I’d planned to review Keto Clarity, Jimmy Moore’s new book, last week. But as you know, I was distracted by some videos and posts featuring really stupid fat-shaming and other forms of b.s., so I decided to deal with those instead.
As I’ve mentioned several times recently, I’m not on a ketogenic diet and don’t aim for ketosis. I’ve done enough experimenting to know which diet gives me the best combination of energy, strength and weight control, and it’s not ketogenic. I’m on a low-carb diet (usually below 100 grams per day), but I don’t restrict protein or carbs enough to stay in ketosis.
For reasons I explained in a previous post, I don’t believe a ketogenic diet was the default diet of our paleo ancestors, and therefore I don’t buy the notion that anyone who doesn’t thrive on a ketogenic diet is suffering from a metabolic defect that needs to be fixed. There’s simply no evolutionary reason we should all be genetically geared to feel fabulous on a diet that few if any of our ancestors consumed.
But I also don’t buy the argument that since our paleo ancestors didn’t live on ketogenic diets, a ketogenic diet must automatically be ineffective or even dangerous. Our paleo ancestors didn’t drink whey protein shakes either, but those shakes are certainly beneficial for people who lift weights to build muscle. A ketogenic diet, like a diet supplemented with whey protein, is intended to be therapeutic – i.e., it’s supposed to help you accomplish a particular goal.
Obviously, one of those goals is weight loss. That was the main motivation for Jimmy to adopt a ketogenic diet, and considering that he lost 80 pounds in a year, I’d say it’s working. I also suspect that most people who buy Keto Clarity are interested in weight loss. And the scientific literature shows that ketogenic diets are indeed a good tool for weight loss – not for everyone, of course, but for many, many people.
One of the silliest arguments I’ve heard dismissing ketogenic diets goes something like this:
Well, sure, people lose weight on a ketogenic diet. But it’s only because people in ketosis end up eating less.
That almost sounds like an explanation, but it isn’t. Imagine having this conversation:
“My brother-in-law used to be an alcoholic, but not anymore. Now he drinks normally.”
“If he used to be an alcoholic, why isn’t he an alcoholic now?”
“Because he doesn’t drink as much.”
That’s not an explanation; it’s simply a restatement of a result. If someone craves alcohol to the point where he drinks so much that it’s screwing up his life and his health, but then starts feeling satisfied on a drink or two, wouldn’t we want to know why? Wouldn’t that suggest a dramatic and positive change in his brain chemistry?
I’d say the same thing about ketogenic diets. If an obese guy loses significant weight and keeps it off for the first time after adopting a ketogenic diet, it’s obvious to anyone with a functioning brain that he ended up consuming less energy than he expended during the weight loss. But that’s not the explanation; that’s the result. Wouldn’t that result indicate that something rather positive changed in his metabolism?
Well, uh, the ketogenic diet is satiating, you see.
Uh-huh … which is as much of an explanation as He stopped drinking too much because he’s satisfied on less alcohol now, you see.
So without (I hope) re-igniting a debate about who should or shouldn’t try a ketogenic diet, I’m reviewing Keto Clarity for what it is: a guidebook for people who want to try a ketogenic diet, either for weight loss or some other reason.
The book begins by explaining what ketosis is and the difference between a truly ketogenic diet and a low-carb diet – an important distinction because, as Jimmy learned after his weight crept back over 300 pounds, it’s entirely possible to be on a low-carb diet or even a very low-carb diet without being in ketosis. (That would be the case with me. I drift in and out of ketosis, according to my meter.)
The next couple of chapters are the here’s how to do it guidelines: how to determine the mix of fat, protein and carbohydrate that will produce what Dr. Jeff Volek and others call nutritional ketosis. The required ratios, as Jimmy explains, will vary from person to person, but the most important lesson here is: don’t make the mistake of thinking that if a low-carb diet is good, a diet low in both carbohydrates and fat is even better. You have to get your energy from something besides protein.
I can attest to that one. When I first tried a low-carb diet in the 1980s, I still believed in the low-fat nonsense. I didn’t read a book on the Atkins diet or any other low-carb diet (my bad) and tried to get by on skinless chicken breasts, turkey ham, egg whites and green vegetables. After a week of feeling half-awake and lethargic, I gave up. Whoops.
Anyway, as Jimmy explains in Keto Clarity, it’s the fat in a ketogenic diet that keeps your energy up and appetite down. But of course, the fats have to be the right fats. As the book explains:
Saturated fats, like those in butter, coconut oil and red meat, and monounsaturated fats, such as those found in avocadoes, olive oil and macadamia nuts, are basically safe for consumption in terms of your health. They don’t raise your blood sugar, and they don’t cause any harm when eaten to satiety. In fact, they are quite beneficial: they are anti-inflammatory, raise HDL, help you feel full and – most important for our purposes – they help you create ketones. Compare this to the polyunsaturated fats found in vegetable oils, which increase systemic inflammation and linked to multiple health problems, despite the fact that they are heavily touted as the healthy oils we should all be consuming.
