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There’s More to Keto Than Just Weight Loss

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Keto benefits dieters more than just losing body fat.

Keto is one of the most popular diets today because many dieters swear by it as a weight loss method that actually works; however, there may be more to keto and other dieting methods than just losing weight. Here’s a reminder from Harvard Health that supports why men in particular should try a keto diet. Plus, personal experience on how adopting a nearly-keto lifestyle for 2 weeks resulted in 9 pounds of weight loss and other benefits.

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Sugar and Health

A recent tweet from Harvard Health is a reminder—to men in particular—that research continues to support the warning that too much added sugar is one of the greatest threats to cardiovascular health.

This warning is based on a published study in JAMA Internal Medicine that suggests that a higher intake of added sugar is associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors; and therefore, an increase in preventable deaths that could be mitigated if only men would actively control their daily sugar intake.

The tweet reminds us that the problem with sugar is not that it is a dietary poison—It is in fact, a necessary nutrient that is found naturally in many foods and provides our cells with the energy it needs to perform their functions. However, too much of a good thing can also be harmful.

While many associate sugar as the bug-a-boo of dieting—and rightfully so—due to its effect on body fat and diabetes, the effect it has on cardiac health typically receives less attention.

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"Excess sugar's impact on obesity and diabetes is well documented, but one area that may surprise many men is how their taste for sugar can have a serious impact on their heart health," says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and co-author of a study that acknowledges that few prospective studies have examined the association of added sugar intake with CVD mortality.

The findings of the study indicated that most American adults consume more added sugar than is recommended for a healthy diet and that the higher percentage of calories from added sugar is associated with a significantly increased risk of CVD mortality. Moreover, that the regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is especially associated with the rise in CVD mortality.

The study attributes the ill-effects of too much sugar in our diet as causing hypertension, inflammation, diabetes, weight gain, and fatty liver disease—all risk factors of cardiovascular disease including stroke.

Sources of Added Sugars

According to the newsletter, the best way for men to tackle the problem of consuming too much sugar is to be mindful of what is printed on the labeling of food products.

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Terms to look for as identifiers of sugar in our food products include:

• brown sugar
• corn sweetener
• corn syrup
• fruit juice concentrates
• high-fructose corn syrup
• honey
• invert sugar
• malt sugar
• molasses
• syrup sugar molecules ending in "ose" (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose).

In addition to the terms, a little math is required as well when checking to see just how many grams per serving of sugar is listed and figuring out whether the serving size is your reasonably expected intake size.

How Much Sugar is Allowable?

According to the American Heart Association, men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams or 150 calories) of added sugar per day. For women, the number is lower: 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 calories) per day. This roughly translates to one can of soda per day.

The most significant finding of the aforementioned study is that on average, Americans typically consume up to 24 teaspoons of sugar per day!

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Not surprising is the fact that nearly 43% of that sugar comes from sodas, energy and sports drinks. In comparison, fruit juices and tea (with some added honey or sugar) contributes to nearly 9% and 4% respectivley to that estimated 24 teaspoons of sugar.

Is Keto The Answer? My Personal Experience Dabbling with Going Nearly-Keto

Recently, I began focusing my writing on weight loss articles. A ketogenic has always intrigued me because years ago when keto first became popularized, I watched a neighbor slim down considerably very quickly when he went on his version of a keto diet that consisted of eating primarily eggs cooked in a wide range of ways. I do not agree with this kind of dieting, but that’s another article for another time.

Since going keto includes seriously cutting down on the percentage of your daily sugars and other carbs, I decided to give it a try for two weeks to see what would happen if I followed what I call a “nearly-keto” diet. For me, a nearly-keto diet meant cutting out my sodas, beer, cocktails, bagels and other refined flour food products, as well as starchy foods. The only other change I made was increasing my meat and plant protein intake, drinking lots of water and no diet sodas or other beverage substitutes.

As the author of the aforementioned study pointed out, being overzealous can backfire when cutting out sugar.

"You may find yourself reaching for other foods to satisfy your sweet cravings, like refined starches, such as white bread and white rice, which can increase glucose levels, and comfort foods high in saturated fat and sodium, which also cause problems with heart health," he says.

I experienced some of that, but found a balance for me that worked when I allowed myself ¼ cup of whole oat cereal every other day for breakfast. In addition, I found relief from carb cravings when I tried a variety of recipes that replaced flour with cauliflower for making Mediterranean style pizzas.

In addition, once per week I allowed myself one small can of sugar-sweetened soda or a beer. Like I said earlier, I was wanting to go “nearly-keto” rather than full-on keto to see what happened when I cut out the added sugar and avoid some of the unpleasantness that comes with starting a ketogenic diet.

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By the end of two weeks I had dropped 9 pounds, which is a little over ½ pound per day on average…and during Thanksgiving! To be sure, some of it was “water weight,” but I also saw measurable body fat loss. But the biggest difference I experienced was a change in energy level. At risk of sounding cliched, it was like emerging from a fog. Things looked/felt clearer in several not always definable ways.

Which should not be so surprising. Sugar-associated brain fog is just one of many ills associated with a sugar-filled life. Another topic for another day, but here is an informative explanation of what sugar does to the brain from HuffPost.

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Concluding Thoughts

Just how much longer I will remain “nearly-keto” remains to be seen. I like what is happening result-wise, but it is hard to maintain a constant “dieting pressure” as many dieters will attest to. Perhaps there is some wisdom to practicing what you preach (or in my case, report) and see if there are any other realizations out there where dieting is (and should be) more than about losing weight. Another topic for another time.

How Your Sugar Choice Could Undermine Your Weight Loss Plan

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with an eye on the latest news, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on what you need to know for healthier living. For continual updates about health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Courtesy of Tumisu from Pixabay

References:

The sweet danger of sugarHarvard Men’s Health Watch newsletter originally published May, 2017; updated November 5, 2019; Twitter-shared @HarvardHealth 17 Dec. 2020.

Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults” Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, Flanders WD, Merritt R, Hu FB. JAMA Internal Medicine 2014;174(4):516–524. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13563.

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