The central theses
- A new study suggests that the risks associated with a keto diet may outweigh benefits such as accelerated weight loss.
- Researchers say following a keto diet before or during pregnancy and for people with chronic kidney disease is especially risky.
- One of the main concerns about this restrictive diet is that many people tend to eat too much red meat and processed foods with very few fruits and vegetables.
The popular ketogenic diet, also known as keto, can lead to long-term health risks that outweigh the short-term benefits, according to a new study published in Frontiers in Nutrition.
By analyzing the available literature on keto, the researchers found that diets were particularly unsafe for pregnant women, those who might become pregnant, and those with kidney disease. They concluded that keto could also lead to long-term health complications such as cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s for most people.
Keto is usually very low in carbohydrates, low in protein, and high in fat. This diet includes foods like meat, fish, nuts, and fibrous vegetables, while eliminating most fruits, grains, beans, starchy vegetables, and sweets.
It aims to achieve ketosis, the state in which the body uses fat for fuel. Otherwise, glucose is the primary source of energy that comes from carbohydrates. By restricting carbohydrate intake, the keto diet forces the body to break down fat into ketones as an alternative source of energy.
“The idea for people on this diet is that when you burn fat, you can burn body fat too,” said Shivam Joshi, MD, a nephrologist, clinical assistant professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, and co-author of the study. says Verywell.
Keto has been used in the past to treat persistent epilepsy, a severe drug-resistant seizure disorder. However, more and more people have adopted this restrictive diet for weight loss and diabetes management.
Joshi says that some people lose weight on the keto diet, but the short-term weight loss is likely due to reduced caloric intake. Keto is on par with other restrictive calorie diets, he adds, but people should be aware of its side effects.
Risks Associated With Keto
Neal Barnard, MD, FACC, adjunct professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and co-author of the study, says Verywell that keto diets contain the types of foods that are linked to cancer risks.
A keto diet emphasizes the consumption of animal products while restricting many nutrient-dense vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. As a result, keto is high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Restriction of carbohydrates before or during Pregnancy is linked to an increased risk of birth defects and gestational diabetes, the researchers found. With 40% of pregnancies in the United States unplanned, a low-carb diet is considered risky for anyone who could become pregnant.
Barnard adds that most people are prone to the risks associated with a highly restrictive keto diet. “If a cat eats meat every day all of its life, it will never have a heart attack,” he says. “In many cases, if you eat meat for a week, your cholesterol will rise and you can develop heart disease.”
Potential Health Risks from the Keto Diet
- In pregnant people, even those taking folic acid, their babies can develop neural tube defects.
- Because large amounts of protein can put stress on the kidneys, keto can put people with chronic kidney disease at greater risk.
- Persistent ketosis in people with type 1 diabetes can lead to insulin resistance and other complications.
- Keto can quickly raise total cholesterol, including low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”), which could be especially dangerous for those at high risk of cardiovascular disease.
How to Safely Approach the Keto Diet
In recent years, keto has become a trendy diet for weight loss and the treatment of some other health conditions. However, Barnard suggests that there is usually a better nutritional approach than keto.
“Carbohydrates aren’t bad. Grains and beans and fruits and vegetables should be the staple foods in our diet, ”he says, adding that a plant-based diet can predictably lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.
Some keto dieters have moved away from the traditionally restrictive format in favor of a plant-based or vegan keto diet.
Liz MacDowell, certified holistic nutritionist and author of “Vegan Keto”, runs the food blog Meat Free Keto. She practices what she calls a “quasi-keto” diet. Liz adds fruits, vegetables, and beans to her diet, which can be controversial in the keto world. She has even received backlash for sharing a post about strawberries on her Instagram.
“Ingesting these micronutrients far outweighs the challenge your body now faces to maintain ketosis with those minimal extra grams of carbohydrates,” MacDowell told Verywell. “Fruit isn’t the worst. It contains sugar, but it contains so many other good things, so many good phytochemicals and micronutrients. ”
For those who want to add more fresh Incorporating products into her keto routine, Liz emphasizes one important thing: Don’t stress.
“We’re stressed enough so we don’t have to worry about overeating one carrot or one cherry tomato,” she says.
Strict keto diets, even if plant-based, are still of concern to some health professionals as they often limit healthy sources of protein. While keto could be great for weight loss, more research is needed on its long-term safety for people with metabolic disorders and cardiovascular risk factors.
What that means for you
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide which diet is best for your health goals. When starting a keto diet, consider the risks and whether it will be sustainable for you. Discuss with your doctor or nutritionist how the eating plan could affect your health. While keto works to control seizures or lose weight for some people, there are long-term risks that may outweigh the short-term benefits.