When searching for a diet that will help you shed a few pounds quickly or get you feeling energized again after months stuck at home, you’re likely to come across the same few kinds over and over. The most popular diets tend to be consistent in the mainstream, and it’s likely you’ve heard this name over and over in recent years: keto. The ketogenic diet—keto for short—became one of the most popular diets a few years ago. And thanks to its success rate in terms of speedy weight loss, it’s stayed at the top of the popular diet list ever since. But now, a new meta-analysis of a handful of studies, the most comprehensive yet, found that the keto diet can be detrimental to your body, from your brain to your heart. In fact, the lead author called it “a disease-promoting disaster.” Read on to learn what the researchers discovered.
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The benefits of the keto diet don’t outweigh the risks, the new study found.
On Aug. 3, the most comprehensive analysis to date of research on the keto diet was released and exposed many problems the popular diet poses. According to a statement from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the analysis of research, published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, showed that “for most people, the possible long-term risks of the keto diet, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease, outweigh its possible benefits.” Lead review author Lee Crosby, RD, even described the typical keto diet as “a disease-promoting disaster.”
The statement explained that a keto diet is generally “very low in carbohydrate, modest in protein, and high in fat,” a mix of food aimed to induce ketosis, which is when your body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates to burn so it burns fat to make fuel, explains Healthline. This process can sometimes help people shed weight quickly, which accounts for the diet’s popularity. However, Crosby said that “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.”
She also notes that the weight loss keto leads to is not exclusive to the harmful diet, meaning there are other, safer options. “While keto can reduce body weight short term, this approach is not more effective than other weight-loss diets,” said Crosby, who pointed out that keto “can increase LDL cholesterol [‘bad’ cholesterol] levels and may increase overall chronic disease risk.”
The keto diet can increase your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
There are a handful of risks that come with the keto diet, one of them being the restriction of carbohydrates. According to the study, restricting carbohydrates ends up skewing your diet toward cancer-causing foods, such as processed or red meat. The foods often eaten while on a keto diet “have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s—often the very diseases they are touted to help,” according to the researchers.
A 2020 study found that a higher intake of processed meat, red meat, and poultry was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Two studies from 2016 and 2009 study also linked high consumption of these meats to increased risk of Alzheimer’s and type 2 diabetes, respectively.
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People with kidney disease should definitely avoid the keto diet.
Diets that are high in protein, such as the keto diet, can hasten kidney failure in people who have pre-existing kidney disease, according to a 2020 study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. However, those who don’t have kidney disease can also suffer kidney-related consequences from adhering to the keto diet. “For those without chronic kidney disease, one of the biggest potential risks of the ketogenic diet is the development of kidney stones,” the 2021 study authors warned.
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Pregnant people should also never try the keto diet.
The keto diet especially puts pregnant people at risk of adverse health effects, according to the researchers. A 2018 study published in the journal Birth Defects Research found that low-carb diets, like the keto diet, are linked to a higher risk of neural tube defects due to the pregnant person consuming fewer fortified foods, thereby not taking in enough folic acid. The study found that even if the pregnant person takes folic acid supplements, low-carb diets can still cause neural tube defects.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that these defects occur when the neural tube, which forms the early brain and spine, doesn’t close properly. The most common neural tube defects include spina bifida, a spinal cord defect, and anencephaly, a brain defect. The CDC says, “These types of birth defects develop very early during pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant,” which means even people trying to get pregnant should avoid the keto diet.
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