I’ve written about a lot of popular fitness advice over the years. As a coach and trainer I’ve tried more exercise styles than I can count and more diets and nutrition plans then I thought possible. Times change, trends fade, and some people just keep on doing their thing, getting results, and looking shredded while the masses clamor for the next big thing. Right now “Keto” short for Ketosis , a state when your body, specifically your brain starts burning ketones for fuel instead of carbohydrates, is the big thing in the diet world, followed by fasting, in a close second. I blame Timothy Ferriss and his book, “Tools of Titans.”
It seemed to me that Keto, had been a topic in the fitness world before this book came out almost 2 years ago now, but once Tim released that book, Keto became the next big thing. It may have something to do with the fact that a lot of people in the fitness world follow Tim online through social media. It may have something to do with the way it’s portrayed in the book as the miracle source for health and productivity among the uber elite of the tech business world.
Let’s get a few things clear. Keto isn’t new. It’s been a round as long as paleo and maybe even longer in its medical sense. I thank Tim for making it very clear in his book that Keto, isn’t for everyone, because it most certainly is not. I stopped prescribing it to clients because it’s so hit or miss. It also requires a lot of specific testing throughout the day to measure ketone levels and keep the body burning in that sweet spot so to speak. I’ve found that it’s hard enough just to get the average sedentary office worker to stop drinking soda and fill out a food log. Let’s through some urine testing in for good measure too.
Keto relies on eating a lot of fat. I mean a lot. If you’ve ever gone hardcore militant Paleo, you’ve still got a long way to go to kick off true ketosis. I’m not saying it’s not possible, it certainly is. I know people who have accomplished it and done well with it, but only as a short-term method. Keto is not sustainable long-term, it just isn’t. I’ve argued and gone to battle with the keyboard Samurai on this point dozens of times. It doesn’t change the reality of it. As a professional who worked for over 15 years in the fitness, diet, and training industry, I’m telling you Keto is not sustainable for 99% of you out there.
What is sustainable is this notion of needing to eat more fat. Most people should ingest more Saturated fat (animal derived) in their diet. Our modern notion of fat being the cause of heart disease has two big issues. First the original studies that initiated that fat phobia were conducted by scientists in the sugar industry. Second those scientists were already biased against fat, it was suspected as early as the 1960’s that sugar and processed carbs were the underlying cause of a growing health issue in the US, and these scientists were out to protect their paymasters in the sugar industry. The resulting smear campaign was wildly successful. 40 years later in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the government still refuses to admit that its studies were wrong and sugar and processed carbs are the real culprit behind obesity.
Paleo has it right, kind of. First a disclaimer. We simply do not know what our ancestors ate 20,000 years ago. We can’t even agree on how old modern civilization is. Every time we come up with a number archaeologists discover new evidence pushing that number back even further. Let us just say for now that modern western European civilization is around 20,000 years old according to the found evidence.
What I do like about Paleo, is the insistence on a more natural meat, fat, and plant-based unprocessed diet. I think this is a concept any reasonable, round-earther, adult can get behind. What I don’t like are all the arbitrary rules and substitutions designed to get around those rules. For instance I don’t care if your “paleo-brownies” use almond flour, that’s not the point. The point was to stop eating brownies in the first place, because you’re trying to avoid excess carbs and sugars.
Paleo only works if you combine that increased fat intake with decreased carbohydrate consumption. It’s very simple. Many of us in Western Civilizations have become “carb-dependent.” Our bodies have switched over to burning carbs for fuel. You can’t blame our bodies, carbs, or sugars are just easier to utilize for the body. Fat has to be broken down into sugar to be burned for energy. The problem I observe with Paleo is the before mentioned substitution man-trap. People start eating more fat and meat but don’t decrease their processed carbs, they just change the source from grains to other starches like rice, tapioca, arrowroot, or even almonds.
Paleo wants you to eliminate processed carbs all together and switch to natural plant sources from green vegetables, tubers, and occasionally nuts. The majority of your caloric intake should come from meat and fat though. Why fat?
Fat and cholesterol are absolutely vital your health and well-being. First cholesterol helps stabilize the walls of every cell in your body. It helps cells keep out unwelcome molecules like viruses, and chemical pollutants that could damage the cell DNA. It also helps your cells communicate with each other. Another important function of cholesterol, maybe the most important function is that it is the chemical precursor to every sex hormone your body creates. Your body cannot manufacture the hormones that regulate many of your body’s functions without cholesterol. A common side effect of a low-fat diet, is low testosterone in men.
Most of the cholesterol in your body at any given moment did not come from food you ingested but from your liver where its manufactured by your body. The catch is that the type of cholesterol you body makes is LDL or low-density lipoproteins. LDL is bad for you because it easily passes through the bloodstream to be stored across the body as fat instead of being burned for fuel. HDL or High-density Lipoprotein, does not. Most HDL comes from our food and given the choice between utilizing HDL or making its own LDL, the body will choose HDL everytime.
Your body prefers to utilize fuel sources already dissolved in the bloodstream over synthesizing its own. Of course if your bloodstream is filled with carbohydrates then your body will ignore the fat stores in your body and allow them to pile up instead of burning them. Paleo seeks to deny your body abundant carbohydrates and so force it to start breaking down its own fat stores for fuel. By taking in more fat in your diet your are in effect teaching your body to prefer and utilize fat for energy over carbohydrates.
Of course everything I’ve just described is an over simplification of a very complicated biological process but the jest of it is, eat more saturated fat from animal sources, think grass-fed butter, whole eggs, venison, elk, and some bacon, cut out sugar and processed carbs. Eat more veggies, I don’t care if you like it, you’re a grown-up. Finally stop looking for hacks, My problem with Keto is it’s a hack. It’s a shortcut to enable maintaining bad dietary and lifestyle habits instead of making holistic changes. I believe in doing the work and living the process. Looking for shortcuts whether in diet or life is just short-changing yourself.