A keto diet cuts off sugar as the major energy source of our cellular machinery and diverts it to fat metabolism, for which the byproducts are ketones.
We see keto being discussed at coffee shops, in book stores, on TV, and in social media. It’s like air — it’s everywhere! It’s a craze, has street credibility, and notable successes — a fad diet.
The key to the keto diet is to drastically eliminate sugars and carbohydrates, which are metabolized to sugars.
While on the keto diet, it’s easy to be pulled out of ketosis and back into sugar metabolism. This diet must be adhered to with rigor.
Few can sustain ketosis. The degree of ketosis can be monitored in the privacy of your own home with urine dipsticks. The ketones easily spill out of your blood and into the urine.
Beyond the hype, why do a keto diet?
With the promise of weight loss, natural treatment for a disease instead of drugs, brain fog, and fear of losing the health battle, people get desperate and are willing to try just about anything. These are just a few of the reasons.
Keto is an effective treatment for childhood epilepsy and is now fundamental for the treatment of childhood epilepsy by medical professionals. So, maybe it’s also good for the brain?
The keto diet may help with weight loss and decrease insulin levels, which are both good for the heart. But it may increase body inflammation, which is not good for the heart, our health, and overall life span.
Expert opinion about the keto diet falls into two camps — for and against.
For cancer, the thought is that most cancer cells preferentially consume sugars (carbohydrates are metabolized to sugars). As you starve the cancer cells with a keto diet, your immune cells will prevail and naturally kill cancer cells.
To survive, we don’t require carbohydrate metabolism. We can live off of fats, proteins, and scant carbohydrates.
There are four essential macronutrients: water, fats, protein, and carbohydrates. Science tells us we do not need sugar metabolism to survive; we can survive on fat and protein metabolism. Some of us “apparently” thrive on a keto diet.
There are several varieties of keto diets.
The high-protein version is not recommended. Intermittent fasting and calorie restriction have similarities to keto and induce fat metabolism, perhaps via “sirtuins” (an emerging science).
Also, it’s not recommended in pregnancy or with insulin-requiring diabetes. It’s important to monitor the degree of ketosis on this intervention, stay well hydrated.
Do we jump onto the keto bandwagon?
I’ve witnessed weight loss and other short-term benefits of some who have succeeded with keto. It’s a Wild West of choices, the divided opinion on keto diets does not promote clarity.
Your unique biology could be a testing ground for experimentation. You’re the experiment of one; be objective, and be guided by knowledgeable individuals.
As a cardiologist, I’m not for or against the keto diet, as I see many who have benefited from the intervention. Rather, my approach is to adopt reasonably sustainable lifestyle habits and balanced nutrition. I’m for an organic rainbow-colored, plant-based diet with lots of fiber.
For most, but not all, health challenges often require other dietary interventions.
Organic has less environmental poisons. These chemicals clog our cellular gears that promote health. The rainbow of plant colors provide the macro and micronutrients promoting health and whole nutrition.
Fiber helps eliminate waste products and toxins. And these natural and man-made toxins disturb healthy metabolism. Because you’re not only what you eat — you are what you don’t eliminate.
If there’s a health challenge you’re struggling with, evaluate why.
If you have a potbelly, this is a sign of inflammation and disturbed metabolism. Once the “why” is found, interventions can be applied at leverage points.
One of these could be a keto diet, at least for a while. Balancing the possibility of short-term benefits of keto, we do not have enough long-term information.
There are many, such as insulin-requiring diabetics, who keto is wrong for. I’ve seen many individuals benefit from a keto diet, and others who have not. For individuals with heart disease, it may be hazardous.
If you have a health goal, the keto diet may be an answer, but it’s very likely that there are many other successful strategies for you to achieve your health goals.
It could work. I have seen desperate people who will do anything to lose weight. Weight-loss diets fail, and most weigh more afterwards (up to 95 percent) within one to five years.
There’s data of detriment. Cholesterol, inflammation, endothelial and smooth muscle dysfunction, infection, blood clots, blockages, nutritional deficiencies, toxins, personal genetics, fear, and thoughts interplay in a complex web.
How a keto diet serves is not clear. Same goes for most diseases.
This can be improved. Diminution of carbohydrates and processed food is key. Ketosis, maybe not. As with heart disease above, there are complex interactions.
Generalizing, we live in a modern society of excess and lacks.
We have excess quantities of food, too many carbohydrates and sugars, too much processed food, too many chemicals, and too much invasive emotional and sensory stimulation.
We lack quality nutrition with factors our cellular machinery depends upon. We lack meaningful eyeball-to-eyeball connection.
Modulating these factors in a sensible manner makes sense to me, and I see the health results in my patients.
Bottom line on keto: It can be used as a form of intervention. Take care. Do not follow the pack. Protect your body, you need it.
Be mindful of what will increase your healthspan.
Daniel Rieders, MD, is an integrative cardiologist, certified in functional medicine and mind body eating coach. To find out more, visit his website.