I heard about a new way of eating a few years ago called the Ketogenic diet. There are many variations, like the Modified Atkins diet. But the main component of any ketogenic diet is eating a lot of fat. This probably sounds like terrible advice to most people, but the knee-jerk reaction is based on oversimplifications about nutrition. These were perpetuated since the 50s, with doctors and nutritionists going along with false assumptions. For decades, almost everyone thought that the main nutritional keys to health were low fat, high carbohydrate diets.
But several years ago, a growing amount of research on nutritional fat began to occur. Doctors and nutritionists gradually discovered the oversimplification, and the consequences of low fat, high carb advice. As more people avoided fat like the plague, but ate tons of carbohydrates, they got fatter and less healthy.
The oversimplification is that all fat is bad. Researchers found an important distinction between two types of fat. Some are actually healthy, while others are the complete opposite of that. The “bad” fats are popular things like plant oils and margarine. Canola and sunflower oil, cooking spray, or any kind of hydrogenated vegetable oil, are main ingredients in margarine. Individual variation aside, these fats are unhealthy because they have been shown in multiple studies to clog arteries. These disadvantages are amplified when the fats are heated through cooking.
The “good” saturated fats include butter, coconut and MCT, or medium chain triglyceride, oil and olive oil. These are healthy for most people because they help you lose weight, maintain muscle mass, improve your immune system, give you energy, improve mitochondrial function, and other benefits that I’m probably forgetting. Mitochondrial function has to do with mitochondria, which are basically the control centres of our cells. They are the caps on the ends of chromosomes that slowly divide, leading to senescence, or the aging process. Apparently, mitochondria are also involved with every biological activity. So increasing mitochondrial function essentially improves your health across the board.
These healthy fats help you lose weight because there are also “good” and “bad” types of body fat. Eating more of the former helps you get rid of the latter. Brown fat is “good” because it boosts your metabolism and helps you burn more calories. White fat is “bad” because it slows down your metabolism. It is the excess belly fat that can easily lead to heart disease and diabetes. Other than by eating food that increases brown fat, you can reduce white fat by exercising.
Nutrition researchers have also learned about healthy and unhealthy types of cholesterol. LDL, or low density lipoprotein, can clog your arteries and give you heart attacks. HDL, or high density lipoprotein cholesterol actually reduces LDL, and can protect you against heart disease. Many doctors claim that high cholesterol is the biggest cause of heart disease. However, since they don’t tend to study nutrition much, it seems like many of them don’t understand the distinction between the two types. Saturated fat is one of the main ways to get dietary HDL. So since fats like butter are probably good for you, they can also accomplish all the benefits of HDL cholesterol. I’m definitely not saying that I’m a doctor, or that I play one on the internet. I’m ignorant about most medical issues. But my claims likely apply to the majority of people.
Contrary to popular belief, it seems like fasting is also healthy. Almost everyone assumes that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that fasting makes you fat, right? Well, according to a growing body of evidence, fasting can have the same benefits as healthy fat, and they have synergistic effects. Fasting can do things like make you lose weight, improve immune system and mitochondrial function, and help you maintain muscle mass. These benefits can be amplified by high fat diets.
This is because when you eat breakfast, you make your body run on glucose. While more research is illuminating how terrible sugar is, there are different kinds of that as well. Glucose is sugar, and there are healthier types, like fructose, which is in fruit. It’s better for you because it has the attached fiber that is removed from foods and drinks like candy and juice. If you eat fruit or carbohydrates with breakfast, you’ll be running on glucose. This raises your blood sugar levels, causing them to plummet more later. As a result, you get more hungry, sooner. Protein for breakfast is a good idea for some people, but it can decrease the benefits of fat and fasting.
We have been told to eat breakfast because our bodies run on glycogen stores if we don’t eat. But even if these reserves are depleted, most people reading this will not starve to death. Hunger is a major global problem, but generally, people in the Western world get to eat every day. Once your glycogen stores are depleted, your body starts to run on fat. This can be dangerous if you’re diabetic, or a 90 pound white girl, but apparently, we are evolutionarily adapted for it.
For most of human history, we didn’t always have access to food. According to many anthropologists and archaeologists, hunter-gatherers had much easier lives than you might think. However, there probably were often times when there wasn’t any food, so people had to fast for days on end. Their glycogen and fat stores were forced to produce energy more efficiently. The people who did this the best are likely our surviving ancestors.
When you don’t eat breakfast, you train your body to run on fat instead of glucose. This can enhance mitochondrial function, which comes along with all the aforementioned benefits. The more you do it, the more it increases your glycogen efficiency. According to some studies, this can even cause mitochondrial biogenesis. That’s a fancy scientific term for the growth of new mitochondria. It’s pretty amazing since they’re so important. Fat can aid in fasting because it gives you more calories to burn for energy. Too much fasting can make you catabolic, which means that your muscles eat themselves. But extra fat helps prevent this. Although there’s significant individual variation in terms of how susceptible people are to catabolism, more fat helps account for this.
Numerous studies have examined the benefits of ketosis, or high fat diets and fasting, on various diseases. These include childhood Epilepsy. In multiple studies by doctors like Dominic D’Agostino, ketogenic diets dramatically reduced, and sometimes prevented, epileptic seizures! Nutritional medical researchers like Doctor Rhonda Patrick have found similar results for this and other diseases. In some studies, ketosis has even been shown to shrink cancerous tumours!
So are fat and fasting good for you? I don’t know for sure, and I’m not an expert. Science is often wrong, which is shown by the likely false assumptions about things like fat, cholesterol, and fasting. The nutritional orthodoxy from before shouldn’t be replaced with another one, and some of these studies need to be replicated. There are always fads, and the ketogenic diet could be one of them. But after doing considerable research, I gradually adjusted to eating a lot of fat and avoiding breakfast a few years ago. I keep gaining ample benefits. Both of my parents eventually decided to follow my diet too, with similar results. Among countless other rewards, I lost 70 pounds, and my mom lost 40. Other lifestyle changes have probably contributed to that, the placebo effect might be involved, and my own experience is anecdotal. But since I started following a ketogenic diet, I’ve decided to stick with it unless I find considerable evidence that I’m wrong. It seems like this counterintuitive approach to nutrition may end up being a revolutionary discovery.