Anne Mullens: Here’s why I’m excited about the ketogenic diet and why some of you might want to try it

Kudos to The Vancouver Sun for running, “Why are people excited about the ketogenic diet?,” on Dec. 29. The keto diet is certainly hot right now. Reporter Randy Shore fairly presented key facts about this popular way of eating.

Yet, whenever keto stories appear in the media, misinformation comes, too. The overall effect seems to discourage any sensible person from trying it, as if it were just another highly restrictive, passing, dietary fad with unpleasant symptoms.

I feel compelled to dispel some misconceptions and explain why I think more people will be eating this way in future, especially people with diabetes, pre-diabetes and other serious metabolic conditions.

Not sure what a ketogenic diet is? It’s a way of eating that is very low in carbohydrates and higher in fat, sometimes called LCHF, for low-carb, high-fat.

Remember how more than three decades ago we were all advised to cut dietary fat because it would clog our arteries? That advice directly correlates to the exploding epidemics of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

The LCHF diet adds the fat back in and cuts the carbs. Anything under 100 grams a day is considered low-carb. A ketogenic diet is very low-carb — less than 25 g a day. When carbs are that low the body starts burning the fat you eat or the fat you store on your body for its energy needs. The resulting fuel is called ketones. When you have them in your blood you’re in ketosis.

It’s a bit like being a hybrid car, switching between two fuel sources — glucose from the digestion of carbs and ketones from the digestion of fat. Some do best running primarily on the glucose system, some do best switching between the two and some run best on ketones alone. Your optimal fuel mix is found by experimenting with the ratio of carbs, fat and protein in your diet.

Many critics claim that just cutting out added sugars and processed foods will greatly improve everyone’s health; there is no need for people to go full keto. This is indeed true — for some. Just getting rid of the sugary drinks and junk-food carbs will help the vast majority of people.

Some people, however, are so insulin resistant and so carbohydrate intolerant — especially those who have developed Type 2 diabetes — that going keto gives them by far the best blood-sugar management and weight-loss results. New research in the last year has shown that more than 60 per cent of people with Type 2 diabetes who were coached and supported in nutritionally sound ketogenic eating were able to reverse all symptoms of diabetes and come off most, if not all, diabetes medication. If they revert to eating a high-carb diet, yes, the diabetes will likely return. It’s not a cure; it’s a reversal. But if the keto diet were a patented drug, these results would be hailed as an extraordinary breakthrough in diabetes care.

Other criticisms of the diet are primarily factors that relate to the early adjustment of switching from burning glucose to burning ketones. It takes time — a few days for some, maybe a few weeks for others — for the body to adapt to the new fuel. Keto flu and keto breath are temporary adjustments that many never get. Getting enough fibre and vitamins is also not a concern; the diet is full of above-ground vegetables and highly nutritious food.

Some critics say the ketogenic diet leads to the cannibalization of lean muscle and is therefore not healthy nor sustainable. This was an earlier concern. Body composition does change on a ketogenic diet. People get leaner. More than half-a -dozen research papers in the last two years have looked at this issue closely. The studies found that muscle size can indeed reduce, but strength and performance increase. It’s why some athletes are flocking to the diet. Three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome found keto eating made him lighter, smaller but stronger. Individual results may vary.

Why am I excited about the diet? I’m a longtime health journalist who reads the medical literature every day of my working life. Some readers may recognize my name from the 1980s when I was this newspaper’s medical reporter. For 35 years my job has been to keep abreast of health research and emerging health issues. The low-carb, keto diet has a growing body of research evidence about its safety and efficacy. Every statement made in this piece can be backed up with a current research citation.

Moreover, 3 1/2 years ago I reversed my own pre-diabetes and greatly improved my health with ketogenic eating. It’s now my full-time job to research and write for the world’s leading, evidence-based, low-carb keto medical website, called Diet Doctor (dietdoctor.com), based out of Sweden, where the diet became popular about a decade ago and hasn’t waned.

Every day, thousands of doctors from around the world send their patients to Diet Doctor to get help to do a lower-carb or keto diet safely and effectively. The site now gets more than 350,000 visits a day — 10 million a month — and climbing. You will find there hundreds of delicious recipes, featuring meat, eggs, fish, cheese, plenty of above-ground vegetables, berries, keto breads and crackers, and more. Everything you need to know is there.

Is the lower-carb or a keto diet right for you? Maybe not. You will know within two or three weeks of trying. If you’re taking drugs for diabetes or high blood pressure you should do it in consultation with your doctor, as your medication doses may need to change. If you don’t feel great within a few weeks, it may not be the diet for you. For an ever-increasing number of people, however, it’s the start of a life-changing improvement in health.

Anne Mullens is an award-winning health journalist, author and health consultant based in Victoria.


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