Low carb diets best for cholesterol, weight loss and health

For those seeking to lose weight and improve their health, fat is “the missing key to optimizing health because it controls hunger, cravings, and provides so many health benefits by improving the production of ketone bodies that is the preferred fuel source for the body.” And multiple studies have demonstrated the benefits of this approach, says Dr. William Lagakos, author of “The poor, misunderstood calorie: calories proper.”

In a trio of studies, “reducing carbohydrate intake led to a substantial, spontaneous reduction in appetite,” noted Dr. Lagakos. Moreover, “weight loss was significantly greater” for those on high fat low carb ketogenic diets.

Traditional advice on reducing your cholesterol consists of avoiding red meat, eating whole grains and using fat-free products. And that advice may lead to its own set of problems, warned Jimmy Moore, co-author of “Cholesterol Clarity: What The HDL Is Wrong With My Numbers,” who feels that physicians “should be looking at the true culprits in heart disease–inflammation and oxidative stress.”

Jimmy, who co-authored the low carb high fat (LCHF) ketogenic diet book “Keto Clarity: Your Definitive Guide to the Benefits of a Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet” with Dr. Eric Westman, also notes that our national fear of fat is causing part of our problems. “Saturated fat is arguably the healthiest part of the human diet that people are quite literally scared to death to eat. Some people actually believe they will have a heart attack within moments of consuming a food like butter or meat, but this is not based on any solid scientific evidence.”

The foods that consumers are advised to eat in the Standard American Diet (SAD) such as whole grains and omega-6 vegetable oils such as rapeseed or canola oil are the ones that result in inflammation and oxidative stress.

“Interestingly, these foods will drop your LDL-C number on your cholesterol panel, but what they do is shift your LDL particles to more of the small, dense, and dangerous kind you don’t want. This isn’t healthy and yet the health authorities couldn’t care less,” sums up Jimmy.

In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers compared low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets to low-fat diets to treat obesity and hyperlipidemia. Co-led by Dr. Westman, the study concluded that high-fat low carb diets had significantly more favorable outcomes.

“Compared with a low-fat diet, a low-carbohydrate diet program had better participant retention and greater weight loss. During active weight loss, serum triglyceride levels decreased more and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol level increased more with the low-carbohydrate diet than with the low-fat diet,” they wrote.

Jonny Bowden, author of “The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease-and the Statin-Free Plan That Will,” notes that “saturated fat in the diet as a direct cause of increased risk for heart disease has been completely debunked by a number of recent studies, most recently in the March Annals of Internal Medicine.”

Also the author of “Living Low Carb: Controlled-Carbohydrate Eating for Long-Term Weight Loss,” Jonny describes the AHA advice as “way past its expiration date,” Jonny advises focusing on “whole, unprocessed foods, with the fat intact, plenty of vegetables, nuts, berries, grass-fed meat and wild salmon, and stop worrying about cholesterol.”

As for the cholesterol conundrum, Dr. Lagakos cites research showing that “there is not a strong causal relationship between dietary fats with blood cholesterol levels, and blood cholesterol levels with disease outcomes.” In addition, studies have shown that sacrificing that steak and biting into biscuits topped with “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” instead sends you in the wrong direction with regard to reducing your risk of heart disease and improving your cholesterol levels.


Dr. Robert Atkins and the Atkins diet books

The high fat low carb ketogenic diet was popularized by Dr. Robert Atkins, author of “Dr. Atkin’s Diet Revolution” and “Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution.

He defended his approach against those who were horrified at the notion of generous amounts of beef and butter and appalled at his no-bread, no-cereal diet rules. Since the creation of his original books, Dr. Atkins wrote additional guides to the low carb lifestyle, including “Atkins for Life: The Complete Controlled Carb Program for Permanent Weight Loss and Good Health” and “Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Cookbook.”

