What is the Ketogenic Diet?
Every year it seems there’s a new fad diet. “Oh, I don’t eat vegetables. Big pharma is putting “fleerbibicide” in it”, your friend says as you imagine punching him in the face. Maybe it’s not fleerbibicide, but what’s the buzzword now? Ketones. You might have heard phrases like, “Nah, I can’t eat that; it’ll take me out of ketosis”, or, “CHECK OUT THIS PEE STICK. MY KETONES ARE GOING CRAZY”. I agree; I too have the (almost) irresistible temptation to cut these people’s brake lines. But what are they actually saying? And why did Marie just eat a stick of butter in the break room? Did Dave just eat an entire package of bacon for lunch? Is this science? Or is it another “Doctor Oz”, over-prescribed, and patient approved placebo effect?
Unfortunately, not a lot of research has been done on the ketogenic diet. I’ll try my best to refrain from citing bogus sources. Also, dietary science is like watching a four-year-old perform heart surgery. As always, if there’s anything you think is incorrect or you’d like to add something, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The ketogenic diet consists of eating high amounts of fat, and extremely low amounts of carbs. The fats come from eating mostly meat products throughout the day, and the carbs come from leafy greens.
Yes! I hear you man in the back of the room frantically screaming, “WHAT ABOUT THE BREAD? CAN I EAT BREAD?”. No… you can’t eat bread on this diet… Who would do this to themselves? And why? That’s the question we’ll be answering in this article.
In the early 1900’s Hugh Conklin prescribed fasting to his patients with epilepsy hypothesizing that their seizures were induced from a toxin secreted in the gut. After, they were to follow a diet of high fat and low carbohydrates, doing this induced a state called ketosis, which is your bodies starvation mode. Instead of using glucose from carbohydrates, in ketosis, your body uses acetone, β-hydroxybutyrate, and acetoacetate, or ketones, which are produced in the liver. It proved effective in treating epilepsy.
When you restrict carbohydrates, your body enters ketosis and shifts its source of energy from glucose to fat via ketones.
What benefits do people report?
I personally like this website that has a bunch of testimonials from people who have started high-fat diets and lives have improved significantly. It may be anecdotal, but it’s significant. Many of those who start the diet report
- Increased cognition and focus
- Increase in energy levels
- Weight loss
- Helps with acne
- Has been shown to complement chemotherapy for cancers well
- Increased cardiovascular health
- Helps treat a variety of diseases (more research is needed)
- Some report a decrease in depression
What does the ketogenic diet consist of?
While I won’t dive too much into specifics, link to an article on what and how much to eat here, the ketogenic diet consists of
- fatty meats, like steak, turkey, and bacon
- seafood- salmon, shrimp etc…
- nuts and seeds (in low quantities as the still contain carbohydrates)
- chicken and eggs
- oils like avocado oil, coconut oil, olive oil, and butter
- leafy greens like spinach and broccoli.
There are a lot more foods than listed above, but the idea persists: high-fat, low-carb. That means no grains, starches (and yes, that means fruit), or sugar. Anything that has carbohydrates avoid. But there’s also something you might have heard called, Net Carbs. Some foods contain carbohydrates don’t affect your blood sugar, thus they don’t affect ketosis. This can be calculated by Net Carbs=total carbs – fiber.
What the heck is “keto flu”?
Keto flu is common among people who start the diet and significantly reduce carb intake, as your body shifts its energy source from glucose to fat, entering ketosis, many people feel sick the first few days, reporting grogginess and other things like rashes. It’s unpleasant, but many report that it’s worth it once it’s over for the benefits they see. Keto flu should not be deterrent from the diet.
All of this fat, my hearts gonna explode!
You probably think that eating bacon every day is going to clog your arteries and you’ll die. You learned this in health class probably in the same manner as on the left. Your parents tell you this, your grandparents told them this, and your great-grandparents told them the same thing and so on… But wait, not and so on. Where did this stigma come from?
The War on Fat
It’s pretty much common knowledge in America that saturated fats are bad for you. But largely this conclusion was based on bad science. This long-term study showed no correlation between a reduction in saturated fats in the diet and a lower risk of heart disease. And then this study showed that an abundance of carbohydrates actually led to an increase in unhealthy fats in the body. When you ingest carbohydrates, your body either converts them into ATP for energy (hence carb-loading before a football game) or if there’s excess energy, it gets converted into fats. So what our bodies do with what we eat is extremely important to consider.
