- The keto diet has to be followed diligently in order for it to work.
- The ketogenic diet is a popular weight-loss strategy, but you don’t have to stick to it forever to see benefits.
- Even nutrition researchers who may not endorse the keto diet say there’s a right and wrong way to go about it.
- If you try out the diet, make sure to get enough fat, and don’t cycle in and out of the plan.
- Consuming too much protein can be bad for your kidneys, so keto-ers should also incorporate fresh foods like veggies and drink plenty of water.
If you’re thinking of going keto, you can forget bread, beans, bananas, and nearly every other sweet treat.
The ketogenic diet is an exacting, tough-to-follow formula for rapid weight loss. The regimen essentially tricks your body into thinking it’s starving by depriving it of nearly all carbohydrates. The goal is to trigger a metabolic state called ketosis, in which the body burns fat for energy instead of storing it up in reserve.
Typically, people on the keto diet rely on fat for 70-80% of their caloric needs. They consume no more than 20-50 grams of carbohydrates a day, which means they’re limited to about an apple’s worth of sugars and starches, if that. Avoiding carbs is essential for maintaining ketosis – if you mess up the ratio, you’ll quickly kick yourself out of the fat-burning state and your body will start burning carbohydrates again, and storing more of the fat you eat as reserves.
The diet has gained popularity from Hollywood to Silicon Valley, with celebrities and venture capitalists alike marveling at how going keto controls their appetite, seems to sharpen mental focus, and trims waistlines.
But keto has its critics. Some doctors say they’re seeing more patients dealing with painful kidney stones, and they worry that some dieters may not drink enough water or are consuming too much protein, which acidifies urine.
Still, even nutritionists who are cautious about extreme low-carb diets are starting to agree that going keto can be a winning formula for managing Type 2 diabetes and controlling epileptic seizures. New evidence also suggests that the high-fat plan may improve certain cancer treatments and could help keep our brains healthy, though more research on those topics is needed.
[Read More: Silicon Valley’s favorite high-fat diet is beloved by everyone from venture capitalists to LeBron James – here’s how it works]
We’ve rounded up some of the clearest advice on keto from a skeptical Harvard cardiologist, a keto evangelist who’s been on the diet for six years, and a physician from the Cleveland Clinic.
Here’s what to know if you’re considering this high-fat regimen.
- Keto dieters can eat lots of butter.
The keto diet is not for everyone
Many people should never consider going on a ketogenic diet.
David Harper, a cancer researcher and physiology professor, has been on the plan for six years. But he tells anyone who wants to try it to talk to a doctor first.
“Should we put everybody on a ketogenic diet? I don’t think so,” Harper said. “Because about a quarter of the people probably don’t need it.”
People who should be especially cautious about keto include those with a history of kidney or liver issues, as well as pregnant women. Others that should never follow the eating regimen have rare disorders that make it difficult to metabolize ketones, which are the chemicals your liver makes when it burns fat for fuel.
People’s magnesium levels can also plummet on the keto diet, and the plan can mess up the diverse garden of gut microbes that help us stay healthy if dieters aren’t careful.
So if you do go keto, make sure to get enough fiber from leafy greens and low-starch veggies to keep things running smoothly. And drink lots of water.
“You can’t do this halfway. You have to be all in,” Harper said. For himself, that means sticking to limited quantities of meat, making most of his meals at home, and enjoying plenty of butter and cheese.
[Read More: A cancer researcher who’s been on the keto diet for 6 years explains how he does it]
Some doctors – even those who might may prescribe the diet to some of their patients – acknowledge it isn’t the right plan for everyone, including themselves.
“If I eat no carbs, I will lose too much weight, and it won’t be good for me,” Cleveland Clinic doctor Mark Hyman said during a recent question and answer session. “I need a little bit, that’s my metabolism.”
But Hyman maintains that many of his patients thrive on the plan.
Ketosis can act like a miracle drug for certain conditions
The most surefire benefits of the keto diet have to do with reducing epileptic seizures, inflammation, and “hyper-excitability” of nerve cells, as Harper put it.
