Is the Keto Diet Bad for Your Heart?

Keto is popular enough that you probably know someone who has tried to lose weight following it. Supporters of the low-carb, high-fat diet claim its health benefits are worth the adverse side effects. But some experts have expressed concern about its potential effects on heart health.

Is the keto diet good for your heart — or does it increase your risk of heart disease? It might depend on the keto-approved foods you’re actually eating. Here’s a rundown of what you should know.

What the keto diet can — and can’t — do

Coconut oil

Coconut oil | Rodrigo Bark/iStock/Getty Images

The keto diet might encourage some people to make healthier food choices, since many processed foods are high in carbs and calories.

It might also help some dieters lose weight in the short-term — but not without potential health risks.

But it probably won’t help you lose massive amounts of weight quickly. It’s an extremely difficult diet to follow, and many people who attempt to for weight loss reasons aren’t able to stick with it for more than a few weeks at most.

Most of the claims supporting the long-term effects of following the keto diet are based on personal testimonies, not scientific evidence. There is no guarantee that just because your friend’s sister’s husband’s cousin lost weight on keto, you’ll see the same results.

There is also no evidence that the keto diet can “cure” cancer or “reverse” heart disease. In fact, depending on what you eat on keto, you might actually be doing your heart more harm than good.

Is a ketogenic diet bad for your heart?

A keto diet forces you to eat fewer carbs and more fat to replace those carbs. However, the actual sources of fat you choose can mean the difference between a diet that lowers your risk of certain conditions (such as heart disease) and significantly increases it.

If your food choices, for example, are limited to foods such as butter, coconut oil, and red meat, you’re not doing your heart any favors.

So the keto diet might not specifically cause heart disease. But eating foods high in saturated fat that can raise your cholesterol and endanger your heart definitely might.

This means that you can absolutely follow a keto diet if you choose high-fat foods that provide more health benefits than potential harms. Isn’t the point of a diet to eat healthy foods — not eat junk food just because it contains fat?

Keto diet foods good for your heart

Zucchini pasta

Zucchini pasta | iStock.com/ALLEKO

To successfully follow the keto diet, you have to consistently eat more fat and fewer carbs — plus a moderate amount of protein. High-fat dairy products, red meat, and other saturated fats can help you fulfill these restrictive requirements. But they’re not good for your heart.

Instead of focusing on saturated fats, try to eat more foods that contain fiber, high-quality protein, and unsaturated “healthy” fats, including:

  • Low-carb vegetables like zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms, and spinach
  • Certain types of meat including turkey, chicken, and lean beef
  • Fish and seafood such as salmon, tuna, or oysters
  • Eggs and avocados
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Certain dairy products like cottage cheese and yogurt
  • Olives and olive oil.

There are pros and cons to any diet — especially extreme, potentially dangerous and hard-to-follow diets such as keto. But your chances of successfully following keto improve when you make the best food choices possible. Not all fat is bad fat — but a lot of it is. Choose wisely!