WASHINGTON — Ketogenic diets may be very fashionable right now, but a new study warns they may be doing long-term damage to your health. Researchers say that what makes these high-fat diets different from other weight loss strategies is also increasing the risk of developing a multitude of different diseases. Those include heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
“The typical keto diet is a disease-promoting disaster,” says lead review author Lee Crosby, RD, nutrition education program manager at Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, in a media release. “Loading up on red meat, processed meat, and saturated fat and restricting carbohydrate-rich vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains is a recipe for bad health.”
Crosby and a team from NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine, New York City Health and Hospital at Bellevue, the University of Pennsylvania, Loma Linda University, and George Washington University School of Medicine conducted what the scientists call the most comprehensive review of the keto diet to date. Their findings appear in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.
What makes the keto diet so different?
A “ketogenic” diet generally refers to any weight loss plan that is very low in carbohydrates, increases protein intake, and is high in fat. You might ask, why would someone think this is a healthy diet? Well, there’s actually a scientific reason for it.
Keto diets are popular because this mix of food fuel tries to trigger ketosis in the body. This process activates the production of ketones, which are an alternative energy source for the body. What makes ketones so appealing is the fact that neurons and other cells can metabolize this energy better than fatty acids. However, the new review finds the foods keto diets use to achieve this may harm the body over the long haul.
Among their findings, study authors say it appears that the keto diet is especially dangerous for pregnant women and those hoping to have children. The study finds that low-carb diets have a link to a greater risk of neural tube defects in the baby. This increased risk remains even if the mother is taking folic acid during her pregnancy.
High-protein keto diets can also hasten the pace of kidney failure in patients with kidney disease. Researchers add the diet raises “bad cholesterol” levels for many dieters as well.
Keto cure-all may have the opposite effect
The team notes that keto diets are often viewed as a potential cure for heart disease and even cancer. However, while some studies find ketogenic diets may starve cancer cells, the new report finds restricting carbohydrates actually tilts a person’s diet towards more cancer-causing foods.
“In addition to the significant risks to kidney disease patients and pregnant women, keto diets are risky for others, too, as these diets can increase LDL cholesterol levels and may increase overall chronic disease risk,” Crosby explains. “While keto can reduce body weight short term, this approach is not more effective than other weight-loss diets.”
Interestingly, study authors did find that a keto diet may reduce the frequency of seizures in some patients dealing with drug-resistant epilepsy.