Conventional wisdom used to be that if you eat fatty foods, you will become fat. But that’s not always how it works. Let’s get to the bottom of the science, including keto diet science, which shows just how to lose stubborn body fat and help heal metabolic diseases.
Makers of high-sugar foods, which can be just as bad for you as fatty ones, if not worse, used to cry out “We’re a fat-free food!” on their packaging.
But now the tide has turned. All we hear on the news is how bad high-sugar foods are for us. Study after study shows sugar is addictive (at least in rats, according to this study by Princeton University scientists), causes cancer (in mice, according to this study published in the journal Cancer Research) and even leads to cardiovascular disease, according to Harvard Health.
Americans are getting wise to the sugar salespeople. We now know that you can actually lose weight while eating lots of fats—so long as you don’t throw too many carbohydrates into the mix.
It’s known as the ketogenic diet. The ketogenic diet is a purer form of the renowned “Atkins Diet” that was all the rage from the 1960s through the 1990s.
But the ketogenic diet is not a fad diet and should not be classified as such. In fact, keto diet science has been around since the 1920s. In those days, the keto diet was used to treat epileptic seizures in children.
For people with metabolic disease, the keto diet may actually save their life.
What Is Metabolic Disease?
Metabolic disease is a dangerous combination of conditions that can include high blood sugar and diabetes, high blood pressure, low HDL, or “good” cholesterol, and high triglycerides. If you have metabolic disease, you are at an increased risk of death by heart attack or stroke. One 2017 study showed the risk is a little less than double that of people who do not have metabolic syndrome. That study appeared in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Most people with metabolic disease are obese. The keto diet is great for losing weight fast, which in and of itself lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke. But beyond that, several doctors and scientists say the keto diet actually makes good sense if you want a healthy heart. “Low-carbohydrates diets are founded in basic metabolic principles and the data suggest that some form of carbohydrate restriction is a candidate to be the preferred dietary strategy for cardiovascular health beyond weight regulation,” wrote Volek et. al in the journal Progress in Lipid Research.
The Science Behind Why the Diet Works: What Are Ketones?
For people with metabolic disease, sugar has thrown their bodies completely out of whack. Their regulatory systems have become inflamed as adipose cells are unable to hold any more fat made from carbohydrates.
Normally, insulin is burning glucose (sugar) to provide energy to our bodies. So, what happens when you take away carbohydrates (sugar) and go on a low-carb diet like the keto diet?
“In the absence of circulating blood sugar from food, we start breaking down stored fat into molecules called ketone bodies to generate energy until we start eating carbohydrates again,” writes Dr. Marcelo Campos in the Harvard Health blog. “The shift, from using circulating glucose to breaking down stored fat as a source of energy, usually happens over 2 to 4 days of eating no more than 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates per day.
“Keep in mind that this is a highly individualized process, and some people need a more restricted diet to start producing enough ketones.”
For some, carbohydrates on the keto diet may only represent 5% of a person’s food intake for maximum results. For others, it may be as much as a third.
In his blog, Campos admits the diet has benefits. But he claims it’s hard to stick to.
So, the entire idea behind keto diet science is to cut carbs (sugar) to induce ketosis.
To quote Mayo Clinic, “It’s important to choose foods with healthy unsaturated fats and healthy proteins,” when sticking to a strict, low-carb diet such as the keto diet. “Limit foods containing saturated and trans fats, such as meat, high-fat dairy products, and processed crackers and pastries.”
In fact, some meats, particularly cold-water seafood caught in the wild, are essential to the keto diet. You also can try grass-fed beef and cage-free poultry. “Organ meats” like liver also get a thumbs up.
There are keto diet recipes galore online…going on a diet high in fat by no means should have to feel like being sent to your room without dinner. Not only do diets high in fat generally taste good, but all that protein and fat in your stomach actually make you feel fuller so you eat less. This is known as satiety.
High-carb foods that you definitely want to eliminate include sugary candies, processed foods that come out of boxes, and especially sugary drinks. Most dairy products also should be avoided.
Low-carb vegetables include leafy greens, asparagus, zucchini, cucumbers, bell peppers, green beans, and more. A nice, fat-based fruit you can eat are avocados.
You also can cook with butter, coconut oil, and olive oil and still stick to your keto diet.
Keto Diet Gaining Momentum in Medical Establishment
The diet has become somewhat of a debate in the medical community as it pertains to its long-term success. But more and more doctors are saying we not only need to embrace the keto diet as a way to lose weight, but also as a way to better heart health.
A few detractors have claimed the keto diet may be harmful because carbohydrates are considered an “essential nutrient.” But most doctors and scientists agree that’s poppycock. In fact, research shows that too little fat in your diet may contribute to osteoarthritis; we know it does in mice, as reported in the journal Arthritis Rheumatology.
“There is no clear requirement for dietary carbohydrates for human adults,” wrote Anssi H. Manninen in the journal International Society of Sports Nutrition.“Interestingly, the effects of ketone body metabolism suggest that mild ketosis may offer therapeutic potential in a variety of different common and rare disease states.”
Evidence the Keto Diet Will Help You Lose Weight and Get Healthy Again
In a report in Experimental & Clinical Cardiology, researchers in Kuwait studied the keto diet among 83 obese patients, including 39 men and 43 women.
“Brehm et. al showed that obese women on a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet lost 8.5 kg over six months compared with 4.2 kg lost by those in the low-fast group,” reported the researchers.
But more importantly, they reported “significant” decreases in the level of triglycerides, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and glucose, and a “significant” increase in the level of HDL “good” cholesterol.
“The side effects of drugs commonly used for the reduction of body weight in such patients were not observed in patients who were on the ketogenic diet,” the researchers concluded.
You can check out the details of their findings by reading the study for yourself.
History shows what happens to a community when its diet changes from low-carb to high-carb. For instance, as the Inuit have been pushed out of their old-word, naturally low-carb ways, chronic health conditions have begun to crop up.
“Aboriginal hunting and fishing cultures survived for millennia with little if any identifiable dietary carbohydrate intake,” Volek et al. write in Progress in Lipid Research. “Examples include the Inuit of the Arctic and First Nations groups in Canada.”
“When these ethnic groups underwent a transition from their high-fat, low-carbohydrate traditional diets, the prevalence of obesity and Type-2 diabetes in these populations increased dramatically.”
The keto diet is anything but “a fad.” It’s science that has been around since 1920, and it has been helping people with chronic disease live better lives.