And let’s be honest: butter, sour cream, coconut oil, avocadoes and egg yolks are freakin’ delicious. If you’re going to change up your diet, it certainly helps if your taste buds don’t feel punished.
In a subsequent chapter, Jimmy explains how to use a blood ketone meter to check your ketone levels. And yes, if you’re going to try a ketogenic diet, you should invest in one of those meters. The urine ketone strips Dr. Atkins recommended back in the day were all that were available, so that’s what ketogenic dieters used. But once you become keto-adapted and are relying more and more on ketones for fuel, fewer ketones are excreted in the urine, even if your blood ketones are still high.
One of the advantages I’ve found of a low-carb diet (ketogenic or not) is that I can go for hours and hours without eating – unlike back in my high-carb days, when skipping meals would give me the shakes. In a chapter on fasting — which many people consider the other “f” word, according to Jimmy – he explains that there are health benefits to intermittent fasting. (Paul Jaminet makes the same point in his Perfect Health Diet book.) One advantage of a ketogenic diet is that it allows many people who previously couldn’t stand the thought of going 16 hours or more without a meal to do so easily. But, Jimmy cautions, you need to listen to your body. If you’re really and truly hungry, as opposed to experiencing a stomach gurgle, you need to eat something.
Good point. I don’t think starving yourself ever works out in the long run.
As I mentioned above, I don’t believe everyone will feel his or her best in a constant state of ketosis. So in chapter titled Keto FAQ, I was pleased to see this comment from Bryan Barksdale, one of the experts Jimmy quotes liberally throughout the book:
I believe a well-designed ketogenic diet can overcome a lot of the negative effects people experience while eating a low-carb, high-fat diet. One such strategy some people may want to use is cycling in and out the various macronutrients, just as would have happened naturally in an ancestral diet.
Jimmy then writes that some people shed more fat if they cycle in and out of ketosis, although cycling may not be appropriate for everyone.
Again, test it for yourself and see how it works for you … If cycling in and out of ketosis gives you the results you desire, then go for it.
My sentiments exactly. Jimmy is obviously quite enthusiastic about the benefits he and the people whose personal stories he quotes in the book have experienced, but he doesn’t argue that everyone should be in ketosis all the time – despite what some internet cowboys will tell you.
He also doesn’t claim that being in nutritional ketosis automatically translates to weight loss. When you burn fat for fuel, you create ketones. That fat can come from your diet or your adipose tissue. If you consume all the fuel you need in a day, your body has no reason to tap its reserves. What a ketogenic diet accomplishes for many people is put their bodies into a fat-burning mode where it’s easier to tap those reserves – which makes it easier to eat less. That’s the point. There’s no magic involved that causes calories to vanish into thin air.
In one of the last chapters, Jimmy lists a number of diseases and conditions that have been successfully treated or may eventually be treated with ketogenic diets (some of the research is in its early stages), including epilepsy, diabetes, obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, some cancers, fibromyalgia, autism and Alzheimer’s.
The emerging research is another reason that while I don’t buy into the “everyone should be in ketosis all the time” argument, I also don’t buy the “ketosis will ruin your health” argument. That argument reminds me too much of this one:
Sure, your low-carb diet might help you lose a lot of weight, raise your HDL, and lower your blood sugar, blood pressure and triglycerides … but it will give you a heart attack.
I just don’t think our bodies are that stupid. I don’t believe we improve a gazillion health markers while we’re killing ourselves.
Given what we’re learning about the gut microbiome, the one real concern I’d have about going on a ketogenic diet would be depleting the healthy gut bacteria – but the problem there is a lack of fiber, not ketosis per se. So as I’ve mentioned before, if I were aiming for ketosis, I’d be sure to include a lot of fibrous plants in my diet and supplement with some form of resistant starch – which doesn’t kick most people out of ketosis.
The final chapters of Keto Clarity include a shopping list and a bunch of recipes contributed by readers and friends of Jimmy’s. Some of the recipes look pretty good and I plan to try them. I don’t aim for ketosis, but I certainly don’t avoid delicious high-fat foods, either.
Jimmy is a gifted writer, and everything in the book is explained clearly and as simply as possible, with some humor sprinkled in for good measure. If a ketogenic diet is something you plan to try – or are already doing but need more guidance – this is the book for you.
PROGRAMMING NOTE (so to speak): I need to step away from blogging for awhile so I can focus on that book and DVD companion Chareva and I have been planning. Ideally, we’ll be ready to release both by the time the low-carb cruise rolls around in May. She’ll need to produce a ton of cartoon characters and other artwork, so I promised her I’d have a draft ready by Oct 1st. (She’s talented, mind you, but she can’t draw scenes I haven’t written yet.) With full-time programming work, kids, the farm, blogging, etc., I’m behind on my writing schedule. If I don’t give myself some focused writing time, I’ll miss my deadline. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that The Older Brother agreed to sit in the Fat Head chair until I get caught up. I enjoy reading his posts and consider them a nice change of pace. I’ll answer comments on my own posts, but otherwise the blog is all his for awhile.
Man, it’s nice to have a reliable guest host …
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