Disclaimer: This is by no means an exhaustive resource on a Ketogenic Diet. I’m only skimming the surface of this topic for ease of understanding for somebody who is only starting on this journey. Please refer to my library of reading, video and listening resources for more in depth information.
KETO or Ketogenic Diet or LCHF Diet is a dietary approach that aims to use fat as a primary fuel source. The conventional nutrition wisdom will tell you that the easiest fuel for the body is in the form of carbohydrates. However, it is also true that humans are able to fuel their bodies with fat in a more beneficial way, but perceived to be somewhat more laborious (at least starting out). The way to do this is by consuming 60-80% of your daily energy uptake in the form of dietary fat and reducing your consumption of carbohydrates to about 5% (or 30-50g per day). Whatever is left goes to protein consumption – and this will vary widely depending on your physical activity and muscle building goals.
You might be rightfully asking yourself why try to switch from burning carbs to burning fat for fuel if I just finished telling you that carbs are by far easier fuel than fat. Here is why:
- Fat is more satiable than carbs
- We have an abundance of fat on our bodies
- We need fat to absorb vitamins and micronutrients effectively and for hormonal balance
- Low-fat and hence high-carb is making us sick and obese
- Our ancestors ate this way
- To have more time for things we enjoy doing
1. SATIETY OF FAT
One of the reasons why we are perpetually avoiding fat is a very primitive one – we fear it because it is one of the 3 macronutrients that carries the most calories with it. For every gram of fat we get 9 calories whereas both carbs and protein are only worth 4 calories per gram each. So from a mathematical point of view fat is almost twice as calorically dense as carbs (I will only compare fuel to fuel – fat to carb since protein would not enter this equation because its principal role is to build and repair, not fuel). What this means from a fat-adapted consumer’s point of view, is that to get the same energy level one would need half the amount of fat than carbs when fueling with fat. There are pros and cons to this : it’s good because you spending less money on food (more bang for your buck) and it’s bad because visually you will see less food on your plate, visually at least.
The good part about fat being more calorically dense is that it is also way more satiating than carbohydrates. Let me explain. Have you ever heard the typical mantra that goes something like this: “eat 5-6 small meals a day to be healthy and to lose weight!” ? You probably have, because all the media is talking about it and every fitness magazine promotes it. And it is a valid recommendation for somebody who is a carb-burner. When I told you earlier that carbs are an easy fuel source this is exactly what I meant: they are easily digested in your stomach and hence do not stay there for very long and are in turn making you hungry quicker, so you have to eat every 2-3 hours or otherwise you’ll bonk.
When you switch to burning fat for fuel and your macro breakdown is something like 75% fat, 25% protein and 5% carbs you will find that there is no need for you to constantly be in an consuming state. In fact, when I eat my breakfast at 7AM on a workday I do not feel hungry until about 1:30PM – that’s 6.5 hours. And even at that point I could easily function without eating – there is no bonking at all. So, why is this the case? Well, I’m tapping into my body fat stores….
2. BODY FAT AS FUEL
The reason why I do not bonk (and this is true for all fat-adapted individuals) is because even the leanest person still carries an abundance of body fat that can be accessed for energy expenditure.
You might be asking yourself why wouldn’t that happen when one is fueling themselves with carbs. It’s because you have to teach your body to fuel itself with fat by reducing carb intake and increasing dietary fat intake – this is called fat-adaptation. Unfortunately, this fat-adaptation does not happen overnight and when you are not fat-adapted yet, the body will look for carbohydrates in order to fuel itself and when they are not available in the form of food it will deplete sorted carbohydrates in the form of muscle and liver glycogen and then bonk. The interesting tidbit here is that we can carry pretty much unlimited amount of body fat so there is no fear of bonking. However, stored carbohydrates have a cap of about 2000 calories. So, once you deplete your 2000 calories of carbs (glycogen) you need to either refuel with more carbs or you will bonk – in other words since you’re not at this point fat-adapted your body will not easily charge itself through body fat. Having said that, if you go long enough without food (aka fast) as a carb-burner your body will eventually switch to burning fat, but we are talking a long, painful time without food. Why, would you put yourself through that if you can simply start eating more fat and burn body fat in the process without going hungry?
3. FAT IS AN ESSENTIAL MACRONUTRIENT
The low-fat propaganda would have you believe that humans do not need fat in their diet and that it’s somehow non-essential. We’ve been led to believe that this macronutrient is to be avoided because it will make us fat and die of heart attack. This belief has been perpetuated mostly by people with an agenda and who have been motivated by money (please see my bibliography on this subject for detailed reading).
The truth of the matter is that in order to properly develop and grow we need fat in our diets. Think about a developing infant – ideally it will feed on mother’s milk which is composed mostly of protein and fat (carbohydrate only in the form of lactose – not the grain processed carbs). We also need fat to be able to properly absorb minerals and vitamins (fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K)- without fat you might as well flush them down the toilet. You also need fats in your diet for the production of steroids and hormones – this is why when on low-fat diet you might have hormonal issues like losing your period if you are a woman or having a low libido for a man or a woman. And last but not least let’s not forget about flavour – fat is the flavour of life! Without fat your food will taste like cardboard unless, of course, you add sugar to it, which is exactly what the food manufacturers do when they sell you low-fat food items. And guess what! Those food items devoid of fat but full of sugar and preservatives are the ones making us fat and sick.
