Beyond Weight Loss, Why Natural Fat is Our Friend
If you’ve integrated a keto, paleo or keto-paleo approach, why are you doing it?
From reasons ranging from wanting to lose weight, create optimal mental focus, perform and recover at a higher level both in sport and in life to the mere simplicity the approach creates in terms of not having to shop, prep, pack and carry as much food around, following a keto / paleo hybrid can serve all of the above, and more.
And while an authentic paleo / keto approach can address all of the above, It’s worth noting that the ‘and more’ category includes health issues far more pressing than any of the above: health conditions that are debilitating, depressing and ultimately, fatal.
MS, Parkinson’s, Epilepsy, Type II Diabetes and Brain Cancer are only five of many health conditions that can ultimately lead to overall system failure…death.
It’s worth doing a quick review of what a ketogenic diet really is as it’s one that is so often misinterpreted.
Simply put, a ketogenic diet causes your body to burn off fat rather than carbohydrates. Glucose is the body’s preferred fuel, but a change in metabolism occurs when you restrict your intake of carbohydrates. Your liver starts producing bodies called ketones. These ketones appear to protect the cells of the nervous system, the site of damage in MS.” (1)
Most of us eat too many carbs, and it’s important to note that eating too many carbs doesn’t just refer to eating the obvious.
Too many carbs also includes:
Starting your day with a fresh-pressed juice from the local shop (many are two serving bottles, each with more sugar than a cola, with no protein or fat to lower the glycemic load) (2)
Athletes who follow the recommendations to eat a diet consisting of 70% of calories coming from carbohydrate, regardless of the source.
Kids sipping on apple juice, eating fruit on its own without any fat or protein source and even the healthiest versions of ‘snack foods’.
Heavily relying on gluten free items with the perception that gluten free = good for me.
For most healthy people, shifting to a model in which the body relies primarily on fat as its fuel has far more benefits than down sides, so long as it’s implemented properly, such as:
A ketogenic diet has been shown to improve blood sugar control for patients with type 2 diabetes. (3)
There is an emerging literature supporting the broad use of the KD (and its variants) against a variety of neurological conditions. These preliminary studies are largely based on the fundamental idea that metabolic shifts may lead to neuroprotective actions due to alterations in energy metabolism appear to be a common theme. (4)
The ketogenic diet increases ATP production, promotes mitochondrial biogenesis, and bypasses dysfunctional steps within the mitochondrial bioenergetic process, increases antioxidant levels and reduces oxidative damage. Since an increase in ATP and overall improvement in mitochondrial functioning correlates with axonal survival, the ketogenic diet may offer a therapeutic benefit for the neurodegenerative component of MS (5).
Despite its high fat component, the ketogenic diet is safe and even beneficial for cardiometabolic risk factors . It has been in continuous use for almost a century for the treatment of epilepsy and has shown good tolerability, even in children. Current ketogenic diet protocols involve a range of options, which encourages patient compliance. Where compliance may pose a challenge, mimicry of various components of the ketogenic pathway through the use of ketone analogues may offer a palatable therapeutic option. Supplementation with ketones to induce ketosis has also shown an acceptable safety and tolerability profile.
A ketogenic diet could have beneficial disease-modifying effects in epilepsy and also in a broad range of neurological disorders characterized by death of neurons. Because the ketogenic diet is associated with increased circulating levels of ketone bodies, which represent a more efficient fuel in the brain, there may also be increased numbers of brain mitochondria. It is plausible that the enhanced energy production capacity resulting from these effects would confer neurons with greater ability to resist metabolic challenges. Additionally, biochemical changes induced by the diet – including the ketosis, high serum fat levels, and low serum glucose levels – could contribute to protection against neuronal death by apoptosis and necrosis through a multitude of additional mechanisms, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.
And the cons?
Honestly, not all that many… again, if the approach is properly executed.
How does that look?
Eat local, in season leafy green vegetables (yes- there are nutrient dense veggies in an authentic keto approach. Their low net carb value coupled with their high fiber and vitamin mineral rich content make them an essential part of any diet, not just a keto paleo approach.
Eat moderate amounts of wild, local fish, grass fed meat and game and pasture fed pork and poultry. How much is moderate? Eyeball it by using the size of your palm as a reference.
Most importantly, eat fat.
Good fat balanced with the remaining calories demand coming from veggies to provide carbohydrate and protein does not make us fat. Eating ‘unlimited fat’ can certainly cause weight gain; but eating unlimited fat is not now and has never been part of this approach to eating.
Grass fed tallow, (and ghee if you’re someone who consumes dairy), pasture fed lard and duck fat, coconut oil, olive oil and avocados are examples of the rich variety we should include regularly on our plates.
Concerned it won’t suit you because you’re too busy? Too athletic? Too old? Too young?
Sure, there are certain populations who would be best served by checking with their functional medicine doctor prior to making any shift in diet.
If you’re uncomfortable in any way about it, reach out to your trusted healthcare professional, making sure that she or he is someone who is broadly education beyond the confines of a typical western medicine education.
Considering, however, that the takeaway is simply to eat real, whole food which is in season and comes from an area in which you live, it’s not really radical at all.
And chances are, it won’t even be a new approach to your very own family if you go back only a few generations.
Remember, it’s been barely a century since food went from being something real that we fed ourselves and or families to nourish ourselves to a for profit industry.