Today his legacy is carried on by the Atkins company, with new books that have updated the original plan with more fiber and emphasis on healthy fats:

Fat Fasts: How they work for rapid weight loss

One of the new trends in dieting is called a Fat Fast. And no, it’s not avoiding fat: It’s the opposite. We asked two experts, Dana Carpender and Jimmy Moore, to explain. And learn how they compare with the Atkins diet by clicking here.

Note: Although the originator of the Atkins diet, Dr. Robert Atkins, did utilize a Fat Fast for some patients, it’s important to know that the current plan does not feature this approach: Learn more about the current version of the low carb high fat Atkins diet by clicking here.

Dana is the author of “Fat Fast Cookbook: 50 Easy Recipes to Jump Start Your Low Carb Weight Loss,” which contains recipes to support a Fat Fast. Learn more about her career by clicking here.

Jimmy is the author of “Keto Clarity: Your Definitive Guide to the Benefits of a Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet.” Learn more about his background by clicking here.

Jimmy says: “By definition, here is the Fat Fast:

– 1,000 calories per day
– 90 percent of calories come from dietary fat
– Eat five 200-calories “meals” every 3-4 hours”

Can a Fat Fast ever be helpful? Well, maybe, he adds:

“For people who have gone on a low-carb diet and are for one reason or another struggling to get into nutritional ketosis. For most people, finding their personal carbohydrate tolerance level, individualized protein threshold level, and eating dietary fat, especially saturated and monounsaturated fat, to satiety will make this happen. But for some people who haven’t found their sweet spot, a Fat Fast could be one way to help them jumpstart that process.”

However, if you’re already gotten into nutrition ketosis, Jimmy notes: “My personal experience with a Fat Fast after being keto-adapted and already eating a lot of fat was horrendous.

“My normal caloric load in my diet is around 2100-2500 calories. So my calorie intake dropped by more than half. And since I could only eat 1000 calories a day, that meant a lot of the dietary fat that I was consuming in my diet was reduced despite the high percentage of fat you eat in Fat Fast. My big concern is why EVERYONE needs to drop to 1000 calories a day to do this. My wife Christine usually has 1600 calories a day, so when she went on a Fat Fast dropping down to 1000 it wasn’t as profound as what I went through. I’m all for people trying what might help them get into a state of ketosis, but be wary that this isn’t some magical method for doing it.”

And be sure to choose what Jimmy calls “fatty sources of protein.” Translation: “NO lean meats like chicken breast or turkey. Leave the fat on the animal food and that’s a fatty source of protein. Many butchers just chop off the fat because they think that’s what consumers want.”

Dana offers this explanation:

“The Fat Fast is based on the work of Kekwick and Pawan, who, in 1956, published research in the prestigious journal The Lancet detailing their work regarding the idea that “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie.  First, they took a group of obese subjects and put them on balanced diets with differing calorie counts – 2000, 1500, 1000, or 500 calories per day. Unsurprisingly, the subjects who ate the fewest calories lost the most weight.”

And then came the test: “Kekwick and Pawan put all their subjects on the same number of calories – 1000 per day. But varied the macronutrient composition of the diets – either a balanced diet, or 90% of calories from carbohydrates, 90% of calories from protein, or 90% of calories from fat. The results were groundbreaking. On 1000 calories per day, 90% from carbohydrate, subjects actually gained a little weight. On 1000 calories of a mixed diet, they lost a little, and on 1000 calories, 90% from protein, they lost substantially more. But the most rapid weight loss by far happened when subjects ate 1000 calories per day, 90% from fat.”

How this works: “Apparently when the body is fed mostly fat, and very little carbohydrate, it is very quickly forced into burning almost all fat for fuel. Coupled with caloric limitation – 1000 calories per day – this stimulates the body to turn from dietary fat to stored body fat. (By contrast, if the body is burning glucose for fuel, and doesn’t have a sufficient supply from food, it will break down muscle to convert into glucose.) Furthermore, creating this ketogenic, fat-burning state has been demonstrated to defend muscle mass. In the 1960s, Dr. Frederick Benoit put 7 obese men on a total fast – the “no calorie diet,” you might call it. If it’s all about calories in, calories out, this should be the best fat loss diet possible. In 10 days of fasting, the subjects lost an average of 21 pounds. This sounds great, until you learn that only 7.5 pounds of that, on average, were fat. The rest was lean body mass.”