4. LOW-FAT DOGMA
We have been avoiding fat as the plague ever since Mr. Ancel Keys told us to do so with his Seven Countries Study that turned out to be heavily manipulated (the original study included 22 countries but the results did not fit in with Keys’ hypothesis so he hand picked 7 countries that supported it) to fit his personal convictions about low-fat diet being a saving grace for all human disease – heart disease in particular. Here is a quick 20 minute video of Nina Teicholz exposing the truth behind how we came to fear fat thanks to Ancel Keys.
Ever since that time we have seen the rise of low-fat food items gracing the shelves of our grocery stores. Literally, everything that could be made low-fat was turned into low-fat – and all the fat has been replaced with fillers in the form of sugar by all its various names. We’ve been advised to avoid fatty meats, milk has been stripped of its fat content, butter has been deemed unhealthy and replaced by highly inflammatory seed oils and margarines, we have seen an exponential growth of pre-packaged, convenient frozen meals that are loaded not only with sugar, but also with all sorts of preservatives and additives to make them palatable. As a consequence, we have moved away from eating real food to eating food-like items. And this change has had enormous consequences for us.
We have grown fatter, sicker, more depressed and generally speaking more unwell than ever before. If Keys’ theory of reducing fat intake to prevent heart disease was valid and scientific, then why are we all walking and ticking disease bombs about to explode? Why are we in the midst of an obesity epidemic? If low-fat was supposed to cure us, why are we sick?
5. FOOD OF OUR ANCESTORS
We used to eat right and we don’t have to go as far as prehistoric times to see that. It’s sufficient to look at any native nation such as Inuit or Masai who subsist on fatty meats, animal blood and milk. In fact, they used to discard any lean cuts of meat and feed them to the dogs because they understood that the best way to fuel themselves was with fatty meats. A typical hunter gatherer diet consisted of 30% protein and 70% fat! *
It’s worth noting as well that prior to Ancel Keys’ diet-heart hypothesis we were eating 40% of our daily caloric intake from fat and we were healthy. Keys advised to cut fat consumption to a mere 15% of which saturated fat was to be reduced from 17% to 4% because in his view that was the only way to reduce high cholesterol!
6. MORE FUN TIME
And this one brings me a full circle to my first point: since fat is so much more satiating than carbs you will feel fuller longer which means you will not have to eat every 2-3 hours. In fact, you might feel that your first meal of the day (whenever it might be) will carry you right through the day and you’ll have the freedom to enjoy other activities in the run of your day.
Take my current situation as an example:
- On the weekend I get up at 5AM, have a cup of black coffee.
- By 6AM I’m at the gym for 1h of cardio and 1-1.5h of strength/resistance training.
- By 9AM I’m back home, have some water with electrolytes, maybe decaf coffee and do some household chores.
- At around 11:30AM I’ll finally get a little grumble in my stomach so I will fix myself a meal. I don’t call it a breakfast because people associate breakfast with a morning meal, but really it is a meal that breaks your night fast, whenever it might be.
- I eat by 12:30AM sometimes 1PM – most times this meal will consist of 3 whole eggs, 50-100g of avocado, some green vegetables such as spinach or zucchini drizzled with a yogurt based dressing, a slice of fresh bacon and 50g of lamb or beef liver sauteéd in coconut oil + black coffee and water.
- I will not eat again until about 6-7PM not because I can’t, but because I do not feel hungry. And this meal will be composed of fatty fish such as salmon (or other fatty meat) and greens with homemade full fat dressing.
During the workweek I eat a total of 3 meals a day – 2 of them at work and 1 at home. Compare that to the time when I was a carb-burner and would have to bring 4 meals with me to work and then eat 1-2 more meals at home. That’s a lot of food and a lot of time spent in the kitchen on the weekend prepping all this food. And it gets better, because as I experiment with this WOE I am realising that there is no reason why my workweek should get an extra meal (as compared to the weekend when I only eat 2). So, I’m down to bringing one meal with me to work and eating it sometimes mid-day. What freedom!!
So imagine what will happen to your weekends if you do not have to prep upwards of 5-6 meals for every workday on your weekends – for one person that’s a total of 30 meals for 5 workdays to bring to work! If all you need to take to work with you is one meal you might as well be able to prepare it the morning before work. I wouldn’t recommend it because chances are you might be running late and do not have 10 minutes to spare and end up grabbing a MacMuffin and buy cafeteria lunch. But you get my gist – fueling yourself with fat will earn you valuable time that you can spend however you like. This common mantra of eating every 2-3 hours perpetuated by the food and fitness industry is only making us sicker and poorer.
Another positive side-effect of this WOE that will free up some time for you is continuous high energy levels. As a carb-burner I used to take naps on the weekends because I would get extremely low in energy every time I ate. I’d eat my morning oats and 5 minutes later I’d get this heavy, tired feeling with no desire to move or do anything. But I would have just gotten up from bed, so you’d think I’d be rested and ready to rock and roll, but the carbs in my oatmeal would literally bring me down to my knees. At lunch time this feeling would be that much more pronounced to the point that I would not be able to continue my day unless I lied down for a nap.
As a fat adapted person I’ll still get tired, but what has changed is my ability to sleep in the middle of the day. Even when my eyelids get a little heavier and I lie down and close my eyes I am unable to sleep. 5 minutes later I open my eyes and I’m good as new. Don’t get me wrong, I sleep very well at night – it’s at day time that I no longer spend 2-3 hours sleeping and that’s a good thing, because I can spend more time doing something else.