My Fat Diet
“…..Low carb is not a “fad” crash diet, though some will undoubtedly try to mis-classify anything outside of mainstream USDA recommendations as such. This is about correcting the way your body chooses to interact with food – what your body burns versus what your body puts into storage. You will need to change your approach to food and eating. Don’t think of “dieting” or temporary changes in what you eat for short-term goals. What I’m talking about is changing the way you look at food altogether.”
(Peter Attia, The Eating Academy)
One Diet Fits All?
Bearing in mind that no two individuals are the same, long standing dietary guidelines follow the principle that one diet fits all. According to the current USDA Food Pyramid, the healthiest way for all of us to eat is to follow a low fat, wholegrain diet.
USDA FOOD PYRAMID
This is a diet that became popular in the 1950s as a result of the controversialseven countries study carried out by Ancel Keys (Teicholz,Nina, 2014). Despite these government health guidelines, our nations’ health and our lifestyles seem to be diminishing. The one diet fits all concept seems to be massively failing us. Lifestyle induced dieases and genetic diseases influenced by environment are on the rise. I would hazard a guess that we each know of somebody with each of the following dieases : obesity, diabetes, heart diesase, cancer and Alzheimer’s (or another brain/neurological dieases).
I would question how many of these diseases are hereditary. I’m not convinced that long standing dietary guidelines are correct or that they promote healthy lifestyles. Apart from Sweden, (current research reviews carried out by Mans Rosen have started to debunk the low fat diet) I also think it’s incredulous that nations continue to follow government dietary advice in spite of a continual decline in health and lifestyle.
For the next six weeks I’m going to turn these general dietary guidelines upside down.
I’m adopting what I believe to be a healthier diet – the ketogenic diet. I’m going to consume at least 75 percent of my daily calories from fat, moderate amounts of protein and very little carbohydrate. For six weeks I will measure how this affects my health, my weight/bodyfat, my training and lifestyle. I would like to make clear while I am embarking on the ketogenic diet, it may not be a way of eating that will suit every individual and lifestyle. I do support the idea that a lower carbohydrate diet could benefit most individuals. However, it is up to the individual to discover their own level of carbohydrate tolerance through some personal investigation and perhaps with a doctor’s approval.
Let’s first consider the concept of diet. Then, let’s look at the differences between the ketogenic diet (ultra low carb diet/high fat) and the current USDA healthy eating recommendations (low fat diet/wholegrain diet).
Diet is typically the range of food a person eats regularly. As I alluded to earlier, I don’t believe in the concept that one diet fits all. What we are advised to eat to achieve optimal health is juxtaposed with the idea of individuality. Apart from identical, monozygotic twins, DNA varies in every individual. We are similar yet different. Considering this and considering how we have been advised to eat, why would it be reasonable to think that one diet should fit us all? Figuring out what diet works best for your body can be a very personal journey. I believe for now a little investigative eating, trial and error can benefit most people. Different lifestyles, environment and genetics will in essence dictate the diet that works best for you. I predict an imminent and exciting future in the area of genetic testing and nutritional physiology where precise genetic testing will result in very personal diet prescriptions for all of us, thus eliminating the need for such trial and error.
I have a long standing interest in the ketogenic diet. I first became interested in this way of eating when it was popularised by Dr. Robert Atkins in the 90s. I witnessed, and I was shocked by, people losing weight, and regulating weightloss while eating vast amounts of fat. My more recent surge of interest in the ketogenic diet stems from its use as a metabolic therapy to treat diseases such as cancer, diabetes, syndrome x, epilepsy and other forms of degenerative brain disease (Dr. Dominic D’Agostino, 2014 )
The ketogenic diet is, in essence, an ultra low carbohydrate diet; however, unlike most low carb diets which are high in protein, this diet stipulates a moderate to low consumption of protein. It has a much higher fat requirement – at least 70% – and a minimal carbohydrate requirement – as low as 20 grams per day.
I’d like to point out that the fats you consume on this diet are high quality fats like avocado, butter, olives, coconut oil and macadamia nuts. Trans fats, and highly processed fats like omega 6s found in most processed foods, do not have a place in the ketogenic diet.