Consequently, “Benoit then put his subjects on 1000 calories per day, 90% of them from fat – a very low calorie diet for adult men, no doubt, but still considerably more calories than before. What happened? In ten days, they lost an average of 14.5 pounds, with only 0.5 pounds of it, on average, being muscle mass. They’d lost twice as much fat eating 1000 calories per day of fat than they had eating nothing at all.”

Sound impossible? No, says Dana: “It appears to be the combination of forcing the body into a fat-burning metabolism while simultaneously cutting calories pretty strictly that results in the very rapid fat loss. I generally lose a pound a day when I Fat Fast.”

However, “Dr. Robert Atkins, author of “Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution,” recommended the Fat Fast for people who are metabolically resistant to weight loss. He prescribed the same formula as Kekwick and Pawan,and Benoit: 1000 calories per day, 90% of them from fat. He suggested cream cheese, macadamia nuts, tuna salad made with triple the usual quantity of mayonnaise, things like that. He instructed the reader to divide this into 5 small feedings per day, of 200 calories each. Being a cook to the core, I had to play with it; that’s the genesis of The Fat Fast Cookbook.”

Dana Carpender: Low carb diet cuisine expert

When it comes to low carb diet cookbooks, Dana Carpender reigns. She is an expert on how to use the ketogenic approach, as evidenced by her book “Fat Fast Cookbook: 50 Easy Recipes to Jump Start Your Low Carb Weight Loss.”

One of the challenges in going low-carb: Giving up grain and sugar. Dana offers her tasty solutions in “CarbSmart Grain-Free, Sugar-Free Living Cookbook: 50 Amazing Low-Carb & Gluten-Free Recipes For Your Healthy Ketogenic Lifestyle.”

Other books by Dana that I recommend:

‘Primal Body’ transforms metabolism with gluten-free high fat ketogenic diet

Nora Gedgaudas believes that Paleo diets can be improved, as described in “Primal Body, Primal Mind: Beyond the Paleo Diet for Total Health and a Longer Life” (click for details).

A key part of her Primal plan: Going gluten-free.

“According to extremely knowledgeable research scientists such as Dr. Alexio Fasano, gluten is a substance no human being can actually even digest,” says Nora, who is a health researcher.

And with the wide range of adverse effects of gluten consumption (more than 200), gluten should not be considered a food, she contends. Instead, Nora believes that it is “a bona fide contaminant.”

Part of the problem with gluten stems from the increasing intolerance that we have when it comes foods containing gluten. As a result, gluten can damage both the body and the brain, says Nora.

Agreeing with her: Neurologist David Perlmutter, who says grain consumption is linked to dementia: Learn more by clicking here.

And, she predicts, “far from being a passing fad, gluten-related issues are only likely to grow with time.”

To succeed at weight loss, Nora recommends:

  • Cultivating a fat/ketone-based metabolism, as opposed to a glucose-based/dependent one. “It’s very difficult to get good at burning fat when you’re busy burning sugar all the time.”
  • Following a Paleo-style diet: Low in sugar, reduced in starchy carbohydrates, moderate protein and sufficient dietary fat.
  • Eliminate grains and legumes.
  • Avoid processed foods.
  • Enjoy greens and other non-starchy vegetables.

As for concerns that your body “needs” carbohydrates like bread and pasta, Nora emphasizes that extensive studies reveal that our bodies require protein and fat to function. Those cookies, cereals and potato chips? Not on the list of established human dietary requirements.

Bottom line: For health and weight loss, says Nora, learn to adapt what she calls the “Paleolithic principles” to your own modern lifestyle. That plan can help you overcome “the health challenges we are faced with today,” and is supported by “newer science-based evidence coming from human longevity research.”

