Is a ketogenic diet the optimal diet?

What is ketosis? In a very general sense ketosis is the state the body is in when you are burning ketones for energy in lieu of glucose. A ketogenic diet is a high fat diet where protein and carbohydrates are restricted in order to induce a fat burning metabolism.

Proponents of this diet claim that it is our natural state and the over-consumption of carbohydrates is solely responsible for the obesity epidemic. Recently, I was introduced to a website that promotes a product that touts the preferred state of the human body is a ketogenic state. The website has convincing articles that are written to lead you to believe that our entire philosophy, science and understanding of human physiology is outdated and just plain wrong.

The website goes on to blame the food guide pyramid for our lack of health and prevalence of obesity. This article claims we “evolved” going through intermittent states of ketosis, therefore, this is the ideal state for the human body.

As we evolved we experienced many things..

Including but not limited to plagues, starvation, war and poverty. Does this mean we have evolved to experience these things on a day to day basis? Ketosis is a state that some populations endured due to food scarcity, not by choice. Ketosis was never by choice in the history of man.

A ketogenic diet is used therapeutically for the treatment of epilepsy in children and some doctors are now using it for cancer therapy. There may be some therapeutic benefits of ketosis but this does not mean it is the preferred state of metabolism for the human body.

Our brain prefers to burn glucose and even in ketosis our brain will still derive approximately 30% of it’s total energy from carbohydrate or amino acids converted to carbohydrates if on a zero carb diet.

Manipulation of dietary carbohydrate can be very beneficial for some populations but this has yet to be born out as a lifelong state to be in. Breast milk is 40% carbohydrate, an infant’s (human’s) perfect food for growth and development. If humans were meant to live in a state of ketosis, wouldn’t our breast milk be ketogenic by design? Babies do derive about 25% of their energy needs from ketones but they do not live in a state of nutritional ketosis.

A ketogenic diet is not the optimal human diet.

Our health and weight are not in a state of crisis due to carbohydrates alone. We are an overfed, undernourished society who has lost their way in regards to food quality and quantity. It is very American to try to blame the obesity crisis on one source.

In my experience, working with clients over the last 10 years, people are suffering from ill health due to a lack of adequate nutrient dense whole foods. The answer to improving our health lies in many areas but in regards to nutrition we need to go back to the basics, consume more whole/unprocessed foods, cook our meals from scratch and eat mindfully.

The people of the Blue Zones (areas of the world where people are studied due to their exceptional health and longevity), not one of these populations lives in ketosis, quite the opposite. Most of these populations consume a whole foods diet, exercise, sleep and have a strong connection to their community. These are some lessons we could apply to our own lives for optimal wellness and disease prevention.

I am not a proponent of any single macronutrient ratio. An individualized approach to nutrition is the only way to achieve lifelong results. Any person who tries to sell you the holy grail of diet or supplements is most likely down their own rabbit hole of reductionism and personal bias.

Post by: Registered Dietician Ariel Robarge

Photo credit: wide-wallpapers.net

3 Responses to Is a ketogenic diet the optimal diet?

  1. Excellent article! Balanced and informed. Please keep them coming.
    A.

  2. Excellent blog supporting balance, rather than quick and one-way fixes! Please keep them coming.
    A.

  3. Melanie says:

    Thank you Andrew! Cheers to you and your health and wellness!

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