Children with tough-to-control seizures can see great improvements by going on a keto regimen for several months to two or three years. After that, they may go back to a more traditional diet and still see fewer seizures thanks to their keto stint.
“It’s changing something fundamental at the cellular level, which is pretty cool,” as Harper said.
The diet can also help people with obesity in a similar way, serving as a re-set button for those who are severely overweight.
“If you’re 300 pounds, if you’re diabetic, it can be very effective to get your systems unstuck from the metabolic crises it’s in, and put it in healthier state,” Hyman said.
He added, “there’s great evidence that you can reverse up to 60% of Type 2 diabetes in a year.”
You don’t have to stay keto for life, but waffling back and forth isn’t good for your health
Other doctors maintain a cautious approach to extreme diets like keto, largely because they’re so hard to maintain.
One 2017 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested yo-yo dieting has deadly consequences, and it can lead to serious health problems, including more deaths, heart attacks, and strokes.
Sara Seidelmann, a cardiologist and nutrition researcher at Harvard Medical School, recently co-authored a somewhat controversial roundup of studies examining people’s diet patterns and death rates around the world. She found that people who ate a moderate amount of carbohydrates, especially those who consumed more whole grains and vegetables, tended to live the longest. People who stuck to low-carb diets (which are often meat-heavy) or high-carb diets (those who consume little more than white rice) had shorter average lifespans.
Her big takeaway was that the quality of a diet mattered much more than how many carbs people ate.
“Try to make choices that fill your plate with plants,” she said.
That includes “whole foods and whole grains, things that you can recognize,” she added.
But Seidelmann also recognizes that a keto stint can be a successful weight-loss strategy as long as people don’t eat too much low-quality processed food or red meat. Once the desired goal is achieved, though, she believes healthy, plant-based carbohydrates like whole grains and beans should be incorporated into meals again.
“Once that phase of dieting is over, it may be really worth taking a long pause and thinking about, what are the healthy choices that you can make for your whole life?” she said.
All three experts agree it’s more important to stick to a diet that’s healthy, rather than one that’ll cause energy crashes.
“The first thing you want to do, and I think we’re all agreeing now, is get sugar out of your diet,” Harper said. He also doesn’t endorse shifting back and forth between high- and low-carb plans. In fact, he thinks it’s dangerous and puts unneeded stress on the body.
“There’s a metabolic conversion that happens each time you do that,” he said. “When you start adding high-carb calories onto that again, it’s already biasing your body to store fat, because it thinks you’ve been in a fasting state.”
Whether you decide keto’s a good plan for you or not, experts maintain any healthy plan should include plenty of fresh produce, limited doses of meat, and whatever fat-to-carb ratio you can maintain in good health.
- Ketogenic diets are high in fat and essentially cut a person’s sugar intake to nil.
- Africa Studio/Shutterstock
Six years ago, David Harper considered himself relatively healthy.
The anatomy and physiology professor loved an occasional cookie, but he exercised often, cooked nutritious meals at home, and tried to stick to conventional nutrition advice: not too many calories, low amounts of fat.
But Harper started to realize that saturated fat might not be so bad, and that maybe it was the carbohydrates he ate that were causing him to pile on extra pounds and increasing inflammation.
“We’ve been telling people to eat the wrong diet for 40 years, and we’ve seen the results,” Harper told Business Insider.
He is convinced that carbohydrate-heavy, low-fat diets are a major reason we’re seeing high rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and cancer. That’s because a diet high in sugar can quickly raise insulin levels in the body. Over time, those spikes can lead to insulin resistance and eventually to long-term health issues like high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, inflammation, and obesity.
So years before the likes of LeBron James and the Kardashians figured out there might be some benefits to a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet, Harper gave it a try.
Read more: Silicon Valley’s favorite high-fat diet is beloved by everyone from venture capitalists to LeBron James – here’s how it works
Harper lost over 20 pounds on a high-fat, low-carb diet
Trained in mathematical biofluiddynamics, Harper teaches anatomy, physiology, and pathology at the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, Canada. He said that’s part of the reason the keto diet made sense to him.
- David Harper.
