The Keto Diet is popular, but is it good for you?

By Anahad O’Connor

Low-carbohydrate diets have fallen in and out of favor since before the days of Atkins. But now an even stricter version of low-carb eating called the ketogenic diet is gaining popular attention, igniting a fierce scientific debate about its potential risks and benefits.

Both the Atkins and ketogenic diets encourage followers to cut carbs from their diets. But while the Atkins diet gradually increases carbs over time, keto places firm limits on carbs and protein. This way of eating depletes the body of glucose, forcing it to primarily burn fat and produce an alternate source of fuel called ketones. A typical ketogenic diet restricts carbs to less than 10 percent of calories and limits protein to 20 percent, while fat makes up the rest.

The keto diet has been popularized in best-selling books, promoted by celebrities, and touted on social media as an antidote to various ailments. Proponents say it causes substantial weight loss and can help those with Type 2 diabetes dramatically improve their blood sugar levels, which fall when people avoid carbs.

A federal registry of clinical research shows that more than 70 trials looking at the diet’s impact on brain, cardiovascular and metabolic health are either underway or in the beginning stages.

Dr. Ethan Weiss, a researcher and preventive cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, had long been skeptical of low-carb diets but decided to experiment with the ketogenic diet a couple of years ago. On a typical day, he skips breakfast and eats mostly salads, nuts, cheese, roasted vegetables and grilled chicken, fish, or tofu, as well as dark chocolate for dessert. As the result, he says: He lost 20 pounds and had to buy a new wardrobe. “I haven’t felt this good since I was in high school,” he said.

The ketogenic diet has no shortage of detractors. Some doctors and health experts say it can lead to quick weight loss but that it is no more effective than other diets in the long term. And many say they find it worrisome because it encourages foods high in saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease, while restricting nutrient-rich foods supported by decades of research, like beans, fruits, starchy vegetables, and whole grains.

Last month, three doctors published an essay in JAMA Internal Medicine cautioning that the enthusiasm for the diet as a treatment for obesity and diabetes “outpaces” the evidence. They pointed to studies suggesting that it had little advantage over lower fat diets for blood sugar control and that it could cause adverse effects like constipation, fatigue, and, in some people, an increase in LDL cholesterol particles, a risk factor for heart disease.

(Courtesy: NYT)

Image courtesy of (Image Courtesy: Doctor Kiltz)

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