High-fat diet has many benefits

Conway McLean, DPM

Are you forming enough ketones? Are you forming any? Likely at this point is a response something akin to “Huh? What are ketones and why should I produce them?” Believe it or not, these are important questions. Your health and well-being may depend on it.

If we were a healthy society, one with excellent food sources and food types, as well as sufficient levels of physical fitness, these would be unimportant concerns. But we are not. Heart disease is at record levels, as is diabetes. Unfortunately, our health care system is geared towards the treatment of disease, as opposed to health maintenance. Certainly, if you are going to have a heart attack, the United States is the place to do it. We have an emergency care system second to none. But it would seem to me, a better system is one in which everyday life, and medical care, is geared towards achieving optimal health.

Let’s start with a very good question regarding the nature of ketones, and why you should want to encourage their formation. First of all, ketones are a family of molecules, typically referred to as ketone bodies. They are byproducts of the breaking down of fat for energy. This occurs when carbohydrate intake is low. Carbohydrates, as most readers will know, are a large category of substances that will be broken down, when consumed, into sugar. Sugar, more specifically glucose, is the primary energy source for the body, including the brain.

First of all, we know glucose is the easiest molecule for your body to convert and use as energy. This is why it is the preferred energy source for your body. The problem with this is that when glucose is used as a primary energy source, fats are not needed for energy and therefore are stored. Every time carbs are consumed in quantities greater than are immediately needed, they are stored. Again and again, this scenario is repeated, and the amount of stored fat continues to increase. In the average person’s diet, glucose is the main energy source.

The abundance of carbs in the typical fast food/ processed food diet leads inevitably to an increase in the stored form of fat. Look at the statistics, the obesity epidemic is just that. The sky-rocketing numbers of Americans dealing with the consequences of obesity, from diabetes to heart disease, hypertension to osteoarthritis, is proof that we, as a country, need to learn more about and do a better job of educating our citizens about nutrition.

Need proof diet and nutrition are topics of some interest? Take a look at the magazines when you are standing at the check-out line at the grocery store. Every single one will typically have at least one story, if not multiple, related to weight loss through some diet or exercise program. Billions have been spent in pursuit of better health or a more shapely form. The ketogenic diet is being adopted by many due to the acknowledged effects of excessive fat stores (obesity). How does it work? What is ketosis, and why is it beneficial? Let’s discuss!

It’s critical to this dialogue to understand that when there isn’t a sufficient level of available glucose, the body looks for an alternative source of fuel; we burn fat as our main type of fuel. This process can happen in a variety of different scenarios. For example, when a person is fasting, or, alternatively, after prolonged exercise. In periods of starvation, this same process, of the body turning to the burning of fat, will occur. When eating a low-carb, ketogenic diet, our bodies burn excess stores of body fat, a highly desirable process to many.

The ketogenic diet is a low carb, moderate protein, and high fat diet which puts the body into a metabolic state known as ketosis. For years, Americans have been told to stay away from fats, that fats were unhealthy. They were told, in no uncertain terms, carbohydrates should be the foundation of one’s diet. These recommendations by the AMA and other reputable sources were based on two, poorly constructed studies performed back in the 50’s, both of which drew faulty conclusions. Americans are still paying for it, decades later, with their health and their lives.

The ketogenic diet completely reverses how your body produces and burns energy. It may also reverse how you view nutrition. This diet is based around the premise that your body was designed to run more efficiently as a fat burner than a sugar burner.

When your body is in a state of ketosis, the liver produces ketones which become the main energy source for the body. But a state of ketosis can become dangerous when ketones build up in the blood stream. High levels can lead to dehydration and change the chemical balance of your blood. But many diets now are stressing the consumption of proteins for fueling your body. In addition to helping you burn fat, a ketogenic diet can make you feel less hungry, as well as helping you maintain muscle mass.

For healthy people who don’t have diabetes of the insulin-dependent type, and aren’t pregnant, ketosis usually kicks in after 3 or 4 days of eating less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. That is a dramatic change for most consumers of a Western (American) diet, and consists of about 3 slices of bread, or two small bananas. As mentioned, you can start ketosis by fasting, too.

The benefits of a ketogenic diet appear to be significant, and desirable. Some research suggests that ketogenic diets might help lower your risk of heart disease. Other studies show specific very-low-carb diets help people with metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. Additionally, most followers of a ketogenic diet relate improved mental focus. Apparently, this can be traced to the stupor that a high carb meal can induce. Many have experienced this consequence. Carbs produce cloudy thinking, and a marked reduction produces clearer thinking. It was once thought glucose was the only fuel source for your brain, but recent studies have revealed that ketones are also a viable energy source.

But there are dangers; water weight will be lost during this process, so staying hydrated is critical. Still, the benefits seem to far outweigh the dangers. Triglyceride levels seem to improve, as well as blood pressure levels. A ketogenic-type diet has been used to treat epilepsy since the early 1900s. Even energy levels are increased since ketones provide the body with a more reliable energy source.

Naturally, this discussion lacks specifics, but these can be found at numerous information sources. But not all fats are good ones. In general, trans fats and polyunsaturated fats are bad, and for a whole host of reasons. (Margarine is the work of some mad scientist hunched over his chemistry set….do people still eat that stuff?) and not all vegetables are good. (Did anyone think potatoes were particularly nutritious?) But it should be obvious to most that the old recommendations concerning diet and nutrition are a mistake of titanic proportions. Perhaps a low-carb/high fat diet would help you? No matter what kind of diet you adopt, get smart and get educated about what you put in your body. Once again – dare I say it – “You are what you eat!”

Editor’s note: Dr. Conway McLean is a physician practicing foot and ankle medicine in the Upper Peninsula, with an upcoming move of his Marquette office to the downtown area. McLean has lectured internationally on wound care and surgery, being double board certified in surgery, and also in wound care. He has a sub-specialty in foot-ankle orthotics. Dr. McLean welcomes questions or comments atdrcmclean@outlook.com.