The ketogenic diet and the end of the low-fat myth

The diet isn’t too dissimilar from the Atkins, but has more freedom in ingredients and practice, more similar to paleo

Steven Bond

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There’s no such thing as a quick fix when it comes to healthy weight loss, but the high-fat, low-carb, low-sugar ketogenic diet is soaring in popularity with dramatic results being posted online

The background: Eating fat does not make you fat
It’s important to have a low-fat diet, right? Well, no. Quite simply, we’ve been sold a lie. By the 1970s we’d put a man on the moon but we’d begun to fall for the biggest popular myth in nutrition– that we should be eating less fat – with sugar becoming the new fairy-tale enemy when it comes to healthy eating and weight loss.

Health charities and academic institutions alike are now attempting to dispel bad information about low-fat diets that have been doing the rounds for four decades. A report by the UK’s National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration is calling for a major overhaul in dietary guidelines and a return to earthy whole foods like meat, fish and dairy.

Low fat, “lite” and “low cholesterol” products are no longer deemed beneficial for heart health since they often pack in non-organic ingredients, and calorie counting could be a total misnomer altogether. The biggest pitfall of all, however, is the sheer overabundance of sugar that we ingest on a daily basis, which aside from damaging your liver and heart, can impair your mood and is a leading contributor to diabetes and obesity.

So what is the ketogenic diet?
If (like me) you want to explore an intriguing diet that allows you to eat real portions, then pay attention. Our bodies burn glucose for energy, which we tend to get in huge quantities from carbohydrates and directly from sugar. However, if we drastically reduce the sugar/carb intake, our bodies begin burning fats for energy. Think of it like converting your car from unleaded petrol to electricity – expect your body does it all by itself. The absence of glucose takes us out of “glycolysis” and into a state of “ketosis”, resulting in the production of ketones when the body is forced to burn fat. And that’s where the name comes from, but you already figured that out.

My experience going keto

While many find sweet relief from soda, chocolate and fruit juice, I’m thankfully not too sweet-toothed. But deciding to forsake the glorious goodness of bread, pasta, rice et al is no mean feet. And it’s essentially all the same on the inside – the carbs are broken down into sugar and it all becomes fuel. After an initial bout of headaches within the first 24 hours – a classic withdrawal – it was a matter of furiously Googling the carb and sugar content of all my favourite ingredients to learn what’s now feasible.

The key to the diet is being a fan of meat and veggies, though there are some vegetarians that somehow manage to “go keto”. The diet isn’t too dissimilar from the Atkins, but has more freedom in ingredients and practice, more similar to paleo, the so-called “primal diet”. The good, if not great, news is the capacity for cheeses, eggs, avocados and occasional dollop of something really good – like peanut butter and mayo – and coffee is still very much on the menu.

Results will vary between individuals but the reality appears to be quite profound. Within a couple of weeks several pounds have rolled off, with other bonus effects – clearer skin and clarity of thought. Then, aside from the metabolic reaction, the simple act of learning to read nutritional labels has been a revelation. These are the words of a former food ignoramus, but we are (quite literally) what we eat and it quickly became a point of pride to monitor intake.

For the past two decades the ketogenic diet has been prescribed simply as a tool for disease management, with proven benefits for epilepsy and diabetes, but is now being lauded as a weight loss method. As your body enters a state of ketosis you can increase of dietary fat – enough to satiate your desire for “stodgy” foods that you were previously used to – which means you can eat real portions of sugar- and carb-free food while your body burns the fat. Sounds simple? Why not try it for yourself.

Food for thought

Anyone who tries to convince you that *insert diet name here* is the best for you, should be treated with caution – including myself. As Oscar Wilde once said: “Everything in moderation, including moderation,” and there’s plenty of wisdom in his humour. When it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle we all know the basics of consumption include plenty of fresh fruit and veg and frequent cardiovascular exercise for a healthy heart.

This is just a brief overview to explain the background and the concept of the ketogenic diet and does not cover every minutia of detail. There is arguably no risk in vastly reducing sugars and carbs for a test period of time – if anything, it’s been seen to have immense health benefits – but anyone in doubt should seek advice from a professional and do plenty of further reading.

Recommended resources:

Websites: www.reddit.com/r/keto is a Reddit forum filled with plenty of testimonies, encouraging advice and incredible progress pictures and Ruled gives a greater understanding the diet in a nutshell, with a useful measurement tool.

Ketostix: Hard to find in Mideast pharmacies but available to purchase online. These little strips turn purple if ketones are detected in your urine – a great way to establish whether your body is in ketosis, i.e. burning fat instead of sugar.

Podcasts: There are some fantastic audio resources available through iTunes and Android devices. Author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss has released some incredibly in-depth interviews about the ketogenic diet, and “2 Keto Dudes” is a podcast dedicated to science, recipes, and the ketogenic lifestyle, all in plain English.

Apps: There are heaps of apps available and while many come at a cost, it’s very handy to have handy access to recipes and other information on the move. “Ketogenic Diet” for iOS is entirely free and a great place to get started.

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