A Few Thoughts On The Ketogenic Diet…

By Henry Gould – Sept 19th, 2018

I’m not that old, but in my short stint on earth it feels like I’ve lived through a lifetime of diet and exercise fads. Atkins (low carb, high protein, high fat), South Beach (low carb, high fiber, low fat), Paleo (eating like a neanderthal), Tom Brady (no tomatoes or strawberries), Tae Bo (Billy Blanks doing air punches), the Diet Coke diet (only drinking Diet Coke) and the cotton ball diet (cotton balls soaked in liquid; likely to kill you)… how does one keep up!

The ketogenic diet has been getting a ton of press recently, not only for its celebrity adherents (Kardashians, Gwenyth Paltrow, Lebron James) but for the incredible claims attributed to it: weight loss, increased energy, even things like reduced autism and epilepsy symptoms.

Now, a true ketogenic diet is probably something quite different than what your friend at work did to lose 10kg’s before their wedding. Strictly speaking, a ketogenic diet is one that puts the body in a state of “ketosis”, which means using predominantly ketones (fat molecules) for energy, rather than glucose. A true ketogenic diet would be comprised of 60-75% fat, with the rest in protein and little to no sugar.

To really understand the basis for the ketogenic diet, we need to do a quick history and nutrition lesson. Firstly, humans have been on the earth for approximately 200,000 years. During this time, humans were hunter gatherers, eating what they found or killed. This meant plants they could forage and animals they could hunt and eat. Because animal fat is such a good source of energy, evolving to eat and process fat is something we are well adapted to do. On the flip side, sugar occurs quite rarely in nature outside of fruit and honey, so this would have almost never been available as an energy source. Therefore, our body developed a process for dealing with too much sugar in the bloodstream: insulin. If we don’t regulate our blood sugar, we can easily slip into a coma and die. Not good! This is also what diabetes is; an inability to regulate ones blood-sugar levels.

In addition to regulating our blood sugar, insulin works to help the body store excess sugar as fat. Because glucose is a great source of energy, the body figures it might need some for later. Keep in mind, the body still hasn’t caught up to the fact that we now live in warm houses with unlimited access to food, so if it keeps getting fed high sugar foods with more energy than it needs, it’s going to keep storing this as fat indefinitely.

Suffice to say, the diet we evolved on (plants, animal protein, fat, low sugar) and the one common in the developed world (processed foods and carbohydrates) are two very different things. Agriculture brought the advent of crops, and with these crops came more grains and more sugar. Although this was great for feeding a lot of people and building civilizations around, it has tended to have adverse effects on the health of the masses. Sugar is highly addictive, cheap and plentiful, so it makes sense why food companies pump it into just about everything.

Circling back on the ketogenic diet, lately I think it’s been used more as a buzzword and less as something followed to the letter of the law. Instead of eating 70% fat hoping to stay in “ketosis” (something unrealistic over a lifetime of eating), what people really mean is a diet low in sugar, low in refined carbohydrates (rice, pasta, bread) and high in protein, fat, and vegetables. Despite what you may think, vegetables do have a significant amount of carbohydrates in them, but because a lot of these are locked into “fiber”, the body is less able to extract them then it would a spoon full of sugar.

Personally, I feel that eating in this way is suited both to our evolutionary development, as well as what modern nutrition tells us is healthy over the course of a lifetime. Science has more or less overturned the previous thinking that eating fat made you fat, when in reality it’s sugar (and insulin) that regulate fat storage.¬† Apart from that, gauging expectations in any “diet” is important, keeping in mind that moderation is key. Kale might be good for you, but that doesn’t mean eating 2 bunches of kale a day is extra good for you. In fact, it might actually be bad!

Do your research, read both sides of the argument, and consult the advice of doctors and nutritionists before starting any drastic health changes.

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