“Weight loss is ALWAYS better for your health.”

What do you say? Do you agree? Well, I have to tell you that even though I’m a medical doctor with two board certifications, I believed this to be true for a very long time. So if you answered “Yes!”, I don’t blame you. But let’s dive deeper into the science and take a closer look.

If you’re reading this article, then you too have witnessed the obesity epidemic. And with this explosion we’ve been stricken with disease: diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, ischemic heart disease, stroke, heart failure, fatty liver, cirrhosis, kidney failure, obstructive sleep apnea, arthritis… I could keep going, but you catch my drift. So if obesity is bad, then most would say that any weight loss must be good.

Not so fast my friends! I’m sure you can think of an example where the body looks great on the outside yet is completely unhealthy on the inside. When I was a kid I loved professional wrestling. Andre the Giant, The Ultimate Warrior, Macho Man Randy Savage and The Big Boss Man were a few favorites. I admired those guys! So it breaks my heart that they all died young of heart disease.

Sure, they may have been cutting corners and using steroids. But that’s my exact point. There are no safe short cuts. Take the trendy high fat, low carb diets out there like keto and Atkins for example. You will most definitely lose weight if you adhere to these diets, no question about it. But are you more or less healthy?

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For over a year now I’ve been trying to warn people that the keto diet destroys the microbiome. Consider a 2014 study that showed us that your microbiome dynamically adapts to your dietary choices. [1] Alter your food and you’ll see changes in your gut microbes in less than 24 hours. So what happens if keto is the choice? In just five days on the keto diet healthy anti-inflammatory gut bacteria were replaced with inflammatory, disease promoting microbes. Included in this bunch were bacteria associated with increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease, colon cancer, and liver cancer. [2]

And then there’s the effect on insulin resistance, which is the driving force behind type 2 diabetes. Many diabetics believe keto “helps their diabetes.” I wish it did! But it’s only a mirage unfortunately. You can create the false impression of blood sugar control by going low carb. If you don’t eat carbs, you don’t need insulin. But meanwhile, your insulin resistance gets worse and worse. This was recently proven when a group seeking to prove the health benefits of keto instead discovered increased cholesterol, increased inflammatory markers, and worsening insulin resistance. [3] They wanted to show how good keto is but found the opposite, and I respect them for publishing it.

There’s also the biggest risk with consuming meat and dairy, and that is increasing your TMAO. In recent years, researchers from The Cleveland Clinic discovered that choline and carnitine found particularly in red meat but also eggs and high fat dairy are transformed by the gut bacteria to ultimately produce something called TMAO. [4] This TMAO is bad news. It’s associated with increased risk of heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes, and chronic kidney disease. [5] All major causes of disease and death. Perhaps this is why in a large cohort study people who ate a low carb diet lived an average of four years less. [6] Folks, low carb diets will help you lose weight but you’ll be less healthy in the process.

So how can we protect ourselves from this TMAO? Turns out that a plant based diet is protective. They actually convinced a vegan to eat a steak, and afterwards his TMAO remained zero. But when they gave that same steak to a routine meat eater the TMAO rocketed up six fold. The difference between the two is that the vegan had a microbiome incapable of producing TMAO. [7] What’s incredible is that almost 30 years ago The Lifestyle Heart Trial showed that you can actually REVERSE heart disease with a plant based diet. [8] It took us a while, but now we understand why!

So what’s so magical about a plant based diet?  To start, plant foods are inherently high in nutrients like vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and phytochemicals. They’re also low on calories, so what you get is maximum nutrition packed into minimal calories. The fiber is crucial because that’s fuel for a healthy gut microbiome. In that same 5 day microbiome study, a plant based diet got rid of the inflammatory, disease producing bacteria and replaced them with health promoting anti-inflammatory bacteria. [9] And then there’s the 8,000 phytochemicals, most of which we know nothing about but in the 150 or so that we’ve studied we keep finding incredible health benefits. [10]

What I’m saying is that a plant based diet nurtures your microbiome with fiber, protects your heart from TMAO, and nourishes your body with vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. But can you lose weight? 100%! In a randomized, controlled trial, a high carb (70%), low fat (18%) plant based diet consumed with unlimited calories and unlimited carbs for sixteen weeks led to an average weight loss of more than 6kg, a drop in body mass index by two points, reduced fat mass, and reduced visceral fat volume. Meanwhile, the control group continued their standard diet to the tune of increased weight and increased fat mass. [11] So while you hear keto advocates vilifying carbs as promoting weight gain, just look at what happened on a high carb, low fat diet in this study. UNLIMITED carbs and UNLIMITED calories led to weight loss!

If you’re wondering whether it can work for you, let me just say – This diet transformed my life! Transitioning to a plant based diet helped me lose 20 kilograms. I got all the way back to the same weight I had at university. And the weight loss occurred not by restriction or any sort of popular “trendy” diet. I ate whole plant foods in abundance. I enjoyed my food, all the herbs, spices and flavors. I had snacks if I was hungry and snuck in dessert every once in a while too. And effortlessly, the weight just melted off of me. But there was more than weight loss. I got rid of hypertension, improved my ability to focus and be productive at work, felt and looked younger, and my wife is most certainly not complaining! It worked for me, and I wholeheartedly believe it will work for you. Let’s do it together.

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[1]Nature. 2014 Jan 23; 505(7484): 559–563
[2]Nature. 2013 Jul 4; 499(7456):97-101.; World J Surg Oncol. 2014; 12: 164; Dig Dis. 2015; 33(3): 351–356
[3]Rosenbaum et al. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2019 May 8. doi: 10.1002/oby.22468.
[4]Nature. 2011 Apr 7; 472(7341):57-63
[5]Nutrients. 2018 Oct; 10(10): 1398.
[6]The Lancet Public Health, 3(9), e419-e428.
[7]Nat Med. 2013 May; 19(5): 576–585.
[8]Lancet. 1990 Jul 21;336(8708):129-33
[9]Nature. 2014 Jan 23; 505(7484): 559–563
[10]The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 78, Issue 3, 1 September 2003, Pages 517S–520S
[11]Nutrients. 2018 Sep; 10(9): 1302.