National Keto Day is celebrated on Jan. 5.
The Vitamin Shoppe founded the national day in 2019 as a way to raise awareness about the low-carb, high-fat diet, which has been credited for weight loss and epileptic seizure reduction. While many dieters have found success with ketogenic meal plans, researchers aren’t certain about keto’s impact long-term.
A study from National Jewish Health – a cardiac, respiratory and immune hospital – found that keto diets might help people shed pounds and promote “modest” improvements to heart health, but researchers warned that this high-fat dieting method could encourage “consumption of foods that are known to increase cardiovascular risk.” The study also claimed that keto diets might be ineffective in preventing heart disease because dieters left to their own devices tend to eat unhealthy saturated fats.
This becomes a problem when dieters adhere to the keto diet’s nutritional breakdown: 75% of healthy fats, 20% of protein and 5% of carbohydrates, but instead eat foods that are high in saturated fat like cured meats, cheese and cream. When the diet is done right, the body goes into ketosis – the metabolic process of burning stored fat for energy in place of carbs (AKA glucose or blood sugar).
An example of keto-like diets performing well was observed in a small-scale study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which found that obese participants between the ages of 18 and 65 lost weight and saw improvements in cardiovascular health when eating a low-carb diet that’s high in unsaturated fats.
“There does not seem to be a definitive answer when it comes to research regarding keto and cardiovascular health and the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle,” said Nashville-based registered dietician Arka Hoscheit, who founded Food Courage – a healthy recipe website.
“Some studies have been able to show that low to medium levels of circulating ketone bodies as seen in nutritional ketosis can be beneficial to the functioning of the endothelial cells in our vascular system. Protecting our vascular system benefits heart health,” Hoscheit told Fox News Digital. “Also, since obesity is a risk factor for heart disease, it makes sense that a ketogenic diet may indirectly benefit heart health simply by way of weight loss and weight management.”
Hoscheit noted that a keto diet study from the World Journal of Diabetes observed positive changes in biomarkers like glucose, total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein AKA “bad cholesterol”).
“Other studies, on the other hand, have shown increased LDL levels in those following a keto diet, so heart health remains a concern,” Hoscheit said while citing a study from the Cureus Journal of Medical Science. “Some theorize that the increased LDL levels are at least in part explained by rapid weight loss causing cholesterol to be mobilized as fat cells shrink.”
Cardiologists have called for further research on the effects of keto diets on heart health after a large-scale study from the American College of Cardiology found that participants who were on a low-carb, high-fat diet were 18% more likely to develop Atrial fibrillation (AKA AFib) – a heart rhythm disorder –compared to participants who ate a “moderate” amount of carbs. It’s not immediately clear if keto-like diets were the cause or if a lack of water or salt contributed to the results among a plethora of other factors.
“There is a wide range of ways to approach a ketogenic diet and some are healthier than others,” Hoscheit told Fox. “There’s a reason we often hear references to a ‘clean’ keto diet or a ‘dirty’ keto diet. While a ketogenic diet is generally very high in fat, some people eat more fat than others and the types of fat and quality of food consumed vary widely from person to person.”
She continued, “A ‘clean’ keto diet would consist of high-quality grass-fed/pasture-raised meats, healthy fats, and vegetables, etc. On the other hand, a ‘dirty’ diet would be high in processed meats, low-quality dairy foods, processed oils, artificial sweeteners, processed convenience foods, etc. These details matter when it comes to our health. There is no one keto diet, so it’s difficult to pinpoint exact health benefits or detriments. While being in ketosis has been shown to be very beneficial in various instances, how we get into ketosis (i.e. quality of food) still affects our health as well.”
To figure out if a keto diet is right for you, it’s best to consult your doctor before you make any nutrition modifications. This is especially important if you have a preexisting health condition.