Keto diets: weighing risks and benefits

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A review study led by Lee Crosby and published in Frontiers in Nutrition offers a comprehensive examination of the ketogenic (keto) diet and its impact on health.

While keto diets have gained significant popularity for weight loss and treatment of specific medical conditions like drug-resistant epilepsy, the review suggests that the potential long-term risks could outweigh the benefits for most people.

What is a Keto Diet?

A keto diet is characterized by a very low intake of carbohydrates, a moderate amount of protein, and a high intake of fats.

This nutritional profile aims to induce a state of ketosis, where the body relies on ketone bodies for energy, especially for neurons and cells unable to directly metabolize fatty acids.

Key Findings

Pregnancy Risks: The review states that keto diets may be particularly hazardous for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant. Low-carb diets are associated with a higher risk of neural tube defects in babies, even when mothers are taking folic acid.

Kidney Disease: Higher-protein keto diets could accelerate kidney failure for those already suffering from kidney disease.

Cholesterol and Chronic Disease: Many patients on a keto diet experience elevated levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol. This diet has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, often the very diseases the diet claims to help.

Limited Long-Term Efficacy: While keto diets can lead to short-term weight loss, the study found they are not more effective than other weight-loss diets in the long term.

Valid Use for Epilepsy: The one well-supported medical use for a keto diet is reducing seizure frequency in drug-resistant epilepsy.

The typical keto diet often includes high consumption of red meat, processed meat, and saturated fats while limiting carbohydrate-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

According to the researchers, this constitutes a “disease-promoting disaster.”


While ketogenic diets may offer certain benefits, such as short-term weight loss and reduced frequency of seizures in drug-resistant epilepsy, the researchers caution that the diet’s potential long-term risks should not be ignored.

Those considering a keto diet should consult healthcare professionals, especially vulnerable populations like pregnant women and individuals with kidney disease.

The study calls for a more nuanced approach to diet and health, highlighting the importance of considering long-term impacts.

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