What we learned from LowCarb USA Part 1: Dietary choices and metabolic health

3 person at school

The LowCarb USA conference took place the last week of August in San Diego, California. After five, twelve-hour days, we summarized as many presentations as possible in order to share what we have learned. Since there was so much discussion, we separated the talks into segments grouped by topic area. We will be publishing one topic area each week. This week we will begin with the presentations that were centered around dietary choices and metabolic health. Keep reading for some insight into satiety (the absence of hunger after a meal), vegan/vegetarian diets, mitochondrial health, and food addiction. 

Low carb, protein, or satiety for metabolic health?


Dr Andreas Eeneldt, the founder of DietDoctor.com, emphasized the need for a balanced approach between quantity and quality of food for improving metabolic health. Many diets have a focus on reducing the caloric intake (e.g. quantity) of food consumed. Dr. Eeneldt proposes a focus on satiety in order to improve the quality of our food. The concept is based upon the research demonstrating that when we eat higher quality food, we self-select to have lower caloric intakes over the course of the day. Simply put, when we eat better, we eat less. Foods that have a higher satiability tend to have a higher protein percentage as well as a lower carbohydrate composition. Thus, a diet focused on satiety provides a promising opportunity for a flexible diet that allows individuals to eat healthy without the monotony of counting calories, creating a flexible and sustainable approach to improved metabolic health.

Keto minus the meat

vegetarian and vegan diets

Dr. Tekla Back discussed the complexity of adhering to a low carbohydrate or ketogenic diet for vegans and vegetarians. She emphasized consuming a variety of protein sources in order to meet amino acid requirements. Dr. Back advocated for differentiation between total carbohydrates and net carbohydrates for ketogenic diets. She uses vitamins and minerals to enhance absorption, such as combining vitamin C with iron to triple the absorption of iron.  Since vegans and vegetarians are inherently at risk for a B12 deficiency, measuring B12 via a blood draw should become a standard part of every non-meat eater’s annual health check. In addition to consuming a variety of foods, targeting net carbohydrates as opposed to total carbohydrates, and paying attention to B12, Dr. Back mentioned ways in which we can reduce anti-nutrients. Anti-nutrients are substances that increase toxicity and inflammation or inhibit the absorption of beneficial nutrients. Alkaloids, lectins, phytoestrogens, oxalates, phytate, and tannins are a few of the anti-nutrients that can hamper our efforts to achieve optimal nutrition from our healthy, low carbohydrate, meat-free diet. In most cases, cooking our food will remove the substances that inhibit nutrient absorption. Her practical applications can serve as a guide for what it takes to make a vegetarian or vegan diet work with keto or low carbohydrate lifestyles. 

Mitochondria: metabolic “mobsters” and muscles


The one thing many of us remember from high school biology is, “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell”. This memory was resurrected with Dr. Ben’s talk where he drew a parallel between the function of mitochondria and the Godfather-like network of the mob. The mitochondria are involved in an incredibly high volume of physiologic processes. Surprisingly, there can be up to 10,000 mitochondria in a single cell. With such a high volume, the health of these mitochondria can have a significant impact on our overall health. In order to determine their functional health, we first need to assess our starting point. This test is conducted both at rest and under stress by measuring the respiratory quotient (RQ). The respiratory quotient assesses the proportion of fat we burn with each breath. A high RQ is indicative of burning glucose as fuel and a lower RQ means that fat is the predominant fuel source.  After measuring our mitochondrial health we can begin to improve their health. Dr. Ben advocates for a shift from continuous steady state exercise towards high-intensity interval training in order to most efficiently boost mitochondrial health. 

Preventing the progression of food addition on a ketogenic diet

processed food addiction

Dr. Joan Ifland discussed the parallels between food addiction and substance abuse. Given the high prevalence of Americans consuming an unhealthy diet, she emphasized the need for increased screening for processed food addiction. After screening, consistent care and hands-on attention will help to increase a patient’s success. Controlling fat portions and starting with small, attainable goals that can be expanded upon will aid in decreasing the dependence on processed foods. 

Take away message

healthy living good idea

One of the great aspects of attending conferences is the ability hear a wide variety of research and opinions on a given topic area. While we, at GOOD IDEA, always strive to lead healthy lives, we recognize that there is more than one way to achieve health. Thus, by becoming acquainted with a variety of different aspects of metabolic health, we hope to be able to bring you the latest research that may be able to help you improve your wellness journey or understand someone else’s journey.  Next week we will be focusing on the health care professional and ways in which we can choose a provider that understands our needs along with advice from practitioners on how they can improve their practice.


Author: Dr. Colleen Gulick