There seems to be a new diet trending every other week. Whether it’s juicing celery or intermittent fasting, it’s hard to keep up with the constantly shifting health headlines. But one that’s grown in popularity these past few years is a low-carb and high-fat diet widely known as “keto.”
Dr. Jason Fung is a Toronto-based nephrologist and the world’s leading expert on intermittent fasting and low-carb regimes—especially for treating people with type 2 diabetes. As a kidney specialist, Fung’s priority is helping patients avoid diabetes by instilling healthy lifestyle practices. Back in the mid-2000s, most physicians would advise their clients to count or restrict their calories in order to lose weight, but Fung felt there needed to be a healthier and more accessible approach. After much research, he began advising his patients to adopt a low-carb diet alongside intermittent fasting.
“Some of the results were just crazy,” says Fung. “My patients were losing weight. Their diabetes was improving. They were able to come off certain medications. It was incredible and that’s where it all started.”
We connected with Fung to debunk a few popular low-carb-related myths and answer the most common questions surrounding the popular diet.
What does following a low-carb diet entail?
The main focus is on cutting down refined carbohydrates, particularly anything flour- or sugar-based, and replacing them with fat or protein, like avocados, fatty fish, eggs and non-starchy vegetables. In the last 10 years or so, people have finally realized that there are good and bad fats, and that eating whole foods that contain natural fats isn’t harmful.
How does it work?
Carbohydrates stimulate a lot of insulin production because they break down into sugar. This prompts your body to start storing fat and calories as an energy source. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (even healthy and natural foods can cue this process), but refined carbohydrates in particular rank the highest in boosting these levels and spiking weight gain. Therefore, following a low-carb diet means replacing these sugars and processed carbs with healthier proteins and fats to keep your insulin at bay.
What can and can’t you eat?
Sugar and flour are the main ingredients to avoid or limit. Artificial sweeten-
ers are often questioned as well—not because they have a direct insulin effect, but because they trigger sweet cravings. But it’s less about following a strict diet and more about making balanced choices. Instead of jam and toast, scramble an egg. That will not only be the healthier option, but it will also keep you full for longer and cut down on your snacking, which also causes insulin spikes.
What are net carbs?
Net carbs are simply total carbs minus fibre. Although fibre is a carb as well, it isn’t absorbed by the body, so it doesn’t really count. (Note: Taking net carbs into account allows those who follow a low-carb regimen to have more options, such as low-carb bread).
Is cutting out carbs healthy?
There are essential amino acids and fatty acids, but there are no essential carbohydrates. You could lower your carb intake to zero and still be healthy—there’s no nutritional value. So fundamentally, there’s no reason why a low-carbohydrate diet would be unsafe. (Note: People who manage their carb intake, but don’t want to part ways completely, usually stay between 15 and 60 grams of net carbs a day).
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