At Duke University we’ve been studying and using keto – low-carb, high-fat diets – for the last 20 years. We were one of the first research groups to look at the low-carb diet. It used to be called the Atkins Diet, and we looked at it in terms of safety. Contrary to what everyone believed at the time, when done right, a low-carb keto diet is healthy for anyone. For everyone, actually, when it’s done correctly and safely.
One of the fundamental things I want you to understand about a keto diet is that it’s not about eating fat or having ketones. It’s about having protein come first. There’s a misconception on the internet today, mostly because people want you to buy their products. The basic understanding that nutrition prioritizes protein over any other sort of nutrient is really important because our bodies are mainly made out of protein. We’ve been teaching a simple version of the low-carb keto diet for many years and we teach with an emphasis on having protein. If the protein has fat with it naturally (like a steak, pork chop, or piece of fatty fish) that’s a great way to get the fat that you need.
Our bodies don’t need carbohydrates
You might be surprised to realize that there’s no need for a human to eat carbohydrates. This was one of the things I needed to be sure of 20 years ago before embarking on clinical research where I was asking people not to eat many carbohydrates. It turns out that there is no requirement for a mammal or human to eat carbohydrates. We can make all of it within ourselves from the other nutrients that we eat. If you eat the right proteins and fats, your body will make all the carbohydrates that it needs; you don’t have to consume carbohydrates at all. The brain doesn’t always need carbohydrates and your other organs will do just fine. (Your brain does need glucose, but it can get glucose from sources other than carbohydrates in your food.)
The body creates its own ketones
When you don’t eat anything at all (such as during fasting), your body runs on the fuel that it has stored, ready for you to use – your own body fat! The default metabolism of the body is burning fat. When you burn fat, you generate fatty acids and ketones. That’s where the keto diet got its name. When you’re burning fat in the body, ketones are generated from that fat burning; you don’t have to drink ketones and drink oils to make ketones. Your body will make ketones naturally. Ketones are just molecules of energy that substitute where the sugar used to be used before. Most of the muscles and other tissues will do great running on fats and ketones. There are some organs, like the brain, that can run on ketones and glucose all at the same time.
There are not a lot of cells that absolutely need sugar or glucose for their metabolism. Fortunately, your body can make all of the sugar that these cells need from the proteins and fats that you eat. Do not think about a keto diet as something that’s prioritizing ketones, fats, or oils. There are a lot of people who receive that misinformation about what keto is. Keto just means you’re metabolizing fat; you don’t need to be drinking fats and oils and ketones in order to metabolize fat. To become a “fat-burning machine,” prioritize proteins, not fats.
Proteins and fats
Between proteins and fats, our body is mainly made up of protein; it’s important to get some protein every day. If your appetite is suppressed or reduced on the keto diet and you feel like you don’t want to eat anything, I still think it’s important to eat some protein every day. This is to support your muscle mass and protein in your body. If you’re eating animal products – meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, and eggs – you will bring the fats that you need into the diet naturally, so you don’t develop a deficiency in essential fatty acids.
Many people will put things like butter on their steak and add oils to their drinks – that’s not necessary to be a fat burner or to be in a ketogenic state. It can actually slow down or thwart your weight loss or type 2 diabetes reversal, because if you have too much fat and oils, you might overconsume calories. And for sure you don’t want any sugar or fats in drinks as much as possible when you’re following a proper keto diet. Prioritize proteins – meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, and eggs. Don’t overconsume fats, oils, and ketone products. I emphasize eating real foods and not “fake” foods or highly processed foods like “keto candy bars.” I don’t want my patients to have any of that.
Check out the full video here.