My series on the low-carb, high fat diet — the ketogenic diet — continues.

At the weekend, I found more research and more benefits of the ketogenic diet, among them better testosterone and good cholesterol (HDL) levels.

Over the past few decades, many Westerners have eaten more carbohydrates and less fat. This type of regime might benefit high-performance athletes, however, it could cause health problems in the average person. Two obvious ones are weight gain and higher cholesterol levels.

Today’s post highlights three articles as well as a previous post of mine, useful to read in full. Excerpts follow.

The first article is Authority Nutrition‘s ‘7 Ways The Low-Fat Diet Destroys Your Health’, which says (emphases in the original):

1/ The Low-Fat Diet Encourages Consumption of Dangerous Foods:

Bottom Line: Many high sugar junk foods with a low-fat label have flooded the market. The low-fat diet also advocates consumption of foods now known to cause harm.

2/ The Low-Fat Diet Can Raise Your Triglycerides:

Bottom Line: The low-fat diet is very high in carbohydrates. Excess carbohydrates are turned into fats in the liver, which raise blood levels of triglycerides, an important cardiovascular risk factor.

4/ The Low-Fat Diet Can Lower HDL (‘The Good’) Cholesterol:

Bottom Line: HDL is known as the “good” cholesterol and is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Studies show that the low-fat diet reduces blood levels of HDL.

5/ The Low-Fat Diet Lowers Testosterone Levels:

Having low testosterone levels can lead to decreased muscle mass, increased body fat, osteoporosis, depression, decreased libido, among others.

Bottom Line: Testosterone is a very important hormone in both men and women. Low-fat diets can significantly reduce testosterone levels.

Since the late 1970s and 1980s, Americans have witnessed an explosion not only in heart disease and cancer but also diabetes type 2 and bowel disorders. These have now spread to other Western nations, because we have all adopted the same diet.

How was it that the human race was able to survive without constant preventive treatment at the local clinic? There was a time not so long ago — it was certainly still in place in the 1960s — when you went to the doctor only when you were sick.

Second, recapping the post I wrote in 2012 about Dr David Diamond’s success on a ketogenic diet, this is how he explained how we got from there to here in 60 years (emphases mine below):

What did Dr Diamond find as the cause for Western obesity and propensity to heart disease? This is where bad science comes in. In the 1950s, half of all deaths in the United States were attributed to  heart disease. This was something new and shocking. President Eisenhower would die of a fatal heart attack some years later.

A well-known physician, Dr Ancel Keys, studied 23 countries’ diets and published his results in 1953. Although no one knew it at the time, he only focussed on the results of six [Wikipedia says seven] of those 23 countries!

Keys managed to appear on all three television networks and hammer home the link between animal fat and heart attacks.

In reality, Diamond stated that when Keys’s critics, also doctors, plotted results of all 23 countries’ mortality rates and heart disease, they showed a scatter effect. There was — and is — no correlation between animal fat and heart attacks.

Nonetheless, Keys went on to greater national prominence, and his false teaching became the health gospel. Other prominent doctors refuted what he said but were ignored.

The actual link, Diamond says, to heart disease is refined sugar and carbohydrates. (Diamond said that a small amount of sugar and carbohydrates is fine; an excess is not.) After the Second World War, more food high in carbohydrates and refined sugar became available and featured more frequently in American homesAlso on the increase, he said, was the consumption of margarine instead of butter. Margarine, low in saturated fat, first appeared during the Depression and was considered a health food …

Diamond’s successful dietary proportions are, by contrast, 70% fat, 20% protein and 10% carbs.

Note that he eats very little fruit and not that much in the way of vegetables.

There’s an hour-long video at the link. You’ll see how thin he is. He gives his audience the history and tells his own story.

Have we ever wondered why we are fat, why we have problems conceiving children, why we have irritable bowel syndrome, why we suffer more from cancer, why we’re depressed?

How can this be when 75% to 80% of Western populations no longer smoke? That said, how was it that both sexes smoked between the 1930s and 1960s and continued to go forth and multiply? One could say that smoking was responsible for the Baby Boom, the years with the highest percentages of smokers, both men and women.

How is it that we’re visiting the doctor more often yet we still have debilitating physical and mental ailments? Why are teens fatter than ever? Why do we have an upsurge in food allergies?

Why did this not happen previously in history?

It could be that we followed Ancel Keys’s diet instead of our grandparents’. Certainly, we are obliged to now as it has become the de facto normative diet. Yes, it is true that more of us are commuting by car instead of by bicycle or on foot. It is also true that we have many more modern conveniences which means that we expend less energy cleaning house or doing home repairs.

However, many of us who have tried desparately to lose weight on a high-carb, low-fat diet with little success wonder if it’s us or the food we eat. Apparently, 20% – 30% do not have a problem processing a high-carb, low-fat diet. That means that 70% to 80% of us do.

We’re told by medical professionals — many of them fat — that we lack willpower.

In the third recommended article of mine, Rocco Stanzione, the author of Low Carb for Health, says in ‘Are You Addicted to Carbs?’:

The prevailing theory is simple: you don’t have enough willpower.  Me, I get skeptical when I hear about willpower.  It suggests that your body is telling you what it needs, and you need willpower to shut it up or ignore it.  With the important exception of addiction, I think this is a bad idea.

My favorite psychologist likes to say “trust the organism.”  You are an amazing organism, and your body is very good at knowing what it needs and letting you know.  Hunger is no exception, and its messages should be heeded.  It’s there for a reason.  And, importantly, eating when you’re hungry isn’t what’s making you fat.  It’s what you’re eating.  And this is where addiction comes in.

