I came across this article today from Firefox’s trending tab:
This Popular Science article is actually from a year ago, but apparently it was updated and is picking up some steam.
Unfortunately, it has very little to do with science and just one non-sequitur after another.
For those who don’t know, the ketogenic diet is the practice of eating a high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carbohydrate diet with the goal of running the energy systems of your body on ketones (produced from fat) rather than glucose (produced from carbs).
The article starts off with this:
Keto is hard. If it’s not hard, you’re probably not doing it right.
OK, that’s like your opinion, man (or woman in this case – but I don’t assume!). Eating out is really hard on keto, that I will agree with. Eating in on keto is not difficult at all.
And then we get into the non-sequiturs immediately:
But the ketogenic diet (also called keto) was never supposed to be fun. It was supposed to treat severe epilepsy.
OK, yes extreme keto diets are used to treat epilepsy. But that has nothing to do with the kinds of diets people are using in non-medical settings for general healthy living.
Then we get a quote by a scientist!
“It’s not so easy to get an adult body into ketosis,” says Teresa Fung, a professor of nutrition at Simmons College.
Hmm, actually, not too hard.
But first, we have to establish that there is some disagreement on what it means to be “in ketosis.” Ketones are typically measured by a blood test using a finger prick, similar to blood glucose tests. The results are measured in mmol/L. The results come out as a number, usually in the range of 0 to 3.
Some keto practitioners say that any measurable level, i.e. above zero, shows that your body is producing and using ketones. Others put the “dietary ketosis” levels at 1 – 3 or above 1.5.
So saying you are “in ketosis” will depend on what standard you are using.
Regardless of which guideline you use, it’s actually not that difficult to get there. The absolute fastest way to do it is to fast for 24 to 48 hours.
When the body stops getting food, it starts breaking down fats for energy. Which, you know, IS THE ENTIRE EVOLUTIONARY POINT OF FAT. Those fats break down and produce… wait for it… ketone bodies, which then fuel your metabolic processes.
If you want to keep eating and enter ketosis, it will take a bit longer. For me, the longest it has taken is about 4 days. I’ve heard others claiming it has taken up to 2 weeks. As usual with all things biological, your mileage may vary.
But let’s not stop there. The confusion of this article continues:
… but Fung says it’s so hard to get adults into deep ketosis (which is likely deeper than a dieter’s target) that often nutritionists don’t even attempt it as a therapy.
Umm, yeah. We are talking about the keto diet, remember? Not epilepsy therapy.
“Keto is not easy to maintain, it’s not a palatable diet,” says Andrea Giancoli, a dietician and nutrition consultant in California.
A therapeutic keto diet limits your protein intake “If you’re eating a lot of protein, you’re breaking that down into carbs,” Giancoli explains. Your body is in desperation mode on keto, she says, and without a reasonable supply of carbohydrates coming from grains and fruits, you’ll start breaking down the amino acids in proteins to make glucose.
So the process of turning proteins into glucose is a thing. It’s called gluconeogenesis. And it will cover any essential glucose need you have. That’s a good thing. And I guess it is theoretically possible to gain body fat while eating a high protein, high fat, low carb diet, I’ve never actually seen it. The reason for this is that the fat-rich foods that you eat on a keto diet are very satiating. You might binge on bacon for the first couple days just out of novelty, but after a short adaption
Glucose, though it sounds like a scary sugar, is your body’s primary source of fuel. Too much isn’t good for you, but you need some just to allow your cells to function normally.
Sure, and if you have any real deficit that can’t be filled with ketone bodies, then gluconeogenesis will cover you.
And then we get to a different conflation:
But here’s the thing: your body really really doesn’t want to run out of glucose. No glucose means starvation as far as it’s concerned—even if you’re not feeling hungry, your body is still missing one of its key macronutrients. And when you’re (nutritionally) starving, your body will start to break down protein just to get those sweet, sweet carbs. Of course, you have a source of protein in your body already: your own muscles.
So much confusion in so few words.
This kind of scenario would occur if you ate 100% fat as your diet. With no protein sources, your muscles would break down in a catabolic process. But again, a keto diet is high fat, moderate protein, and low carb. The moderate protein is there to supply your needs for protein.
And if you are eating real food, it’s actually very difficult to get fat without protein or protein without fat. Meat tends to come bundled, with few exceptions. Rabbit starvation is one of those rare exceptions where you can get almost pure protein and actually enter protein poisoning.
But again, that’s not what we are talking about with the keto diet.
On the other hand, you can’t eat no protein. You need it to keep your muscles functioning and to build hair and nails and to manufacture hormones.
Well, which is it? We are eating protein or we are not eating protein? (Spoiler: we are eating protein).
This is why epilepsy patients have to get prescribed diets from profession nutritionists. Without getting into true ketosis, dieters risk ingesting an enormous amount of fat—and potentially a lot of saturated fat, if you’re eating animal meat—without any of the fat-burning effects of ketosis.
Again, we aren’t talking about epileptic therapy. And then we get into the saturated fat hysteria, a.k.a. the lipid hypothesis
Of course, ketosis itself comes with its own risks. Circulating ketone bodies make your blood too acidic, and your body will draw calcium from your bones as a buffer.
So here the author is talking about two things: the “keto flu” and ketoacidosis. The keto flu is an adaption period that some people go through where they feel like shit for two weeks because they have not balanced their electrolytes. Ketoacidosis is a condition where your blood levels of ketone bodies reach 10 or higher and your bones get leached. And if you’re a diabetic it can kill you.
But wait! I thought it was sooo difficult to get into ketosis? So how are we getting from a dietary ketosis range of 1 or 2 up to ketoacidosis range of 10 or 15?
In my personal experience, I’ve never had my levels above 3 and ketoacidosis was not even remotely a concern.
The high fat content in the diet, especially if you’re eating saturated fats, can raise your cholesterol levels and contribute to developing cardiovascular disease.
Ancel Keys was a rat bastard promoting junk science for decades.
Without the fiber from whole grains and fruits, you’re also likely to get constipated and have other digestive issues. Plus you need fiber to maintain a health gut microbiome, which tends to come from the kind of whole grains that you can’t eat on the diet, and though it is possible to get enough fiber from vegetables on the keto diet you have to carefully monitor your eating to ensure that.
Here the author almost has a point. Personally I haven’t done zero-carb for more than a couple days at a time, but didn’t have any digestive problems with it. Eating fibrous vegetables takes care of your gut bacteria’s need to pre-biotics. And from I’ve read of people doing zero-carb for years on end, they haven’t had any digestive problems either.
So aside from this article just annoying me, I hope you can see that if this is what passes for science, or even scientific journalism, we are in trouble. Science is probably the greatest mental tool ever created for learning new things. Observe, hypothesize, test, and repeat until you are as sure as you can be about a particular situation.
When you can’t even keep straight what you are talking about, like nutritional ketogenic diet versus epileptic treatments versus diabetic ketoacidosis, you can’t produce a coherent hypothesis. Throw in logical fallacies like the appeals to authority and poisoning the well, you’ll end up as far away from science as possible.