By Josh O’Leary
As the ketogenic diet continues its rise to fame, the bandwagon finds itself assailed by all manner of “experts” spouting wisdom they apparently managed to learn, understand, implement, test and then distil into multiple ebooks, webinars and online courses, all in a matter of months. It’s amazing what some people can achieve when properly motivated… 😉
Unsurprisingly, mistakes are being made; misguided advice is being given; and the average person looking to lose a little weight or gain from the amazing mental health benefits of a properly structured ketogenic diet, is being mislead.
I can sense the tide turning against keto in the popular media. Several prominent fitness “gurus” have recently come out against it, and while these celebrities are likely far less knowledgeable than research scientists, such as Dominic D’Agostino or Ken Ford at the IMHC, or MDs like Peter Attia and Ted Naiman, they almost certainly hold greater influence.
For those of us who understand the hugely positive impact a keto diet can have on a global population hell bent on becoming obese and diabetic, with sky-rocketing rates of mental health disorders and neurodegenerative diseases, it is critical that we steady the keto ship against this inevitable wave of critique.
In order to do that, we must fight to rectify common misconceptions and potentially dangerous advice insidiously infiltrating its way into our community. We must purge ourselves of the snake oil salesmen that will bring a bad name to the keto diet and cause it to be discarded on the pile of “fad diets” that have come and gone in recent years.
It is with that in mind that I thought it would be useful to write a short piece attempting to clear up some common misconceptions surrounding the keto diet. If you are new to keto and find yourself unnecessarily confused by what should really be a very simple and manageable way of eating, I hope that this will help you stick to what could be a life-changing lifestyle.
If, like me, you have been neck deep in all things keto for years and are frustrated by what you are seeing spouted online and in the media, I hope you’ll join me in attempting to separate the rational, logical and useful aspects of the ketogenic diet from the picture of it that has begun to be painted.
Keto Diet Myth Number 1: Drinking butter is the key to health and happiness (aka you have to eat fat to burn fat).
OK, OK, I’ll admit it! For a long time, I was a big advocate of ‘Bulletproof’ coffees. I enjoyed the effect they had on my brain, loved the taste, and relished the confused looks I received when describing them to friends and colleagues – I’m contrarian in nature. I also worked for years as a barista in speciality coffee shops, which meant early starts and long shifts with short breaks, and the ever-present temptation of cakes, croissants, toasties, sourdough and even doughnuts. Having my cup of butter and MCT oil in the morning was super convenient – I never had the time, energy or motivation to make breakfast at 6am and knew it would be a solid 6 or 7 hours before I’d have the opportunity to eat again.
Unfortunately, I also had pretty questionable bowel movements throughout this period!
It was only at the start of this year that I realised the effect all this liquid fat was having on my body. I was lucky enough to be able to spend 3 months in the Philippines and – due to my lack of access to a blender – this meant 3 months of no ‘Bulletproof’ coffees. During the 3 months I got leaner, maintained consistent energy levels, and my digestive system returned to normal.
I had a ‘Bulletproof’ coffee the morning I returned to the UK (I had missed the taste) and spent much of the rest of the day glued to the toilet. Suffice it to say, it’s not likely I’ll return to that habit.
Here’s the thing about your body: it contains a lot of fat. Even if you are relatively lean, your adipose tissue is still able to store tonnes of the stuff. So you can technically be on a LCHF diet without consuming excessive amounts of fat – your body will still be running on fat, the fat will just be coming from your endogenous fat stores rather than dietary fat.
As Ted Naiman would say when referring to LCHF: if your body is HF, all you need is the LC.
Arguably, for most people, this is the preferable outcome. Most of us got into keto for the general health/wellbeing effects of this way of eating, and weight loss is a hugely motivating factor. If you are eating massive amounts of fat as part of your high fat diet, your body simply won’t be burning any. Why would it waste its precious energy stores when it has a consistent source of energy coming in from your butter habit?
If you, like so many others, came to keto because you want to lose a bit of weight and feel good, I’d highly recommend ignoring the trend of eating/drinking boatloads of fat. Focus instead on the subject of the next myth: protein.