Fat has twice the energy that carbohydrates have (9 cal/g opposed to 4 cal/g). So carbohydrates have fewer calories. But eating carbohydrates in high amounts skyrockets your blood sugar to which your body produces insulin, a compound that takes sugar out of the blood, and you experience a crash. You get a short burst of energy followed by a dramatic loss of energy. We’ve all been there. Not being able to do anything for four hours because we ate three bowls of spaghetti. When you experience this crash, your rewards system tells your brains you need more food to get your blood sugar back up, resulting in higher hunger levels despite eating a lot of food. This is reflected in this study here. Eating fat stabilizes insulin and blood sugar levels and keeps energy levels consistent. This is why many on the ketogenic diet report higher energy levels, lower levels of hunger, and increased focus.
The food pyramid was introduced in the 90’s and was backed by some really faulty science. Ancel Keys was a scientist from the mid 20th century who linked high-fat consumption and cholesterol to higher rates of heart disease. His study eminated the definition of confirmation bias. He ignored any difference between samples such as exercise and total food consumption and only nit-picked evidence that supported his hypothesis. More on this here. Some people also believe that pharmaceutical companies used Keys’ work to demonize LDL cholesterol as they had just created medicine to combat it. We have not created a medicine for HDL cholesterol, which is perhaps the reason America perceives it as “good”. They believe that they lobbied politicians, affecting the food guidelines and food pyramid.
The 90’s stigma of low-fat is healthy is simply incorrect. Your body needs fat to function. Which fats you eat is also important. Many vegetables oils are actually trans-fats which are indisputably horrible for the body. In the 90’s, doctors recommended using margarine instead of butter! Saturated fats aren’t the devil either though and don’t necessarily lead to heart disease.
I know “science” seems to change its mind every week on whether or not you can eat egg yolks, but YOU CAN EAT EGG YOLKS. It’s the most nutritious part of the egg! Weight Watchers announced that eggs are now a 0 point food, meaning eat as much as you’d like. I personally eat eggs every morning. Where did this come from?
First, your body NEEDS cholesterol. Cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston explains that every cell membrane in your body is made of cholesterol to which it needs more for regulation and to protect cell nerve fibers. It also is what the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and in men testosterone are synthesized from. It also synthesizes the adrenal hormones, which regulate blood sugar, inflammatory responses, and water and salt retention. It also produces bile salts, which help the gallbladder absorb fat and fat-soluble vitamins. Low cholesterol levels also affect serotonin, a mood-regulating neurotransmitter as well as inhibit Vitamin D production.
Cholesterol is also a poor predictor of heart disease and heart attack. High amounts of LDL or low amounts of HDL do not necessarily increase your risk of heart attack. Additionally, there is only one cholesterol, LDL is low-density fat-lipids that carry cholesterol, and HDL is high-density fat lipids. Cholesterol is good, the fat that they reside in can POTENTIALLY be harmful depending on many different factors, be harmful.
Triglycerides are a dangerous type of fat that comes from an overconsumption of not fat, but carbohydrates. They are also increased by smoking and alcohol (Live vice free, baby. Get high on life).
75% of your bodies cholesterol is produced by your liver, which is why cholesterol medications block the synthesizing enzyme that makes cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol is less significant. You’re overall diet and exercise habits are more effectual for getting rid of the unhealthy lipids that carry cholesterol.
The ketogenic diet for weight loss
Many people are using the diet to shed some lbs. Is it effective? If so why? Everybody who was alive during the 90’s sees somebody who even thinks about butter and thinks —>
This study followed obese patients for 24 weeks as they went on the diet. They showed an overall decrease in triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and blood sugar, and an increase in HDL cholesterol.
This study showed that after 12 months, low carb dieters lost 12 pounds, compared to 4 pounds for low-fat dieters showing low-carb to be more effective. But don’t go demonizing carbs and scolding your friend eating a piece of garlic bread. Calories are calories; energy in = energy out. If you eat more than your using, “you’re gonna get fat”. Fatty foods leave you more satisfied and refrain from infringing on your blood sugar levels. This is a huge advantage as cravings are diets’ biggest downfalls. But Dr. Howard LeWine of Harvard Health Publishing suggests that any diet that restricts a certain food group will most likely result in weight loss. If there’s a food you snack on all the time and you cut it from your diet, you’ll end up just not eating anything instead of taking out a box Wheat Thins before dinner.
