Is the Keto Diet Heart Healthy? 7 Reasons Why This Cardiologist Agrees
I am a board certified, card-carrying cardiologist, and I want my clients to eat more fat, more meat, more cheese, more eggs, more avocado, more, more, more.
For decades medical establishments have convinced us to eat low fat, higher carb diets. How has that worked for our health? Here’s a hint, we have record numbers of obesity, diabetes and dementia. Yet, as a cardiologist, that’s the party line I am supposed to support.
But I can’t. It’s just wrong, and I can’t support that line of thinking, not for a second.
Instead, I am a Low Carb Cardiologist. Here are the top Seven reasons why
1- Reducing Insulin is Essential to Health and Weight Loss.
Insulin is a hormone naturally secreted by the pancreas to help regulate blood sugar levels. Everything we eat (except possibly for 100% fat meals) causes insulin to rise. That is normal physiology. The problem occurs when our bodies become resistant to the effects of insulin, thus requiring our pancreas to make more and more and more insulin.
The problem? Insulin promotes fat storage, increase inflammation and oxidation, and can even help fuel the growth of cancer cells. Therefore, the healthiest approach is one which reduced the level of insulin to the lowest possible levels. As it happens, a Low-carb High-fat or ketogenic lifestyle (LCHF/Keto lifestyle) dramatically improves your body’s sensitivity to insulin, reduces the amount of insulin secreted, and it allows your body to naturally use your fat stores for what they are designed for: Break them down into energy! Once we see that we need to fight chronic elevations of insulin, it becomes obvious why a low-fat diet is harmful, and why a low carb diet is the true path to health.
2- Eating Fat Improves Your Cholesterol!
Wait, what? Eating fat can improve my cholesterol? Sounds crazy, right? That goes against everything we have heard from the medical establishment. Notice I said “cholesterol.” I didn’t say the "bad" low density lipoprotein (LDL), I didn’t say the "good" high density lipoprotein (HDL), or any one specific type of cholesterol. We have over emphasized the solitary variable of LDL for too long. Total cholesterol to HDL ratio, Triglyceride to HDL ratio, lipoprotein size and density, insulin sensitivity, and other metabolic measures are more powerful predictors of cardiovascular health than just LDL.
Once again, we see that all these markers improve with a Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) lifestyle. The medical establishment needs to realize that we are more complicated than one lab value. The key is to look at the whole picture, and this picture dramatically improves with a LCHF lifestyle.
3- Higher HDL is Associated with a Lower Risk of Heart Disease.
HDL is your friend, but drugs are not. Observational evidence has consistently shown that higher HDL is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. However, our healthcare establishment does not prioritize HDL for one simple reason- Drugs that raise HDL don’t make you healthier. Trial after trial has failed to show any benefit from drugs that significantly increase HDL.
Instead, it’s the HDL-raising lifestyle that provides the benefit, not artificially increasing it with drugs. What’s the best lifestyle to naturally raise HDL? You guessed it. LCHF/Keto lifestyle. Add in some resistance training and you have your friendly HDL climbing the way it was meant to…Naturally.
4- LCHF Leaves You Feeling Great, Leading to Healthier Decisions
What kind of health decisions do you make when you are fatigued, achy, and find it difficult to concentrate? That’s a rhetorical question, I already know the answer. When things look glum and we don’t feel well, it's far too easy to sit on the couch or reach for the chips and cookies. Compare those decisions to those you make when you are well rested, energetic, and seeing the world more clearly. For most people, the better you feel, the better decisions you make.
Guess what? The majority of people who change to a LCHF lifestyle feel better! It may take a few days or weeks, but in general, they feel more in control of their health, more energetic, and they are able to make better health decisions. I admit this is difficult to prove in a scientific trial. That is why we all should become our own n=1 scientific trial. How do you feel and how are your health decisions after going to a LCHF lifestyle? What matters most is what works for you, not what works for hundreds of people who are kinda-sorta like you.
5- Keto helps you with fasting.
