It's fascinating to see all the interest in the ketogenic diet in the form of new books and social media lately. By and large the narrative as it relates to this particular diet seems to portray it as something new and innovative. In reality, humans have been on a ketogenic diet for thousands of years. That's quite a long time to test out a dietary approach to prove that it is effective in paving the way for our health and survival.
What's the point of a ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic diet as we know it today involves a dramatic reduction in carbohydrates and a simultaneous increase the amount of fat a person consumes. This dietary combination aims to shift the body's metabolism away from burning sugar and carbohydrates as fuel to actually burning fat in the form of ketones that are manufactured in the liver. When the body is using ketones as a fuel source, we say that person is in ketosis, and that's the ultimate goal of this diet.
It's painfully apparent that the dietary habits prevalent in America today would entirely prevent someone from entering ketosis. The incredible overabundance of sugar and carbohydrates in the American diet coupled with the lack of adequate healthy fat create a situation in which people are basically either burning sugar or are breaking down their stored carbohydrate to power their cells. But it turns out that the more we rely upon fat as our predominant fuel source, the better off we will be, in so many respects.
And to really engage the ketogenic diet, it is fundamentally important to recognize that in order for this to happen you not only have to increase your consumption of healthy fat, but you must dramatically reduce your consumption of sugar and carbohydrates. The point is, simply adding fats to your diet will not work. Unless the carbs are removed, just adding fat creates a diet that is actually far more dangerous to your health.
Welcoming healthy fats back to the table like extra-virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds, grass-fed beef, and wild fish, while almost eliminating sugar and most other carbohydrates will enhance ketosis. And this can be further enhanced by adding coconut oil or MCT oil to your regimen.
The reason so many health care practitioners are now advocating the ketogenic diet is that it can be absolutely transformative in terms of health, and here are the top five reasons why:
1. The ketogenic diet can increase insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar.
Decreased insulin sensitivity sets the stage for type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, and even Alzheimer's disease. Going aggressively low carb and increasing dietary fat has a dramatic effect: it both lowers blood sugar and increases insulin sensitivity. This type of dietary change has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity as much as 75 percent1!
2. Keto can help treat and prevent neurodegenerative disease.
3. When compared to a low-fat diet, keto helped people lose more weight.
Multiple studies have demonstrated that the ketogenic diet is far superior to a low-fat program in terms of controlling hunger, regulating appetite, and actually leading to more weight loss3. Weight loss is a powerful goal as it relates to health, as being overweight and/or obese is strongly associated with increased risk for a multitude of health-related issues including coronary artery disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and even cancer.
4. Keto reduces inflammation, the culprit behind the world's leading causes of death.
The ketogenic diet can dramatically reduce inflammation2. This may be one of its greatest attributes in terms of what it can do for overall health because inflammation affects our propensity for disease. Inflammation is the fundamental mechanism underlying all of our chronic degenerative conditions that we so fear, and with good reason. The World Health Organization now recognizes chronic degenerative conditions, like Alzheimer's disease, coronary artery disease, diabetes, and cancer, as representing the No. 1 cause of death in the world. And "going keto" works by reducing inflammation, the chief instigator of these and so many other dreaded conditions.
5. The ketogenic diet keeps our genes healthy by reducing free radicals.
The ketogenic diet leads to a dramatic reduction in the production of free radicals4. Free radicals are the by-product of energy production by the mitochondria, which is the energy powerhouse within our cells. When mitochondria are burning sugar, the amount of damaging free radicals produced is significantly greater in comparison to when mitochondria are burning ketones for fuel. Free radicals are molecules that can damage protein, fat, and even our DNA.
All things considered, the ketogenic diet may pick up speed this year, but I recommend doing it under doctor supervision, at least at first. As I mentioned, the most common keto mistake is adding fats without eliminating carbs, which creates an even more dangerous environment in your body. Sticking to the diet especially at first isn't easy, but with all the upside, it could be one of the healthiest investments you make for yourself.
David Perlmutter, M.D. is a board-certified neurologist and Fellow of the American College of Nutrition. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his innovative work in brain research, including the 2010 Humanitarian of the Year Award and the 2002 Linus Pauling Award. Dr. Perlmutter received his M.D. degree from the University of Miami School of Medicine. He is the author of the #1 New York Times best seller GRAIN BRAIN, the GRAIN BRAIN COOKBOOK, BRAIN MAKER, and BRAIN WASH. He serves as medical advisor to the Dr. Oz Show. You can connect with Dr. Perlmutter on his Facebook and Twitter.