A new research report published in Frontiers in Nutrition magazine argues that popular low-carb ketogenic diets are unhealthy for most people. The review sparked a longstanding debate on the dangers of high fat / low carbohydrate eating strategies.
Ketogenic diets can take several forms. The general idea is to induce a metabolic state called ketosis by eating foods that are strictly high in fat but low in carbohydrates and sugar. This forces the body to burn stored fats instead of carbohydrates for energy, resulting in a rapid reduction in body weight.
Originally developed as a treatment for pediatric epilepsy a century ago, the diet strategy has become popular in recent years. And that’s because it reduces body weight quickly while allowing the dieter to eat an often meat-heavy diet.
However, the long-term health effects of a ketogenic diet are debatable. Many nutritionists argue that ketogenic diets are inherently unhealthy, and Lee Crosby, lead author of this newly published review, goes so far as to describe the typical keto diet as “a disease-causing disaster.”
“Loading up on red meat, processed meat, and saturated fat, and cutting back on high-carb vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains is a recipe for poor health,” says Crosby.
The review article notes that ketogenic diets are especially unsafe for pregnant women and people with kidney disease. It also suggests that the diet’s long-term health effects are unclear, as many ketogenic foods have been linked to heart disease and cancer.
“In addition to the significant risks for those with kidney disease and pregnant women, keto diets are also risky for others, as these diets can raise LDL cholesterol and increase the overall risk of chronic disease,” added Crosby. “While keto can reduce body weight in the short term, this approach is no more effective than other weight loss diets.”
The article acknowledges that ketogenic diets are effective in reducing seizure frequency and suggests that its use in patients with drug-resistant epilepsy is well supported. But in almost all other cases the “risks of [ketogenic] Diets outweigh the benefits. “
The new review is peer-reviewed and published in a respected journal, but it is worth noting that it is not without a conflict of interest. The study was funded by a nonprofit called the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, an organization that promotes a plant-based diet and advocates alternatives to animal testing in science.
Lee Crosby, lead author of this newly published review, goes so far as to describe the typical keto diet as “a disease-causing disaster.”
Even so, the long-term health effects of a ketogenic diet are still completely unclear. A small research group using mostly mice has shown that a high-fat / low-carb diet can be beneficial for both health and lifespan.
However, a Yale University study published last year found that the benefits of a ketogenic diet can be short-lived. Using animal models, research found that the metabolic benefits of a keto diet in mice disappeared when the eating strategy was maintained for many months. These results complement a little bit of a 2019 review of intermittent fasting, which found that periodically switching between different metabolic states may be most beneficial for humans.
So the jury has certainly not yet decided on the long-term health effects of a ketogenic diet, but we know one thing very clearly: a balanced, nutrient-rich diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and grains is good for your health.
The new study was published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.
Source: Medical Commission for Responsible Medicine