- Goran Basaric
“It was the knowledge that I gained through my career teaching anatomy, physiology, and pathology that led me to the conclusion that this is absolutely right in terms of the way the human body works,” he said.
Harper went on the diet with his wife to test what it was like for a few months.
“Over 12 weeks, I lost about 22 pounds of body fat,” he said, adding that most of it was around his midsection. He wasn’t a big guy before – about 5-foot-9 and 177 pounds – but today he weighs 150 or so.
The reason the keto diet is effective for weight loss and some disease control is that it fundamentally shifts the way our bodies run. On a traditional diet, our bodies automatically reach for carbohydrates to burn first, before using fats, because carbs are quicker and easier to break down.
But if no carbs are available, our bodies start burning fat as a primary fuel source and producing ketones in the liver, which the body can turn into energy. This metabolic state, called ketosis, is what happens when someone is starving. But it’s also how Harper’s body works every day. His system relies on fats like butter, oil, and lard as a primary energy source instead of packing them on as in-case-of-emergency poundage.
Harper said he doesn’t even feel hungry if he skips a meal or two.
Harper doesn’t eat tons of meat and hasn’t given up wine
Harper said he often starts the day by eating high-fat yogurt topped with a few berries and some roasted nuts. Other mornings, his breakfast might be bacon and eggs with tomato and avocado.
His sweet tooth is gone, he said. Instead, he gets hankerings for fatty foods.
“What I crave is butter,” he said. “I like grass-fed butter. I could eat that stuff like cheese.”
If he’s out and about during the day, he might order a breve latte, which is made with cream instead of milk. Most keto dieters shy away from even the fattiest milk because it contains too many carbohydrates (specifically sugar) to be ketosis-friendly. Harper keeps a stash of nuts with him at all times when he’s on the go.
Read more: The tastiest, most surprising foods you can eat on the keto diet
For lunch, he often opts for a salad with chicken or fish on top. The dinners he cooks are usually pasta-style dishes, or maybe the occasional meat-and-potatoes-type meal, except he replaces any potatoes or grain-based pasta with low-carb alternatives like cauliflower or squash. Often, he tops the meal off with cheese.
He avoids beans and apples, which have too many carbs to be considered keto, but he sometimes has a glass of wine or munches on berries for a sweet treat.
“It’s all real food that comes from plants, and I don’t eat huge amounts of meat,” Harper said.
If he does cook chicken, he keeps the fatty skin on, and the small cuts of steak he picks out are marbled with fat.
The keto diet is not a diet at all
Harper doesn’t think the keto diet should be tried as a quick fix, and he’s not a fan of keto “cycling,” a practice that involves switching back and forth between being in a state of ketosis and eating meals with more carbs.
“You need to be committed, and you need to really say, ‘I’ve been on the wrong path for a long time, and I’m willing to give up a lot of these foods that I really love, that I’m emotionally attached to, and I’m going to change to a different diet because that’s going to provide better health,’” he said.
But a few disclaimers about the keto diet are in order. It’s not for everyone – people with a history of kidney or liver issues, as well as pregnant people, can put themselves in severe danger if they try the diet. The plan should not be tried without consulting a professional.
Harper also said many people might confuse going keto with having an excuse to fill up on bacon and eggs every morning, but it isn’t that. A proper keto diet is about 70-80% fat, with no more than 10-15% carbs. That means most people on it try to keep their carbohydrate intake below 50 grams a day and stick to only moderate amounts of protein.
Other kinesiologists think the keto diet could have dangerous effects on athletic performance, and it’s tough to know what potential side effects a long-term high-fat diet might have for a healthy person, since we don’t have any solid study results yet. Low-carb diets like keto can make it easy to neglect key nutrients like magnesium, calcium, and potassium found in fresh, high-carb foods like beans, bananas, and oats.
Ketogenic diets are, however, a well-established way to help control Type 2 diabetes, and the plan has for nearly 100 years been used to reduce instances of childhood epileptic seizures. Some scientists also think the high-fat diet may hold promise for staving off Alzheimer’s, and there are some early indications it might help improve certain cancer treatment outcomes when used in conjunction with drugs. (Harper is part of a research team investigating how the diet might help boost treatment among people with breast cancer.)
