Is a keto diet good for your heart?

New research suggests ketones may benefit people with heart disease – but that doesn’t mean the same goes for the keto diet.

Chances are you have a friend or family member who swears by the benefits of the on trend keto (or ketogenic) diet.

The diet involves eating as few carbs as possible, so your body is forced to enter a metabolic state known as “ketosis” – where it’s burning fat stores rather than the blood sugar (or glucose) that comes from carbohydrates.

What are ketones and are they good for you?

Ketones, or ketone bodies, are chemicals made in your liver from the breakdown of fats, and they serve as this alternative fuel for your body when glucose is in short supply.

They’ve recently been put under the microscope by scientists looking at their possible protective effect on patients with heart disease.

“Historically, there’s been a negative stigma around ketones because of their link to high sugar levels in diabetics,” says Dr Cher-Rin Chong from The University of Adelaide, a co-author of the new study.

“But research is now showing they’re not quite the bad boys we once thought.”

Can ketones help your heart?

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found ketones might benefit patients with heart disease, still the leading killer worldwide.

“In severe heart disease, the failing heart seems to reprogram its metabolism to rely on ketones as a source of energy,” Dr Chong says.

She added that the review also found ketones might have positive effects on other common cardiovascular risk factors like body weight, cholesterol and inflammation.

So is the keto diet good for your heart?

The popular diet was just one of the methods examined by the scientists as a way of delivering ketones to the heart, with taking ketone supplements another one.

Prior studies showing the diet may contribute to an increased risk of heart disease if the foods eaten don’t include heart healthy fats were taken into account.

“The thing with the keto diet is that because it relies on a high fats and low carbs, people have to boost their kilojoule intake through the fats and a lot of those can come from processed foods,” Dr Chong says.

“It’s also not an easy diet to stick with.”

She says with numerous pathways to achieving ketosis, more research is now needed into the pros and cons of each.

“We’re only just beginning to scratch the surface,” she says.

Keto diet not a healthy heart approach to weight loss

Commenting on the research, Heart Foundation chief medical adviser Professor Garry Jennings says the organisation has “a general aversion to fad diets”.

“People may lose weight in the short term but the keto diet isn’t a very balanced diet in the long term, so people may have trouble keeping off any weight they have lost,” Prof Jennings says.

And the fats consumed on the keto diet “are not necessarily the fats we prefer in managing heart risk”, he says.

“A plant-rich diet with plenty of vegetables and fruits, as well as seeds and nuts, proteins from fish and a limited amount of red meat, and avoiding added sugars and salts, is the best for a healthy heart,” he says.

Written by Liz McGrath.