I realize that not everyone wants to read 10 books to figure out what to eat for dinner. But I found that the following books helped me wrap my mind around the science and the practice of a ketogenic way of eating. You might find all you need for free on the Internet, but books curate and organize information in a way that often makes more sense, at least to me.
My Top Picks for Ketogenic and Low-Carb Books
The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living: An Expert Guide to Making the Life-Saving Benefits of Carbohydrate Restriction Sustainable and Enjoyable
by Jeff Volek and
I think the title of this book neatly sums up the biggest diet issue: Sustainability and enjoyment are key issues for food and life. If we are miserable on our diets, we can’t stay on them. Not to mention (and this is important): Low-carb eating is not so much a diet as it is a long-term way of life. This book explains the science behind and the medical benefits of low-carb eating as a permanent lifestyle change.
Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health
Gary Taubes is not a doctor or a nutritionist; he is an award-winning New York Times science writer with a flare for storytelling, which made this a compelling read. I was especially stunned by the whole history of how our government-approved dietary recommendations came to be so wrong. The bottom line: According to this book, pretty much everything most people assume when they say, “I’m making healthier choices” is dead wrong. If you think you are “being good” when you choose low-fat over full-fat, eat oatmeal instead of bacon and eggs, or skip the prime rib in favor of skinless boneless chicken breast, you need a complete sea change in how you view food and health.
Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It
News flash: According to this book, we aren’t fat because we have no will power and are lazy; we are fat and don’t have any energy because we are suffering the consequences of a perfect storm. The combination of a predisposition to metabolic system and the standard western diet is a recipe for disaster — and largely responsible for the obesity epidemic. Taubes explains how being overweight is less a cause of disease, and more of a symptom of a metabolic syndrome gone awry. And he tells us what to do to change our metabolic fate.
This book, along with both the original Atkins guide and Atkins’s revised edition (described below), is a how-to-change-your-eating book that summarizes the rationale for a low-carb diet and gets into the nitty gritty of how to implement it. This books stands on Atkins’ shoulders, but it better reflects contemporary ketogenic principles and updates the science. It explains the rationale behind the low-carb diet, and offers strategies for a variety of situations including eating out. It’s a little bit cheerleadery (as were the original Atkins books) — but the information is easy to take in.
by William Davis, MD
While most low-carb approaches take a general “all carbs are the enemy” approach, this books zooms in on wheat as the culprit. Its basic concern is the effect of wheat on the human digestive system, metabolism, and even the brain. It also includes information about both the ancient history of wheat cultivation and the modern history of grain cultivation and genetic modification, showing how the grains we use today are different from their forebears and the effect this has on humans.
by William Davis, MD
Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, Revised Edition
Robert Atkins M.D.
Low-carb eating is not new…. some say our paleolithic ancestors ate this way, and that it is high-carb grain-based eating (dating only several thousand years) that is new — and unsuited — to humans. That said, the Atkins diet brought low-carb eating into the popular lexicon in the 1970s, just as the “food pyramid” was gaining traction as the medical establishment’s diet of choice. Lambasted as faddish, unhealthy, and even dangerous, the Atkins diet was shot down again and again but somehow never died. Today, it is the foundation of most ketogenic diets. Atkins was not an opponent of sugar substitutes (which have since been shown to impact blood sugar and hence insulin levels because they activate the part of the brain that thinks “I’m getting sugar!”) Nor was he an opponent of processed foods. (The current Atkins corporation bought the name and sells processed foods, which I, and many others following a ketogenic way of life, avoid.) Atkins’s books were often publicized as permission to be as gluttonous as you wanted, as long as you were scarfing down steak and bacon and not potatoes and cake. My own version of ketogenic eating follows a more moderate of avoiding sugar substitutes, avoiding as many processed foods as possible, and limiting protein to reasonable sizes based on an individual’s weight, height, and activity levels. Nonetheless, Atkins’ books are the grand-parents of modern ketogenic thinking. This one has simple, clear explanations, easy science, and an encouraging “you-can-do-it” tone that millions of people have found inspiring.
The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss
by Jason Fung
Dr. Jason Fung is a nephrologist (nephrology refers to kidneys, which are frequently damaged or destroyed by diabetes. Diabetes is in turn associated with obesity). This book explores the relationship between insulin, carbs, blood sugar control, and obesity, and puts insulin resistance squarely at fault for most “diseases of civilization.” In addition to a ketogenic diet, Dr. Fung is a proponent of intermittent fasting. Quite frankly, fasting does not appeal to me. However, the 18-hour fasts that are a starting point (often running from an early dinner to late breakfast the next day) are something that seems to almost happen naturally and easily for me. Many mornings (including this one), I find myself on an 18-hour fast, whether intended or not. Even if you aren’t interested in fasting, this book offers clear explanations behind some of the science of low-carb eating and metabolic system disruption that occurs when the insulin cycle goes awry.
Richard K. Bernstein
A friend of mine (a type I diabetic who has had numerous other health issues including cancer) quite simply says that Dr. Berstein Saved his life. This book is aimed at both type 1 and type 2 diabetics. Dr. Berstein is a physician with type 1 diabetes who practices what he preaches. Here, he explains the basics of the carbohydrate-insulin cycle and metabolic syndrome, and then talks about a ketogenic diet in terms of managing blood sugars. I’m not diabetic, and David isn’t anymore (and he was never on medication for it) but I still found this book very helpful in understanding the science of metabolic diseases, pre-diabetes, and diabetes.
The Great Cholesterol Myth + 100 Recipes for Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease and the Statin Free Plan and Diet that Will
One of the concerns some doctors and many patients have about a low-carb diet is that it will increase cholesterol. And indeed, sometimes it does. This book takes the position that total cholesterol is a meaningless measure, because it adds a positive (good HDL cholesterol) to a negative (a portion of tryglicerides and LDL). Furthermore, it claims that the evidence that LDL is dangerous is far from complete. There are, it turns out, large, small, and other LDL particles, some of which are neutral and some of which are bad, and only a blood test that examines particle size and number is truly useful. On a low-carb diet, many people experience higher HDL (good) cholesterol and lower triglycerides, but also higher LDL (commonly called “bad”) cholesterol. To have a useful discussion about cholesterol and statin drugs with a doctor, patients need to have a basic understanding of the studies and controversies surrounding this issue.
Who doesn’t love recipes? The absolute best way I know to stay on a diet, or, in this case, on a permanent way of eating, is to love the food you are eating. So cookbooks with great ideas help. This one occasionally includes recipes that are a bit higher-carb than a strict meat-and-greens type meal. So be careful when you plan your meals. I figure if dinner has a slightly higher-than-normal carb count, that I should be super careful the rest of the day. She also includes a lot of desserts with artificial sweeteners. Personally, I save these for only very occasional treats. Your mileage may vary. Lots of great ideas here. Enjoy!