ketogenic diet. However, this overlooks the many people who have an inflammatory response to dairy. In fact, next to gluten, dairy is one of the most common food allergens in our society and one of the most inflammatory foods in our modern diet. Most of the problems with dairy actually have to do with what we have done to the cow, not dairy itself.
For example, casein, the protein found in dairy, has two subtypes: A1 and A2. The A1 subtype is what is in most conventional dairy that we find in the grocery store and is a trigger for digestive problems and inflammation due to the years of crossbreeding causing casein gene mutations. And if that's not bad enough, most cows are pumped with hormones and antibiotics. The milk is then pasteurized, homogenized, and the fat is removed, and then it is filled with synthetic vitamins to make up for a lack of nutrients. I don't know about you, but to me that sounds anything but appetizing.
The solution? Look for substitutions.
Because of the rise of dairy allergies, there are many delicious dairy alternatives on the market. Nut milks and nut cheeses are not only great sources of fat and protein, but you can find a variety of different options—mozzarella, cream cheese, the list goes on—that taste just as delicious as their counterparts. And if you are a butter lover, grass-fed ghee is a great option as it removes the casein protein, leaving you only with the grass-fed dairy fat.
Problem 3: Avoiding plant foods.
One of the most common misunderstandings I see among people on a ketogenic diet is that they need to greatly limit or avoid vegetables due to their carbohydrate content. Unfortunately, this leaves many people lacking in necessary phytonutrients and prebiotic foods for a healthy gut. Studies have shown that high-fat diets that lack fiber from vegetables can actually increase inflammation.
Additionally, since the ketogenic diet can result in a loss of electrolytes due to the natural loss of fluid retention, it can leave people turning to other sources of electrolytes since they are missing out on natural vegetable sources of magnesium, calcium, and potassium. The problem with electrolyte sources, though, is that they can also contain unnecessary sweeteners and additives.
The solution? Fall in love with the produce section.
While you are going keto, there are definitely some carb-heavy vegetables that should be limited as to not go over your carb limit for the day; however, there are many amazing vegetables that are low-carb. In fact, my book Ketotarian is all about how to do a ketogenic diet 100 percent plant-based and lists out the most nutrient-dense vegetable options for enjoying them while achieving ketosis.
Some of my favorites that also have a significant amount of electrolytes include:
- Avocado: 1,067 mg potassium / 58 mg magnesium per 1 whole avocado
- Spinach: 839 mg potassium / 157 mg magnesium per 1 cup of spinach
- Kale: 329 mg potassium / 31 mg magnesium per 1 cup of kale
- Swiss chard: 136 mg potassium / 29 mg magnesium per 1 cup of Swiss chard
Problem 4: Eating processed and conventional meats.
In the conventional ketogenic diet, all types of fatty cuts of meat are a go—a rarity in most diets. In addition to its fat content, animal sources of protein are loaded with other beneficial nutrients such as B vitamins, which are essential for healthy detox and inflammation pathways. But many studies have shown that diets high in non-organic, grain-fed conventional sources, or lots of processed lunch meat, bacon, or sausage, have been linked to cancer and other diseases.
The solution? Go organic...or plant-based.
If you are going to stick with meat, make sure you are buying grass-fed organic cuts of meat and limit the amount of processed meats you are eating. Wild-caught fish is another clean, nutrient-dense animal source of both fat and protein that most people overlook in favor of red meat.
I am a fan of going predominantly plant-centric keto to elevate the health benefits of both conventional ketogenic and plant-based diets (it also can make this way of eating more affordable!).