Gain Mass

The Science Behind the Ketogenic Diet

To fully understand how the ketogenic diet works, you must first understand how your body responds to different foods.

The Ketogenic Diet for Health

“But won’t eating that much fat raise my cholesterol? Won’t I have a heart attack?” These are common questions associated with ketogenic dieting and the skepticism is understandable.

For years, the government preached the dangers of so-called artery-clogging, cholesterol-laden meat and dairy. Fear mongering of fat gained steam in 1958 when Ancel Keys, Ph.D., an American scientist who researched the effects of diet on health, set out to study how saturated fats are linked to heart disease.

Critics contend that Keys thought that the data he gathered from 22 different countries were too scattered and didn’t support a theory that saturated fats raise cholesterol and lead to heart attacks. So they say he ditched the data he didn’t want and published the findings that did back his ideas. Whether worthwhile or not, Keys’ work influenced the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the original Food Pyramid, which recommended minimal animal fat and suggested six to 11 servings of carbohydrates per day —with no distinction being made between whole foods like rice and processed junk like saltine crackers. The nation’s obesity rate has been climbing ever since.

In reality, recent studies have found that saturated fat isn’t as dangerous as that earlier research suggested. A meta-analysis of 21 studies conducted in 2010 by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that there was no relation between cardiovascular disease and saturated fat. In fact, some types of saturated fat can be quite healthy.

The saturated fat in food like dairy and coconut oil may help increase levels of HDL cholesterol, the “good” kind, and thicken particles of LDL cholesterol, the so-called “bad” stuff. This is a positive, because it’s the smaller particles of LDL that act as debris in the bloodstream, sticking to artery walls and helping to form plaque buildup.

Saturated fats can also help prevent the oxidation of unsaturated fat that can occur with cooking. Unsaturated fats aren’t stable at high heat, and have the potential to become heart-unhealthy, even carcinogenic, unless they’re paired with a saturated fat. For this reason, it’s better to sauté foods in coconut oil or butter than olive oil.

Need another reason to have a burger tonight? (Well, here’s one anyway.) At least 50% of our cell membranes are made of saturated fat. Without the rigidity that saturated fats provide (with the help of unsaturated fats to keep the cell walls liquid), cells would have no governor. Too many messages would go in and out of them, and that can lead to problems as serious as cancer. Cells would also be less resistant to infection from viruses and bacteria.

Finally, eating more fat may just make you manlier. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that men consuming a high-fat diet raised their testosterone 13% above those following a low-fat diet. If you didn’t know, greater testosterone increases the potential for bigger muscle gains, better sex, and a whole bunch of other things men enjoy.

Now consider that ketones themselves—which, remember, are harvested from fat—have a positive effect on inflammation, cancer, and even brain health. D’Agostino says that while our brains lose the capacity to use glucose for fuel with age, that decline never occurs with ketones.

“You have a lower risk of developing cancer in the long-term because you have a dramatically reduced level of free radicals when you use ketones versus sugar,” says Dallas Hack, M.D., Chief Science Officer of Kegenix, a patented supplement that induces ketosis and is based on D’agostino’s research at the University of South Florida.