If you've recently started eating keto, you're probably learning about all the foods you should avoid — but are you considering the important nutrients you're eliminating with those foods, too?
"A ketogenic diet can help with weight loss, which can improve other diseases, however it can affect gut health and digestion in a negative fashion if certain precautions are not made," Jan Pawel Kaminski, MD, who specializes in colon and rectal surgery, says.
"The precautions include making sure to have a high-fiber diet with keto-friendly vegetables that are packed with fiber and nutrients, or consider fiber supplementation such as psyllium husk and probiotics that may help to replenish the gut."
The keto diet is traditionally a high-fat, adequate-protein, and low-carb eating plan. If you strictly adhere to this lifestyle choice, Dr. Kaminski says you could be restricting certain foods containing a lot of fiber, like whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables.
He adds that fiber helps to move waste through the colon and out of the body quicker, which can prevent inflammation and potential carcinogenic effects. Plus, the easier it is for you to do your business, the less strain you're putting on your body, thus preventing digestive disorders.
"Taking enough fiber has been shown to prevent constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, hemorrhoids, stomach ulcers, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and diverticulitis," Dr. Kaminski explains.
"It also has the added benefit of decreasing the risk of developing coronary artery disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and other gastrointestinal diseases such as colorectal cancer."
For the record, Dr. Kaminski doesn't claim that eating keto is all bad — he points out that the diet can successfully promote weight loss (at least in the short-term!). He just recommends that you talk to your doctor to make sure it's the right plan for you — and if it is, that you prioritize eating gut-friendly keto foods like green-colored vegetables.
"Spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus have high fiber and are packed with nutrients. Avocados pack a punch as they include several vitamins and minerals that are important to be taken, especially during a ketogenic diet, and they are packed with fiber, which may help to decrease bad cholesterol," Dr. Kaminski says.
"Also, cruciferous vegetables such as kale, cabbage, and cauliflower are very gut-friendly, as they help regulate the contents of the GI tract. Plus, they have been linked to decreased cancer and heart disease risk."
On the other hand, Dr. Kaminski mentions that red meat like beef, lamb, and goat can constipate, decrease the movement of GI tract contents, put you at a higher risk for colorectal cancer and affect digestive health in general. The consumption of these foods should be monitored throughout your diet.
All these reasons prove how important it is to consult with your doctor before starting a new eating plan. And if you have a history of chronic kidney disease, certain diabetes, and preexisting liver and pancreatic diseases, Dr. Kaminski urges against the keto diet altogether.