The ketogenic diet is often used as a short-term means for accomplishing a particular health goal. And while it’s true that a ketogenic diet of only a few weeks or a few months can yield numerous short-term benefits including weight loss, mental clarity, improved endurance, and improved insulin sensitivity, keto can also become a sustainable way of life.
Many individuals adopt a ketogenic lifestyle for years or even a lifetime, reaping some long-term benefits that can only be achieved by sustaining the ketogenic diet long-term.
Those who have enjoyed success in meeting their short-term goals with keto often have questions about the sustainability of the keto diet, and if the significant shift away from the traditional American diet is worth the unique challenges that may accompany a ketogenic diet.
This article will discuss research about the ketogenic diet’s sustainability, the long-term benefits of a ketogenic diet, lifestyle adaptations that make long-term keto easier, and special considerations for a long-term ketogenic diet.
The Verdict on Long-Term Nutritional Ketosis
The ketogenic diet first gained popularity during the 1920s, when researchers discovered that the low-fat, high-carb lifestyle was extremely effective in treating childhood epilepsy. In other words, keto isn’t a new trend, and numerous people have spent the majority of their lives in nutritional ketosis.
Researchers have conducted many studies on nutritional ketosis, including long-term impacts and safety. These studies have revealed that not only does a long-term keto diet have numerous health benefits (more about those below!), but a sustained keto diet does not pose health risks for healthy individuals (those with diabetes or a compromised liver should work closely with a doctor before transitioning to a keto lifestyle, since the ability to regulate insulin and create ketones may be compromised). A 2017 10-year study of long-term nutritional ketosis found that sustained keto lifestyle did not pose health risks or adverse effects for healthy individuals, contrary to some claims.
Benefits of a Sustained Keto Diet
Research on the keto diet revolved mostly around epilepsy--until the past two decades, which brought numerous studies exploring many other benefits of a sustained ketogenic diet. Studies find that a long-term ketogenic diet is an especially good sustainable solution for maintaining a healthy weight and lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol while raising HDL (good) cholesterol. The low-carb keto diet results in improved insulin sensitivity, well-regulated blood sugar, fewer cravings for unhealthy foods, and improved production of leptin (a hormone that signals the body when it is full). With a nutrient-dense, satisfying diet and reduced cravings for carbohydrates, maintaining a healthy weight comes more easily than it does on the standard American diet.
Drastically reducing sugar intake over a sustained period of time also has a significant impact on lowering inflammation in the body. It’s for this reason that the ketogenic diet also shows tremendous potential in treating conditions involving inflammation of the body’s tissues. Numerous studies highlight a sustained ketogenic diet in treating PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), as well as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, brain injuries, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and even cancer.
Since the combination of ketones and stored or consumed fat provide a far more reliable and consistent fuel source for the body than consumed carbohydrates, the ketogenic diet also offers long-term benefits in the form of endurance during physical activity, mental focus and clarity, and sustained energy. Some people sustain a ketogenic diet for this reason alone, finding it much easier to concentrate and achieve their mental and physical goals.
Lifestyle Adaptations and Special Considerations for a Long-Term Keto Diet
While adapting to a ketogenic diet can be difficult for some at first, since it is very different than than standard American diet, keto simply becomes a normal way of life after a few weeks. If you’re dedicated to sustaining keto long-term, the following tips and adaptations can help make the transition to long-term keto easier!
- Keep only keto-friendly foods in the house. If you’re dedicated to maintaining keto long-term, it’s probably unrealistic to assume you’ll never eat another slice of pizza again. But keeping that high-carb favorite in the house will only result in unplanned cheat meals. Keep your house stocked with keto-friendly favorites, and reserve your cheat meals for special occasions that you plan.
- Learn how to navigate social eating and restaurants. It can feel lonely to be the only one at the table eating guacamole with a fork instead of diving into the basket of chips. Become familiar with low-carb adaptations offered by different restaurants, and don’t be afraid to call ahead about bringing your own keto crackers (try this recipe!). Most restaurants are extremely accommodating of different diet restrictions, and your friends will adjust to your unique style.
- Decide how often you’re comfortable “cheating” and stick to it. “Cheating” regularly can cause a resurgence in cravings or cause lulls in energy as your body stops producing ketones. However, a cheat meal once in a while can be fun and rewarding. Decide how often you want to eat “cheat meals,” and stick to your goals!
- Make friends with other keto dieters. Going keto alone is completely doable, but it can be a lot of fun and very rewarding to make friends in the keto community to share stories, tips, and recipes! Becoming part of this community can also help motivate you to stick to your goals.
- Subscribe to keto blogs and get books for new fun recipes. Subscribing to blogs that share recipes, tips, and insights can be a great way to find new keto-friendly foods and helpful information. Keto recipe books can help you find new go-to dinners, lunches, snacks, and even desserts.
- Find your go-to recipes for easy meals. Speaking of recipe books, finding your favorite keto-friendly foods that are easy to make, and stocking your cupboards, can help you settle into a comfortable routine. After all, there’s nothing worse than staring into an empty cupboard when you’re hungry--and the pizza place is just next door!
- Get regular physicals and stay on top of keto diet supplements. Stay on top of your health by maintaining a regular schedule of physicals and keeping critical nutrient levels (especially of potassium and other electrolytes) high. Optimal nutrient levels are very important to maintaining ketosis and keeping energy levels high.