McDermott: The Ketosis Fad

Scott McDermott’s weekly inspirational and wellness column.

McDermott: The Ketosis Fad

It’s a funny thing about nutrition… people get crazy. ‘Facts’ get skewed, studies misinterpreted in favour of whatever the goal is, companies make billions, books are sold like crazy, people get on talk shows, new companies spring up everywhere and in a few years, on to the new fad.

The Ketosis fad is currently hitting hard, so let’s look at some cold, hard facts (from actual PhD science, not a ‘Dr. Google’ Search). Now, before I begin, I have to say; in the world of nutrition, there really aren’t any facts. There are opinions, lots and lots and lots of opinions and theories. Then research is done to prove or disprove a theory. Often those studies are flawed or limited, or the ones doing the study focus on what they were looking for, and ignore the other lessons. So it’s muddy.

My original philosophy is always in play: Nothing works. Everything works. (If you make it work). I am not against any diet or plan if it is working for you and it is safe.

So what is the Ketosis diet anyway? Basically you eat next to no carbohydrates…. Ever. It varies, but 10 to 25 grams of carbohydrates a day, which is like: 15 grapes or half a potato or two cups of broccoli or three-quarters of a medium apple (not all of those things, one of them). A day. That’s it. The rest of the food comes from fat (70 per cent of daily intake) and Protein (20 per cent of intake).

Ok, why would you do this? I mean, at first, being told you can eat bacon, avocados, eggs, butter and cheese for every meal might sound fun! Salad? Sure! Some spinach leaves (not too many!), a half a chicken breast and three tablespoons of olive oil. Right, ok, but back to why you would do this?

Let’s start with where this all comes from. When people starve and have no access to food for around three days, they start producing organic compounds called ketones that the body can use with fat for fuel to avoid dying. Back in the days when doctors used to drill holes in people’s skulls to ‘let the bad stuff out’ when they had epilepsy, this whole ketosis thing was reviewed as an option. And truth is, there is some solid research that ketosis can help people with epilepsy. Thankfully we don’t drill holes in people any more, but the keto diet has come back.

Back to fasting, that is actually a good idea once in a while. I fast every day for 8 to 12 hours, I call it ‘sleeping’ or ‘the time after supper but before breakfast’. I highly recommend it. Some people advocate a 24 hour fast once in a while, and again, there is some great research on that. Let me state though, that this does not apply to children! Babies go into ketosis and need food after a few hours, and if we do not feed them their brain starves. That’s bad. This is where the ketosis diet is based though: how can we go into starvation mode, without actually starving? Easy. Deprive the body and brain of carbohydrates and it will shift gears. Feed the body lots of fat and it will live off of that instead.

Here’s the thing: Fat is a great fuel source at nine calories per gram instead of four calories per gram like carbohydrates and protein. It is a more dense fuel, and used slower. That’s like having a swimming pool of energy, but you can only drink it with a straw. Carbohydrates by comparison are like having a bathtub full that you can drink with a firehose, plus you can fill it with a firehose. Fat has more potential energy, but you access it slowly.

The L.A. Lakers basketball team all went on a Keto style diet in 2014 and had the worst season in the 67 year history of the franchise. You cannot give a race car low quality fuel and expect it to perform. The keto diet works, but it means you cannot move, function or think as fast as a balanced diet featuring carbohydrates. It is also really restrictive.

A group of 21 Race Walk athletes preparing for the Rio Olympics were put on two diets: Keto and Carbo then studied. They all did the same training and were all elite Olympic level athletes preparing for the race of their lives. Ketosis proponents are excited that the study showed that the keto athletes burned a dramatically higher percentage of fat (well yah, that’s what you fed them! Anyway…) What is really interesting to me, is the comparative 10-km test they did at the start end of the experiment. The athletes eating 60-65 per cent carbohydrates improved their performance by 5.3 -6.6 per cent (almost a three minute improvement). The Keto athletes showed a drop in performance of 1.6 per cent (30 seconds slower). That is the difference between a Gold Medal and not even placing.

There are 17 other studies that show the same result, a drop in athletic performance.

But look, there is a problem – we all eat way too many carbs, especially sugar, so in this small way, it is a step in the healthier direction, it is just a step too far.

There is much more I could say, but I am 100 words over my weekly limit….

Happy Training!

Scott