• Monique Jephcote

Why we need carbohydrates: Low down on Keto


The ketogenic diet has been around for a while now and it (unfortunately) still gains a lot of attention. It’s got to be one of the most frustrating diets on the market – because educated professionals know what a vital role carbohydrates play for our bodies and brains and how important they are.

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It’s more common than not to find that most people marketing these diets, and those selling their products, have very little understanding of the human body and role of macronutrients (carbs, protein, fats) and can be your average Jo Blo from the street, often with zero credentials. They are more often than not, not at all qualified to be handing out nutrition and health advice.

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Ponder on this for a moment…. If diets truly worked, why would there be so many of them? Take a moment to think on that…

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The simple answer is that the dieting industry is a $70+ billion-dollar industry. It’s a money-making industry…. An industry that unfortunately, cares more about the money in your back pocket and how they can get it into theirs, rather than your health. Sometimes there are people that DO seem to care who are selling you their products, however they may be uneducated and/or not qualified to be selling you such products. This is not appropriate nor is it ethical.

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If diets worked… why would we need so many of them.

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By the time we have sought through the latest ‘top diets’ from the last century, you’d be left with pretty well nothing to eat.

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But that’s another article in itself… this one is specifically focussing on carbohydrates and why we need them, and things we should consider before jumping on the ‘keto’ band wagon.

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I want to start by saying that the evidence that exists in support of the ketogenic diet is for its use within paediatric groups with epilepsy, i.e. children who suffer from seizures/epilepsy.

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This article below however, is exploring the ketogenic diet in general populations, and moreso, it’s ever increasingly most popular use for ‘weight loss’.

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Let’s talk about why we need carbohydrates…

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Your body and brain absolutely need carbohydrates (glucose), every single day, all day. We use it to make energy. Your brain and red blood cells are obligatory uses of glucose aka carbohydrates. This means your body and brain absolutely NEED carbs to function.

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But what about “ketones” and the body “using fat for energy?” (i.e. what the ketogenic diet endorses) --àAlthough the brain can be forced to use ketone bodies (which are produced in cases of starvation read as extreme dieting) it still prefers to use glucose. We can use fat or protein to make energy but that’s not very efficient, and takes more energy. One way we know this is because an enzyme has to be induced to utilise the ketones, it’s not the body’s default to use them.

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Insufficient carbohydrate intake can, over time, lead to glycogen breakdown. But first, what is glycogen? Glycogen is essentially stored glucose (and PS glucose is a simple sugar which comes from the food we eat (i.e. carbohydrates). Glycogen is mainly stored in the liver and the muscles and provides the body with a readily available source of energy if blood glucose levels decrease/drop. Think of it as a ‘back up’ energy storage unit which is stored in various places but primarily in our muscles and liver. These glycogen stores are there so that if, for example, carbohydrate intake suddenly becomes unavailable/inaccessible (or more commonly in diet culture, where people are choosing to eradicate them despite having access), then these glycogen stores are there so that there is energy to be used to keep our body functioning in the absence of carbs.

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If the above does eventuate, i.e. we cease having access to carbohydrates or we stop eating them by choice, the glycogen that’s stored in our muscles and liver gets used up (cue: muscle wastage and liver glycogen breakdown). Then the body starts using fat and protein for energy.

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Think of it like the body being able to use protein and fat for energy is a BACK UP regulatory mechanism when intake of carbs is insufficient…. But the body's primal and preferred source of energy is to use carbs (glucose).

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If we aren't getting enough carbohydrates coming in to the body’s system, then protein and fat will take over the role of carbs. This also means that the PRIMARY role of protein and fats is now also NOT able to be carried out. For example, protein’s primary role is to help muscle synthesis, but now that protein is being needed to give the body energy (i.e. replacing the primary role of carbs), whose playing the role of helping muscle synthesis (i.e. the primary role of protein)? No one. So, muscles begins to waste away.

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Understanding this fully makes you question why anyone would choose to do this to their bodies and make things so much harder (and more confusing) for their bodies.

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Of course, it is an amazing regulatory mechanism for our bodies to be able to do this in cases of inadequate carbohydrate intake. But many are CHOOSING to do this, despite access to carbs.

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It's like, we have carbs for their role, and protein and fat for their roles, and if we are getting enough from all of them (i.e. enough from the 3 macronutrients – carbs, protein, fat), then our bodies function normally and optimally.

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It seems BONKERS to make things so much harder and more confusing for your body and brain…. Right?!?!?!

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But I see why people do it and how they get taken advantage of. Because the people selling the ketogenic diet make it look appealing and exciting, just like every other diet on the market, promising you its magic and fast/rapid ‘weight loss’ results.

The ketogenic diet IS a weight loss endorsement. Will you lose weight? Yes. Primarily due to fluid loss. For every 1g of carbohydrate in the body, 4g of water follows. So carbs cut = less water. PS water is not true weight. Water is just water. (& we need water, too…). So, it’s often not even “weight” loss, it’s “water” loss.

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And we also can’t live forever not eating carbohydrates. Our bodies will begin to break down and you’ll get signs from everywhere that you need carbs (cue: cravings… that’s your bodies way of saving “give me some goddamn carbs you fool” (PS you can’t out smart your biology).

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So, the ketogenic diet IS a weight loss endorsement. A short stint weight loss endorsement. (Because it’s not sustainable, just like EVERY single other diet). So yes, the ketogenic diet often provides short term weight loss. But let me be super clear on this: It has very little to do with health.

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Please, next time you are after nutrition information, don’t do a google search, and don’t seek the advice from someone that needs to sell you a product. Nutrition is a knowledge, and eating is a behaviour. Seek the expertise of someone who knows how to help you with both. A tip for how to look out for them, they are almost NEVER selling a ‘product’, but a ‘service’.

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To read more about CARBOHDYRATE: MYTHS AND FACTS, click here:

https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/-/media/CCI/Mental-Health-Professionals/Eating-Disorders/Eating-Disorders---Information-Sheets/Eating-Disorders-Information-Sheet---06---Carbohydrates-Myths-and-Facts.pdf

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To read more about HOW TO EVALUATE DIETARY ADVICE, click here:

https://cci.health.wa.gov.au/Resources/~/media/7974BD80E10D439292A5639E9F9BE723.ashx

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To read more on WHY DIETS DO NOT WORK, click here: https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/-/media/CCI/Mental-Health-Professionals/Eating-Disorders/Eating-Disorders---Information-Sheets/Eating-Disorders-Information-Sheet---35---Why-Diets-Do-Not-Work.pdf

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Happy carb eating! Your body and brain and your health will thank you immensely for it.

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And say “thanks, but no thanks” to Susan selling you keto pills as a side hussy. Feel free to give her some education on why your body and brain need carbs, too.

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The Intuitive Dietitian xx


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Monique Jephcote, 2020 l monique@theintuitivedietitian.com.au

Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor, Dietitian & Personal Trainer

1a/12 Tierney Place Tweed Heads South 2486, NSW, AUSTRALIA

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Intuitive Dietitian Nutritionist Tweed Heads Gold Coast