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is keto diet healthy

Think Twice About a Keto Diet

It’s human nature to look for shortcuts to anything. That’s why lotteries are so popular. But when it comes to losing weight, the “latest and greatest” diets aren’t always the most sensible approach.

Our family practice doctors in Delray Beach have been hearing questions from many of our patients about most recent fad diet known as “keto,” so we’d like to offer some information to those who are interested in following this eating plan for weight loss.


What is a keto diet?

“Keto” is short for “ketosis,” the state this approach to eating produces in adherents. Ketosis is actually a normal metabolic process, the result of the body burning fat as fuel for the energy it needs when it lacks sufficient carbohydrates. As a byproduct of this process, the body produces ketones, which are acids produced in the liver and conveyed to the bloodstream, where they are used as fuel.

Because of fat burned when severely restricting carbs, dieters lose weight quickly, which accounts for the keto diet’s popularity. Initially developed nearly 100 years ago to treat children with epilepsy who were not responding to standard drug treatment, this type of eating gained attention a few years ago as an effective way to lose up to ten pounds a week.

Foods allowed on a keto diet include: meat and seafood, eggs, cheese, nuts, such natural fats as olive oil and butter, and vegetables grown above ground (e.g., no potatoes). Forbidden: any type of fruit, pasta and rice, bread or anything else made with flour, candy, sodas, fruit juice, sauces, many condiments, or beer.


Conflicting studies

Health experts differ on the long-term effects of a ketogenic diet, possibly because few studies on its health implications have lasted beyond a year

CNN reported on a US News and World Report panel of experts which rated the keto diet last on a list of best diets, ranking it poorly on long-term weight loss success, ease of use, and overall impact on health.

“When you are on the keto diet, you drastically cut your carbs to only 20 per day. That’s less than one apple!” nutritionist Lisa Drayer, a CNN contributor, told the network.

“The expert panel was particularly concerned for people with liver or kidney conditions who should avoid it altogether,” CNN said of the panel’s findings, “adding that there was not enough evidence to know whether the diet would help those with heart issues or diabetes.”

One study published in Cell Metabolism warned that low-carbohydrate diets may increase the risk of diabetes, cancer, and early death, while another study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a possible risk of kidney damage, osteoporosis, abnormal heartbeat, and sudden death.

Another study performed 15 years ago, however, looked at the long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients, and was published in the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). It concluded that not only was a long-term ketogenic diet “significantly” useful in reducing obesity, but it also “decreased the level of triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and blood glucose, and increased the level of HDL cholesterol.” (LDL is known as “bad” cholesterol and HDL is called “good” cholesterol.)

More recent studies have produced more disquieting results, including one last year which found that people on the lowest-carb diets showed the highest risk of dying, not only from cancer and cardiovascular disease, but from all other causes. Another study published at about the same time concluded that people who consumed low-carb/high-animal protein diets had an increased risk of early death.


Conflicting opinions

While proponents claim they not only shed pounds and felt great while on the diet, many physicians and nutritionists are wary of the diet’s overall impact on health. In addition, many people experience the so-called “keto flu” after beginning the plan: body aches, headaches, light-headedness, nausea, fatigue and lethargy, constipation, and brain fog. Although these effects normally clear up within a few days or weeks as the body adjusts to the new way of eating, many people find it impossible to continue eating this way.

Our conclusion is that the keto diet is probably safe in the short-term for promoting weight loss in otherwise healthy people. We are concerned, however, about its possible negative effects in those with certain diseases, and for use over the long term due to its nutritionally unbalanced nature. Therefore, if you’re interested in following this diet plan, we recommend you check with us first.

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