But Harper doesn’t think keto should be considered a fad diet.
“You can’t do this halfway,” he said. “You have to be all in, and all in forever.”
- Nutritionists are zeroing in on healthy, whole foods that come mainly from plants, not animals, as the secret to a longer life.
- with wind/Flickr
- Low-carb diets like the ketogenic diet are popular strategies for rapid weight loss and appetite control.
- Keto diets require eaters to essentially forgo all carbohydrates and fuel up on fats and limited amounts of proteins instead.
- Because sugar is a carb, many keto dieters drastically reduce their sugar intake – but they eliminate healthier carbs too.
- Nutritionists are starting to notice that people who live the longest tend to incorporate more plant-based foods, including some fiber-rich carbs, into their diets.
- It’s another reminder that focusing on healthy, plant-based, whole foods is a better long-term strategy than dieting.
Scientists and dietitians are starting to agree on a recipe for a long, healthy life. It’s not sexy, and it doesn’t involve fancy pills or pricey diet potions.
Fill your plate with plants. Include vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and legumes. Don’t include a lot of meat, milk, or highly processed foods that a gardener or farmer wouldn’t recognize.
“There’s absolutely nothing more important for our health than what we eat each and every day,” Sara Seidelmann, a cardiologist and nutrition researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told Business Insider.
Seidelmann recently published a massive, blockbuster global study of the eating patterns of more than 447,000 people around the world. What she discovered – and what is probably not a huge surprise – is that no matter where you live or what your daily diet is like, banning entire food groups and thinking you can cheat your way into good health might work for a while, but it could also send you into an early grave.
The popular ketogenic diet, which involves strictly limiting carbs to less than 50 grams a day (that’s no more than two apples’ worth) and subsisting primarily on high-fat foods, is one of those restrictive diets that could have harmful long-term consequences.
Other low-carb weight-loss diets that fall into this category include paleo, Atkins, Dukan, and Whole 30. Nutrition experts say that besides their potential for harm, these popular diets are really hard to follow.
[Read More: The keto diet could make certain cancer treatments more effective in mice, a study found – and a human trial is moving forward]
Some benefits of going keto are difficult to dispute. Following a high-fat, low-carb diet can be a solid strategy for rapid weight loss and blood-sugar control. The keto diet can also be great for children with tough-to-control epileptic seizures. For decades, people have seen stellar results managing those conditions on a keto diet with the help and guidance of professionals.
But there’s some limited evidence that going low-carb might also lead people to become less tolerant of glucose and develop diabetes, though more research is needed.
What we do know, based on carefully conducted laboratory testing of overweight men, is that going keto probably doesn’t help burn more body fat than a regular regimen. Instead, it forces people to dramatically curb their sugar intake (remember, sugar is 100% carbohydrate) and kick processed foods to the curb. Those are both good habits for overall health and blood-sugar levels, and they can help reduce your likelihood of developing cancer.
But like taking aspirin, eating a special high-fat, low-carb diet probably shouldn’t be an everyday habit for otherwise healthy people. Our bodies simply aren’t designed to fuel up on fats, unless we’re literally starving. Even Josh Axe, a keto evangelist, has said it’s not a diet that should be followed for more than a few months at a time.
Finally, low-carb diets make it easy to neglect key nutrients like magnesium, calcium, and potassium that can be plentiful on less restrictive diets with fresh, high-carb foods like beans, bananas, and oats.
More studies suggest that people who eat whole, nutrient-rich foods live the longest and have a lower risk of cancer
More research that backs up Seidelmann’s was presented in August at the European Society of Cardiology Congress.
Researchers who presented at that conference studied the self-reported eating patterns of nearly 25,000 people in the US and compared their results with studies involving more than 447,500 people. Again, they found that those who ate a moderate amount of carbohydrates were more likely to live longer than either low-carb or high-carb dieters.
“Our study suggests that in the long-term, [low-carb diets] are linked with an increased risk of death from any cause, and deaths due to cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, and cancer,” Maciej Banach, a professor at the Medical University of Lodz in Poland who helped write the study, said in a release.