A low carbohydrate, high fat diet is not a fad, but a way of eating that has existed since humans first learnt to hunt. Ketosis is our evolutionary advantage. It helped keep our ancestors alive during periods when food was scarce. Our bodies, or more accurately our brains, cannot survive for more than 24 hours without glucose. We would die of hypoglycemia. When food was abundant our ancestors had plenty of glucose to keep their brains functioning. However, when food became scarce, glucose supplies dwindled.
Fortunately our body is smart and when glucose levels dipped it has learned to adapt using a method known as nutritional ketosis. In the absence of food or more accurately in the absence of glucose, our body, our liver will take fat from our own bodies to feed our brains. The body will happily use ketones to fuel the brain until glucose again enters the bloodstream. The ketogenic diet has recently been re-visited and popularised by such individuals as Otto Henrich Warburg (notably winning a Noble Peace prize for his research into cancer and ketosis), Harvey Banting, Dr. Atkins and Gary Taubes. Current research into nutritional ketosis is being led by scientists such as Dr. Peter Attia, Dr. Dominic D’agostino, Dr.Ron Rosendale, Thomas Seyfried, Stephen Phinney and Jeff S. Volek.
What’s the difference between a low fat diet versus an ultra low carb/high fat diet?
Food consumption aside, each diet has a very different impact on your hormones. Each diet will cause a different insulin response. Insulin can be viewed as one of your master hormones. It is produced by the pancreas and it controls what our bodies do with the foods we eat. Insulin decides whether we burn food for energy or store it on the body as fat. Diets high in carbohydrate, fuel the metabolism and our brains with glucose – carbohydrates in their simplest form. This process is called glycolysis. Carbohydrates broken down to glucose will cause blood glucose to rise and insulin to spike. An ultra low carbohydrate, high fat diet fuels the metabolism and the brain with ketones and fatty acids – fat in its simplest form. This process is called nutritonal ketosis. When you limit carbohydrate, you limit glucose availability, thus reducing blood glucose and spikes in insulin. A ketogenic diet forces the body to use ketones instead of glucose to fuel the metabolism. In essence fat becomes a surrogate for glucose.
What are ketones?
Most the cells in our bodies have the flexibility to use either fat or glucose as fuel. As mentioned earlier this flexibilty helped keep our ancestors alive when food was scarce. Ketones are organic compounds that, are used for energy by the body and are made from fat in the liver. There are three types of ketone bodies: acetone, acetoacetone, and beta-hydroxybutyrate (B-OHB).We can never eat ketones but we make them. We make them from fat, fat that we consume or fat from our own bodies. Nutritonal ketosis should not be confused with ketoacidosis (DKA) which is life threatening disease that can occur typically in people with type one diabetes.
What’s the big deal about insulin, and why is it a ‘master’ hormone?
As already mentioned, insulin has a big role in deciding what we do with the food we eat. It dictates what food we burn and what gets stored in our liver, our muscles or as fat on our bodies. This process is called food partitioning. We continue to hear reports from countries around the world, suggesting that diseases such as type two diabetes, obesity are on the rise and fast. Could these dieases been linked to a higher carbohydrate, low fat diet? What is the link between insulin and these diseases?
Let’s consider diabetes. Cells sometimes become resistant to the effect of insulin trying to do its job i.e. trying to food partition. This is known as insulin resistance. Diabetes happens when your pancreas can’t produce enough insulin to control the rising blood sugar levels. Blood sugar rises because the cells in your body refuse to help insulin do its job. They no longer work as a team. Insulin thus struggles to remove sugar from the blood into your cells, your pancreas struggles to produce the volume of insulin needed to meet the demands of sugar in the blood and you get what’s known as type 2 diabetes. Once your blood sugar levels start to rise, an entire cascade of metabolic events start to spiral out of control. These events can lead to other diseases such as obesity, heart disease, cancer and some neurological dieases. On a high fat diet and ultra low carbohydrate diet type two diabetes is less likely to occur. This is because our metabolism and our brains are fed by ketone bodies instead of glucose. Insulin and glucose production are both curbed. Without going into detail, I need to mention that carbohydrates are not the only food that can raise insulin, too much protein can also do this. Protein can be converted into carbohydrate through a process called gluconeogenesis (GNG).