Worth noting: An increasing number of Paleo diet experts are providing variations on this approach, like Nora. Get some different perspectives on how and why the Paleo diet works for weight loss and health by clicking here.

Nutritional ketosis explained

What is nutritional ketosis, and what role can it play in weight loss as well as in conditions ranging from cancer to epilepsy to multiple sclerosis? Get the answers below. Also recommended: A new book explaining precisely how to use a high fat low carb ketogenic diet for weight loss and health: “Keto Clarity: Your Definitive Guide to the Benefits of a Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet” (click for details).

Nutritional ketosis defined: As reported in the Examiner, nutritional ketosis occurs during diets such as the Atkins weight loss plan that consist of high fat, moderate protein and low carbs. Your body stops using glycogen for fuel and uses fat for energy instead.

Two experts who examined the benefits of nutritional ketosis and how to achieve it are Stephen D. Phinney and Jeff S. Volek. They documented their significant body of work in “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living: An Expert Guide to Making the Life-Saving Benefits of Carbohydrate Restriction Sustainable and Enjoyable.”

For those who think that carbohydrates are essential for energy and health, Dr. Phinney has a message: “The concept that humans ‘need a certain amount of dietary carbs for proper function of the body’ has no basis in science. It is a myth perpetuated by the USDA and the dietetic establishment.”

In one study challenging that “myth,” two individuals consumed no carbohydrates for a year with no negative consequences while closely observed in a hospital. In another study, researchers “infused insulin into obese humans in fasting ketosis and demonstrated that they had no symptoms of hypoglycemia despite blood sugar levels that should have caused them to be in a coma,” noted Dr. Phinney.

That latter study demonstrated that our bodies function just fine on ketones no matter what your blood glucose level. But what precisely is a ketogenic diet, and how does it work for weight loss while enhancing parameters of health such as cholesterol level and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes?

Dr. Phinney defines a ketogenic diet as one with total carbohydrates between 10 to 50 grams daily. The rest of the diet consists of fats (example: avocado, nuts and olive oil) and protein (example: chicken, cheese. beef, eggs, pork and turkey). Add to that copious amounts (5 servings per day) of non-starchy vegetables to provide important minerals such as potassium and magnesium.

“People on a well-formulated ketogenic diet maintain normal blood sugar levels because their bodies’ learn to use much, much less blood sugar,” Dr. Phinney explained. Morever, as their bodies become keto-adapted and burn fat for energy, “the liver can make enough glucose via gluconeogenesis to supply that small amount of blood sugar that is actually consumed.”

In the book that he authored with Volek, the ideal ketogenic diet is high in fat, low in carbohydrates and moderate in protein. They advise consuming .7 to .9 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

Franziska Spritzler, a registered dietitian specializing in low carb diets, offered this explanation of how nutritional ketosis works in an exclusive interview: “When carbohydrates are restricted, the liver produces ketones to provide an alternative energy source to glucose. Once serum ketones rise to about 0.5, one is said to be in nutritional ketosis, which can be beneficial for weight loss because insulin levels remain low and appetite tends to be depressed.”

A frequently asked question: What should be the percentage of fat to protein, particularly when weight loss stalls? “I would recommend decreasing fat and increasing protein in this case,” said Spritzler. “Unless the meat is extremely fatty, ketone levels will be lower after a steak than after a large hunk of cheese. However, the meat will have a more beneficial effect on weight loss and body composition.”

Learn  more by clicking here to read about Kim Kardashian’s loss of 70 pounds on the ketogenic Atkins diet, and what the Atkins nutritionist has to say about the newest approach.

Dr. Stephen Phinney: Low carb diets best for weight loss and diabetes

As an increasing number of studies mount in favor of low carb high fat (LCHF) diets, Dr. Stephen Phinney has become renowned for his extensive research expertise on how and why these plans are so effective for weight loss. With an M.D. from Stanford University, PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry from MIT and post-doctoral training at the University of Vermont and Harvard, he’s an acclaimed professor and best-selling co-author of books such as “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living: An Expert Guide to Making the Life-Saving Benefits of Carbohydrate Restriction Sustainable and Enjoyable.”

