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Keto Diet For Seniors: Is It A Safe And Healthy Diet?

Written by 
Molly Burford
Reviewed by 
Emanuel Singleton, NP

Article at a glance

  • The ketogenic diet, called the keto” diet for short, is a low-carbohydrate, high fat and protein diet where the majority of calories consumed come from sources of fats. 

  • The keto diet helps weight loss by relying on fats for fuel as opposed to carbohydrates. Keto causes the body to enter a state of ketosis in which it will burn stored fat from the liver.

  • The keto diet is associated with a number of potential health benefits as well as potential health risks. 

  • The keto diet is only intended as a short-term solution to help weight loss. 

For a long time, low-carb diets have been touted as one of the best ways to manage weight and keep any excess weight off. From the Atkins Diet to South Beach, there have been plenty of low-carb lifestyle options throughout the years. These eating plans often focus on protein and fat while limiting carbs. 

One of the latest low-carb diets to enter the scene is keto, a high-fat diet that restricts one’s carb intake significantly. But how does it work? Is it safe? Should older adults try it? This article will answer all of those questions, and more. 

What Is The Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet (or the keto” diet for short), is a type of low-carb diet plan that focuses on fats as the main source of fuel, as well as a moderate amount of protein. On the keto diet, around 90 percent of one’s daily calories would be derived from fat sources. The keto diet restricts the amount of carbohydrates one can consume on a daily basis as well. To stick to a true keto diet, one would have to adhere to a carbohydrate intake of fewer than 50 grams per day.

How Does The Keto Diet Work?

In the 1920s, the keto diet was originally created to help treat pediatric epilepsy. Today, however, the keto diet is used as a weight loss tool. Keto helps support weight loss by having the body enter a metabolic state known as ketosis.”

When someone is deprived of carbohydrates (the body’s main source of energy), insulin production is greatly reduced and the body enters a catabolic state, meaning that fat and muscle are being broken down. Essentially, keto forces the body to rely on a different type of fuel: fats. Instead of using sugar (glucose) derived from carbs, keto makes the body turn to ketone bodies which are an energy source produced by the liver from stored fat as a result of ketosis.

In addition to treatment-resistant epilepsy, the keto diet can be useful for those with the following conditions:

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Class III obesity (a BMI over 40)

Note: It is vital to talk to a healthcare provider before starting any new diet or exercise program.

Of course, there are some individuals that should not try keto including: 

  • People with a history of eating disorders

  • People at risk for heart disease

  • People with kidney disease

  • People who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant 

The Keto Diet For Seniors: Is It Safe?

The keto diet is primarily used for those interested in losing weight. If weight loss is a concern for an older adult, keto can be a good option. However, keeping other health conditions in mind is important when determining whether or not keto is the right option. Talking to a doctor or healthcare professional before attempting keto is imperative.

Tips For Keto After Age 60

A few tips for starting keto after age 60 include: 

  • Pick healthy cooking oils: Healthier options for oils include extra virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, and avocado oil. 

  • Prioritize whole foods over processed options: Whole foods include fruits, vegetables, lean cuts of meat, and healthy fats. This will ensure that you get the most nutrients in your body during keto. 

  • Get in enough fiber: Because older adults can struggle with digestive issues, ensuring that you’re eating enough fiber is imperative, especially during keto. Low-carb options that are hearty in fiber include leafy greens, broccoli, berries, chia seeds, etc.

  • Consume your daily allotment of carbs before and after weight training: Building muscle mass is imperative in older age, and carbs are necessary for muscles to repair themselves. Doing so prior to working out and afterward will give you the most benefits.

Keto Diet Potential Benefits

The ketogenic diet is associated with a number of potential health benefits such as blood sugar control, weight loss efforts, and more. 

Blood Sugar Control

Because the keto diet impacts blood glucose levels, it can help blood sugar control and keep numbers in check for those with type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance, at least short-term. However, keto can also cause abnormally low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia), which is why talking to your healthcare provider is important before starting a new diet.

Weight Loss Efforts

Keto can help those who adhere to it lose weight because of ketosis. 

Brain Function Protection

Keto may also protect the brain against conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, sleep disorders, autism, and brain cancer.

Keto Diet Risks

Of course, any diet also comes with health risks as well. Some potential adverse effects associated with the keto diet include kidney stones, nutrient deficiencies, and more. It’s always important to speak with a health provider prior to starting a new diet like keto in order to monitor side effects and risk. 

Kidney Stones

Since the kidneys metabolize protein, consuming too much of it can overload the kidneys and may lead to problems such as kidney stones, which can be painful. 

Excess Protein in Blood

Keto can also cause excess protein in the bloodstream which can lead to health problems with the kidneys.

Nutrient Deficiencies

Because the keto diet is so restrictive, nutrient deficiencies can occur such as in selenium, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamins B and C. Deficiencies such as these can lead to lower energy levels, brain fog, bone problems, muscle weakness, and more. 

Excess Fat in Liver 

Because of the large amount of fat consumed on the keto diet, this can lead to the liver struggling to keep up and metabolize it properly, leading to a buildup of that excess fat. The keto diet can make existing liver issues worse which is why those who have liver problems should avoid this diet.

Constipation

Because the keto diet is low in fiber-rich foods, constipation can occur. 

Mood Swings & Brain Fog

A low-carbohydrate diet such as keto can cause mental issues such as mood swings and brain fog because the brain requires sugar from healthy carbs in order to function to its full capacity.

Keto Diet Guidelines & Keto-Friendly Foods

The following foods are considered to be keto-friendly:

  • Fatty fish

  • Grass-fed beef

  • Eggs

  • Cheese

  • Plain Greek yogurt

  • Cottage cheese

  • Half-and-half creamer

  • Leafy greens

  • Summer squash

  • Peppers

  • Avocado

  • Olive oil

There are a number of foods one should avoid consuming on keto as well including but not limited to: 

  • Refined carbohydrates (breads, pasta, rice)

  • Beer

  • Mixed drinks

  • Honey

  • Syrups

  • Juice

  • Soda

  • Ketchup and other condiments

  • Glazed or honey-baked ham

  • Light or low-fat margarine 

  • Dried fruit

  • Trail mix

  • Starchy vegetables (potatoes, peas, corn, etc.)

FAQ

How long should someone stay on the keto diet?

The keto diet is not meant to be used as a long-term eating style. In general, someone should stay on a keto eating plan for two to three weeks at minimum for six to twelve months at most.

What is the keto flu?

The keto flu is a condition that occurs when someone first starts the keto diet. Basically, keto flu mimics the symptoms of the flu and includes nausea, vomiting, headache, constipation, diarrhea, irritability, weakness, muscle cramps, dizziness, brain fog, stomach pain, sleep issues, and more.

Is keto a healthy diet?

While keto can aid in weight loss and have other benefits, long-term keto is not sustainable or necessarily healthy due to the health risks associated. Eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, improving sleep, and staying hydrated is much more beneficial to long-term health.

Keto Diet: Eat This, Not That

What to eat and what to avoid while doing a keto diet.

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