Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Keto Diet and Dr. McDougall

If you read my blog article about the ketogenic diet recently, where I described why I gave up the keto diet for a plant-based one, more specifically starch-based diet, you may wonder how I could trust an author like McDougall who makes some apparently false statements concerning that diet. In other words, I felt that burning carbs was more natural and how we were designed to operate, than on a low-carb, high fat diet like the keto diet.

Now, obviously I am following Dr. McDougall's advice on a lot of things, and I mostly agree with his assessment of various things. As a matter of fact, there is a video which I feel says it all as far as to what the outcome of a low-carb diet (mostly focused on meat and dairy products) compared to a plant-based diet. Here it is:

The video speaks for itself. It demonstrates what I said in my article on keto diets.

However, I do feel in his presentations, Dr. McDougall does tend to misrepresent the keto diet to a degree. He says it is a diet that makes one sick to lose weight. He points to the fact that in the first 3 to 5 days of going on a keto diet, that people tend to feel weak and sickly feeling.

Now, the keto folks are open and honest that this happens. It is not news to keto dieters. The reason for this isn't because they become sick, but because their body is switching from carb energy to ketogenic energy. During that switch one will lose energy for a couple of days or so. That's because before ketosis can kick in to start providing energy to replace the carbs, it takes a while for the carbs in the body to be used up. Some people do get sick during this brief period of time. But once ketosis kicks in, they began to feel better and regain that energy. As long as they eat enough fat, they will have plenty of energy.

I know, because I never felt like I was starving myself when I was on a keto diet for seven months last year. I didn't feel sick. I even improved my health somewhat. The reason I think he errs in suggesting this, at least for the short term, is because those who study and follow the keto diet know this information. If they are doing it right, they will know and have experienced that they feel great with plenty of energy later on after that point. Consequently, they will tend to dismiss his arguments, not because he doesn't make some good points, but because it will be obvious he doesn't know how the keto diet works. Most people on a keto diet don't feel like they are starving themselves or feel weak and sickly. So they will tend to dismiss any suggestion, whether true or not, that this is what is going on.

Additionally, Dr. McDougall also tends to make another misstatement about Keto diets that makes it appear he doesn't know what he's talking about. He states that ketones are a byproduct of burning fat as energy. This is a bit of a technicality, but ketones are produced by the liver in order to have a form of energy the body can burn, like the brain. The body may indeed burn fat straight out, but most of the body runs on ketones. It isn't a byproduct of burning fat for energy, it is the energy of fat.

*Update (12-6-18): the body can run on ketones, but I've since discovered that the body runs mostly on converting fat to glucose. Ketones are a byproduct, but are also used to provide the energy for the brain since fat cannot get past the blood-brain barrier, but ketones can. So the body burns fat for energy and "saves" the ketones to fuel the brain. So I erred in the above charge to a degree. He is right, that ketones are a byproduct, but are also fuel for the body as well. Though most of them are excreted to avoid going into ketoacidosis, a fatal condition.

There are plenty of things we can say about why the keto diet is not optimal or not the way we were designed to operate, to promote carb-based diets, But to say things like the above only gives reasons for people to dismiss what he is saying about the keto diet.

Now, one does not have to necessarily deny that the end result of a keto diet is the above examples of those who have promoted them. It isn't a healthy diet because it isn't the way we were designed to operate. It takes a careful balancing act to remain in ketosis, something you have to constantly check. You have to carefully check your macro nutrients each day, recording what you eat, to make sure you don't get too many carbs and plenty of fat. Because you have to maintain this state of ketosis which you can get kicked out of at any time. Plus, you have to worry about getting too few carbs and ending up in the fatal state of ketoacidosis.

Because of this, it is very easy for people to think they are in ketosis. it is very easy to "fall off the wagon" so to speak, and end up to start burning carbs. That means all the fat they eat gets stored as fat instead of being burned. Or they end up eating more calories of fat than they are burning.

It should be a clue that the "default" energy our body will use, if available, is glucose, starch, carbs. It isn't natural that our primary energy source should be fat. We burn fat when we don't have any food to eat, that part of what Dr. McDougall says is true. It is a starvation diet, not because you will starve yourself on it, but that is what it was designed for. That is is purpose, to use an alternate fuel source when the primary one is not available. We trick our body into thinking it is starved of carbs in order to use this alternate energy source.

The problem with that is no one can maintain that type of diet. I say "no one," what I mean is hardly anyone. I makes your body continuously think it is starving. The studies that have followed people, like the video above suggests, is they are not, by and large, healthy after several years of living on a keto diet.

I lived on one for seven months. I felt great. I had plenty of energy. My blood pressure went down during that time, but I also did a lot of exercise. But for the above reasons, I realized that it wasn't likely to be sustainable over the long term. But the main reason I stopped it was because I never experienced any of the benefits, especially for my Parkinson's disease. In my thinking, my constant struggle not to lose weight on the diet (I weighed around 147 lbs. at my lowest while on the diet at 5' 10" height) by eating around 3000 calories in primarily fat every day.

Knowing what I know now about how meat and dairy affect one's long-term health, I can only imagine what I would have come down with it I had stayed on it for years. when it was designed as a temporary state of energy production. Probably the same outcome many of its promoters in the video have accomplished. Not experiencing any benefit from getting my energy from ketones instead of carbs, when one had to trick one's body into thinking it was starving to get that energy, why go to all that trouble to get a "not default" energy source without any notable benefits?

No, I decided I should go with my default food, which is starches, carbs. That is where I am designed to get most, if not all, of my energy from carbs. That said, it doesn't help the cause to get the "opposing" side incorrect. So, while McDougall may want to receheck these "facts" based on what I've said here and correct as necessary, assuming he ever reads this, it at least will, as far as this blog is concerned, make my readers aware that I'm aware of these issues, and it has had no effect on my conclusion that a starch-based diet is the better way to go.


  1. I really appreciate this article. My husband has Parkinsons Disease, early into it and our ND is pushing the Keto diet. While it is true that my hubby could certainly drop a lot of BAD carbs, we have been on a vegan diet (me vegan, he flexitarian) for years now and it has only done us good. The last year or so, my husband has been very careless with his 'fun food' and he's paying for it now. I have had no peace about the ND's advice to go on Keto. While we are adding some good quality salmon to our diet and my husband is having eggs, we've decided to drop the dairy and for the most part stay on a whole foods, plant based diet. This is the diet that has healed my of many troubles over 10 years ago, and I believe it is the diet that will keep me and my husband healthy also. I am glad for this article. Thank you!

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