A third study published this week in the journal PLOS Medicine that surveyed the eating habits of 471,495 Europeans over 22 years found that people whose diets had lower “nutritional quality” (i.e., fewer fresh vegetables, legumes, and nuts) were more likely to develop some of the most common and deadliest forms of cancer, including colon, stomach, lung, liver, and breast cancers.
[Read More: Silicon Valley’s favorite diet can lead to kidney trouble – here’s how to go keto without getting sick]
Basically, we’re learning there’s no shortcut to healthy eating
It can be tricky calculating the precise kind of diet that leads to a long life. Part of the problem is that (thankfully) we don’t live our lives in highly controlled laboratory conditions. Until that terrifying day arrives and we all become well-studied lab rats, we have to rely on long-term observational data, usually in the form of surveys, to know more about which diets are the best long-term plans.
In study after study, survey data from around the world has shown that people who stick to limited amounts of meats, dairy, and processed foods while fueling up on fiber-rich plant-based foods including vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and, yes, even carb-heavy beans have some of the best health outcomes. Seidelmann describes their diets as being rich in “whole foods.”
“They were not processed,” she said of the diets of people in her study who lived the longest. These people would consume whole-grain rice, not white varieties. They’d eat plants like fruits and vegetables, not more-processed versions like fruit juice or smoothies.
“You have the intact fiber; you have a lot more nutrients,” Seidelmann said.
Fiber isn’t just good for keeping your gut moving – scientists feeding diets rich in fiber to mice are discovering that the carbs, which can’t be absorbed by the body, can help protect aging brains from some of the damaging chemicals associated with Alzheimer’s and reduce inflammation in the gut. They’re confident that the health benefits of eating more fiber extend to humans too.
But a plant-based regimen with lots of fiber can be tricky to maintain on a low-carb diet, because some of the highest-fiber foods are also high in carbs, such as savory beans, crunchy peas, and sweet fruits.
“It is not a common pattern to eat very low-carb, strictly plant-based,” Seidelmann said. “At least in the Western world, it tends to be more animal-based. That just is what it is.”
People on low-carb diets often turn to more butter and meat for sustenance, which can increase blood pressure and, in the case of processed meats, contribute to cancer. Meat and dairy can also contribute to inflammation in the body, which can help cancerous tumors form and grow.
The new scientific findings all support what parents, trainers, and coaches have been saying for years: eat less junk, and continue to be skeptical of the latest miracle diet, be it keto or any other passing fad.
- Dark chocolate isn’t banned by the keto diet. But it has to be really dark.
The ketogenic diet isn’t built for those with a sweet tooth.
The low-sugar eating plan restricts carbohydrates to just 20-50 grams a day, pushing the body to rely on burning fat for energy, a metabolic state called ketosis.
Typically, our bodies seek out carbohydrates (sugars, starches, and fiber) for fuel before tapping into fat reserves. So the keto plan is designed to essentially trick your body into thinking it is starving.
The keto diet was originally designed to help manage drug-resistant epileptic seizures, but it has developed something of a cult following. Many followers say the diet allows them fill up on fatty, rich foods while still losing weight, reducing their appetite, and sharpening their minds.
Like many restrictive diets, keto isn’t easy to follow. You can’t eat more than a handful of chickpeas or a single banana without going over your daily recommended carb count on the plan, so it’s easy to understand why the regimen may not be sustainable. In fact, most nutritionists suggest that if you’re looking to stay healthy long-term, less restrictive diets that are rich in unprocessed, plant-based foods and include a moderate amount of carbohydrates are some of the best for a healthy, long life.
We still don’t know much about the long-term health effects of the keto diet. But clinical studies in mice suggest it may have a role to play in cancer treatment, though studies in humans are needed.
For those trying the plan, there are some tasty and healthy snacks that fit neatly into the keto rules. Here are 16 surprising keto-friendly foods.
- Getty Images/Stilton cheese
Stinky blue cheese or rich Camembert – all cheese can have a place in the keto diet. The plan prioritizes creamier, more unprocessed dairy over milks and yogurts with more sugar.
It’s about 80% fat, with no carbs. Clearly a keto food.