In an exclusive interview originally reported in the Examiner, Dr. Phinney explained just how low carb diets work – and how you can benefit. He specializes in ketogenic diets, which involve restricting carbohydrates while boosting fat intake and keeping protein intake moderate. But are these diets for everyone?

“Obviously at this juncture, we are not recommending that everyone should go on a ketogenic diet,” qualified Dr. Phinney. “But everyone should markedly reduce their intakes of sugars (sucrose, glucose, fructose) and refined carbs.”

And for those who wonder why ketogenic diets haven’t come to general attention until recent years, they actually have. But most consumers know them under a brand name: Atkins. It was Dr. Robert Atkins who is credited with focusing on high fat low carb ketogenic diets as the best approach to weight loss.

Dr. Phinney, along with co-authors Dr. Jeff Volek and Dr. Eric Westman, also co-authored “New Atkins for a New You: The Ultimate Diet for Shedding Weight and Feeling Great.” He’s conducted additional studies with Dr. Volek on the effects of keto-adaptation. He and Dr. Volek have authored a book containing their research and studies on high fat low carb diets for athletes: “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance.”

Their studies are extensively cited in the latest book documenting the benefits of low carb high fat diets: “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.” In it, author Nina Teicholz compares their ketogenic discoveries about how the body shifts to burning fat stores to a hybrid car.

“As for the hybrid car analogy, I think what Nina was getting at was that when glucose is made into lactate (normally considered harmful) by red blood cells or intensely exercising muscle, the keto-adapted person’s liver avidly takes it up and makes it back into glucose,” clarifies Dr. Phinney. In turn, the glucose is released and recycled.

In recent years, two very different additional uses of the ketogenic diet have surfaced. The first use focuses on easing the symptoms of conditions such as multiple sclerosis. The other purpose: Improving performance in athletes.

With regard to using a ketogenic diet to battle disease, Dr. Phinney explains that “many causes of seizures, many forms of cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease are associated with or promoted by inflammation. I think that we will increasingly monitor blood or breath ketones to guide patients to their personalized carb intakes to achieve optimum anti-inflammatory results.”

In particular, an increasing number of physicians are using ketogenic diets to combat epilepsy. In “Ketogenic Diets,” four medical specialists from John Hopkins explore how to customize high fat low carb diets for seizure control as well as other conditions such as brain tumors, diabetes, autism, migraine and heart disease.

With regard to specialized uses of ketogenic diets, Dr. Phinney’s research long ago demonstrated the potential for improved performance for keto-adapted athletes. In doing so, he challenged the standard convention of carb-loading for athletes.

Now his colleague Dr. Jeff Volek is conducting a study “of ultra-marathon runners who have chosen to follow either a high carb diet or a low carb diet.” The study will be completed in upcoming months.

“Early data show that the keto-adapted runners are able to utilize mostly fat when running at up to 80% of their maximal aerobic power. This will completely re-write the ‘rules’ about fat use during exercise,” predicted Dr. Phinney.

He notes that individual athletes continue to prove the merits of ketogenic diets. Example: “Low carb athlete Sami Inkinen at age 39 recently won the Wildflower Triathlon against a field of almost 1500.”

In addition, four of the top six men and women at last year’s Western States Endurance Run (100 miles on mountain trails from Lake Tahoe to Auburn) followed low-carb diets. Moreover, earlier this year at age 36, low carb dieter and bronze medalist winner Bode Miller became the oldest Olympic skiing medalist.

And to those who still fear consuming foods like butter cheese, pork, and beef, Dr. Phinney points to the laboratory results of those who eat saturated fats during a ketogenic diet. “If blood levels of saturated fats (which is the only place where saturated fat levels have been scientifically linked to heart disease and diabetes) go down on a well-formulated ketogenic diet independent of saturated fat intake, what is there to fear about eating saturated fats?”

