The internet is littered with bad advice about the Keto diet. This is inevitable, considering the number of people with a blog and a WiFi connection.
But even experts can dispense bad advice. It only takes one public commitment to solidify a viewpoint. And once someone makes up their mind, they’re unlikely to change it.
This article may contradict what you’ve heard about doing Keto right, so try to keep an open mind. If you find the logic convincing, feel free to update your mental model. If not, at least you’ll be entertained.
Bad Keto Advice #1: “Restrict protein to stay in ketosis”
Back in the 1920s, researchers developed the Ketogenic diet as a treatment for childhood epilepsy. This Classic Keto Diet was over 80% fat by calories, ideal for achieving deep states of therapeutic ketosis.[*]
Many people still call for this level of Keto protein restriction, warning that higher protein intakes will block fat-burning and derail Keto goals. Are they right?
It seems not. More recently, researchers have studied a higher-protein form of Keto called the modified Atkins diet. They’ve found that modified Atkins not only works for weight loss, but it may also be compatible with strength gains.[*][*]
Unlike Classic Keto, modified Atkins provides enough protein necessary to support moderate or intense exercise.[*] Plus, higher protein Keto diets are easier to stick with for the long-term.
Better Keto advice: Unless you’re doing Keto for therapeutic purposes, lean towards higher protein intakes of 20-30% of calories.
Bad Keto Advice #2: “Calories don’t matter on Keto”
There’s a meme floating around that Keto promotes weight loss purely by lowering insulin levels and stimulating fat-burning. But while a Keto diet does get you running on fat for energy, it doesn’t guarantee weight loss.
Low insulin or not, eat enough fat calories—exceed your metabolic rate—and you will gain weight.[*] Your body will happily store that dietary fat as body fat.
Due to alterations in hunger hormones, overeating typically isn’t a problem on Keto.[*] But it’s still possible to eat too much. Nuts in particular seem to defy moderation.
Better Keto advice: Don’t obsess over calories on Keto, but don’t ignore them either. It’s still possible to overeat.
Bad Keto Advice #3: “Drink tons of water”
When you eat a Keto diet, you lose extra fluids through urine. Along with these fluids, you also lose extra electrolytes like sodium and potassium.[*]
If you only replace the water, you will make the electrolyte problem worse. Overhydrating dilutes blood sodium levels and may cause the headaches, cramps, and fatigue often labeled keto flu.
Better Keto advice: Take electrolytes along with fluids to prevent electrolyte deficiencies on Keto.
Bad Keto Advice #4: “If it fits your macros, it’s okay”
To enter the fat-burning state called ketosis, you need only limit carbs. That’s it.
But a healthy Keto diet isn’t just about macros. It’s also about food quality.
Heard of “dirty Keto”? It’s a Keto diet high in inflammatory vegetable oils (think fried foods) yet devoid of actual vegetables.[*] Dirty Keto may fit your macros, but it won’t set you up for long-term health.
Better Keto advice: Make your Keto diet a clean Keto diet by eating lots of low-carb veggies and healthy fats like olive oil, avocado oil, butter, and coconut oil.
Bad Keto Advice #5: “Exogenous ketones stimulate fat-burning”
Yet despite how exogenous ketones (Keto pills) are marketed, they don’t increase fat-burning. In fact, they probably inhibit it. Some explanation will help.
When ketone levels rise, your liver temporarily stops burning fat to make ketones. It’s a defense mechanism that prevents a dangerous high-ketone condition called ketoacidosis.[*]
Unfortunately, this defense mechanism won’t protect you from deceptive marketing.
Better Keto advice: If your goal is fat loss, don’t waste your money on Keto pills.
Bad Keto Advice #6: “Don’t worry about blood cholesterol levels on Keto”
LDL cholesterol (LDL-C) is an important marker of heart disease risk. Higher LDL-C is correlated with increased risk.[*]
Sometimes LDL-C goes down on the Keto diet. This has been shown in a cohort of 66 obese people.[*]
But a subset of people sees a dramatic spike in LDL-C on Keto. Even though there’s no research specifically showing that Keto dieters with high LDL-C are at higher risk for heart disease risk, the safe play is to assume they are.
Better Keto advice: Consider modifying your diet to include more carbs and less saturated fat if your LDL-C becomes elevated on Keto.
Bad Keto Advice #7: “Avoid carbs no matter what on Keto”
Yes, limiting carbs is the main rule of Keto. But there are times where it makes sense to bring them back.
For example, if your exercise performance is suffering, you might try a Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD) or Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD) to add glucose to your system. You might also bump up carbs to help lower an undesirable LDL-C. (See point #5).
The occasional carb foray can also make Keto easier to live with. The diet that works is the diet you can stick with.
Better Keto advice: Experiment with healthy carbs like rice, fruit, and sweet potatoes as desired to modify your results on Keto.
Bad Keto Advice #8: “Tracking macros is unnecessary”
Keto macros aren’t always intuitive. Did you know that 3 ounces of cooked mussels have over 6 grams of net carbs? And are you comfortable enough with net carb tracking to do it without assistance? In the beginning, probably not.
Once you get the hang of Keto dieting, you can get away with winging it. But getting the hang of Keto requires logging your meals for a bit first. It’s easier than you think.
Better Keto advice: Use an app like Carb Manager to log meals, track macros, and increase your accountability on Keto.
Bad Keto Advice #9: “The Keto diet is your secret to perfect health”
This breathless claim is just plain false. The Keto diet has health benefits, but it’s not a cure-all.
If you’re sleeping poorly, Keto won’t fix that. If you’re stressed, Keto won’t fix that. And if you don’t exercise, Keto definitely won’t fix that.
The Keto diet should be just one component in a larger wellness strategy. It pays to remember that.
Better Keto advice: To get the most from your health journey, focus on sleep, stress reduction, exercise, and relationships to complement your Keto diet.
Bad Keto Advice #10: “You don’t need to exercise on Keto”
You may have heard that Keto is a “miracle” weight-loss diet that will have you shedding pounds without ever setting foot in a gym, or throwing on some running shoes.
While there is some truth to the idea that you don’t need to exercise to lose weight, this is true of any diet. Technically all you need to “lose weight” is to be in a calorie deficit — aka your body is expending more energy that you are taking in. You can do this only with food, or with a combination of food and exercise.
While many people find it easier to lose weight on Keto, for a variety of reasons, this does not mean you aren’t still susceptible to the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle while eating a Keto diet, like increased risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, depression and anxiety, and more.[*]
Better Keto advice: A well-rounded healthy lifestyle includes being active while also eating a healthy, whole-foods based diet, whether you’re Keto or not.
How to Tell “Good” From “Bad” Keto Advice
We get it, navigating the world of endless health advice is complicated and can be confusing.
Our best advice in wading through it all is that if a piece of advice seems too extreme or perhaps “too good to be true” (“eat this way and you’ll never have to exercise again!” “this diet will cure every health condition you can imagine!”) it probably is too good to be true.
There are no shortcuts or magic pills when it comes to healthy living. But it also doesn’t have to be complicated.
Focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods that fit the macros suited to your goals.
Spend some time being active each day. Do what you can to manage your stress levels, get 7-8 hours of sleep every night, and nurture satisfying social connections.
Focus on those main pillars of a healthy lifestyle, and you’ll set yourself up well to meet your health goals.