The low-carbohydrate ketogenic, or keto, diet might seem like the fastest way to lose that pandemic weight, but researchers call it a recipe for bad health.
“The typical keto diet is a disease-promoting disaster,” lead review author Lee Crosby, a dietician with Barnard Medical Center in Washington, D.C., said in a press 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.”
Pregnant women in particular are known to give birth to babies who suffer from neural tube defects if the carbohydrate levels in their diets are not high enough. Patients with renal disease saw worsened symptoms and disease progression when on the keto diet.
The study also found that the diseases that the keto diet claims to help are actually worsened by it. Keto diets have been found to raise “bad” cholesterol, and restricts you to food groups that are known to be more carcinogenic.
The only positive aspect of the keto diet was that it sometimes reduced the frequency of seizures in some epileptics who don’t respond to medication, but researchers said more research needs to be done to find out if the benefits outweigh the risks.
What is keto?
Ketosis is a carnivore’s dream: losing weight by eating only cheese, seafood, meat, eggs, and other animal products. You can eat vegetables, but no carbs at all — no potatoes, grains, sugars, or processed foods. By eating all fats and proteins and no carbs, you’re sending your body into a state of ketosis, where your body begins to believe that it’s starving. It then goes into a sort of survival mode and enters into a state of autophagy, Greek for “self-eating.”
Autophagy breaks down proteins in cells both degraded and healthy. Keto fans see autophagy as your body taking out the trash, eliminating dying cells and protein build-up to make way for new and healthy cells. Advocates of the keto diet say that autophagy reduces inflammation, shrinks tumors, and fights off cancer cells, as cell turnover is so high during ketosis. It also causes extreme weight loss and muscle retention, as the amount of protein and fats are so high.
But research shows that autophagy isn’t picky and will destroy any cell in its path, including healthy ones. While the destruction of cells might trigger some weight loss, it certainly won’t make you healthier.
Is it really that bad?
Just because something may help you lose weight doesn’t mean that it’s good for you. Increasing the turnover of cells means that cells are dying faster than ever before, including cells you may need to execute normal bodily processes.
Think of it logically: Many diseases are caused by cell death and consequential mutation, such as Parkinson’s, cancers, and kidney disease. The more you cause your cells to change over and mutate, the more opportunities there are for cells to not replenish soon enough, causing illness and death. The Frontiers in Nutrition review points out that foods on the keto diet (namely meats) have been linked to heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
If you’re trying to lose weight, you’d do better to eat a salad than a steak, especially if you’re suffering from other health issues or worried about contracting new ones.
Don’t get seduced by the idea of quick and easy weight loss, or a cure-all for every disease, and don’t fall for a fad just because you see your favorite fitness guru touting it.