Myths

Agriculture is the basis of our modern world. Even though it has been our way of life for a mere 10,000 years — a short time from the perspective of evolution — it is easy to think of a grain-based diet as normal and natural. In contrast, a diet very low in carbohydrate appears strange and unnatural. However, it is likely that before the advent of agriculture, it was common for humans to eat little carbohydrate and be in ketosis for extended periods — at the very least through the winter, during ice ages, or when living near the Poles.

Because of the rarity of low carbohydrate diets in modern times, there has been ongoing concern about their safety. Over the last few decades, various claims about specific dangers have received much attention from the media. Of those that have been experimentally tested, none have turned out to be true. The others have not been adequately studied, and have only weak support.

As we develop this site, we will be addressing many of these claims. This is a preview of what’s to come — we will link to the articles as we write them. Tell us what you’d most like to see next!

Common Myths

These are myths that most people are likely to have heard, and are relatively easy to refute.

Poorly Justified Claims

These are popular claims that we feel are not justified. Some of them are not necessarily easy or even possible to disprove, but because there is no good reason to believe them either, they are still myths.

23 Replies to “Myths”

  1. The rarity of low carbohydrate diets today does not mean that they were common ancestor diets, or that we are genetically programmed to be in ketosis. It's more likely that we are genetically programmed to SURVIVE ketosis, in a broader framework of eating anything we could digest. High protein/fat diets are and have always been expensive and our ancestors weren't wealthy enough to throw away the mammoth to get enough fat to eat a modern 80% fat ketosis diet. IMO, if one were to follow a paleo diet today, there would be periods of both fat and fruit gorging, irregular periods of fasting, and periods of mixed eating.

  2. thhq, I did not say that the rarity of LC diets today means they were common ancestor diets. That's absurd. I said that the rarity of them today makes them seem unnatural, whether or not they are. I then went on to suggest that they are, in fact natural.

    The notion that ketosis is merely a survival mechanism is a common view. What I am saying is that ketosis is a completely normal mode of metabolism, and it is plausible that we spent long periods in it fairly regularly. So I see no a priori reason to call carbohydrate-based metabolism the default metabolism, and ketosis as merely a survival mechanism. At the very least, they are complementary.

    The point about throwing away mammoth parts to increase the percent of fat in the diet strikes me as ironic. First of all, mammoth was extremely fatty. Second, it's the extra fat from, for example, brains, that we wouldn't have thrown away, that is being undercounted these days. You might find this post by J. Stanton enlightening in terms of how much fat was probably eaten: http://www.gnolls.org/715/when-the-conclusions-dont-match-the-data-even-loren-cordain-whiffs-it-sometimes-because-saturated-fat-is-most-definitely-paleo/

    Moreover, a diet does not have to be 80% fat to be ketogenic, nor is it necessarily the norm even in societies generally considered to have eaten that way. The questionable reliability of Wikipedia notwithstanding, it reports that "Traditional Inuit diets derive, at most, 35-40% of their calories from protein, with 50-75% of calories preferably coming from fat." That's a lot of leeway.

    The broader point is simply that ketogenic diets need not be considered some bizarre, dangerous departure from nature.

    1. I wanted to clarify my statement: "I did not say that the rarity of LC diets today means they were common ancestor diets. That's absurd." I did not mean to say that the idea of a keto diet being common was absurd. It's possible; plausible, even. Only the logical implication is absurd. That is, it would be absurd to say that because low carb diets are rare today, that *means* they were common before.

    1. Hello, er, 8ec7b078-29c8-11e2-8c99-000bcdcb471e, 😉

      My diet is beyond merely ketogenic. It is carnivorous and I've described it a little bit here. So, it's not a very typical example, as most ketogenic dieters eat a lot of non-starchy vegetables. I would recommend the latest Atkins Diet book: New Atkins for a New You for specific menus.

    2. I am also primarily a carnivore though I find it easier to let some think that I eat higher carbs to avoid possible intervention. The way I eat is easy, it's inexpensive, it reduces anxiety and it makes me feel good.

  3. Amber,
    I admire what you are doing. After spending many years realizing that meat makes me feel great I am taking a page from Steffanson and giving an all meat diet a try. After a week i am sleeping like a rock and my energy level is great, I had a little dizziness and nausea the first few days but the diuresis is getting annoying and worrisome. When, if at all, did it stop for you? I have been taking more salt and that helps a bit, but I have no more thirst than usual (actually drinking less than usual) and I am wondering where I was holding all of this water! I am really thin and did not think I was holding a lot of water to begin with. Is dehydration an issue? All is well so far, I just hope that my constant peeing stops otherwise I may re-introduce some carbs. My biggest problem at this point is psychological – trying to deprogram all of that nonsense about meat and fat not being healthy. I am a bit worried about my kidneys because of all the peeing. Any thoughts?

    Thanks,
    Chris

    1. Hello, Chris. Thanks for commenting on our blog. I can't really speak to your concerns about your own current health issues. As to the nonsense about meat and fat being unhealthy, I hope to speak to that by fleshing out this "myths" page in the future! Best of luck with your self-experimentation, and please keep reading our blog and commenting.

