Your Health Checkup: Is the Keto Diet Right for You?

The popular keto diet may have some drawbacks. Learn what the best diet and habits are for long-term health.

Vegetables, cheeses and beans on a table

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“Your Health Checkup” is our online column by Dr. Douglas Zipes, an internationally acclaimed cardiologist, professor, author, inventor, and authority on pacing and electrophysiology. Dr. Zipes is also a contributor to The Saturday Evening Post print magazine. Subscribe to receive thoughtful articles, new fiction, health and wellness advice, and gems from our archive. 

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In my last column I wrote about the benefits of intermittent fasting that shifted the body’s metabolism to burn ketones instead of glucose. Repeated fasting resulted — in addition to weight loss — in lasting adaptive responses that helped fight diabetes, insulin resistance, memory loss, and even cancer. The natural question then becomes whether eating a diet rich in ketones provides similar benefits.

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that forces the body to burn fats rather than carbs. Originally used to help treat refractory epilepsy in children, the ketogenic diet has been advocated for weight loss by replacing pasta, bread, and sugar with meat, chicken, fish, shellfish, eggs, cheese, and nuts. However, except for weight loss from caloric restriction and perhaps some benefit in patients with diabetes, no consistent scientific evidence exists that this diet provides any other benefits. In fact, the ketogenic diet may raise low density lipoprotein (bad) cholesterol levels, an unwanted outcome.

More important than quantity may be the quality of the carbohydrates or fats ingested. In a dietary analysis of more than 37,000 people, investigators found that unhealthy low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets were associated with higher total mortality, whereas healthy low-carbohydrate and low-fat diet scores were associated with lower total mortality.

For example, with every 20-percentile increase in a person’s unhealthy low-carbohydrate or low-fat diet score, the total mortality increased by 6–7 percent. For each 20-percentile increase in healthy low-carbohydrate or low-fat diet score, total mortality fell by 9–11 percent. Healthy diets linked with better survival were high in plant protein and unsaturated fat, and low in carbohydrates from refined grains, added sugar, and starchy vegetables.

In addition to diet, healthy habits can lead to a life expectancy free of major chronic diseases. Healthy habits include not smoking, weight control (body mass index 18.5-24.9 kg/m2), vigorous physical activity, and moderate alcohol consumption. Women who practiced four or five of these healthy habits at age 50 lived an average of 34.4 more years free of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer, compared to 23.7 healthy years among women who practiced none of these healthy habits. Men practicing four or five healthy habits at age 50 lived 31.1 years free of chronic disease, compared to 23.5 years among men who practiced none.

Other Healthy Habits

In addition to these five, I would add a few more such as:

1) obtaining important vaccinations for flu, measles and other diseases

2) avoiding vaping

3) avoiding so-called de-toxifying juices since they have no proven benefits and actually lose fiber during processing, which are the healthiest part of the fruit or vegetable

4) drinking healthy tap water rather than waters supplemented with a variety of ingredients alleging health benefits since no evidence exists they improve health, they are costly (tap water costs about 50 cents/year; bottled water about $1400/year), the plastic pollutes the environment, and some ends up in our bodies.

I could extend the list even more, but I’m sure you get the message. You can have a major impact on your own health — without expensive medical attention — by considering the information discussed above and taking action.

Be your own doctor and take control over your own health.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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