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The Keto Diet: Is It Good For Seniors?

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The keto diet is really popular right now. The high-fat, low-carb eating plan helps you lose weight by burning fat instead of glucose (sugar). Many people successfully drop weight with the keto diet.

However, many trending diets also have downsides. Suppose you’re an older adult looking into weight loss options. In that case, it’s always best to discuss your overall health and personal risk factors of any potential diet and nutritional changes with your doctor. Also, before you “go keto,” here are some things to consider.

How Does the Keto Diet Work?

The ketogenic (keto) diet is a high-fat, moderate-protein, very low-carb diet. Doctors use it to treat children with epilepsy and other medical conditions, such as morbid obesity, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

A typical keto eating plan allows 70-80% fats, 20% proteins, and 5-10% carbs each day. In a normal diet, your body draws energy from the starches and sugars (aka carbs) you consume. A keto diet restricts your daily carb intake to 50 grams or less. Once your body reaches a state of ketosis, it burns stored fat for energy instead.

This means you’re going to cut out lots of starches, including pasta, rice, cereal, bread, corn, and potatoes. You’re also going to refrain from eating beans, fruit, and legumes—and of course, baked goods and sweets.

If you’re trying to lose weight, finding a safe and effective way to achieve your goal is fantastic. However, with any diet, you must weigh the potential benefits against potential risks before you decide to start the keto diet plan.

Keto Diet Benefits

Low-carb diets have many benefits. First, cutting carbs helps you shed unwanted pounds. If you take in extremely low amounts of carbs, you start burning carbs stored in your liver. Once those are gone, your body starts to burn stored fat for fuel—and your body is in a state of ketosis.

Next, some research suggests that ketone bodies help prevent oxidative stress on the brain. Oxidative stress produces free radicals that damage brain cells and spur on the aging process. In a Gladstone Institutes study, ketone bodies generated during a low-carb, high fat and protein diet can potentially delay the effects of aging.

Another small study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggests that generating ketones on a high-fat, low-carb diet may improve memory in people with early signs of Alzheimer’s, though more research is needed.

Mayo Clinic also reports that “low-carb diets that emphasize healthy sources of carbs, fat, and protein may help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.”

Keto Diet Considerations and Risks

While the keto diet has plenty of advantages, you should also understand some important considerations and potential risks. One big drawback is that this diet is complex and full of restrictions that make it difficult to sustain for a long time.

Jason Ewoldt, RDN, LD, a wellness dietitian at Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program (HLP), said, “This is a very restrictive diet that’s tough to follow. The average person is not going to keep doing this long-term. Also, because the saturated fat content is high, coupled with limited amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, it is not optimal for health.”

Currently, there’s not a lot of research on the long-term health benefits of the diet.

Cleveland Clinic lists several risks associated with following a keto diet for a long time, including low bone density and bone fractures. The National Institute of Health reports 10 million people in the U.S. have osteoporosis, and 70% of fractures come from people aged 65 and older. With so many of the elderly population already vulnerable to fractures, it may not be a good idea to increase risk with the keto diet.

According to a Harvard TH Chan keto review, limiting carb intake can cause fatigue, headache, brain fog, constipation, and irritability, among other side effects. Plus, the long-term effects of a high-fat diet on cardiovascular health are unknown.

Finally, as keto is hard to maintain for a long time, eventually going off the diet may lead to regaining any weight you lose.

Overall, if you’re looking to lose weight and are thinking about going keto, consult your doctor to discuss potential benefits versus risks for your individual situation to make a safe and medically-informed decision.

Active Aging is presented by Public Health- Seattle & King County. Public Health- Seattle & King County recognizes the important and untold stories of innovation, service, and sacrifice by the Black community and supports efforts to improve equity and achieve social justice. We want everyone to get health insurance and access health care. Visit www.kingcounty.gov/health for health insurance, flu and COVID-19 testing locations.