The Truth about low carb, high protein and fat ketogenic Diets

  • 18 Dec 2014
  • Reading time 20 mins
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Barely a year goes by without the ‘return of the high protein, high fat, low carb diet’ in various disguises. It was invented by Dr William Harvey in the mid 1800’s, and first made popular by William Banting in 1864. But it wasn’t until Dr Robert Atkins turned the basic principles into his Atkins Diet in the 1970s, which then became a best-seller in 2002, that the principle of avoiding carbs, and eating high fat and protein became a popular weight loss approach.

This has mutated into various forms from the South Beach Diet in California to the Dukan Diet in France, the Real Meal Revolution in South Africa and the Total Wellbeing Diet in Australia. It is not dissimilar to the paleo or Stone Age diets which shun grains and other carbs in favour of lots of meat plus vegetables, on the basis that it is what our ancestors ate.

The central idea is that, by eating lots of fat and protein, and virtually no carbs, the body’s metabolism switches from burning glucose to burning ketones and goes into a state of ‘ketosis’. Think of ketones as a back-up fuel when times are hard – it’s what we survive off when we burn our own fat in times of starvation. Since fat converts most easily into ketones, low-carb diets recommend lots of high fat meats and dairy products, despite neither being part of our ancestors diet.

There have been lots of studies that show:

  • that it works for weight loss, but no better than my kind of low GL diet, which advocates a bit more protein, less and the right kind of low GL carbs
  • that it works for diabetes reversal and lowering blood fats (triglycerides made from glucose)
  • that it’s not the ketosis that makes the diet work, but the reduction in calories. 

    But longer term studies (1 year+) don’t tend to show a benefit over other less extreme low GL (glycemic load) dietary approaches.

For example, a review of 19 trials comparing low carb versus balanced diets concludes, ‘There is probably little or no difference in weight loss and changes in cardiovascular risk factors up to two years of follow-up when overweight and obese adults, with or without type 2 diabetes, are randomised to low carb diets and isoenergetic (calorie) balanced weight loss diets.’ Another trial comparing four diets – high carb, high GI foods; high carb, low GI foods; high protein, high GI foods; high protein, low GI foods – concludes:‘Both high-protein and low-GI regimens increase body fat loss, but cardiovascular risk reduction is optimised by a high-carbohydrate, low GI diet.’ My low GL diet may produce the best of both worlds, ......

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