Low Carb, Early Death, and Keto – What You Should Know

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Do you miss eating big helpings of carbs – bread, pasta, white rice?

If you’re on keto now or are curious about it, the reality of intaking only 5% of your diet in carbs can be a big change-up. Yet, many are succeeding with great health benefits and substantial weight loss by cutting those carbs.

But, is there a downside to this?

That is the question that certain medical researchers are asking and they think they’ve found an answer.

Last month, a study was published in a public health journal that led to a Men’s Health article entitled,

“Low Carb Diets Have Been Linked to an Early Death” (Keto lovers, beware)

Many have asked for my opinion, especially on my Facebook page. Such a title can prompt questions like,   

  • Is my low carb diet really that bad for me?
  • Does this mean keto is a hoax?
  • Will I really die early or have serious side effects if I try keto for 60 days or longer?
  • Who’s telling the truth? These researchers or the publishers of other research supporting keto?

Wow! Tough questions, right?

You know me. I don’t mind the inquiries. These are similar ones to those I’ve been asking the experts on my podcast for years.

Here’s my take – the study raises some important issues but the article writer and publication, Men’s Health, are trying to fan the flames of controversy and attract readers. “Keto lovers, beware”.

Sometimes, we’re quick to read headlines like this without doing some homework and looking into it further. So, let’s ignore that one for now and focus on the research reported from the study.

As a summary, it states, “the long-term effect of carbohydrate restriction on mortality is controversial and could depend on whether dietary carbohydrate is replaced by plant-based or animal-based fat and protein.” Also, “low carbohydrate dietary patterns favouring animal-derived protein and fat sources, from sources such as lamb, beef, pork, and chicken, were associated with higher mortality, whereas those that favoured plant-derived protein and fat intake, from sources such as vegetables, nuts, peanut butter, and whole-grain breads, were associated with lower mortality, suggesting that the source of food notably modifies the association between carbohydrate intake and mortality.”

First observation – there’s an assumption made that if you’re on low-carb you’re also not very careful with your protein and fat intake.

Now, at face-value, this is a legitimate viewpoint and one I’ve explored recently. It is important to make good choices about the quality of your fat and protein based foods. It’s the “dirty keto” vs. “clean keto” argument. “Dirty keto” is another way to get into ketosis on the cheap. It’s reached through lower quality foods like vegetable oils, inexpensive meats, certain cheeses, sugar-free sodas, and energy drinks. That means any type of processed food that fills the daily requirement ratio for fats, proteins, carbs can be called “dirty keto”. “Clean keto” is really a “whole foods” approach. This includes: grass-fed meats, free range chicken and eggs, high-quality dairy, organic fruits & vegetables, and healthy oils and fats like coconut oil, olive oil, avocados, etc.


The main point to remember is this –  less processed is better than more processed when it comes to oils, meats, and dairy. In other words, could there be some long-term negative effects if your go-to keto meal, many times a week, was 75% butter, 20% hot dogs, and 5% French fries?

You probably don’t need a scientific study to figure that one out.

But back to the carbs issue.

The study deserves some scrutiny and got it when a nutrition science researcher, Nina Teicholz, wrote a piece that was published in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago. Her article, “Carbs, Good for You? Fat Chance!” warned about attempts to mislead the public and put Americans’ health at risk.

She states, “a widely reported study last month purported to show that carbohydrates are essential to longevity and that low-carb diets are linked to early death.” As a researcher and investigative journalist, Ms. Teicholz, digs in further.

She notes that the authors relied on a thin data set that tracked 15,000 middle-aged people since 1987. In it, researchers’ food questionnaires featured between 100 and 200 dietary items, but participants in this study were queried on only 66. Popular foods such as pizza and energy bars were left out, thus showing an undercounting of caloriest. The study also calculated that participants ate only 1,500 calories a day— which is abnormally low.

Furthermore, the participants’ eating habits were tracked only twice, from 1987-89 and 1993-95 opening up the possibility of changing diets over the 15 year period. And the study authors threw out any data on carb consumption from subjects who “developed heart disease, diabetes, and stroke” before the second diet visit, “to reduce potential confounding.” They don’t reveal how much evidence was dropped, but this takes away credibility linking carb consumption and disease.

To recap, the study’s authors ignored more than 70 randomized controlled clinical trials that have showed the non-fatal effects of a low-carb diet. Also, they made claims, without evidence, that high fat and low carb diets “stimulate inflammatory pathways, biological ageing, and oxidative stress.” Their goal – scare people away from diets with established health benefits.

So, when the “nutrition elite” feel threatened, they’ll attack. And that is what happened with this study and article. This is a sad commentary on old mindsets seeking to hold onto power and keep you focused on the “processed-foods industrial complex” and their golden calf – the food pyramid. Also, this attack is a reflection of “confirmation bias”, or searching for data that supports a belief. That’s why it’s important to take a balanced view of contradictions, knowing that we all can go down that path. Our ego gets in the way. We get defensive.

For example, what if someone had the belief that milk and dairy were essential to a healthy lifestyle? What’s next? Maybe an article entitled, “Low-dairy” diets have been linked to an early death.

You can see how this can be a manipulation. So, watch out and get a balanced view of outrageous claims.

Take Action

Read these recent articles below and join me for a discussion online on my Facebook page next week. Look for the title – #CarbsVSKeto.




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