Keto Diet Myth Number 2: You must fear protein and its gluconeogenic effects.
The classic ketogenic diet was created for the therapeutic treatment of drug resistant childhood epilepsy and, as I’m sure you could imagine, for these kids the stakes were pretty high. If you are trying to avoid seizures, you’ll want to minimise any chance of you dipping out of ketosis. It is for this reason that the ketogenic diet has been traditionally low in protein. There was a fear that too much protein could result in increasing rates of a process called gluconeogenesis – the creation of glucose (sugar) in your liver – and that this extra glucose would replace the ketones providing energy for the brains of these children and increase their seizure risk.
This is an understandable fear – no one wants to see these kids having fits. But here’s the thing: gluconeogenesis happens constantly and consistently in everyone and it seems that rates of gluconeogenesis are unaffected by increased dietary protein intake.
If you want a proper analysis of some studies on this subject, check out this video from Robb Wolf. If you would rather just have some important takeaways, then here they are:
- Consuming too much protein is unlikely to affect your rates of gluconeogenesis.
- Consuming too little protein will definitely negatively impact how you look, feel and perform.
- When determining how you are going to eat on a ketogenic diet, the BEST approach is to calculate how many grams of protein you are going to eat everyday and then fill in carbohydrate and fat amounts around that number (this from Ketogains is the best ketogenic diet macro calculator around).
The final and critical point of the whole protein debate is surrounding micronutrients. Dietary sources of protein are also often our best sources of vitamins and minerals. If the majority of your diet comes in the form of liquid butter and cream at the expensive of meat,
fish, eggs and green vegetables, you aren’t providing your body with everything it needs to perform optimally.
Keto Diet Myth Number 3: The higher your reading on a blood ketone meter is, the better you are as a person.
Why did you decide you try keto?
Maybe you wanted to reap the supposed cognitive benefits of being in ketosis. Maybe you are attempting to control your Type-II diabetes without the use of exogenous insulin. Maybe you’re attempting to prophylatically fight cancer.
Most likely is that you want to lose a bit of weight and feel good.
Whatever your goals are, they are unlikely to be to reach a blood ketone level of 5mmol/L. Unfortunately, too often people are getting caught up in “chasing ketones” at the expense of actual results. They end up eating lots and lots of dietary fat in an attempt to push up that blood ketone number, thinking that the higher their blood ketones, the more fat they are burning, which unfortunately is just not the case. If losing weight (burning fat) is your primary reason for coming to the ketogenic diet, you should be encouraging your body to burn through its fat stores rather than burning the butter you keep drinking.
It’s worth understanding here that, on a ketogenic diet implemented for fat loss, most of the cells in your body are NOT using ketones for energy – they are using fatty acids.
THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT.
Your liver will convert a small fraction of these fatty acids into ketones to provide energy for your brain, which is where the cognitive benefits of keto come from. But for most people, the rest of their energy is coming simply from the direct burning of fat.
The final important point worth noting on this subject is: the longer you follow a ketogenic diet, the lower your blood ketone measurements are likely to be. As your body becomes more efficient at using ketones for energy – a process called keto-adapation – the less detectable ketones will be in the blood. But this doesn’t mean these highly keto-adapted individuals are not in ketosis.
As the Ketogains guys say: “Chase Results, Not Ketones”.
We in the UK are generally a year or two behind the States in terms of nutrition trends – the only reason I’ve known about keto for 5 years is that I follow American nutrition thought-leaders closely. This can provide us with a great opportunity. We can see the unavoidable mistakes that were made – as this way of eating was first experimented with by nutritional pioneers – and choose to avoid them completely. We can take all of the positives that have come from this community and discard all the poor or misleading advice.
Hurray for us!
So I implore you, when embarking on this wonderful and hugely beneficial lifestyle, and when discussing this with your friends, family and anyone else remarking on how good you look, please consider, avoid or actively combat these keto myths. You will get better results and our community will become stronger – a win-win.