Eating better helps you not eat. People who eat a high carb diet eat a lot, don’t they? They are always grazing and snacking. Our bodies go through the roller coaster of blood sugar and insulin spikes, making it a challenge to go 24, 18, or even 6 hours without eating. This creates a constant, unwavering supply of insulin in our blood stream.
Why is this harmful? For one, it promotes fat storage and keeps us from using our fat as fuel. Secondly, chronically elevated insulin can predispose to heart disease, strokes, cancer, dementia and other devastating health conditions. When people change to Keto, however, they realize they do not need to eat nearly as much or as frequently. Avoiding the carbs and increasing the fats keeps us full longer, and our bodies quickly adapt to longer periods without eating. The result? We can use our fat stores for what they were designed- a source of fuel! It also allows our body to maintain lower insulin levels, and also allows our cells to take care of their health chores, referred to as…..
6- LCHF Promotes Health Through Increased Autophagy.
Autopha-What? In medicine we like using fancy words to make us look smart. Autophagy is a big word to describe cellular housekeeping. When we have low enough intake of carbs and protein, or when we do intermittent fasts, our bodies can take care of their “to do” lists. That list includes breaking down weak or damaged cells, recycling the good parts and discarding the rest, and slowing down the processes that can lead to abnormal cell growth (i.e. excess proteins in Alzheimer’s disease, abnormal cancer cells etc.).
Admittedly, long term outcome studies evaluating fasting or LCHF and cancer or dementia risk have not been done. But, on the flip side, drug trials to prevent the same are showing no benefit despite hundreds of millions of dollars invested. If you asked me (which you sort of did since you are reading my article), I’d vote for autophagy as a preventative strategy any day. It makes good physiologic sense, and it is so easy to achieve.
7- With Keto You Will Enjoy Eating Again!
That’s right. A way of eating that helps you lose weight, helps you feel better, improves your health and is actually enjoyable! No fake processed soy products, no cardboard tasting rice cakes. True, it also means no more candy, processed snack foods, doughnuts and danishes. But once you swear them off for a few weeks, and you are eating all the eggs, avocados, nuts, fish, steak, cheese etc. that you want, you won’t miss those old crutches any more. Let the enjoyment begin!
I could go on, but since it seems people like “7 Reason” articles, I will leave it at that.
Now you know the secret: Look at the whole picture. Look for a lifestyle, (not a diet) that helps you feel better, increases your enjoyment, and still benefits your overall health.
Is LCHF/Keto the right lifestyle for you? It just may be. It is for me, The Low Carb Cardiologist, and it is for most of my patients and clients. Want to learn more about how LCHF lifestyle impacts your health? Visit us at www.LowCarbCardiologist.com.
Thanks for reading
Bret Scher, MD FACC
Founder, Boundless Health
ADDENDUM!! Since I have published this article, there has been a windfall of media buzz around low carb diets increasing our risk of heart disease or diabetes. Let's look at where that information came from.
1- A study force feeding mice excessive amounts of industrial omega 6 oils. You can guess what I have to say about that. The article was incredibly helpful, and I immediately stopped force feeding my pet mice industrial seed oils. Thanks goodness for that article. As for how it applies to humans eating real food that contain fat, there is zero correlation.
2- Epidemiological study suggesting those who ate low carb (40% calories from carbs, which by the way is NOT low carb) as measured by two food journals over 25 years had a higher risk of dying. Oh and by the way, at baseline they were heavier, more sedentary, smoked more, and ate fewer veggies. Yet somehow they concluded it must be the low carb diet that "caused" the harm. Once again, it may not be bad science, but it sure was awful interpretation of the science.
In light of those two studies and the hoopla surrounding them, has anything happened to change my mind about a LCHF/keto diet being beneficial for our overall health and our heart health?
We still need to individualize our care and our lifestyle for who we are and how our bodies respond. That is always the case regardless of our nutrition, our medications, our exercise etc. As long as we do that, then this cardiologist still believes that LCHF IS HEART HEALTHY!