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Philly.com Columnist Totally Misrepresents The Low-Carb, Ketogenic Diet

If you follow my work on a regular basis, then you already know that we try to address and respond to the latest health headlines on my Friday podcast called “Low-Carb Conversations with Jimmy Moore & Friends” featuring my co-host Dietitian Cassie and two guest friends from the low-carb and Paleo communities. So many times we see articles in the mainstream media and want to give our own unique perspective on them since oftentimes the columnist gets it so wrong that the truth deserves a chance to be heard. But when I saw this column on Philly.com written by their Sports Medicine & Fitness Editor named Kelly O’Shea this week, I had to respond on Facebook to all the blatant misinformation she was putting out there about the low-carb, ketogenic diet. But as I was countering all the misinformation in Kelly’s column entitled “Why it’s a bad idea to cut out food groups for weight loss,” I knew I needed to share this with my blog readers to further expose the major flaws in what she shared.

Read the article for yourself and you’ll quickly see what I’m talking about. She’s all over the place in this column making it difficult to know where to begin responding to this one. Let’s look at each of her primary claims about low-carb diets one at a time and my response to them:

CLAIM: Low-carb diets eliminate entire food groups.

Isn’t it funny how people like Kelly make this claim about low-carb diets, but they NEVER say anything like this about low-fat or vegetarian diets? Hmmmm. But I digress. No, all carbs are not removed when you eat this way. Just the cruddy ones like sugar, starch and grains–especially the highly-refined versions of all of these. It’s not a “no-carb” diet as we still enjoy non-starchy and green leafy vegetables, berries, and other such real food-based carbs. They are merely limited to their individual impact on a person’s blood sugar levels. This is why finding your carbohydrate tolerance level is the first step in becoming ketogenic.

CLAIM: Your brain and muscles NEED carbs to function.

If you are fueling your body as a sugar-burner, then she is ABSOLUTELY 100% correct. But when you choose to make the switch over to burning fat and ketones as your primary fuel source, then you don’t need that obligatory 130g of carbs a day to make your brain happy. Instead, you eat a high amount of saturated and monounsaturated fats, moderated amounts of protein to your individual threshold levels, and limited carbs to your personal tolerance to offer your brain all the amazing health effects that come from being in a state of nutritional ketosis. The same goes for the energy in your body–it is fueled quite well on ketones. To claim there is any inherent “need” for carbohydrates is a major error for someone who purports to have expertise in writing about nutrition.

CLAIM: You’re at risk for nutritional deficiencies eating low-carb.

Not if you are consuming healthy low-carb veggies and organ meats in your diet to give you all the micronutrition you’ll need. And what nutrients do whole grains offer that you can’t get in a well-formulated low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet? The crickets are chirping loudly.

CLAIM: Ketosis is an unhealthy metabolic state that leads to a build-up of ketones that lead to headaches, nausea and bad breath.

Hoo boy, oh the nonsense of this one. In a word–NO. If you’ve read my book Keto Clarity then you know what a farce this objection is. Ketosis is a very natural state for the body to be in shifting from burning sugar as the primary fuel source to burning fat as the primary fuel source. There’s nothing “unhealthy” about it and you could argue it’s actually one of the best possible metabolic states you could be in to optimize your health. All of those so-called side effects of ketosis that Kelly blathers on about are a result of failing to drinking enough water and get enough electrolytes back into your diet early on, including salt, potassium and magnesium, which become depleted as your body dumps the excess stored glucose in your body. Getting fully keto-adapted within a few days to several weeks depending on the individual will provide you with incredible energy and mental clarity like you’ve never experienced before. That’s the power of ketosis that these people never seem to grasp.

CLAIM: Don’t do a low-carb diet for more than six months.

Okay, I’ll bite. So if I eat low-carb for six months and get healthier as a result of doing that, then how am I supposed to eat after that to keep the improvements in my weight and health that a low-carb diet gave me? Anyone? I’ll stick with my long-held mantra of “find what works for you and do it for the rest of your life.”

CLAIM: You need to eat 45-65% of your calories from carbohydrates.

Now that would be extremely idiotic for someone like me to do who is metabolically broken from years of poor nutritional choices prior to beginning on a healthy low-carb lifestyle. Limiting my carbohydrate intake to less than 5% of my total calories has given me the most robust health I’ve ever experienced in my entire life, so why would I do that? If I NEED as many carbs as Kelly claims I do, then how am I thriving at significantly lower levels of carbohydrate intake? Why is this question never addressed by those who are opposed to low-carb living? It cuts to the heart of the matter.

CLAIM: Losing weight is all about calories in, calories out.

Ahhhhh, there it is. I wondered when the “c” word was going to come into the picture. That’s what they are holding on to for dear life, but you and I know the hormonal impact of food on our bodies is so much more accurate at determining what diet is right for us. And as long as our insulin and leptin are kept at optimized levels as a result of following a low-carb, high-fat, ketogenic diet, then I don’t worry about my calories. It’s time to slay the calories dragon and get keto-adapted!

