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Is the keto diet good for your heart?

Keto-friendly foods.
Blog

/ by Shorus Minella, RD, LD

Shorus Minella, a dietitian at the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute, answers some common questions about the keto diet.

What is the keto diet?

The ketogenic — or keto —diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet that is used to help with weight loss. It was originally created to help control epilepsy in children under medical supervision. The reduction in carbohydrates can put your body into a metabolic state called ketosis.

What is ketosis?

Your body is in a state of ketosis when it starts burning fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. 

What is a carbohydrate?

Carbohydrates are fiber, starches and sugars. There are two types of carbohydrates: complex and simple. 

Complex carbohydrates are made up of longer chains of fiber, starches and sugars, take longer to digest, and don’t spike your blood sugar. Simple carbohydrates are shorter chains of sugar that are easy and quick to digest and will mostly likely cause blood sugar spikes.

What foods are high in carbs?

Complex carbohydrates include foods such as beans, peas, legumes, whole grains and vegetables. They also provide important vitamins and minerals. 

Simple carbohydrates include some fruit, milk and milk products, but most Americans get the majority of the simple sugar in their diets from foods and drinks with added sugars like soft drinks, candy and desserts. 

Is it safe? 

Trying the keto diet short term could result in some weight loss, but it is not a sustainable and permanent lifestyle change. If you are diabetic, inform your doctor so they can advise and monitor you while on a keto diet.

Should I try it? 

Don’t feel like you have to try any new trendy diet, including the keto diet. The good news is that there are a lot of ways to lose weight that are less restrictive than the keto diet. Simply practicing portion control and moderation is a great start to cutting calories and losing weight. 

Does cutting carbs increase my risk of heart disease? 

Unfortunately, the keto diet is often very high in saturated fat because of the large amounts of meat and animal products in the diet. 

Large amounts of fat just aren’t good for weight maintenance, weight loss or heart health. Our bodies’ main source of energy is carbohydrates. Our bodies prefer to run on carbohydrates, so if we have too few carbohydrates over a long period of time, our energy levels and cognitive function could suffer. 

Does a high carb diet increase my risk of heart disease?  

It really depends on what kind of carbohydrates you are increasing. Increasing simple carbohydrates increases sugar and when our body consumes sugar it cannot burn the sugar is stored as fat, which raises blood triglycerides and is not good for heart health. Increasing your complex carbohydrates will be beneficial because you will increase fiber. Fiber helps with lowering LDL cholesterol and increases the feeling of fullness after meals. If you are full, you tend to eat less —which reduces the number of calories consumed and can help with weight loss. 

I think it is good to be mindful of appropriate portions. Consuming too many calories, no matter what the food is, could lead to weight gain.

Are there any good reasons to cut carbs?  

Cutting back on those simple carbs is very beneficial. Foods that contain simple carbs tend to be empty calories that don’t contain much nutrition. If our bodies get an abundance of simple carbohydrates and we can’t burn off those calories, they end up being stored as fat —which leads to weight gain. That’s why soft drinks really contribute to weight gain. 

Are there other risks to cutting carbs?

Carbohydrates are the preferred source of fuel for our bodies and complex carbohydrates are the best source. If we cut our calories too much it could lead to fatigue, nausea and dizziness.  

How can I safely cut carbs if I want to practice this kind of diet?

It is best to let your doctor know you’re considering a keto diet. They can refer you to a dietitian who will give you specific guidance on how to do it appropriately. It’s always best to start slow. Decrease your carbohydrates a little at a time and check in with yourself for any physical side effects.  

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