Will The Keto Diet Cause Kidney Stones?
Once upon a time, fat was the enemy of dieters. Nearly every product on the grocery store shelves had its “low-fat” version.
Low-fat dressing. Low-fat cheese. Low-fat chips. Low-fat processed meats. Low-fat cookies. Low-fat freezer meals.
It didn’t matter if the food itself was terrible for you and completely devoid of any nutrients (or even real food)… as long as it was “low-fat,” it was marketed as healthy for you. It was the way to lose weight for good.
But then science begin to show us that fat wasn’t the enemy after all. In fact, eating plenty of healthy fats was the key to optimal health – and even sustainable weight loss.
And today we have a diet rapidly growing in popularity that says, “Not only is fat good for you, you should be eating MOSTLY fat.” That’s right, I’m talking about the keto diet.
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As with any unique diet plan, there are those who believe in it religiously and will “proselytize” to anyone who is listening. Then there are those who adamantly believe it to be dangerous.
But one concern that pops up quite frequently from those who are skeptical is kidney stones. Can the keto diet encourage the formation of kidney stones? I’m here to help you examine that question.
We’re going to learn more about the keto diet and what it does to your body. Then we are going to look at the science behind kidney stones and high-fat/low-carb dieting to see if the keto diet should be embraced or avoided if you suffer from kidney stones.
What Is The Keto Diet?
Though trendy now, the keto diet is not a new thing. It’s actually been around since the 1920s. In simple terms, the keto diet is high-fat and low-carb. But it’s much more complex and detailed than that.
First off, the “keto” diet is short for the “ketogenic” diet, and it is all about “ketosis.”
Ketosis is a natural process. When you do not have enough glucose (sugars/carbs) to fuel your body, your body burns your stored fat content for energy instead. This leaves you with acids called “ketones” (Seeing a “keto-“ pattern here?).
There is a lot of work involved with the keto diet to ensure you’re staying in the state of ketosis. This is what really sets the keto diet apart from the Atkins diet. If you do not consume enough fat, your body can burn protein and muscle tissue (not what you want at all).
To accomplish this fat burning without muscle burning, different keto diet plans encourage a macronutrient breakdown around these ranges:
- High fat: Somewhere around 60 – 90%
- Moderate protein: Some where between 20 – 35%
- Low Carb: Somewhere around 5%
How do you get that much fat? Here is a full day’s sample meal plan:
- Breakfast: Egg and cheese scramble with a few mushrooms, sliced avocado on the side
- Lunch: Fajita beef strips with a side salad dressed in olive oil
- Dinner: Roasted Chicken with herb butter and asparagus
- Snack: Nuts
If you want an even more in-depth look at the keto diet, check out this video. It is unbiased, not selling you the keto diet, but not discouraging it either:
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Benefits of Ketosis
So now you understand the “what” and “how” behind the keto diet. Now it’s time to delve into the “why” of this diet. What’s the purpose behind ketosis? Why deprive yourself of bananas or brown rice? Let’s see why people follow the keto diet.
Ketosis can offer a wide array of benefits that makes the keto diet so desirable right now. Of course, a big reason people turn to keto is for weight loss. But there are actually quite a few other reasons.
Here’s a run down of some of the top benefits:
- Stabilized blood sugar: When you are not eating a ton of carbs, you are not having high sugar moments followed by low sugar crashes; this is why some diabetics are switching over
- Lose fat percentage: Many fad diets leave you losing water weight and that’s about it. The keto diet helps you burn your actual fat cells to get leaner.
- Burn fat: This benefit is pretty self-explanatory, right?
- Feel full longer: If you eat an apple or eat a pork chop – which will leave you feeling fuller longer? A piece of chocolate or an avocado? Fat fills you up and keeps you satiated for longer than carbs. And when you feel full, you don’t eat as much.
- Improve good cholesterol: High fat diets will raise your good cholesterol (the HDL)
- Lower blood pressure: Some studies show that low-carb dieting will lower your blood pressure, which is a factor in preventing so many other harmful diseases/conditions
- Epilepsy: There is some newer research that suggests the keto diet could aid those with epilepsy (if you have this sleep conditions, talk to your doctor first!)
But Will Keto Cause Kidney Stones?
So now we get to the big question: is this diet going to actually cause kidney stones? Here are a few problems with the keto diet and kidney stones:
Lots of Animal Protein
Meat, eggs, and full-fat dairy products are a large part of the keto diet, but animal protein has been directly connected with increasing kidney stone odds. Not only can it raise your uric acid, but it also lowers your citrate (a substance that prevents stones) and raises your oxalate (a substance that creates stones).
Harvard Health Publishing recommends keeping your servings no bigger than a pack of playing cards. (Many even believe in including vegan meals into your week). These recommendations can be extremely difficult for those on the keto diet.
High Acid Urine
Studies have shown that a low-carb, high-protein diet can lead to kidney stones by raising “the acid load to the kidneys.” More acid in your urine = more chance of kidney stones.
Now you’re probably thinking: “but the keto diet isn’t low carb/high protein it’s low carb/high fat.
But depending upon your macronutrient breakdown you can still have technically quite a bit of protein. And you often have some sort of animal protein in every meal.
And on top of that, having lots of ketones in the bloodstream can also make the urine more acidic too.
When you are in the state of ketosis, your body gets rid of more calcium. This may sound like a good way to prevent the common calcium-oxalate stones, but the opposite is actually true. You need more food-based calcium and less oxalate in an ideal diet situation
If you are on the keto diet, you will need to do your research and fill up your diet with extra calcium while limiting your oxalate content. Which may be hard to do as you are about to see…
Nuts and Oxalate
Nuts are another big part of the keto diet to their naturally high fat content. But many kidney stone suffers are told to watch their nut intake because most are high in oxalate (which is responsible for calcium-oxalate stones). Spinach is also really high in oxalate, as are berries (the only fruit really suggested by the keto diet)
Will Keto Improve Kidney Stones?
So we have seen a few ways the keto diet could potentially encourage kidney stones – but are there enough benefits to outweigh those problems?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Many sold out believers in the keto diet will tell you that it is perfectly safe for those with kidney/kidney stone issues. For example, here is a video explaining how lowered sugar and insulin from the keto diet could actually improve your kidney stone odds.
Similarly, some also believe that limiting dietary fructose is the key to kidney health. And therefore, kidney stone prevention.
There are not any clear studies showing that the keto diet will help your kidney stones. But there is one small study done on children who went on the keto diet to help with epilepsy that shows it may not hurt all that much. In fact, they found there were “no statistically significant risk factors.”
More studies will definitely need to be performed in the future to back up the claims that the keto diet could actually improve kidney stones.
So Should You Try Keto?
If you are not kidney stone prone and not especially at risk for kidney stone development, you probably don’t have to be worried about the keto diet causing kidney stones. You will only have to weigh the pros and cons to see if the keto diet is the healthiest choice for you.
But if you have had kidney stones or have some sort of high risk factor (like genetics or diabetes), you must talk to your doctor first. There are simply some aspects of the keto diet that go against conventional thinking about preventing kidney stones.
In the end, someone with kidney stone issues will most likely need to avoid the keto diet.
But if you do end up on the keto diet, you absolutely must be sure to drink plenty of water every single day. This will help dilute your urine to prevent too many stone-causing substances from concentrating and joining.