Search Google for “ketogenic diet,” and more than a few of the results you get will be promoting it as a nearly miraculous fat-burning solution. But what exactly is a ketogenic diet, and how worried should you be about keto diet dangers? Today’s post is devoted to answering both of those questions.
What Is A Ketogenic Diet?
Ketogenic diets force the body to begin burning fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. People following a ketogenic diet eat low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein meals and snacks. For example, a typical keto meal might include 40 g of carbohydrates, 165 g of fat, and 75 g of protein.
Once the body uses up the carbs (its first choice of fuel) from such a meal, it begins burning fat to function. Doing so produces ketones it can use as an alternative energy source while in the state of “ketosis.”
The foundation foods of a ketogenic diet include:
- red meat
- Greek yogurt
- cottage cheese
and coconut oil.
Keto Diet Dangers
Hearing someone say they’re thinking of trying a keto diet makes me shudder – and I doubt I’m the only one. Take the researchers who took an in-depth look at this high-fat diet and assessed its pros and cons.
For example, the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine’s staff dietitian Lee Crosby headed a systemic review of 123 studies. They explored the “effects of a ketogenic diet on health conditions for which it has been promoted.”
After reviewing all the research, she is evidently concerned about keto diet dangers. In discussing the review published in the July 2021 Frontiers In Nutrition, Crosby described a typical keto diet as a “disease-promoting disaster.”
Why Are So Many People Passionate About Their Keto Diets?
Some selling points of a ketogenic diet? First:
- It produces rapid weight loss. However, most of those pounds come from water, protein, glycogen (stored carbohydrates). And the initial rate of loss hasn’t proven sustainable.
- The early weight loss may provide temporary benefits for people with type 2 diabetes.
However, this 2011 cohort study headed by Dr. Lawrence Koning, Ph.D., analyzed 20 years of data collected from 40,475 participants in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.
During the follow-up, 2689 participants developed type 2 diabetes. After assessing a variety of factors, including their:
- physical activity
- alcohol and coffee intake
- total caloric intake
- body mass index
and family history of type 2 diabetes, the researchers found that those with “high animal protein and fat” intake had a 37% higher rate of the disease.
So evidence supports including increased risk of type 2 diabetes among the long-term keto diet dangers.
Keto diets, epilepsy, cancer, and Alzheimer’s:
A 2018 review from researchers at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Translational Medicine suggested that the low-glucose ketogenic diet might reduce seizures up to 50 percent in patients with drug-resistant epilepsy.
However, the researchers described the evidence in the reviewed studies as being of “low to very low overall quality.”
Some keto-diet proponents suggest their way of eating can help fight cancer. However, evidence for their suggestion is nearly non-existent.
The same holds for keto diets and Alzheimer’s disease. Ketogenic eating may create short-term cognitive improvements in Alzheimer’s patients, but there’s been very little research into its long-term effects.
Studies Finding Major Keto Diet Dangers
Cardiovascular disease risk:
A January 2018 pilot study headed by University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Assistant Professor Wesley Kephart, Ph.D., divided twelve CrossFit trainees into two groups. For three months, five continued on their regular diets, and seven ate keto diets.
When measured at the study’s conclusion, the keto group averaged a whopping 35% rise in their “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Kidney health risk:
Research teams from Johns Hopkins and UNC/Chapel Hill joined the University of Wurzburg’s Dr. Bernhard Haring, M.D., conducting a 2016 prospective cohort study.
In performing a 23-year follow-up on data from nearly 12,000 U.S. adults aged 44 to 66, they found that consuming a diet high in animal protein correlated with a 23-percent higher risk of chronic kidney disease.
Pregnancy health risk:
Another prospective cohort study published in the June 2014 American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition explored the association between low-carb diets and gestational diabetes in expectant mothers.
Data from more than 21,000 pregnancies revealed a 27-percent higher gestation of diabetes risk in women consuming the fewest carbohydrates when those who consumed the most before becoming pregnant.
In women eating a low-carb diet high in animal products, the risk of GD climbed to 36 percent.
Although a ketogenic diet may have reduced seizure frequency in some individuals and produce short-term weight loss in others, we need to measure those benefits against the dangers.
Are they really worth the longer-term risks of steeply rising LDL cholesterol or potentially life-threatening kidney and pregnancy problems?
In the words of the PCRM researchers, “Current evidence suggests that for most individuals, the risks of such diets outweigh the benefits.”
I wholeheartedly agree!