Don’t miss reading the comments to this article that further educate Kelly O’Shea about where she got it wrong on so many levels. And feel free to drop her a tweet about this column to share your thoughts on what she shared and copy in @Phillydotcom requesting a follow-up with accurate information about a low-carb, ketogenic diet. Always refuse to accept this kind of nonsense in the media and stand up for what you know is the truth. The public deserves to hear this message loud and clear.

  • http://righteousinvestor.com/ Peter W. Dunn

    I would argue that the term “calorie” is completely useless for nutrition science. It would be better if people stopped using a term referring to a unit of energy in food when burnt in bomb calorimeter. It is an erroneous application of knowledge as applied to the science of nutrition.

    • http://www.stonehenge.com/merlyn/ Randal L. Schwartz

      Yeah, the gnolls.org series on that was particularly rich in evidence and details of why a calorie is *not* a calorie. And Gary Taubes covered that pretty well in GCBC and Why We Get Fat as well.

    • js290

      Yeah, anyone who uses “calorie” in the context of “nutrition” knows neither thermo nor nutrition. It’s probably safe to ignore such a person.

      I just ask people who like to use “calories” to explain which metabolic cycle biochemically uses “calorie” as a substrate. The ignorant answer is usually, “ALL OF THEM.” Then I just point out that the Krebs cycle “burns” ATP.

  • Brandi Shaw

    Doesnt the law of thermodynamics where calories in calories out came in only apply to a closed system, which I’m positive humans are not a closed system. Calories is pointless then.

    • js290

      Yes and no. Yes, if you’re trying to model a simple thermodynamic system, dU = dQ – dW just means there’s no work done by the system itself. No, even in an open system energy will be conserved. Really smart scientists figured this out a while back: http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/nutrient-utilization-in-humans-metabolism-pathways-14234029

      The confusion here is most people haven’t studied thermo or systems modeling to understand the implications of the “CICO” sound bite. Conservation of energy, like any other law of Nature, is a constraint (boundary conditions) on the system. It is therefore a necessary effect. People ignorant of thermodynamics and systems modeling (e.g.. nutritionists) confuse it as a cause. Subtle, but important distinction. I think Taubes referred to it as a “vacuous truth.”

      Also, in a complex system like metabolism, CI affects CO and vice versa. In the typical “CICO” sound bite, the ignorant incorrectly assumes CI and CO are independent.

      Ultimately, people need to understand that human metabolism biochemically doesn’t “burn calories.”

  • http://www.stonehenge.com/merlyn/ Randal L. Schwartz

    We’ve started calling people who cling to CICO as CICOphants and/or CICOpaths, depending on their level of insanity. :)

  • Cin Bonfi

    I think calorie in calorie out is more a side effect of the body’s inability to get rid of blood glucose without changing it into something else first. The breaking of the bonds produces energy that is used by the body. Energy doesn’t have any weight, so it’s actually the body’s ability to rid itself of the resulting water and carbon dioxide that results in weight changes. other energy contained within molecular bonds can leave the body intact. Any 13 year old boy who has lit a fart or a pile of poop demonstrates that potential energy is still contained within molecules excreted from the body. That’s why I think calorie in calorie out will always apply for people on a high carb diet, but not because of the 1st law of thermodynamics. The rest of us can just laugh at them and enjoy our high fat meats, butter and veggies.

    • js290

      Energy does have mass. Check the base units: kg*m^2/s^2. Extracting mass from energy is quite a trick. I think a guy named Einstein figured it out.

      Research what the various metabolic cycles use as a substrate and your confusion will clear up.

      • Cin Bonfi

        That’s an equivalence to mass. You are still ridding your body of the mass of by products of the krebbs cycle when your body breaks down glucose not the energy from the bonds. You are looking at it from a physics perspective which is also being used for the calorie in calorie out argument. What I’m saying is that the biology is what’s important. People need to rid themselves of the mass they consume. The mass-energy eqivalence says that the calories will come along for the ride so they are irrevalent for the most part. The body will do what it needs to to based on the molecules you consume. The problem comes up when you consume carbohydrates that get broken down and enter the blood as glucose. That becomes a closed system for glucose and the body has to change it into something else in order to get rid of it. Because glucose can’t be “controlled” by the biological system, it ends up doing damage to the body directly proportional to the level of glucose in the blood. The body responds by doing everything it can to keep the level of glucose in the blood low enough to limit the damage while allowing the body to use glucose in the krebbs cycle to convert ADP to ATP which can then be broken back down to ADP by various systems and release energy. The krebbs cycle doesn’t care if it gets the glucose from carbohydrates consumed by the person or glucose made by the liver through gluconeogensis. The CICO and mass-energy equivalence are just red herrings because neither really addresses the biological system.

        • js290

          You’re exactly right. The biological system is only constrained by CICO. No other details about how the system functions biochemically can be known from CICO. It’s like using average lifespan to dismiss paleo nutrition principles. “How” or “why” are completely obfuscated conveniently for people pushing an idea that is meaningless when a little biochemistry is understood.

  • http://denversdietdoctor.com Jeffry Gerber, MD

    How could someone from my home town (Philly) be so ignorant?

    • LLVLCBlog

      Must be an implant. :(

  • https://www.facebook.com/mark.bousquet Mark Bousquet

    Well said, Jimmy!