The ketogenic diet IS more effective than low-fat and has more health benefits, but really any diet that restricts whatever it is your eating way too much should do the trick.
Fine… I’ll confess. I’m on this diet. And yes, I do feel a bit “bourgeoisie” when I order a hamburger without a bun. I feel like Regina George from Mean Girls, but I also feel amazing. Over the past couple years I’ve developed what appears to be some form of major depressive disorder: extreme periods of the blues followed by high anxiety levels. I was also a very sickly person; ask anybody I know, I have the immune system of a new-born kitten. I heard about the ketogenic diet and I was pretty skeptical because fad diets have historically proven to be pretty dumb. But I looked into it and figured 1.) I have nothing to lose 2.) I won’t know if it’s bulls*** unless I try it. It was rough because my diet was extremely high carb (I managed before because I’m pretty active). I went on it for a while and life was better. My anger issues pretty much went away, anxiety and depressive symptoms were less frequent and less severe, I wasn’t constantly thinking about food, and I finally had the energy to do things. I could finally get up in the morning and not be enveloped by gloom.
Then I stopped the diet thinking that my decrease in depression and my eating habits were correlated but causal (I was eating better because I was happy instead of the other way around).
I pretty much immediately felt much worse. It really made a difference. After a while, I realized why. Refined carbohydrates were pretty much poison to me for whatever reason and eliminating them from my diet made me feel much better. I thought I could cheat on the diet once a week, but digestively and mentally this has proven false.
The ketogenic diet isn’t for everybody; it’s difficult and can be unhealthy to certain people. But for me, the downsides of the diet are completely outweighed by the benefits.
The ketogenic diet is extremely effective for weight loss and improving health, but really any increase in healthy eating habits will prove effective in increasing your quality of life. It’ll take some experimenting to figure out what’s right for you.
It’s almost indisputable that diet is the #1 thing that you can change to improve your quality of life. You don’t have to do the ketogenic diet, but having 50% of your caloric intake come from carbohydrates (as the Food Guidelines suggest) is bound to lead to health complications.
General rule? Lay off the sugar; it’s killing you. Eat protein or fat when you’re hungry. You’ll feel and look better.
Citations for the nerds.
- Mandal, A. (2015, January 12). History of the Ketogenic Diet. Retrieved from https://www.news-medical.net/health/History-of-the-Ketogenic-Diet.aspx
- Smith, Y. (2015, October 19). Ketogenic Diet Mechanism. Retrieved from https://www.news-medical.net/health/Ketogenic-Diet-Mechanism.aspx
- Ketogenic Diet Food List: Everything You Need to Know. (2018, February 10). Retrieved from https://www.ruled.me/ketogenic-diet-food-list/
- Siri-Tarino, P. W., Sun, Q., Hu, F. B., & Krauss, R. M. (2010, March). Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20071648
- Dashti, H. M., Mathew, T. C., Hussein, T., Asfar, S. K., Behbahani, A., Khoursheed, M. A., . . . Al-Zaid, N. S. (2004). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2716748/
- LeWine, H., & M. (2014, October 22). Low fat? Low carb? Almost any healthy diet can work for losing weight. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/low-fat-low-carb-almost-healthy-diet-can-work-losing-weight-201409037386
- M. (n.d.). Testimonials Archives. Retrieved from http://mikhailapeterson.com/category/testimonials
- Allen, B. G., Bhatia, S. K., Anderson, C. M., Eichenberger-Gilmore, J. M., Sibenaller, Z. A., Mapuskar, K. A., . . . Fath, M. A. (2014). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4215472/
- Brown, J. J. (2013, October 17). Arthur Agatston, MD: The Truth About Cholesterol. Retrieved from https://www.everydayhealth.com/heart-health/arthur-agatston-md-truth-about-cholesterol-3442.aspx
- Mercola, D. J. (2017, December 07). The Cholesterol Myth That Could Be Harming Your Health. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mercola/the-cholesterol-myth-that_b_676817.html
- Bad Science: How We Came to Demonize Saturated Fat. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://peregrinenutrition.com/blogs/peregrinations/bad-science-how-the-food-pyramid-is-killing-america