You eat a high-carb meal, possibly full of sugar.  This spikes your insulin levels, which signals your body to use all the glucose that’s now in your blood.  If you’ve eaten this way for a long time, odds are your insulin signaling is somewhat impaired.  So eventually your blood sugar levels return to normal, but your blood is still full of insulin.

Now, insulin tells your cells to consume glucose exclusively.  It shuts down fat metabolism in order to regulate your blood sugar levels, but since your blood glucose has already been consumed, you have a problem.  You’ve become hypoglycemic.  This is only a problem in the presence of insulin, which is only in your blood because you ate the carbohydrates in the first place, or possibly because you put it there with a needle.  You probably have fat (which can normally be used for fuel) circulating in your blood as well, but thanks to the insulin it’s doing you no good, so your cells have no usable fuel at all, and your body starts freaking out.

Finally, in another of his informative articles, ‘Weight Loss, Part 2 of One Zillion’, Stanzione goes on to explain:

So, if you’re not eating carbohydrates, there’s almost no glucose in the blood, therefore there’s almost no insulin, therefore your cells burn fat, and any excess fat is simply excreted since (without insulin) it can’t be stored.

I’ve explained now why it’s impossible gain weight without eating carbohydrates, but how does such a diet help you lose weight?  I’ve mentioned that insulin forces cells to use glucose as their exclusive fuel, overriding any other factors.  Similarly, it forces fat cells to store fat, regardless of any other contradictory signals they might be getting.  For example, the hormone epinephrine (also called adrenaline) tells your fat tissue to mobilize its fat stores, because you’re probably about to need a lot of energy.  Insulin tends to override this.  In fact, there is a large number of hormones that stimulate the release of fat stores (without insulin), and you can learn a lot about that here

So by eating a ketogenic diet, you have guaranteed that you at least can’t put on weight.  Any exercise you do is now far more effective, because fat is released more quickly and can’t be re-stored if you fail to use it up.  And whether you know it or not, you’re already doing enough exercise to lose weight by changing nothing but your diet.  I’m a programmer of all things, and on top of that I work from home, often from my bed, and I still lost 30 lbs. in the first six weeks of the diet, doing no more exercise than going about my daily, mostly sedentary, routine.

And here’s the kicker.  Calories don’t matter.  You eat as much as you want, and as long as you don’t eat carbohydrates, your body literally throws away whatever it doesn’t burn for fuel.  And your fat tissue leaps at the slightest excuse to unload stored fat, because there’s no insulin telling it not to.

Many people on ketogenic diets have stopped counting calories. Instead, they use a percentage of fat, protein and carbs. If the daily calories of a ketogenic diet were as much as a high-carb one, most adherents probably couldn’t consume that much fat. They would have been sated early on. Ergo, ketogenic dieters are likely to consume fewer rather than more calories. However, as Stanzione says, even if they don’t, they won’t gain weight.

Remember when your grandmother told you that carbs were ’empty calories’? And you probably thought she was so ‘last century’? Grandma was — and is — right. Carbs are the surest way to put on weight unless you’re a performance athlete.

The ketogenic diet is not something one goes on and comes off of. It is a way of eating for life. You might wonder how Stanzione, of Italian descent, handles it. After all, shouldn’t he be craving pasta? He explains:

If I can live without pasta, so can you.  OK, that’s a simplistic answer, and I’m mostly kidding.  The real answer is that you are addicted to carbohydrates, and the good news is that it’s a surprisingly easy habit to kick.  The first few days are rough, but you’ll find that your cravings just go away after a short time.

I’ll close with some bonus citations of medical literature for further research:

Some people will need to check with a doctor before embarking on a ketogenic diet, principally those with kidney disease. A mismanaged ketogenic diet can increase the risk of gout — and heart arrhythmia. I’ll have more on this tomorrow.

In any event, if you are in any doubt, check with your physician first but please read about this type of nutritional regime first so that you sound informed. Most doctors will not be impressed with a patient requesting a move to a high-fat, low-carb diet. It goes against all the received wisdom from the past few decades. And, let’s not forget, Big Pharma have made a lot of money off our illness from our current Western diet.

I have found it helpful over the past few months. I’ve lost eight pounds, my biggest loss in many years. I’ve rarely felt hungry in between meals. If I do, then I have a handful of nuts or a fatty snack.

I haven’t gone as deeply into it as Stanzione and Diamond have, however, even reducing my carb intake by half (e.g. 50g to 25g) — and focussing on increasing animal fat — also lessened my craving for chocolate, cookies and cake. I’ll probably go a bit further now, because the less carb I’m eating, the less I actually want.

Past articles in this series — all available on my Recipes / Health / History page under ‘Low-fat, high-carb diets increase depression’ — are as follows. My original intention was to give ideas for home relief from depression. However, this is a holistic way of eating:

Does low animal fat intake increase hostility or depression? (a hypothesis)

Fat and a balanced mind (low-fat diets can imbalance serotonin and nerves)

Depression and anxiety: the perils of a low-fat, high-carb diet

High carbohydrate intake and depression

Depression and cancer: more evidence against a low-fat diet

High carbohydrate intake and depression (also epilepsy related [Dr Richard A Kunin’s paper])

High-carb, low-fat diets might cause Western diseases (cancer related)

Low-carb diet a migraine remedy