By John Salak-
The keto diet may be wildly popular but it certainly has its detractors, who claim this quick-fix weight loss program brings all sorts of dangerous baggage with it. Warnings abound that the diet is unsustainable, resulting in short-term weight loss where the unwanted pounds return with a vengeance as soon as someone stops the diet. Nutritionists and medical professionals add that the diet can result in flu-like symptoms, diarrhea, lower athletic performance, reduced muscle mass and even increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Not surprisingly, these risks are enhanced if this high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet isn’t properly monitored and regulated. That’s the bad and potentially dangerous news. The good news for keto proponents is that if properly administered, the diet may yield very focused benefits that go beyond simply shedding weight.
Yale University, for example, recently reported that keto diet benefits include helping fight diabetes and inflammation in people over limited periods of time. The university’s findings were based on preliminary studies done on mice via a simulated keto diet. Such a meal program essentially triggers the body into burning fat because of reduced glucose levels. This short-term gain, however, may be offset by possibly long-term drawbacks that occur when the body consumes more fat than it burns.
Ultimately, more studies are required, but with more than 80 million Americans at risk from diabetes, a regulated keto diet approach may offer some relief to the problem.
Yet Yale Professor Vishwa Deep Dixit stressed that “Before such a diet can be prescribed, a large clinical trial in controlled conditions is necessary to understand the mechanism behind metabolic and immunological benefits or any potential harm to individuals who are overweight and pre-diabetic.”
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute also reported that a keto diet may help fight the flu, at least according to its initial research. The institute’s study also fed mice a keto-focused diet and discovered that it activated a subset of T cells in their lungs that enhanced mucus production
away from the airway cells, effectively cutting off the virus.
“This was a totally unexpected finding,” reported Akiko Iwasaki, a senior co-author of the report. The research went on to show that mice already infected with flu that were fed a keto diet had a much higher survival rate than those fed a traditional high-carbohydrate diet.
Late last year, Sarah Hallberg, medical director and founder of Medically Supervised Weight Loss Indiana, also chimed in on the debate by telling the World Congress of Insulin Resistance, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease that a supervised keto diet could significantly help with diabetes and cardiometabolic improvements.
Hallberg noted that carbohydrate-restrictive diets have been around for more than a century and was a common treatment for diabetes before insulin came into being. “Nutritional ketosis supports diabetes reversal by reducing insulin resistance while providing alternative fuel to glucose with favoring signaling properties,” she explained.
Nonetheless, Hallberg was quick to note that the contemporary versions of this high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet are often misconstrued, misrepresented and poorly monitored.
“One of the things we often hear is that this is a no-carb diet, and that is not true,” she told the congress as reported in Healio.com. “[Those who follow a ketogenic plan] eat a lot of leafy greens and a lot of nonstarchy vegetables each day. We insist on five servings of them. When we’re talking about under 50 g total carbohydrate intake a day, you can get a lot of vegetables in for that less than 50 g. What are you not eating? I tell my patients no GPS: No grains, no potatoes and no sugar.”
The goal of this approach is to have patients reach a “nutritional ketosis” that has them generating ketones to burn stored fat. In turn, keto dieting without supervision could be dangerous, especially for people with type 2 diabetes, she added.
The war over the worth of keto diets isn’t likely to end any time soon given its weight-loss promises and promotions. Yet going slow for those at risk is probably the wisest approach.