One reason almost any diet works at first is that making any kind of change in your eating habits is going to show you some kind of result. It doesn't matter if it's a high-fat diet, a low-fat diet, the Atkins diet, the Mediterranean diet, the grapefruit diet, the cabbage diet, or the baby food diet, any fad diet that has you cut out processed foods, raise your activity level, and lower the number of calories you take in is going to help you lose weight, at least in the beginning. And one of the most popular diets recently is the ketogenic diet. But is the keto diet safe and is it healthy in the long run?
Here's the thing. A low carb keto diet does cause weight loss, so technically, if that's all you're looking for, it works. But if you're looking for an overall change in your health, a new look at research indicates that long-term, the answer to the question 'is the keto diet safe and healthy' is probably no for most people.
In a nutshell, a ketogenic diet is an ultra-low carbohydrate diet that forces the body into using stored fat for energy instead of blood sugar. If your blood sugar is low enough, your body enters a process called ketosis, where you produce ketone bodies out of stored fat and use those for energy. Because you're using up that stored fat, you naturally lose weight.
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Keto fans cite other health benefits, such as higher energy levels and better brain function, as a reason for their adherence to the diet. But weight loss is the primary reason most followers give and according to Dr. Kim Williams, a past president of the American College of Cardiology, losing weight in the short term shouldn't be more important than your overall health. And studies over the last few years are showing that a keto diet isn't good for your overall, long-term health.
Speaking with Plant Based News, Williams said, "If all you wanted was short-term weight loss, and short-term could be a year or two if that's all you're looking for, great." But the high-fat, meat-heavy diet caused other long-term effects, especially in people with additional risk factors like heart disease.
"There was one (a study) in the Journal of the American Heart Association published a few years later that isolated the people who had a heart attack in the past, the cardiology population that we're seeing, and they were doing a ketogenic diet. It was a 53 percent increase in mortality. No one should be doing this," Williams said.
Another study published in The Lancet that looked at over 15,000 adults with data going back to the 1980s found that diets that tended to either extreme for carbs (high or low) resulted in greater mortality. In other words, people who followed a high carb or a low carb diet had a greater risk of dying than people who stuck to a diet of about 50 percent carbs.
For some people with certain medical conditions, a ketogenic diet is appropriate. According to the Harvard Health Blog, a ketogenic diet does reduce seizures in children. It also has a noticeable short-term effect on people with Type 2 diabetes. In these cases, a ketogenic diet is a form of medical treatment, generally under the supervision of a medical professional. If your doctor tells you specifically to use a keto diet to treat a medical condition you have, then it's not unhealthy.
It also makes a difference how you implement a keto diet. Too many people hear keto and think it's all butter and steak, with a side order of bacon and butter. There is a healthy, balanced way to go keto if you need to, but it's something you should only do once you consult a medical professional and make a workable plan that you can stick to.
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Keto followers like to fall back on new research that says eating full-fat food isn't actually bad for us as studies in the past concluded and that eating food with high levels of cholesterol (like eggs) doesn't necessarily translate to high cholesterol levels in our bodies. While that is true, there is a difference between eating one healthy serving of full-fat cheese, an egg or two, and some yogurt every day along with the occasional hamburger or steak, and eating red meat, cheese, and eggs as part of every meal.
And as far as the weight loss and increased energy levels that come from the keto diet, other diets (also known as eating healthy, balanced meals with low sugar and few processed foods) give people the same results without the restrictions on entire foods.
Balanced is the key phrase for any diet plan. If a diet tells you to cut out an entire food group, it's not healthy.