The first point to remember when learning about the ketogenic diet is that it’s NOT A FAD. It’s not Atkin’s Diet 2.0 or the invention of some self-styled diet guru or celebrity trainer. It’s not expensive and doesn’t require a monthly membership to be successful. It’s also important to remember that in no way is it harmful, unnatural, or maladaptive. In fact, I would argue that it’s our default diet, the eating pattern that our ancestors thrived on for millions of years. None of us would be here today if our ancestors couldn’t survive on fat as a primary fuel source. If you believe that how you eat and what you eat is directly correlated with your status of health and overall risk of developing a disease, then it’s extremely important to pay attention to ancestral diets and the wisdom of ancient nutrition. Historical data has shown that the incidence of type II diabetes, obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, cancer, arthritis, gastrointestinal disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease were either non-existent or extremely low in early humans. Not surprisingly, viruses, bacteria, fungi, and wild animals killed more of our ancestors than cancer or heart disease! These “diseases of affluence”, as they are now recognized, are a modern problem, brought about by overconsumption of sugars, refined grains, convenience foods (fast food), and manufactured food-like substances. Shockingly, these “fake” foods now comprise 60% of the American diet. Thousands of human generations existed and thrived on fat as an energy source-it’s in our DNA! Today, we are “sugar burners”, relying on glucose from sugar and carbohydrates to supply energy needs. We also eat all day long, consuming excessive amounts of calories with no break. If your goal is to gain weight, feel terrible, and increase your risk of developing any number of degenerative diseases, then by all means eat three to five meals a day (plus snacks) of fast food, sugar, and refined carbohydrates. I would argue that no human on the planet, with the exception of children, pregnant women, certain athletes, and some individuals with unique metabolic disorders needs to eat three meals a day! Our ancestors had metabolic flexibility, which modern humans no longer have. Their bodies used different fuels depending on what nutrients were available. When the source, quantity, and frequency of food was uncertain, they fasted-relying on ketones, not glucose, for fuel. Feast and famine cycles are crucial for metabolic flexibility.
As it pertains to carbohydrate and sugar consumption, no two people are alike. Everyone is biochemically individual. As such, it’s completely incorrect to say that everyone, regardless of age, gender, or physiology, will thrive on one type of diet. Some people feel better on more carbs, while others need less. Many people are what I call “carbohydrate intolerant”, which means they gain weight, develop insulin resistance, experience gastrointestinal problems, and metabolic/hormonal dysfunction when consuming the typical American diet rich in refined carbohydrate and sugar calories. Other people can consume more carbohydrates and not suffer any significant negative health effects, at least in the short term. The point I really want to emphasize is that carbohydrates as plant starches from fruits and vegetables are NOT inherently bad, in fact, they are an important source of energy, fiber, and nutrients. The health crisis that many people face results from what the food industry has done to those carbohydrates, and the fact they have become an integral part of our daily food intake. Excessive intake of refined carbohydrates and sugars is directly correlated with hormonal and metabolic dysfunctions that stimulate appetite, suppress leptin and increase insulin, alter metabolism, cause inflammation, and encourage fat storage. Alternatively, our ancestors ate fat and protein from wild animals and plants. They built and maintained healthy bodies by eating plant fibers-roots, shoots, tubers, and nuts/seeds. They consumed sugars and carbohydrates from fruits or honey, but since these were highly seasonal and region-specific intake was rare. It’s estimated that our ancestors consumed less than 10% of their daily calories in carbohydrates. Instead, they consumed 65%-75% of their energy calories from healthy fats-this is how they survived and we continued as a species.
Based on 30 years of experience and observations in the field of nutrition, I’m 100% convinced that anyone, regardless of their unique physiology, can benefit from some form of carbohydrate-controlled diet. Every diet in existence, past and current, regardless of whether it’s plant or animal-based, low calorie or high calorie, can be put into one of three categories: low-carbohydrate, moderate-carbohydrate, or high-carbohydrate. Based on available research, low carbohydrate diets have proven to be the most effective for enhanced metabolism and weight loss, increased energy, appetite control, normalization of blood lipid profiles, normalization of blood sugar and insulin levels, and brain health. In my opinion, the carbohydrate diet that is MOST effective at helping someone achieve their weight loss goals is the ketogenic diet. Even more powerful is the combination of ketogenic eating and intermittent fasting (feast and famine). Folks, it doesn’t get any better than this for overall health and weight control. The Ketogenic diet is 65%+ fat, 15-25% protein, and 5-10% carbohydrates. When you go “keto” your liver turns fat into a form of energy called ketones (beta-oxidation of fatty acids into BHB, acetoacetate, and acetone). It’s like flipping a light switch from burning sugar to burning fat. Here is a shortlist of the many health benefits that clinicians and researchers have discovered when you “go keto”:
1) Improvements in memory, attention, seizure control, and learning capabilities.
2) Neuroprotection. Benefits were seen in neuro-inflammation and neuro-degeneration.
3) Increases in antioxidant enzymes.
4) Improvements in gene expression for longevity.
5) Enhanced mitochondrial function and more energy.
6) significant reduction in insulin level and activity, which means less fat storage.
7) Decrease in tumor cell viability.
8) May lower blood pressure and triglycerides.
9) Improvements in gastrointestinal function.
10)Broad-spectrum anti-inflammatory effects.
If you are interested in transitioning to a ketogenic diet, or any low carbohydrate diet for that matter, I would be happy to assist you or answer any questions you may have. If you are a vegan or vegetarian and want to try a low carbohydrate diet, I would be happy to help you modify the ketogenic diet to meet your dietary preferences. If your goal is weight loss, I firmly believe that the ketogenic diet combined with intermittent fasting is the most effective way to lose weight. You will NOT accomplish permanent weight loss with a diet supplement, drug, or calorie-controlled diet. Folks, weight gain is under hormonal control not calorie intake, and unless you remove the refined carbohydrates and sugars that make you fat you will continue to gain weight. Adding a routine of intermittent fasting allows your body to survive off existing fat stores, which promotes healthy body fat loss among other benefits. Losing weight and getting healthy is not a temporary effort, rather it requires a permanent change in lifestyle and dietary habits!
Michael K Chase, MS, NTP
Nutrition Science and Dietetics