Many researchers now believe that a higher fat and lower carbohydrate diet is a healthier way for our bodies to function. These researchers (Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney, 2012) are demonstrating that once your body starts to use ketones for fuel, improvements can be seen in our bodies’ physical performance, mental performance improves, brain function becomes more stable (your mood improves, depression can be elevated) and weight is regulated while sparring muscle (it has an anti-catabolic effect), As well as these improvements, a current surge in research is looking into the use of the ketogenic diet as a metabolic therapy. For example, The Charlie Foundation is an organisation which helps both children and adults with epilepsy. The foundation helps manage epilepsy with the ketogenic diet when drugs have failed. It’s like what Hippocrates once said ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’.
My self experiment in nutritional Ketosis.
As I stated at the beginning of the blog, I’m going to adopt a ketogenic lifestyle for at least the next six weeks. I’ve chosen a time frame of six weeks because this is how long it can take your body to get into a state of nutritional ketosis. It can take six weeks for your bodys’ metabolism to change from sugar/glucose burning mode to a fat/ketone burning mode. I would also like to note that, I said at least six weeks. This is not a diet you hop on or off. It’s a diet that ultimately helps you discover your own carb tolerance, turns your body to a fat burning machine and helps you work out your bodys personal macronutrient ratio for a sustainable way of eating. I’ve also said 6 weeks because when I tested my bloods to begin this experiment my free T3 levels have shown to be very low. I’ve heard mixed feedback where some experts believe you need some carbs for optimal thyroid function while others do not. I will test my free T3 levels after six weeks to ensure they do not get any lower. I ultimately hope they will improve. If they do not I may need to adopt whats called cyclic ketonigenic diet to see if this helps my free T3 levels.
I have also choosen to start this process now as, I have friends who have decided to clean up their own diets. They have committed to adapt to the paleo lifestyle and they have committed to do this for at least six weeks. For the next six weeks we will support and motivate each other.
I have admittedly been playing around with eating a higher fat diet and lower carb diet for the past month. I’ve toyed with the idea of having two meals a day and having a bullet proof coffee (coffee mixed with M.C.T oil and butter) as a replacement meal. I’ve also played with calories and thought of cutting them down close to my basal metabolic rate. I’ve spoken with two doctors, I’ve spoken with other trainers, with friends and I have considered how I have felt in the past month. Drawing on all of these conversations, I’ve decided not to worry too much about calorie intake but focus on keeping carbohydrates ultra low, keeping my fat intake high and stick to three keto friendly meals a day. However, if I don’t feel like eating, I won’t force myself to do so.
I plan to keep my net carbs to 20-30gs a day. I will track my diet on fitness pal and I will pay close attention to the ratio of my macronutritents. I have in the past week taken a DXA scan to measure my lean tissue to bodyfat ratio. I will retest this in six weeks to see if I do in fact spare my muscle on a more moderate protein intake. As mentioned, I have also taken a range of blood tests so I can monitor changes in my blood chemistry. I will monitor my transition into nutritional ketosis through daily/weekly urine tests and blood tests. My goal is nutritonal ketosis and to achieve this my blood test readings will need to be 1.5-3mmol/L. I will also record changes in mood, energy levels and general well being. I have a curent record of my training and will continue to monitor and hopefully see gains in my strength, my anaerobic/aerobic fitness. I will be sharing pictures of my meals, my progress, any useful tips, recipes, articles, lectures I have enjoined about ketosis on my facebook page and my blog. If you are interestested in following me in this self experiment click like on my facebook page and watch me go!
Peter Attia : Blog : www.eatingacademy.com Lots of brillant articles which are all well referenced.
Dr. Dominic D’Agostino (May 2014): Metabolic Therapies: Therapeutic Implications and Practical Application: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gONeCxtyH18
Teicholz,Nina ( May, 2014) : The Big Fat Surprise : Why Butter, Meat and Cheese belong in a healthy diet.
Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney (April, 2012) : The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance.