Is a keto diet heart healthy? This is a common question that people often have about the keto diet. After all, the diet is high in fat, which means you will be eating lots of fatty meat, which some experts still say is not very heart-healthy. (more on this below)
Related reading: Is Keto Bad For Your Heart?
Although this concern has been raised previously the diet has again got alarm bells ringing because of a study done on rats where they found that ketones can cause damage and scarring to the heart.
Ketones are the chemicals that your body produces and uses for energy in place of glucose once you deprive your body of carbohydrates.
So, to find out the truth behind this, let’s take a closer look at the study to understand if the keto diet is heart-healthy or not.
Related reading: Keto and Heart Disease: Are Keto and Paleo Bad for your Heart?
Study Done on Rats
A recent animal study that reveals the deeply troubling connection between keto and heart damage has made people wonder, “Is a keto diet heart healthy?”
According to the study, which was done by a group of researchers from China, the keto diet could lead to atrial fibrillation or irregular heartbeat because of the heart scarring that it can cause once the body is in the state of ketosis.
It should be noted that the study was done on rats. The animals were grouped into three, with the first group being fed with the keto diet, another group followed a normal diet, and the third followed a calorie-restricted diet.
After four months of being on these diets, the researchers analyzed the heart rate of the rats to look for cellular changes. Those that were put on the keto diet demonstrated higher levels of ketones that led to the activation of a gene that inhibits the normal flow of blood to the heart.
As a result, the heart muscle was compromised. In humans, this condition is known as “apoptosis” or the death of vital cardiac cells.
Studies Done on Animals Is Not Predictive For Humans
This recent study done on rats is not the only study that was conducted to determine how harmful the keto diet may be for the heart. Although many people have able to benefit from the diet, it is still a very controversial topic.
Followers of keto believe that it is not only effective for weight loss and lowering blood sugar but also for improving overall health. But some people have denounced the diet, believing that it comes with many risks, including heart diseases, and this recent study appears to be proof of that.
However, the study was done on rats, not humans. According to researchers results from animal studies are not always predictive of what happens in humans. Therefore, this study does not provide enough evidence that the keto diet can cause damage to the human heart.
Studies on Epileptic Children
Studies done on children with epilepsy who had been on the diet for 2 – 3 years looked at long term effect on their health and did not find any adverse effects on the heart even though some had high cholesterol levels initially.
Medical researchers often rely on animal studies to look for an indication of whether or not certain drugs or foods are safe. However, there is still not enough data to prove that the keto diet can cause scarring on the human heart as it did in rats.
Is A Keto Diet Heart Health?
The truth is, the keto diet when done properly is probably not bad for your heart at all. It mainly depends on the type of foods that you eat. A high-fat diet does not necessarily mean loading up on bacon, sausages, processed and intensively reared meat.
According to Susan Ryskamp, M.S., RDN, a dietitian at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center,
“The keto diet isn’t a green light to load up on butter and bacon, which can trigger the health issues you’re trying to remedy or avoid. Make sure that the fats you are eating are healthy and not processed ones.”
Not all fats are bad. There are many healthy ones too, such as avocado, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, MCT oil, wild caught salmon, unroasted nuts, nut butters and seeds.
Related reading: Benefits of Fat for the Keto Diet
Eat plenty of low carb vegetables
In addition, it’s important to eat lots of low carb veggies that you can load up on, instead of merely eating meat. Good low carb vegetable you can have are broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, celery, kale, spinach, cabbage and greens.
Related reading: Health Benefits of Kale and Spinach for Keto
These vegetables are not only good for your heart, but they are also loaded with nutrients that are beneficial to your overall health.
For meat it’s best to choose grass-fed and organic where possible. They have a better ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats and have a significantly lower level of saturated fats compared to meat taken from grain-fed beef.
Also, grass-fed meat is packed with B vitamins and has a higher amount of vitamins A, E, and other antioxidants when compared to other meat.
How Keto Can Be Good for your Heart
If you eat the right type of fats while on the keto diet, you could be helping your heart to stay healthy. Losing just a moderate amount of weight on the keto diet can lower your risk of cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure and obesity.
Related reading: 5 Amazing Health Benefits of Keto Diet
In addition, reducing your intake of carbs can help to regulate your blood sugar levels. Diabetes is a major risk factor for heart disease. By following a low-carb diet like keto, you will be able to regulate your blood sugar level, which reduces your risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Eating the right type of fats on keto can also increase your HDL, also known as the “good cholesterol”. The HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, helps to remove the harmful types of cholesterol in your bloodstream. By eating foods with a high level of HDL, you could lower your risk of developing heart diseases.
To increase your good cholesterol level, load up on healthy fats like olive oil, low carb fruit, and fatty fish like wild caught salmon and mackerel.
So, is a keto diet heart healthy? The answer will depend on the type of foods that you eat on keto and your genes. There is no one diet that suits everyone so it pays to have some blood tests done from time to time to keep an eye on liver function and cholesterol levels including particle size and number of LDL and nutrient status.
A lot of people think that the keto diet is all about eating lots of meat and processed fatty foods. But this is not really the case.
In fact, eating a lot of protein could kick you out of ketosis. So while good quality meat is definitely okay, you must eat it in moderation. The key is in understanding the different types of fats, and determining which of them are good and bad.
So, if you want to stay in ketosis while keeping your heart healthy, load up on the good fats, and avoid the bad fats.