Dr. Jim McCarter: Debunking Common Keto Myths

“There’s really only one goal for this talk, and that’s to arm you to answer any question about ketogenic and low-carb nutrition approaches,” Jim McCarter said during a presentation at a CrossFit Health event on Oct. 13, 2019.

McCarter, MD and Ph.D., is an expert on the ketogenic diet, particularly its effectiveness for treating and reversing Type 2 diabetes (T2D). His personal journey with ketosis began in 2012 after he began researching the health-related effects of corn syrup and sugar. His research led him to Gary Taubes’ book, The Case Against Sugar, and the discovery of several misconceptions he had carried, “dating back to medical school.”

During his talk, McCarter focuses on correcting some of these misconceptions about nutrition and metabolic health, particularly misconceptions about nutritional ketosis. He notes several benefits of ketosis, explaining ketones provide an alternative form of energy to glucose in individuals with insulin resistance (ketones provide about 60% of the brain’s energy during fasting). Ketosis also lowers insulin levels, which improves insulin sensitivity, and ketones provide a signal for the body to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.

McCarter then highlights the various ways clinical research has debunked 40 common myths about the ketogenic diet. As the former Head of Research for Virta, a nationwide telemedicine provider and full-stack technology company that focuses on the reversal of T2D, much of the data he uses come from the Virta-Indiana University Health (Virta-IUH) clinical trial.

One of the prevailing myths about the diet is that it is unsustainable. McCarter claims this is false, observing that of the 465 participants in the Virta-IUH trial, 74% were able to maintain participation, even with extensive tracking demands. Most agreed to extend their participation to five years, he adds.

For those interested in beginning the ketogenic diet, or those who are following the diet and would like to be equipped with data to defend the choice, McCarter explains where to go to find information debunking each of the following myths:

Keto is unsustainable.
Keto will cause diabetic ketoacidosis.
Keto will cause hypoglycemia.
Keto will deprive the brain of required glucose.
Keto will impair the heart and cause vascular damage.
Keto will worsen the blood lipid profile.
Keto will cause inflammation.
Keto will cause hypothyroidism.
Keto will harm the liver and increase liver fat.
Keto will harm the kidneys.
Keto will cause muscle loss.
Keto will cause loss of bone mineral density.
Keto is just a fad.
Keto is not the standard of care.
Keto benefits are limited to weight loss.
Keto weight loss is just water.
Keto will cause “keto flu.”
Keto will cause constipation.
Keto will require too much sodium.
Keto sodium will cause hypertension.
Keto will cause adrenal fatigue.
Keto will cause gallstones and requires a gallbladder.
Keto increases mortality in nutritional epidemiology studies.
Keto requires meat consumption.
Keto will increase cancer risk.
Keto increases circulating saturated fat.
Keto provides inadequate dietary fiber.
Keto interferes with the gut microbiome.
Keto is environmentally unsustainable.
Keto foods are too expensive.
Keto will interfere with exercise.
Keto will deplete muscle glycogen.
Keto will raise long-term risk of gout.
Keto will increase long-term risk of kidney stones.
Keto will cause “keto crotch.”
Keto will cause “keto bloat.”
Keto will confuse the public.
Keto will undermine science.
Keto will cause diabetes.
It’s better just to stay with usual care for diabetes management.

After explaining how clinical studies have debunked each of these myths, McCarter concludes his talk by addressing the doctors in the audience: “Be informed. Talk with your patients. Debunk myths meant to cause fear … . Let patients know they have a choice to reverse diabetes.”

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