This popular diet may actually cause more harm than good

Foods consumed during the keto diet.
Foods consumed during the keto diet. Photo credit Getty Images
By , Audacy

A new study has found that the low-carb ketogenic (keto) diet could cause a spike in “bad” cholesterol and raise the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular events. In layman’s terms, don’t throw out your bread.

The study was presented on Sunday at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session Together With the World Congress of Cardiology. It noted that those who had “keto-like” diets had a higher risk of seeing their cholesterol spike.

The lead author of the study Iulia Iatan, an attending physician-scientist at the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Heart Lung Innovation in Vancouver, Canada, shared in a press release that substituting carbohydrates in your diet for fat could carry serious health effects.

“Our study found that regular consumption of a self-reported diet low in carbohydrates and high in fat was associated with increased levels of LDL cholesterol — or ‘bad’ cholesterol — and a higher risk of heart disease,” Iatan said.

She said they believe their study is the “first to examine the association between this type of dietary pattern and cardiovascular outcomes.”

The study does specify that it examined keto-like diets or those that saw participants eating a diet consisting of low carb and high fat. People tend to use the keto diet as a way to lose weight and ration their meals into 75%-80% healthy fats, 10%-20% protein, and 5%-10% carbs, according to Nutrition News.

For the study, researchers looked at those who ate low-carb and high-fat diets, where they ate 25% or fewer carbs and more than 45% fat in their daily diets, and those who ate standard diets, in line with the CDC and other health organization’s suggested dietary intakes.

The CDC’s suggested dietary intake for adults 20 and over is 45%-48% carbs, 15%-16% protein, and 35%-36% fats.

The data was pulled from the U.K. Biobank database, which has more than 500,000 U.K. residents who have been contributing their health information for at least a decade.

Inevitably, 1,525 people’s results were used in the study. Among those, 305 ate low-carb, high-fat diets, and 1,220 ate a standard diet. To eliminate any outlying factors, the average age was 54-years-old, they were all the same gender, and had similar body mass indexes.

The results

Those on the low-carb diet were found to have higher levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL), but also a protein that attaches to LDL and can help measure the risk of heart disease, apolipoprotein B.

The study found that a total of 9.8% of participants on the low-carb, high-fat diet experienced a new cardiac event during the course of the study, while only 4.3% of those on a standard diet did.

“After an average of 11.8 years of follow-up — and after adjustment for other risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and smoking — people on an LCHF diet had a more than two times higher risk of having several major cardiovascular events, such as blockages in the arteries that needed to be opened with stenting procedures, heart attack, stroke and peripheral arterial disease,” the press release noted.

There are numerous opinions on the keto diet, as many dieticians say that not all fats are the same, and some diet-goers don’t know the right ones to eat. Others suggest that keto should be used on a short-term basis instead of as a long-term diet.

But while researchers believe they found a correlation between cutting carbs and boosting fats and the risk of cardiovascular events, they did note the limitations their study faced.

Among these limitations included the self-reporting of food intake via questionnaire at only one point in time, which could impact the study’s accuracy. They also noted that the study’s findings show an association, not causation. Because of this, Iatan says more research is needed before they can say whether keto-like diets are bad for your heart health.

Still, if anyone is considering going on a low-carb, high-fat diet, Iatan says to consult your doctor before doing so, as not all diets are one-size-fits-all.

“While on the diet, it is recommended [patients] have their cholesterol levels monitored and … try to address other risk factors for heart disease or stroke, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, and smoking,” Iatan said.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Images