His prediction: “Remember the folks back in the 1960s who used to argue that seat belts would kill people because they couldn’t get out of burning cars?  Looking back a few years from now, we’ll find fear of saturated fats equally laughable.”

And in an era where obesity and associated conditions such as type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome now rank as epidemics, this physician believes LCHF diets can provide much-needed help. “Given both the healthcare costs and the medical risks associated with type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, plus the immediate improvements (if not complete remission) in these diseases with a well-formulated ketogenic diet, this diet should be the primary (aka first) therapy  that doctors and dietitians recommend,” he stated.

In elementary school through college, students typically are taught that carbohydrates such as fruit juice and whole grains are essential for energy and health. But Dr. Phinney challenges that conventional wisdom.

“The concept that humans ‘need a certain amount of dietary carbs for proper function of the body’  has no basis in science,” he told me. “It is a myth perpetuated by the USDA and the dietetic establishment.”

In one study challenging that “myth,” two individuals consumed no carbohydrates for a year with no negative consequences while closely observed in a hospital. In another study, researchers “infused insulin into obese humans in fasting ketosis and demonstrated that they had no symptoms of hypoglycemia despite blood sugar levels that should have caused them to be in a coma” noted Dr. Phinney.

That latter study demonstrated that our bodies function just fine on ketones no matter what your blood glucose level. But what precisely is a ketogenic diet, and how does it work for weight loss while enhancing parameters of health such as cholesterol level and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes?

Dr. Phinney defines a ketogenic diet as one with total carbohydrates between 10 to 50 grams daily. The rest of the diet consists of fats (example: avocado, nuts and olive oil) and protein (example: chicken, cheese. beef, eggs, pork and turkey).  Add to that copious amounts (5 servings per day) of non-starchy vegetables to provide important minerals such as potassium and magnesium.

“People on a well-formulated ketogenic diet maintain normal blood sugar levels because their bodies’ learn to use much, much less blood sugar,” Dr. Phinney explained to me. Morever, as their bodies become keto-adapted and burn fat for energy, “the liver can make enough glucose via gluconeogenesis to supply that small amount of blood sugar that is actually consumed.”

Critics of the Atkins diet and other high fat low carb ketogenic diets often complain about what has become known as “Atkins flu” symptoms: Headaches, fatigue, dizziness. The reason for these side-effects: The kidney’s rate of sodium excretion is accelerated as a result of nutritional ketosis.

Although the increase in the rate of sodium excretion benefits those with high blood pressure or fluid retention, it “also tends to reduce the amount of sodium that is necessary to maintain normal circulation,” explained Dr. Phinney. To compensate, in nutritional ketosis the body lowers the amount of fluid in the bloodstream.

Dizziness, fatigue and constipation sometimes result because of this reduced blood volume. However, the prescription for those symptoms is inexpensive and easy.

“The ‘solution’ (pun intended) is to add a modicum of sodium to that minimal level preached by the salt mavens,” Dr. Phinney told me. That means sipping two cups of broth or bouillon which, combined with modest dietary salt intake, yields five grams of sodium daily.

That level of sodium helps to avoid side effects while dieters maintain nutritional ketosis. And for those who question how long it is safe to remain in ketosis, Dr. Phinney points to cultures which have based their well-being on maintaining this state for thousands of years .

“Whole cultures thrived for millennia in nutritional ketosis,” says Dr. Phinney. Among them: The Inuit, the Massai and the nomadic Native Americans who hunted the buffalo.” Both he and his colleague Dr. Volek have stayed in nutritional ketosis for years.

As for those who contend that it’s risky to cut carbohydrates and boost fats for that long, Dr. Phinney asks the rhetorical question: “What risks?” He cites benefits including improved good (aka HDL) cholesterol levels, reduction in inflammation and lower levels of saturated fats in the blood.