- elana’s pantry via Flickr
This is the fattiest stuff that comes out of a cow’s udders – the rich substance that rises to the top of the milk pail and has around 35% fat. Just make sure it’s not sweetened with any added sugar.
Spinach and other leafy greens
Keto dieters have to be careful about eating too much of certain vegetables like carrots, but many greens, such as broccoli, kale, and spinach, can be great keto staples.
Nuts, but not all types
Walnuts are beloved by keto-ers because they contain a kind of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), one of two essential fatty acids that the body can’t produce on its own. Almonds and Brazil nuts are also good choices for keto followers.
Still, not all nuts are keto-friendly: You’d have to eat less than a cup of cashews or pistachios to stay within the daily carb limit.
Nuts are a good snack for anyone who’s not allergic, since eating them regularly can help keep your heart healthy and lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol in the body.
A half cup of fresh tomatoes has 4 grams of carbs, so keto-ers can’t eat too much of the juicy fruit, but it’s fine as a salad topping.
Besides, one of those four grams of carbohydrates is from fiber, and since all fiber essentially passes straight through your body, you don’t have to factor it into your daily carb intake, according to keto rules. That means a half cup of tomatoes has a net carb intake of just 3 grams. That’s well within the 20-50 gram daily limit.
- William Felker/Unsplash
Blackberries and raspberries have some of the lowest carb loads of any fruit, but contain a generous helping of antioxidants, which help keep the cells in your body healthy.
Much of the carb dose in these berries comes from fiber, which, again, is subtracted in keto calculations. So it’s ok to nibble on them in moderation.
There’s also another important keto-friendly berry…
- Macha Cafe
Avocado is a weirdo in the fruit family. By weight, avocados have more than twice the protein of any other fleshy fruit. They also lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol while raising the good stuff, and contain healthy monounsaturated fat along with very low doses of saturated fat.
Zucchini can serve as a staple food for strict keto-ers. It is often used as a creative replacement for forbidden foods like pastas and crusts.
- Wikimedia Commons
From chicken with the skin on to a fatty cut of pork chop, all meat is allowed on keto.
But there is still reason to eat meat in moderation. Proteins in meat are more dangerous for your heart health than those in nuts, and eating more meat can up your risk of death.
Plus, ketogenic diets are not designed to be protein-rich. Protein should only constitute about 15% of a day’s calorie intake for a person to remain in optimal keto mode.
From that meat, you can make bone broth
- Food Loves Writing / Flickr
Bone broth – stock that’s been cooked with meat or fish bones – has developed a devoted following in recent years as a collagen-rich food.
But don’t be fooled into thinking that this savory sipping juice will help your nails or joints; gut experts say that’s nonsense.
“Since we don’t absorb collagen whole, the idea that eating collagen somehow promotes bone growth is just wishful thinking,” William Percy, a pharmacologist and associate professor at the University of South Dakota, told NPR.
However, bone stock can be a decent source of protein-rich amino acids, which are crucial building blocks for your body’s cells. The briney liquid will keep you well hydrated, too.
In cocoa beans, there’s a hefty dose of butter: cocoa butter, that is. So dark chocolate can be a good keto treat if it doesn’t have too much sugar and milk.
Only the really dark, low-sugar variety will do: a few squares of a bar that’s around 80% cocoa (or higher) is a good choice.
- Lusie Lia/Shutterstock
Regular milk isn’t great for keto followers since it contains sugar. But coconut milk – the fatty, creamy base of many curries and sauces – is rich, dairy-free, and keto-approved.
Nutritionists are quick to offer caveats about coconut, though, since it’s terribly high in saturated fat, which isn’t great for your health.
Karin Michel, a professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health recently pointed out that coconut oil is worse for your arteries than lard, and her colleague Walter Willett cautions that coconut oil should probably be used sparingly in your diet. The health benefits of unsaturated fats and oils like olive oil are more proven.
- A 230 kg (507 lb.) bluefin tuna outside Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.
