Most of us know that healthier, more balanced living is the safest way to lose weight… but sometimes, you might find yourself in need of super-strict guidelines to get on track. If that’s been the case, listen up: A large new study is sounding a serious alarm about a diet that’s been all the rage in recent years. It’s now associated with seven long-term, life-threatening illnesses—a few of which you might have believed it was actually helping you prevent.
Lee Crosby, RD, is the nutrition education program manager at Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and lead author of a new review published in Frontiers of Nutrition, which examined the ketogenic diet (commonly known as the “keto” diet).
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The keto diet severely limits carbohydrate intake while encouraging the consumption of high-quality fats and moderate proteins. Some models of the ketogenic diet also restrict the hours in which an individual can eat in order to promote the body’s state of “ketosis”—which the authors define as “the production of ketone bodies that serve as an alternate energy source for neurons and other cell types that cannot directly metabolize fatty acids.”
Along with a team of colleagues from institutions such as New York University and the University of Pennsylvania, Crosby performed what’s being called “the most comprehensive review yet” of multiple studies which all examined the general health effects of the keto diet, aside from weight loss.
Here’s what this latest study found.
While some proponents of keto have claimed that the diet may slash the risk of diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease, Crosby and her team found that keto’s only “well-supported” application is as part of a comprehensive treatment for epilepsy.
Conversely, their review concluded that the keto diet increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Further, they found keto “raises bad cholesterol for many patients,” can hasten kidney failure in individuals with kidney disease, and may be linked with a higher risk of neural tube defects in newborns due to the mother’s low-carbohydrate diet.
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“The typical keto diet is a disease-promoting disaster,” Crosby concludes. “Loading up on red meat, processed meat, and saturated fat . . . is a recipe for bad health.”
She added that the keto diet “may increase overall chronic disease risk” and “is not more effective than other weight-loss diets.”
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The researchers suggest that a healthier approach to weight loss is to be mindful of calorie consumption, and incorporate what they call “protective foods,” which they list as vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. (Read One Major Effect of Eating Whole Grains, New Study Says.)