The ketogenic diet

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In the 1990s, fat was demonized. The macronutrient became the dirty word of the nutrition industry, and was shunned by consumers and professionals alike. Many believed that fat was the primary cause of a host of health problems, including weight gain, high cholesterol, and heart disease, although there wasn’t—and still isn’t—any sufficient scientific evidence to support these claims. Despite what the science showed, however, people began jumping on the low-fat bandwagon, turning to low-fat alternatives that were loaded with sugar and carbohydrates instead. As more fat-free and low-fat products became available, the average American became bigger. By 2001, about one-third of the American population was overweight. The prevalence of heart disease increased and diabetes rates soared. So what went wrong?

Fresh whole foods such as meat, eggs, cream, and butter—the foods your ancestors ate for centuries—were being replaced with low-fat Frankenfoods such as margarine, low-fat snack cookies, and skim milk. These foods were not only full of sugar and carbohydrates; some were also loaded with artificial ingredients. When these substances are consumed regularly, over time, the human body reacts by gaining weight, showing symptoms of fatigue and brain fog, and succumbing to chronic conditions. Although scientific research produced findings to the contrary, fat—especially saturated fat—had developed a lasting reputation for being bad for you. Although the low-fat diet craze eventually dwindled, the damage was done. Fat was shunned.

Now this may shock you—after all, it’s likely that you’ve been told for years or even decades to eat plenty of whole-grain carbohydrates and avoid saturated fat like the plague—but fat is good for you. Fat, even, perhaps especially, saturated fat, helps your body run like a well-oiled machine. Your body’s need for fat is the basis of the ketogenic diet, which encourages that you get most of your calories—around 75 percent—from fat and only 5 to 10 percent from carbohydrates. The remaining calories come from high-quality proteins.

The ketogenic diet is not a new trend or a fad diet. It’s actually been around for decades. It was used in the 1920s as the main treatment method for difficult-to-control epilepsy in young children—and it worked remarkably well. Eventually, it fell out of fashion with the increasing availability of anti-seizure medications. People preferred a quick fix even if that fix meant the potential for more side effects. Today, people following nutritional ketogenic diets report weight loss, increased energy levels, better mood, improved concentration, and mental clarity.

Nevertheless, mainstream media and even some healthcare professionals tend to present the ketogenic diet in a negative light. Like fat, ketones, which are compounds created when the body begins using fat instead of carbohydrates for energy, have a bad reputation. Most of the concerns surrounding ketones and the ketogenic diet are unfounded or are a result of confusion between the terms “ketosis” and “ketoacidosis.” The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that this confusion and preconceived notions about the ketogenic diet—like the idea that all fat is bad for you—may be “presenting unnecessary barriers to their use as therapeutic tools in the physician’s hand.”

So now let’s put the rumors to rest and understand why fat is not just good but is essential to maintaining optimal health. It’s actually sugar, carbohydrates, and processed vegetable oils that are largely responsible for weight gain and the increasing rates of chronic health conditions. Limiting carbohydrates and replacing them with both saturated and unsaturated fats—the basis of the ketogenic diet—can not only help you lose weight, it can help you stay healthy for years to come.

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