Is the Ketogenic Diet Dangerous?
In August, Lancet Public Health published a research article which concluded:
"Our findings suggest a negative long-term association
between life expectancy and both low carbohydrate and
high carbohydrate diets when food sources are not taken
into account. These data also provide further evidence
that animal-based low carbohydrate diets should be
discouraged. Alternatively, when restricting carbohydrate
intake, replacement of carbohydrates with predominantly
plant-based fats and proteins could be considered as a
long-term approach to promote healthy ageing."
Since the release of this research study, I have seen dozens of headlines such as the following:
Cutting carbs could lead to premature death, if you replace them with the wrong things (Washington Post)
Low Carb Diets Have Been Linked to an Early Death
Keto lovers, beware.
So is this true? Do low-carbohydrate diets lead to premature death?
The answer is yes and no or in other words, it depends. Allow me to explain.
To begin, my opinion is that there are two main parts which should always be taken into account when evaluating a diet: qualitative and quantitative.
The qualitative part measures the quality of your food. Is your food selection boosting your vitality or is it robbing you of it? What is the nutritional value of the food you are eating? Is your food rich in nutrients (enzymes, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, etc.) or is it stripped of these essentials? Is your food raised naturally or is it genetically modified? Is your food organic or is it full of toxic chemicals (pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides etc.)? Are your food storage, preparation and cooking practices enhancing the quality of your food or diminishing it? These are just a few aspects of food quality.
The quantitative part measures your total caloric intake and your macronutrient (carbohydrates, protein and fats) intake ratio. How many total calories are you consuming each day? How many calories are coming from each macronutrient? What macronutrient ratio works best for you? When are you eating? How often are you eating? How much are you eating at each meal? These are just a few of the factors of food quantity.
A successful or healthy diet focuses on food quality and quantity and ensures both are properly integrated and practiced.
With the low-carb or ketogenic diet (and the Lancit study), the focus is generally on food quantity. Food quality is often ignored and this is the problem with most studies. You can take two foods which are exactly the same in appearance (i.e. two carrots) and the nutritional value can be significantly different. This has been shown repeatedly when measuring the nutritional values of organically-grown foods versus conventionally-grown foods. The organic foods are often 7-10 times more nutrient rich than their conventional counterparts (see some differences with the chart below). Another huge factor is food toxicity. Conventionally-raised foods are often full of toxic chemicals which are poisonous to our health. Ingesting these small amounts of toxins on a daily basis will have a negative effect on our short-term and long-term vitality.
Similar to vegetables, animals can be raised with or without food quality in mind. If animals are raised with profit-driven initiatives and practices, food quality usually decreases drastically. Therefore, eating a lot of meat which comes from unhealthy (no exercise, poor diet, growth-hormone injections, etc.), nutritionally-deficient animals will not be good for you in the long term. You should not need a study to tell you that eating unhealthy, sickly animals will be bad for you on a long-term basis. Remember the saying, "you are what you eat!"
The study makes another claim that plant-based carbohydrates and proteins would be a healthy alternative to animal-based ones. Is this really a good alternative? The ketogenic diet's macronutrient ratio is about 70-80% fat, 15-25% protein and 0-5% carbohydrate. Okay, based on the ketogenic diet macronutrient ratio, here is a plant-based ketogenic diet:
-Margarine (70-80% of caloric intake)
-Pea Protein Shake (15-25% of caloric intake)
-Coke Zero (0-5% of caloric intake)
Would you eat the above diet? Are these quality food products? Do you think this diet will be good for you in the long term?
I hope you answered "NO" to all of the above questions as this is the perfect example of ignoring food quality (the foods listed are all low-quality food products). In the same way, I can develop several more plant-based (and/or animal-based) ketogenic diets which are either healthy or unhealthy by changing the quality of the food.
When correctly implemented (quality and quantity), a ketogenic diet can have many tremendous benefits. I have been using a well-formulated ketogenic diet for the past 5 years. Below are my before and after pictures with following this diet. As you will see, I look (and feel) like a completely different person.
There are some pitfalls however to look out for with the ketogenic diet. In the beginning, I had to fine-tune the diet several times. Not all foods, even if they are keto-friendly, are going to agree with you. There is a degree of food awareness which is needed when following this diet (or any other diet for that matter). In closing, there are many diets which can be beneficial to your health ("many roads lead to Rome"). Finding which one works best for you is part of your journey. Whichever diet you choose however, please keep in mind both food quality and quantity.
Your Holistic Health Coach,