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Followers of this strange religious sect insist that everyone should be on low-carb or even ketogenic diets; that all carbohydrates, regardless of their source, are “toxic”; that most traditional hunter-gatherer (e.g.Paleolithic) societies followed a low-carb diet; and, similarly, that nutritional ketosis—which is only achievable with a very high-fat, low-carb, and low-protein diet—is our default and optimal physiological state.
Perhaps not surprisingly, it has caused quite a stir.
For reasons I don’t fully understand, some people identify so strongly with how many carbohydrates they eat that they take offense when a suggestion is made that low-carb diets may not be appropriate for everyone, in all circumstances.
In these circles low-carb diets have become dogma (i.e.
a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true).
Some low-carb advocates have claimed that most traditional hunter-gatherer societies consumed diets that were very low in carbohydrates.
I’ve even seem some suggestions that nutritional ketosis was “the norm” for these cultures. The majority of studies have shown that traditional hunter-gatherer (HG) societies typically consume between 30–40% of their total calories from carbohydrate, though the range can vary between 3–50% depending on the population studied and the latitude at which they live.
() The only HG societies observed to eat fewer than 20% of calories as carbohydrate were those living at latitudes quite distant from the equator, often in marginalized environments where fruits, vegetables, starches, and honey were not readily available.
Yet even these cultures—such as the traditional Inuit—often made an effort to obtain carbohydrates from berries, corms, nuts, seaweed, and tubers whenever they could, as Richard Nikoley has recently detailed on his blog.
What’s more, contrary to popular claims, studies have shown that it’s unlikely the Inuit spent much time—if any—in nutritional ketosis.
Their high protein intake would have prevented ketosis from occurring.
(Lest low-carb advocates think that I am anti-low-carb, I’d like to reiterate that both the research and my clinical experience suggest that low-carb diets can be incredibly effective therapeutic tools for certain conditions.