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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Ketogenic Diets for Optimal Health: Regulating Insulin – Not Fat – is the Key

Jul 11, 2017 03:49AM ● By Mary Gilbertson

Perhaps one of the biggest nutritional controversies of late is the confusion and misinformation regarding dietary fats and their effects on our weight, cholesterol levels and overall health. To understand how fats became vilified, we need to look to a scientist named Ancel Keys. In 1958, Keys published his famous “Seven Countries Study”. This study researched the relationship between dietary fats and prevalence of coronary heart disease. His conclusion was that a diet high in saturated fats caused fatty deposits in the arteries that lead to heart disease. Shortly after Keys’ research was published, food companies began eliminating saturated fat from foods. Since fats have a creamy consistency and are satiating, the food industry needed to replace fats with something that would be appealing to the masses. They started replacing fats in foods with sugar, which led to the replacement of real foods with sugar-laden processed foods. It was this that ultimately has led to the rise in obesity and the chronic, degenerative diseases we are experiencing today.

Was Keys’ Research Misleading?

We now have accumulated enough data to prove that Keys’ research was flawed. In attempting to prove causation between saturated fats and increased incidence of heart disease, his experiments used saturated fats that had been engineered from vegetable oils using hydrogenation. Hydrogenation creates trans fats; it is these trans fats that lead to increases in blood cholesterol and, ultimately, heart attacks and strokes. However, obesity-related disorders are not confined to cardiovascular disease. There are presently eight obesity-related disorders: type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, Alzheimer’s disease, gout, gallbladder disease and gallstones, and cancers.

According to published data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey’s Prevalence of Obesity in the United States, 2009–2010,

more than one in three adults and close to 17 percent of U.S. youth were considered obese. Boys aged 6-11 showed the highest percentage of obesity for children at 20.1 percent. For youth aged 2–19, more than 5 million girls and approximately 7 million boys were obese.

Clearly the obesity and chronic disease epidemic is showing no signs of slowing down. Our more than 50-year history of embracing a higher carbohydrate and lower fat diet has not proven beneficial in decreasing the current trends in obesity or improvements in health outcomes. We need to ask why.

The Problem is Excess Insulin Production

We now know that excess insulin is the driving factor behind obesity and the eight other chronic diseases previously stated. In order to drive down excess insulin production, we need to stop eating refined carbohydrates and sugars. As we decreased fats from our diet and replaced them with sugars and excess carbohydrates, we transitioned our metabolism from a fat-burning to a carbohydrate-burning metabolism. Glucose produced from the metabolism of carbohydrates is used to generate cellular energy. But too much glucose—in the form of grains, pasta, fruits, potatoes and starchy vegetables—causes energy to be stored as fat, often in the liver. Over time, excess glucose from refined carbohydrates causes our cells to become resistant to the action of insulin. The more insulin produced, the less sensitive our insulin receptors become; this then causes a demand on the pancreas for more and more insulin. And thus a vicious cycle ensues. Eventually the pancreas becomes exhausted, insulin sensitivity is lost, weight goes up and type 2 diabetes develops. Insulin’s primary job is to take glucose out of the bloodstream and shuttle it into the cell where it can be used for energy. It is also a fat storage hormone. Ninety percent of energy stored in the body is stored as fat through a diet too high in glucose and too low in fat. It is also possible to be diabetic without being overweight.

Although there are differing opinions in nutritional science today, some common truths are universal. It is important to avoid processed foods, refined sugars and trans fats. In addition, stay away from animal products from confined animal feeding operations as they are full of antibiotics, toxins and hormones. Instead, choose meat from grass-fed, free-range animals; not only is that choice more ethical and better for the planet, but these animal meats include more omega-3 fats. On a daily basis, try to include six to nine servings of vegetables—especially leafy greens—30 grams or more of fiber, and drink half the body weight in ounces of pure, filtered water.

How Nutritional Ketosis Burns Fat

In order to regain the body’s ability to burn fat as the primary fuel source, we need to decrease our intake of carbohydrates. (This varies amongst individuals and the practitioners who treat them as each person’s health needs are unique). For ketosis to occur, this is generally 30-60 grams of total fat per day. Ketone strips are useful for monitoring ketones in the urine as a means of establishing that we are burning fat. Fiber should be increased to 30 grams or more daily, and moderate amounts of protein should be consumed (approximately 0.8-1.0 grams/kg body weight per day).

To increase the thermogenic effects of the diet and have chronic disease reduction, we can employ the principles of intermittent fasting along with a ketogenic diet. Intermittent fasting is simply cycling between fasting and non-fasting. The easiest way to do an intermittent fast is to employ the method of “time-restricted feeding”. To do this, we would eat all of our calories within a 10 to 12-hour window, stop eating by approximately 8pm, and begin eating again after 8am. Only water is allowed between feeding periods. During intermittent fasting, the blood glucose remains low so less insulin is released and more fat is burned while we sleep. Once the body becomes efficient in burning fat as fuel, we can start adding more carbohydrate to our diet. In fact, cycling a ketogenic diet is key as during prolonged periods of ketosis, the liver begins to manufacture glucose. This can cause fatty liver disease, which is an undesirable side effect.

How a Ketogenic Diet Helps Combat Disease States

While excess insulin is the key driver of metabolic dysfunction, inflammation is the driver of chronic, degenerative disease. Inflammation occurs when free radicals are generated in the body.

Free radicals are unpaired electrons, which make them unstable and highly reactive. They are derived from metabolic processes in the body or from external sources, such as air pollution, cigarette smoke or exposure to environmental toxicants. Antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables, or as supplements, neutralize free radicals. There must be a balance between free radicals and antioxidants for proper physiological function. If free radicals overwhelm the body’s ability to regulate them, a condition known as oxidative stress ensues. Free radicals thus adversely alter lipids, proteins and DNA, and trigger a number of human diseases.

A diet high in quality fats—such as olives, olive oil, avocados, coconut, coconut oils, raw cacao, nuts, seeds, ghee and grass-fed butter—with moderate protein and low carbohydrate intake, generates the production of ketones. It then produces less free radicals as it is a cleaner fuel source than carbohydrates. When less free radicals are produced, there is less systemic inflammation, less up-regulation of genetic disease expression and, ultimately, less disease.

Note: Ketogenic diets must be done under the supervision of an experienced health professional with advanced knowledge of therapeutic nutrition protocols. The information contained in this article is not inclusive of all facts related to nutritional ketosis and ketogenic diets. Find out more information on specific dietary protocols for the ketogenic diet by working with a functional medicine practitioner, RD or nutritionist. For more information, visit

Mary Gilbertson, MS, BSN, RN, CHHC, is a registered nurse, nutritionist and healthy lifestyle educator. She holds certifications in functional medicine, detoxification, stress management, holistic health coaching, and is a certified gluten practitioner and Metabolic Balance coach. She can be reached at [email protected] or See ad, page 23.