Do you need to cut out carbs to shed fat?


Q: My friend mentioned that they were following something called a ketogenic diet for fast weight loss. What is that and is that something that can help me reach my goals faster?

A: Great questions! Knowledge is power and this situation is no different.

By definition a ketogenic diet (KD) is a high fat diet that contains less than 20 grams of carbohydrate per day. It must also contain a fairly low percentage of calories (<20%) from protein.

Looking back over the history of this high fat, low carbohydrate, low protein diet you will find that it has been used to treat epilepsy as far back as 500 BC [1]. While the mechanisms of action are out of the scope of this article, the striking similarities of the metabolic effects of fasting and the ketogenic diet made it ideal for the treatment. This treatment may not be tops on the list since the advent of effective medications in the 1920s however some difficult pediatric epilepsy cases may still call for this treatment [2].

More recently researchers have been interested in the impact of KD on weight loss.

A true KD diet may be very challenging for some to stick to, in fact a great majority of those professing their love of a KD diet may actually be confusing it with a low carbohydrate diet.

It has been my experience that people find these high fat diets “fun”, at least for a little while. I mean, who wouldn’t be excited about eating all of the high fat generally forbidden foods- butter, cheese, mayonnaise, and oils. And let’s be honest, the only reason we are doing this is because it is fun, right? I mean, who cares about results.

As we mentioned earlier a true KD dieter will consume no more than 20 grams of carbohydrate each day. Just for a bit of perspective on what that would look like: 150 grams of broccoli contains 10 grams of carbohydrate.

Let’s say you have one cup of broccoli with your chicken for lunch. If you happen to have 2 pieces of sugar free gum and one glass of sugar free beverage then you’ll be over your 20 grams of carbohydrate for the day!

Suffice to say most won’t stick with a plan as strict as this.

Just for kicks and giggles, let’s say you could stick to this. What would be the outcome?

Following a low carbohydrate diet will initially result in weight loss. Now, if all you care about is the number on the scale then you might be happy for a few moments. But if what you are after is actually FAT loss you may need to step back and take a closer look at what is going on.

Our skeletal muscle (and liver) tissue is the site of carbohydrate storage. We call this glycogen. Each gram of carbohydrate carries with it 3 grams of water.

If our skeletal muscle and liver glycogen stores are full, this will make the number on the scale go up. Empty muscle weighs less than full muscle. Make sense?

If we deplete these stores the number on the scale goes down. You jump for joy thinking you have lost fat. I hate to burst your bubble, but all you have lost is glycogen and water! As soon as you start to consume carbohydrates again, muscle glycogen starts to be replenished and empty muscles become full muscles and the scale goes back up.

Just to keep things in perspective. The longer-term data on KD diets is questionable. Some rat studies (yes, I know rats are not humans) show that over time rats that consume a KD diet actually develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD is characterized by elevated triglycerides, hepatic inflammation, elevated liver enzymes and the like; nothing you are looking to achieve, trust me.

What’s the bottom line?

Ketogenic diets lead to glycogen depletion, and water weight loss. This does not translate to improved body composition. Glycogen depletion may also inhibit sports/athletic performance, recovery, and activities of daily living.

The truth is, to get lean and stay lean, Ketogenic diets are not desired or required.

So, what’s the solution?

Well, what we do is Metabolically Classify, so both the client and the professional know exactly where the starting point is and how to progress. Then we eat to fast-track success by incorporating all the latest research on carbohydrate metabolism in one simple approach. All the great info on glycemic index, glycemic load, food processing, human interference, paleolithic prescriptions plus much more, in one complete, easy-to-follow, easy-to-teach system.

Knowing how to make food work for you is very powerful. In fact, its life-changing and it’s a hallmark of the Metabolic Precision System.

Another is providing the skills, tools and strategies for FDN - Fast, Delicious, Nutrition; the clear solutions to the obstacles in life we all face.

I suppose that’s why MP seems to get the results where so many programs let people down. We remove the guesswork and confusion on how to eat to maximize results from every workout. So you really can have your carbs and your abs too...honest!

1. Wheless J. History of the ketogenic diet. Epilepsia. 2008 Nov;49 Suppl 8:3-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1528-1167.2008.01821.x.
2. Halevy A. Peleg-Weiss L. Cohen. R Shuper A. An update on the ketogenic diet, 2012. Rambam Maimonides Med J. 2012 Jan 31;3(1):e0005. doi: 10.5041/RMMJ.10072
3. Garbow JR, Doherty JM, Schugar RC, et al. Hepatic steatosis, inflammation, and ER stress in mice maintained long term on a very low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2011;300(6):G956–67.

Related Links
Carb Confusions Calorie Delusions
The truth about a high fat diet
Are all calories the same?
Moderate fat or low fat for fat loss?

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