Study links keto diet to risk of heart disease and strokes; doctors agree

A Canadian study has linked keto-like high-fat low-carb diets to a higher heart-disease risk, as Indian doctors urge people to stay off them.

ByChetana Belagere

Published Mar 08, 2023 | 9:00 AM Updated Mar 09, 2023 | 11:04 PM

Are Keto like high fat low carb diets safe? Canadian study links it to risk of heart diseases, Indian docs say stay off such diets

A new study shows that keto or keto-like diets — food intake along the lines of a ketogenic diet — can double the risk of heart disease and cardiac events. Indian doctors largely agree with the study and warn people to be careful of following any unscientific diets.

Shalini Arvind, the chief dietician at the Fortis Hospitals in Bengaluru, said, “As a qualified dietitian, I advise you not to be influenced by unscientific claims and to prioritise long-term health over short-term weight loss.”

She added: “Sensible and healthy weight or fat loss can be achieved through conventional or scientific methods.”

Keto diet study findings

The study was presented at the ongoing American College of Cardiology (ACC) annual scientific session, and was conducted along with the World Congress of Cardiology.

It suggested that a “keto-like” diet might be associated with higher levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood and a twofold heightened risk of cardiovascular events, such as chest pain (angina), blocked arteries requiring stenting, heart attacks, and strokes.

The average age of the participants was 54 years, with a near-majority of them female, and they were all regarded as being overweight.

The data was evaluated after controlling for diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, and obesity.

Also read: Does an all-meat diet really help with weight loss?

A statement by physician-scientist Lulia Latan — the lead author of the study from the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Heart Lung Innovation in Vancouver, Canada — stated that the study was the first to examine the association between this type of dietary pattern and cardiovascular outcomes.

“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 and a higher risk of heart diseases,” the study said.

The study found that people on a keto diet had more cardiac events (9.8 percent) compared to people on a regular diet (4.3 percent) over a 12-year period.

Also read: Are weight-losing diets such as keto harmful to the functioning of kidneys?

More details

According to the researchers, carbohydrates are the body’s first “go-to” source of fuel to provide energy for daily life.

However, in a keto diet, there is a hard restriction on the consumption of carbs — like rice, bread, pasta, grains, baked goods, potatoes, fries, and chips — including carb-rich fruits and vegetables.

When this happens, the researchers say that the body is forced to break down fat or energy instead.

“The breakdown of fat in the liver produces ketones — chemicals that the body uses as energy in the absence of carbohydrates, and gets into a state called ‘ketosis’, and starts breaking down fats for energy.”

Also read: Minor change in Indian diet can reverse, manage diabetes: Study

Agreeing with the study, Shalini told South First, “Following a keto diet, which is extremely high in fats, has been observed to increase blood lipid levels and worsen the severity of the fatty liver disease as well.”

She explained: “This, in turn, can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. While fats are an essential part of a healthy diet, consuming them in the right amounts and proportions is important.”

She added that in a keto diet, the goal is to obtain up to 90 percent of one’s energy from fats, which usually consist of high levels of saturated fats.

This can predispose individuals to injuries in their blood vessels and atherosclerosis, and ultimately lead to heart diseases, she said.

Also read: Paleo diet blamed for death of wife of Tamil actor Bharat Kalyan

Meanwhile, Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, former president of the Kochi chapter of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), said that at the IMA conference on obesity in 2019, it was clearly pointed out that the keto diet, when followed strictly, was effective in the short term, but the weight difference after one year was hardly different from conventional diet plans.

“The long-term effects are unknown, and people are discouraged from going on such diets without the supervision of a dietician,” it was noted then.

Jayadevan told South First that this study in fact filled a knowledge gap.

He said it made evident the harm that the long-term complications of the keto diet could do to one’s health.

“It is a good lesson for youngsters to not chase food and health fads that change every few months or years,” he said.

Also read: Is intermittent fasting good for weight loss?