Keto and Heart Health: Separating Facts from Fiction – The keto diet, also known as the ketogenic diet, has gained significant attention in the health world. However, recent research suggests that this diet may have serious side effects, particularly on heart health. A study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session Together With the World Congress of Cardiology revealed a link between a keto-like diet and negative cardiovascular outcomes.
The study analyzed data from the UK Biobank and focused on 305 participants who reported following a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) diet, which met the study’s definition of a keto-like diet. These participants were compared with 1,220 individuals who followed a standard diet.
The scientists identified an LCHF diet as an eating plan where carbohydrates contribute to less than 25% of calorie intake, while fat comprises over 45% of total daily calories. They labeled it as a keto-like diet due to its slightly higher carbohydrate content and relatively lower fat content in comparison to a strict ketogenic diet. A standard diet, on the other hand, was characterized by individuals not meeting these criteria and having a more balanced eating pattern.
The findings indicated that participants on the LCHF diet had significantly elevated levels of LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol compared to those on a standard diet. After accounting for other risk factors like diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking, the researchers discovered that individuals on the LCHF diet faced over twice the risk of experiencing major cardiovascular events such as blocked arteries, chest pain, heart attacks, and strokes. In total, about 9.8% following the LCHF diet encountered a fresh cardiac event, while only 4.3% on a standard diet faced the same, highlighting a twofold risk for individuals on the LCHF diet.
Understanding the keto diet and its impact on heart health
Understanding the keto diet and its impact on heart health is crucial. Ketogenic diets are renowned for their distinctive composition, featuring a substantial amount of healthy fats and minimal carbohydrates. This extreme carbohydrate restriction forces the body to break down fat for energy. Dr. Yu-Ming Ni, a cardiologist from the MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center, explains that keto diets have been primarily studied for their weight loss potential due to their ability to burn fat. However, there is controversy surrounding the cardiovascular outcomes of high-fat, low-carb diets compared to plant-based, high-carb, low-fat diets. The recent study further contributes to the data suggesting the unfavorable effects of high-fat, low-carb diets on heart health.
But how exactly does the keto and heart health is connecting? Dr. Ni highlights that keto diets generally promote inflammation due to their high fat content. Inflammation is a critical factor in regulating cardiovascular health and disease. Furthermore, the pro-inflammatory nature of foods like red meat and processed meat is well-established. Additionally, keto diets tend to raise cholesterol levels. While high cholesterol is a leading contributor to heart attacks and strokes, the consumption of cholesterol-rich foods, combined with the effects of a high-fat, low-carb diet, can further exacerbate this risk, especially over a prolonged period.
Generally, heart attacks and strokes are influenced by three factors: cholesterol, inflammation, and TMAO. Dr. Kim Williams, a renowned expert on cardiovascular disease prevention and nutrition, explains that managing these factors is crucial for preventing plaque buildup. However, the keto diet elevates all three of these factors, contradicting the assumption that weight loss would automatically reduce the risk of heart disease.
Keto Benefit of Heart Health
While the keto diet may offer short-term weight loss benefits for some individuals, recent findings underscore the potential dangers associated with long-term adherence to this diet. It poses serious risks to heart health by increasing cholesterol levels and promoting inflammation. For long-term health, Dr. Ni advises against the keto diet, emphasizing that it places excessive stress on the body and leads to high fat and cholesterol intake. Instead, he advocates for plant-based diets with higher carbohydrate content, such as the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet, for daily maintenance. However, it’s important to note that the keto diet can be effective for short-term weight loss (3 to 6 months), if that is the desired goal. It’s worth mentioning that not all types of keto diets carry the same risks to heart health. As an example, adopting a vegan or plant-based ketogenic diet could potentially reduce the chances of experiencing heart attacks and strokes. Dr. Williams clarifies that it’s not the keto diet itself that poses a threat, but rather the inclusion of animal products in a keto diet.
If you are considering the ketogenic diet, it is essential to consult with your doctor beforehand, as it may potentially harm your heart health rather than benefit it.