- REUTERS/Yuya Shino
Fish offers generous helpings of healthy fat. It’s a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce the risk of abnormal heartbeat, slow the rate of heart-clogging plaque growth, reduce the amount of fat in your blood, and lower blood pressure a bit.
The American Heart Association recommends adults eat oily fish twice a week or more.
- Olha Afanasieva/Shutterstock
Eggs are also a good source of omega-3s, and the cholesterol in eggs probably won’t have much of an effect on your blood cholesterol, so they’re a safe and filling keto choice.
Whatever diet you’re on (even if it’s no diet at all), drink plenty of water
Urologists say it’s vitally important to stay hydrated on the keto diet, especially if you’re swapping out carbs for more meat.
But drinking lots of water every day is sound advice anyone hoping to maintain a healthy weight in the long run.
One 2016 study of more than 18,000 people in the US found that those who drank more water were consistently more satisfied and ate fewer calories on a daily basis.They also consumed lower amounts of sugar, fat, salt, and cholesterol than more dehydrated participants, no matter what kind of diet they chose.
In a recent column, I stated, “Even if we entirely avoided all carbohydrates, our bodies would use protein in an alternate recipe to make glucose (sugar) to fuel our cells.”
However, someone responded: “According to Dr Jason Fung, author of The Obesity Code, if one eats a diet of 65% healthy fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbohydrate, the body will be in ketosis and will burn fat, not protein, to make glucose to fuel our cells.
“Only when the body reaches the level of 4% fat will protein be used to make glucose.”
He then goes on to describe his success with this diet under his doctor’s supervision.
“I have lost a pound a week for 15 weeks and feel very good after the initial few days of sugar withdrawal. My regime of full fat yoghurt and milk, unsweetened whipped cream in my coffee, olive and avocado oils, limited fruit, no root vegetables, no flour, beans or pulses, satisfies my hunger as no other diet has. Have you looked into the ketogenic diet? I believe it is revolutionary.”
I applaud this person’s progress. And yes, I have looked into the research on ketogenic diets. Here are my thoughts:
Glucose – the primary fuel for our brain, muscle and other body functions – is easily provided by carbohydrates (sugars and starches in most plant-based foods).
In the absence of carbohydrates, our amazing bodies can make glucose from fat and protein.
Ketogenic diets severely restrict carbohydrates to force the body to manufacture glucose from these alternate sources.
This causes acids (ketones) to build up in the blood – a condition called ketosis. In times of starvation or low carb dieting, take your pick, our brains and muscles can survive on ketone bodies.
The ketogenic diet is extremely popular and controversial. Like you, many of its followers report less hunger and more weight loss compared to other diets.
Yet, experts argue its long term effectiveness and safety.
These diets eliminate or severely restrict any type of sugar or starch including grains, fruit (natural fruit sugar, fructose), potatoes and other starchy vegetables, beans, legumes and milk (natural milk sugar, lactose).
On the plus side, ketogenic diets have been used successfully to treat epileptic seizures in children.
And many people who adopt this eating plan eat more vegetables and less added sugar. Studies over the past 15 years show that animals and humans tend to lose weight faster on ketogenic diets. Their effectiveness over the long term does not seem to be any better than other weight loss plans, however.
On the down side, ketosis means that our bodies must deal with the production of acids, including acetone, that build up in our blood. This, say biochemists, disturbs the body’s natural acid-base balance.
People with diabetes are at risk of ketoacidosis – an extreme form of ketosis that is life-threatening.
While promoters of the keto diet say this is not a risk for healthy people, I personally do not prefer to chronically feed my brain and muscles this way.
My opinion also is that carbohydrates are not evil monsters. They are quite literally the energy from the sun transformed by plants into fuel (sugars and starches). This energy is transferred to me when I eat plant-based foods.
If I severely restrict these foods, I also eliminate some pretty important nutrients and substances that reduce inflammation – a major trigger for obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
A recent study by the US Agricultural Research Service, for example, found that participants who ate whole grains (instead of refined grains) lost weight while boosting beneficial bacteria in their guts that fight off inflammation and harmful gut microbes.
Any strategy that helps us avoid empty calories from excess sugars is a good step. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater, however. – The Monterey County Herald/Tribune News Service