  4. Zooko,
    Thanks for responding. I understand your caution in addressing the health concerns of individuals. Did you guys find in any of your research any helpful articles concerning protein intake and the production of uric acid? It is my understanding that the acid/alkaline balance in the human body is a very complex process. Interestingly, George Watson found in the 70's that meat and high purine foods, traditionally thought to cause gout, osteoporosis, kidney stones and other maladies, can actually alkalize an overly acidic system depending on the person's metabolism. And I have read stories about high fruit consumption actually acidifying the system. This all goes against the mainstream assumption that these foods have the opposite effects on people. I hope you guys are able to address the whole protein/kidney myth on this site, or have you and I missed it?
    Thanks,
    Chris

  5. Thanks for the article, Amber. I would think that anything that acidifies the system would tend to cause gout. i recall reading about a guy who went on an all fruit diet and within a couple of months his teeth started falling out. Incidentally, in Watson's book, Nutrition and Your Mind (from the 70's) he stated that the sugar low which the body experiences after the sugar spike from refined carbs causes a stress response from the body which naturally drops the pH. His theory was that a high metabolism is slowed down with eating protein because purines take a long time to break down in digestion thus providing steady, long lasting energy and preventing sudden stressful drops in blood sugar. He connected low blood sugar (specifically a lack of energy for cells to burn) with all sorts of mental issues from anxiety and irritability to full blown psychosis and schizophrenia.

  6. Interesting point about the sugar low following a sugar spike being the cause of a stress response. Several months ago I suffered a debilitating case of reactive arthritis that appeared to be triggered by an epic cheat meal. I was in the middle of a year of diet experimentation and was also going through a stressful time personally. My mainstream rheumatologist had no interest in hearing anything to do with my diet and pinned the cause for the arthritis on a case of food poisoning I had had six weeks prior. I had my doubts, but proceeded with the prednisone doses until the arthritis cleared up. The entire experience made me very nervous about further dietary experiments, but I am currently back in ketosis (to my wife's dismay) and losing weight happily without side affects. On a recent weight loss plateau I considered trying the cheat strategy that so many in the blogosphere recommend to reload glycogen and raise leptin levels, but I think I'll just try to stay in ketosis constantly and try to be patient with the weight loss. The arthritis was exceptionally painful and I'm lucky I got over it in two months from what I hear of others' experiences. Any thoughts about the cheat meal strategy?

    1. Hi, Mike.

      As far as I understand, leptin responses are fast, and so the effect of a cheat meal on leptin would be transient. My concern with it would be interfering with keto-adaptation. According to Volek and Phinney's book, there continue to be subtle adaptations for weeks. Unfortunately, they didn't go into specifics.

      However, in their other book they do talk a lot about glycogen. They cite studies showing that in keto-adapted athletes, glycogen is used at only a quarter of the rate that glycolytic athletes use it.

      There is also an interview of Phinney that focuses on glycogen that you might be interested in.

    2. Thanks Amber. I enjoyed the interview with Phinney and it definitely encouraged me to skip the cheating and to defend the keto-adapted state that I spent several weeks achieving.

  7. " I hope you guys are able to address the whole protein/kidney myth on this site, or have you and I missed it?"

    well there is some basis for the lower protein content in the diet and it seems to be related to ones methylation genetics as sulphate and or, ureas breakdown could be impaired and also there is the possible issue of the gut bacteria balance coming into play. It seems that these myth's have some grain of truth attached to them for some segment of the population.
    You are helpful in bring these issues to attention as looking at things in unconventional ways will help solve some of the problems.
    One of the problems with high fat is that AA arachodonc acid is embedded with saturate fat in feedlot cattle and is very inflammatory so we get the meat association with heart disease mixed in and it is a confounding factor. If one is familiar with Dr M Eades work or B Sears you will come across this theme.

  8. Dr Rosedale also recommends a lower protein content I think ~15% of calories and under 10% saturated fat but I am getting this second hand as I have not read sufficiently on his work other than the book reviews on amazon and a few of his articles. L Cordain claims that the protein content varies as Amber says.

  9. Interesting in your about us section it states : "Amber has eaten almost nothing but meat for nearly four years." Now, I'm new to Keto-adaptation or Nutritional Ketosis but the scientists talk about it being mostly FAT not protein but that protein is indeed moderate. So if we're going to educate the public it's best to not let them assume it's a meat based diet because it is not.

    1. First of all, my diet is mostly fat. I eat fatty meat, and last time I measured, it usually works out to about 70% fat by calories.

      Second, I feel it would be important to be transparent about what I eat, even if it weren't ketogenic. That's part of About Us. It is independent of my recommendations.

      Finally, there are many ways to eat a ketogenic diet. You could even do it while being vegetarian (though I don't recommend vegetarianism). Nonetheless, most ketogenic diets are meat based diets. If you get your protein and fat from meat, which there is much evidence to believe are the healthiest sources of fat and protein, and you get less than, say 30 grams per day of carbohydrates, then your diet is based on meat.

      The way I now eat has been much more beneficial to me than my previous diet, which was also very low carb (20-30 grams/day), but included non-starchy vegetables. You can read about it on my personal blog.

      Although I value educating people, I also value honest representation of myself and of the state of the science.

  10. remember….no one has ever been able to prove u can eat more then your body requires and NOT gain weight……and protein does not = glucose….

    1. I disagree with that statement. "Requires" is a funny word. When you have the bare minimum for survival you use less, you become efficient. When you have more, you use more. So if you define requires as the minimum you can get by with, it is simply not true that eating more than that will necessarily make you fat.

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