Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
The science is in: large dietary studies-such as Stanford’s A to Z study and the Swedish Council on Health and Technology’s Assessment review of 16,000 dietary studies-show that low-carb diets promote both weight loss and health. Last year, Sweden declared “LCHF” (Low Carb High Fat) as its official diet. Norway followed. The USDA won’t go there just yet, but it did strike cholesterol from its list of things to avoid for the first time since 1980. Cardiologists are apologizing about being wrong for 40 years. Time magazine put a pat of butter on its cover and reported that fat-phobia was based on … um … flawed science.
What’s next, you say? Are they going to tell us lard is healthy? Well … yeah. Lard recently won out over common “healthy” oils for promoting the most longevity in calorie-restricted rodents. VLCDs (Very Low-Carb Diets) are being used to treat some cancers. Will this “craziness” stop? I hope not. This type of diet literally saved my life 25 years ago, and it keeps me healthy today.
If this is shocking to you, I understand. I, too, once clung to the low-fat theory of weight loss and health. Or maybe you’re hip and have already adopted some incarnation of a low-carb diet such as a low-glycemic, grainless, or Paleo eating style. If so, you’ve probably reaped many rewards. But what if you could feel even better?
What’s Leptin Got to Do with It?
The key may be the hormone leptin. Nearly 8,000 studies have been done on leptin, showing beneficial effects on appetite and weight regulation, as well as neuro- and cardio-protective benefits. Leptin also has a proven impact on eating disorders and addictions, via its balancing effects on dopamine pathways.
Taking leptin as a drug or supplement-like taking insulin-would only lead to becoming resistant to it. Instead, says expert Ron Rosedale, MD, you want to recover cellular sensitivity to the hormone through diet. This is done by avoiding rises in blood sugar by cutting out virtually all sugar sources (including grains, alcohol, legumes, corn, potatoes, and flour). “Fiber carbs,” such as green and nonstarchy vegetables, are the exception. The only way to satisfy hunger on nominal carbs is if a high percentage of calories (60 percent or higher) come from fat.
These principles for enhanced leptin function are easily “layered” into a Paleo diet since grains, sugar, legumes, and usually corn and potatoes are already restricted. Fruits and sweeteners such as honey would also need to be cut, however. And a greater emphasis on higher-fat protein sources, such as organ meats, as well as avocados and butter (often restricted on Paleo diets) would also be in order. I have found that if I’m restrictive enough with carbs and bold enough with fat-especially healthy saturated fats such as pastured and organic butter, eggs, goat cheese and other high-fat cheeses-my overall food intake soon plummets and my energy soars.
Many of my clients who are challenged metabolically or hormonally, or who suffer with candida, acne, insomnia, or low energy, benefit from such a diet health-wise, in addition to losing significant amounts of weight. Additionally, libido, inflammation, pain, acid reflux, IBS, food sensitivities, and rashes often improve.
From a leptin-conscious perspective, even the grainless Paleo diet contains hidden sugars that affect sensitive people. Paleo diets are often too heavy in protein (an excess of which turns into sugar in the body, says Rosedale). This can prevent resensitization to the hormone leptin-and the rewards that come with it.
Once you become leptin-sensitive (most people notice a change after four days on the diet), energy dips become rare and happen only if blood sugar is spiked or if you don’t eat when you need to. Appetite drops, and calories, though not “restricted,” are spontaneously cut.
What to Expect on a low-carb, high-fat diet
As most people are primarily “sugar-burners,” the transition to “fat burner” comes with a temporary energy drop. In addition, you may experience flu-like yeast die-off and/or digestive symptoms. So carve out a few days to take it easy if you plan a strict attempt at this. To make it easier, consider the following supplements. Note: Work with your doctor if you are on medication for high blood sugar or blood pressure, which can drop almost immediately once these dietary changes are adopted.
- Potassium and magnesium. These help maintain fluid balance as inflammation-related water-retention is reduced and urination is increased.
- Digestive enzymes containing lipase. These can help those who have not been eating fat by providing the enzyme necessary to digest fat. Digestive aids, such as L-taurine, betaine HCL, alcohol-free bitters, or apple cider vinegar, can also help with sluggish fat digestion.
- L-glutamine and blood-sugar-stabilizing nutrients such as chromium picolinate, alpha-lipoic acid, and benfotiamine, can help with cravings.
- A yeast die-off may accompany the experience, as you’re removing yeast’s favorite food-sugar-from your diet. Sometimes called “keto flu,” this could cause nausea. Probiotics can make yeast die-off more comfortable.
For 43 years, since the age of 7, singer Mark Paul endured an average of three horrific seizures each night of his life. He did not know what sleeping through the night was like. “I came to accept being jolted out of my sleep,” he said. “But I never got used to it. My wife has awakened with me each night for the 18 years we’ve been together.” Having heard about ketogenic diets helping seizures, he started my regimen, and immediately his seizures were cut down to one per night. This was a first for him. His weight soon dropped from 215 to 187. His energy was the “best ever,” he said. He was thrilled. But based on the experience of other epileptics I’d worked with, I was convinced that Mark didn’t have to have any seizures at all. We worked together to troubleshoot, and weeded out some hidden sugars including vegan milks, beets, and too many nuts and cooked vegetables.
Within two days of eliminating these foods, Mark’s seizures stopped cold for the first time in 43 years. “I’m sleeping through the night for the first time in my adult life,” he says. “I’m currently at seven months seizure-free. There is no desire to stray. I probably have the best built-in motivation of anyone, since I know the seizures will return if I eat the wrong thing.”