People are always on the lookout for new ways to lose weight. Low carbohydrate, high protein eating plans aren’t news. The Paleo, South Beach and Atkins diets all fit into that category. They are sometimes called ketogenic or ‘keto’ diets.
A true ketogenic diet however is different. Unlike other low carb diets, which focus on protein, a keto plan centers on fat, which supplies as much as 90% of daily calories. The keto diet forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. Normally, carbohydrates contained in foods such as grains, vegetables and fruit, are converted to glucose, which is then transported around the body. If little carbohydrates remain in the diet, the liver converts fat into small fuel molecules, fatty acids and ketone bodies, replacing glucose as an energy source. Because keto diets have such high fat requirements, followers must eat fat at each meal. In a daily 2,000 calorie diet that might look like 165 grams of fat, 40 grams of carbs, and 75 grams of protein.
The keto diet has a long history. It was developed way back in the 1920s and 30s when researchers found that an elevated level of ketone bodies in the blood helped reduce epileptic seizures in children. In recent years, interest in ketogenic diets was revived. Researchers and clinicians are using the keto diet in diverse areas of interest such as weight loss, diabetes, and sports performance enhancement.
Enter the carnivore diet. The new rage. It is the complete opposite of a vegan diet. It actually encourages people to eat animal foods. Whereas in other keto diets, some carbs are allowed, here we have no fruit, no vegetables. But all the burgers and rib eye steaks you can get your claws on. The carnivore diet has quite rightly become one of the most controversial diets to date. After all it goes against everything we have been taught so far, that a lot of meat eating is unhealthy and should be avoided. So, what does the research say?
According to Brian St Pierre, Director of Performance Nutrition, ‘plant foods aren’t absolutely necessary in the human diet. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t eat plants but, from a nutrition standpoint, it isn’t vital that we do, at least for short term health’.
Shawn Baker is an orthopaedic surgeon, in his 50s, in great physical shape, having recently set two indoor rowing world records. Baker is the most famous advocate of the carnivore diet, claiming to have eaten only animal products, mainly ribeye steaks, for more than a year, while suffering no ill health effects and in fact greatly improving his physical shape.
While science has steered us away from heavy meat consumption and more towards a plant-based approach for optimal health, it seems that people who have adopted a carnivore way of eating have reported faster weight loss, higher testosterone, improved athletic performance, mental clarity and a healthier digestive system.
Another plus that proponents are citing is that ketogenic and carnivore diets are simple, relying heavily on fats and proteins as a source of energy. This means they are easy to follow. No need to worry about counting calories or timing meals or intermittent fasting.
Another question that comes to mind is how long do the effects of these diets last for? Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital warns that ‘we don’t know how they work in the long run’. Longitudinal studies have to be performed before we know more. Mc Manus further says that ‘eating a restrictive diet, no matter what the plan, is difficult to sustain. Once you resume a normal diet, the weight will likely return.’