Circling back to inflammation, the ketotarian diet is particularly good at quelling that inflammation storm. Research (8) has shown that specifically eating a high-fat diet devoid of plant fiber actually increases inflammation, but eating fat the ketotarian way means no longer having to worry about diet-caused inflammation. By putting your body into a state of ketosis through a ketotarian diet, you will reduce inflammation by up-regulating the Nrf-2 pathway that is responsible for antioxidant gene induction, as well as turning on genes responsible for the health and function of your detoxification pathways. You’ll also promote healthier cell function. When the Nrf-2 pathway is activated, it calms inflammation and activates the powerful anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 (9) and down-regulates pro-inflammatory cytokines.
But that’s just the beginning. When your body switches from burning sugar to burning fat through the production of ketones, you get even more anti-inflammatory benefits. A ketogenic state produces Beta-hydroxybutyrate, which activates the uber-important AMPK (10) pathway to reduce inflammation through inhibiting inflammatory Nf-kB pathways in the body.
All this is a fancy way of saying that putting your body in the fat-burning state of ketosis through natural plant fats specifically soothes inflammation through a variety of biochemical pathways in your body.
Why the ketotarian diet is so good at balancing blood sugar
First, let’s look at sugar consumption: The typical American eats an average of 765 grams of sugar every five days – some of it from obvious sources (sugary coffee drinks, soda, doughnuts, cookies, etc.), but much of it from hidden sources in foods that don’t seem like they could be dessert (soup, salad dressing, condiments, bread). Compare that number to the 45 grams of sugar Americans ate in 1822 over the same 5-day period – that’s a massive increase.
To look at it in another startling way, every person in the U.S. eats and drinks an average of 130 pounds of added sugar every year, which is an average of 3,550 pounds of sugar over a lifetime. To put that in perspective, that is the equivalent of eating 1.7 million Skittles or an industrial-sized Dumpster full of sugar! Yuck. On top of that, most of us base our diets on foods made from grains: bread, pasta, rice, granola bars, cereals, and crackers, which the body also breaks down into – you guessed it – sugar.
Putting aside the startling image of an industrial-sized dumpster of sugar, let’s look at what all this sugar does to your body. Carbohydrates broken down into glucose results in the most easily accessible energy source. When glucose hits your bloodstream, you release insulin to help carry the glucose around your body and deliver it where it is needed. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? The problem is that most people today eat so much sugar and so many carbohydrates that we end up with blood glucose levels that are dangerously high, since our body doesn’t need nearly that much fuel.
High blood sugar is toxic and it can lead to serious health issues, but in addition, any sugar the body can’t burn gets stored as fat around your liver, stomach, and in circulating fat (known as triglycerides). On top of all that, the by-products of glucose metabolism are inflammatory to the body, especially when there is an excess of glucose. Look at it this way: Burning sugar as your primary source of energy is like using dirty fuel: You have to refuel often (or you will get “hangry” on that blood sugar roller coaster), and the burning of the fuel leaves behind pollution in the form of inflammation.
Fortunately, there is another way. You don’t have to get stuck on the blood-sugar roller coaster, with its erratic peaks and crashes and significant health risks. You don’t have to burn sugar for fuel. Instead, you could be burning fat.
Fat-burning is a more efficient fuel source for your metabolism. A by-product of fat metabolism is ketones, which your body and brain can use as a slow-burning, efficient source of fuel. This allows you to consume far fewer carbohydrates while simultaneously increasing your energy. Less blood sugar means less insulin, and as insulin levels fall and your body requires energy, your liver produces ketones to fuel your body. Your brain can also use ketones as an alternative fuel source when blood levels of ketones are high enough to cross the blood-brain barrier. This is great news because ketones have been shown to be very neuroprotective. (11)
One reaction many people have to this concept is to wonder whether it could possibly be healthy to eat that much fat. Let’s consider some basic facts: Your brain is comprised of 60 percent fat. At birth, many of us relied on fat in the form of breast milk for brain development and energy. And for those who drank formula, MCT oil (derived from coconut and palm oil) is added to most formulas as a source of healthy fats. In order for the brain to work optimally, it needs a lot of energy, and from an evolutionary and biological standpoint, the most sustainable form of energy comes from healthy fats.
Eating ketortarian for a day
In practice, there are many ways to practice a ketotarian diet. Here is a possibility for how you might choose to do it, although everyone will have different tastes, preferences, and food tolerances. This is just one example of how I personally practice this way of eating:
Breakfast Sometimes I practice intermittent fasting and don’t eat breakfast, but when I do, I like to start my day with a fat-loaded smoothie to wake up my brain. My preference is to blend spinach, full-fat coconut milk, a small handful of blueberries, half an avocado for creaminess, and a tablespoon of chia seeds for even more healthy fats and some protein. This smoothie is not just high in healthy plant fats but contains protein and is very low in natural sugar.
Lunch I love a good zucchini noodle bowl with a homemade olive basil pesto for lunch because it is easy to make ahead and warm up at work. This is a simple yet nutrient-dense lunch.
Dinner Tacos are my love language, so chances are good that on any given evening, you’ll find me eating some lettuce-wrapped roasted cauliflower tacos for dinner—heavy on the guac and detoxifying cilantro. Yum!
See how simple and delicious this way of eating can be? Overall, ketotarianism is a practical and sustainable dietary strategy that can not only limit cravings and overeating through fat-adaptation (cravings and the compulsion to overeat are two major reasons diets fail), but it also reverses the inflammation storm so your body can work the way it should, unimpeded. Whether you want to be completely plant-based or add in meat every so often (I recommend fatty wild-caught seafood in particular), ketotarian is a great home base. Of course, as with any major dietary shift, it’s important to talk to your doctor to make sure you’re choosing the best foods for your body and health profile.
Learn more about our ketotarian meal program and transition your body from a sugar burner to a fat burner in no time.