Keto and Your Heart: Stop Lying to Yourself

November 7, 2017

This post is a tough one to write, as many people that I love and admire are doing this ketogenic diet as a means of weight loss. On the Keto diet, one consumes vast amounts of fat and little to no carbohydrates.  This low-carb high-fat combo causes the liver to produce ketones for energy instead of the glucose our bodies typically get from carbs.  This mimics what happens in the body when food intake is low (starvation) and causes the body to burn stored fat as fuel.  It produces weight loss, but at a steep price... one often not discussed in the online forums or success stories.


Yes, a ketogenic diet will result in weight loss, but what will it do to the rest of your body?


It is not a secret that high-fat diets cause a hardening of the arteries which leads to heart attack, heart disease and stroke.  While there are ways to get healthy fats from sources such as avocado, extra virgin olive oil and natural nut butters, many ketogenic recipes call for ingredients such as beef, bacon, butter, cheese and cream which, while high in fat, are known causes of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries.)  When on the hunt for an easy way to lose weight, we often don't stop and consider the consequences of our diet on our long-term health, but when considering keto, it is important to remember that even thin people can die of heart disease.


Another important thing to consider about a keto diet is that it changes your metabolic state, which means that any little slip-up (like treating yourself to a piece of wedding cake after fitting into your goal dress) will lead to a total un-doing of your hard work. On a low carb diet, any cheating will lead to a huge spike in blood sugar and immediate weight gain, bloating, acne, nausea and sickness.  While I'm not one to condone unhealthy eating, I'm realistic and I know it's important to enjoy a treat every once in a while.  A diet that is so unforgiving is not one I would generally prescribe.


Keto forbids the intake of sugar, and thus, denies it's subscribers of fruit as well.  While I understand a limited intake of processed sugar, I cannot fathom how one could consider an apple and a candy bar one in the same.  Fruit is full of fiber, vitamins and minerals that our bodies need, and with so few calories, it's the perfect snack to feel full without overeating.  Any diet that says no to fruit but yes to bacon is not one that takes long term health into account.


Finally, for my girls who like to exercise: you're going to be very disappointed in your performance on a ketogenic diet for the first few weeks (the average is 12 weeks, but there are reports that full adaptation can take up to one year.)  Like it or not, our bodies need glycogen from carbohydrates to perform, so until you're into complete ketosis, you're not going to be able to work out like before. You'll notice that your runs are shorter and slower, your bursts of high intensity work are much more exhausting, your recovery time has increased and your muscle gain has decreased significantly.  While this is only a result of the beginning stages of keto, those of us who rely on our athleticism for work, emotional wellbeing or sport will definitely not have an easy first few weeks. In addition, foods that are high in fat are very inflammatory, so even once an athlete has achieved ketosis and has regained full performance levels, their recovery time will have doubled.  Also, it's important to note that fat does not digest as easily as carbohydrates, so planning pre-workout meals can be significantly more difficult (have you ever tried to do burpees after a plate of bacon and eggs? Ouch!)


All three macronutrients (carbs, protein and fat) play necessary roles in our metabolic functioning, so depriving your body of one will surely have consequences.


I know that it is hard to lose weight and that it's helpful to have specific, rigid rules to follow.  I know that it feels good to see the scale drop so drastically within a short period of time.  I know that bacon is delicious and that it's nice to eat a cheeseburger and still fit into your skinny jeans.  I'm not denying that you are losing weight on the ketogenic diet and loving every second of it.  I'm just asking that you stop to consider your long-term health, the health of your heart, the social and emotional impacts of being on a diet in which cheating once reverses all of your progress, and why you're subscribing to something that tells you bacon is healthy but fruit is not.


What you choose to do with your body is entirely up to you, but my suggestion will always be to eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains and to think in terms of health, not weight. 


It's not beneficial in the long run to adapt a diet that will only work for as long as you are 100% committed. Everyone needs a cheat every once in a while, and briefly enjoying a piece of cake or some pizza with friends should not result in a complete reversal of success.


Keto is a diet that requires long-term adherence for long-term success, and long-term high-fat consumption undeniably leads to heart attack, stroke and heart disease. Think before you diet.


 My husband Simon lost 45 pounds in 3 months by following the Fit By Gab R.D.'s diet plan.  With plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, he was even able to complete his first half marathon.

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