Recently there has been a lot of noise in the fitness and nutrition world about some things: 1) the Keto diet; and 2) the What the Health documentary currently available on Netflix. I’ll be honest and tell you that I’m usually pretty leery of the latest craze. Whenever something is “super popular!” is usually reason enough for me to stay away from it. Part of it is just because I’m rebel enough not to follow the crowd, and the other reason is people tend to do stupid things just to be like everyone else. That doesn’t mean that every new or popular idea is bad or stupid, but it means until I’ve taken a good look at it, I’m not going to go along just to be one of the crowd.
One of the hot new trends is the ketogenic diet: “everyone is going keto!” “Keto is so healthy!” “Keto is so much better because of blah blah blah!” I tried keto before after being Paleo for several months. It wasn’t as hugely popular as it is now, but the reason I tried it is that it is very good for insulin resistance (one of my issues). Adjusting to a ketogenic diet is not the easiest transition: there are a whole lot of down-sides to it, and for some people, staying on a ketogenic diet is just as hard. Ketosis, simply put, is a metabolic state in which your body gets its energy from fat, either dietary fat or body fat, instead of from glucose (carbs). In order for that to happen, you have to eat no more than 20 grams of carbs a day. In food that means, one slice of bread (whole wheat or white) plus one tall Starbucks latte will put you over the 20 grams. The half cup of cashews I had with lunch today alone were 14 grams of carbs! So, that means you have to keep your carbs extremely low (most people eating Paleo eat about 100 grams of carbs and most people eating the Standard American Diet eat about 200.) Most people make the mistake of replacing all those carbs with protein, but too much protein will keep your body from converting the fat to the ketones it needs for fuel because your body can make glucose from excess protein (gluconeogenesis). The trick is to keep the carbs low and keep your protein at a moderate level and fill the rest of your calories with healthy fats (key word is healthy). And once you start eating keto, there is the transition phase, usually called ‘keto flu,’ or ‘carb withdrawal.’ This is usually a few weeks of feeling irritable, tired, and just pretty ugh due to headaches and brain fog. I heard one person say this is how you know you are doing it right! Yay?? But the prize is that once you get over that transition period, you have much more energy than before and your body is much more efficient at burning body fat, i.e. you lose a lot of weight and tend not to gain it back.
So obviously, you can see why keto is so popular: everyone is looking at the results and not so much as the path to get there, which is not always so easy. If you are seriously considering a keto diet, which really is good for a lot of health and digestive issues, I would suggest you read Keto Clarity by Jimmy Moore or The Keto Reset Diet by Mark Sisson (coming out in October). Both of these authors have done their research and earned the respect of their peers. Both will let you know the limits of keto and any problems you may face; they don’t fudge the facts, even if they are unpleasant.
This is the problem with the What The Health documentary currently making waves in the nutrition world. I’ve not seen the film and judging from all the critiques I’ve heard, I am not likely to waste my time. The documentary is about the benefits of being vegan. One of the critiques I’ve heard is that the producers and other experts behind the film are all vegans. That is less important to me than the allegation that the information provided in the documentary is “cherry-picked” to bolster their viewpoint rather than giving us the whole story. One of the ‘factoids’ put forth in the film is that people can get all the protein they need from about 2000 calories of rice. It sounds good, but it’s not true. My family is Mexican, which means as a kid, I ate a whole lot of beans and rice! I can’t stand it now because I ate enough for a lifetime! I also learned- long before I was 12- why we eat them together: beans are an incomplete protein and so is rice, but when you eat them together, they complement each other and make a complete protein. Eating rice will give you a whole lot of carbs and energy, but it won’t give you a complete protein! That factoid alone is enough to make me question the rest of their ‘facts.’ As I said, there are a lot of critiques being bandied about the fitness and nutrition arena, and none of the ones I heard were complimentary. Most of them were also from meat-eaters, except for the review by Laura Thomas I heard on the Food for Fitness podcast. Laura Thomas is a London dietician/ nutritionist who is vegan. She has been vegetarian since she was ten years old and went vegan in college, about ten years ago, so she has had some experience with the lifestyle, and she described this documentary as a “complete sh*tshow.” She took issues with their “cherry-picked” research and incomplete explanations and overall felt this kind of “bad science” promotes fear-mongering rather than any of the true benefits of veganism. I thought it was particularly interesting that the host of the Food for Fitness podcast, Scott Baptie, chose Dr. Thomas because of her qualifications and reputation and did not know she was vegan until they recorded the actual podcast. Her less-than-stellar evaluation echoed the criticisms of the other reviewers, but because she was viewing the documentary as a vegan herself, it gave me all the information I needed to know: this really was “bad science.”
I have nothing against vegans or vegetarians. Personally, I avoid looking at chickens and cows in the trucks I see on the road, because I know where they are going. As much as I love animals, it bothers me to think that the food on my plate was probably something I’d have found adorable. I am sure the producers of What The Health were hoping to provoke more thought about animal rights and the benefits of a plant based diet, but bad science only hurts their cause. If they really want to promote animal ethics and their values, they need to show the world the truth, even the parts that don’t look good for vegans.