Silicon Valley’s favorite diet has techies eating lots of fat

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Geoffrey Woo, left, is one of Silicon Valley’s biohackers — those who experiment with diet and medical devices in a DIY approach to biology.
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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Geoffrey Woo likes to start the day with a plate of eggs, cheese, and avocado. It might not sound as if Woo – cofounder and CEO of “cognitive enhancement” supplements startup Nootrobox – is dieting.

But he subscribes to an increasingly popular diet – the ketosis or “keto” diet – that he hopes will help him live longer and better. It has especially gained traction among Silicon Valley’s biohackers, who often experiment with diet and medical devices in a DIY approach to biology.

The high-fat, low-carb diet turns the body into a fat-burning machine. When you turn off access to glucose, a primary fuel source derived from eating carbohydrates, the body taps into its own fat stores for energy.

Here’s why health nuts, from Silicon Valley to fashion runways, are saying yes to fat.


The keto diet has been called the “holy grail of good health and weight loss” by some doctors and bloggers.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Sources: Nootrobox, GreenMedInfo.com

On the flip side, it’s a nutritionist’s nightmare, according to Scientific American. The keto diet completely reorganizes the building blocks of the food pyramid as outlined by the USDA.


A strict keto diet cuts back carb consumption to 20 or 30 grams a day, which is about the number of carbohydrates in one small apple.

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Shutterstock

Source: Time


On the keto plan, it’s all about healthy fats.

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“You’d want healthy fats to account for about 80% of your calories, and protein around 20%,” Dr. Eric Westman, director of the Lifestyle Medicine Clinic at Duke University, told Time.

By comparison, Americans, on average, get about 50% of their calories from carbs, 15% from protein, and 30% from fat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Foods like avocado, butter, coconut oil, eggs, and fish high in omega-3 fats – such as salmon, albacore tuna, and sardines – are bountiful sources of healthy fats.


People find creative ways to fill up on these foods. In San Francisco, some dieters take their morning coffee with butter or a shot of coconut oil. The butter adds a silky, floral flavor.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Source: The San Francisco Chronicle


So, what makes this “Atkins on steroids” diet so magical? It turns the body into a fat-burning machine.

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A modern-day forager shows off his haul.
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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

On a normal diet, the human body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which are used for energy or stored as glycogen in liver and muscle tissue. But the body has a plan B fuel supply.

When carbohydrates go missing from a person’s diet – as happened when humans foraged for food – the body taps its fat stores for energy. The brain and other organs feed on ketones, a type of organic substance formed by the breakdown of fatty acids in the diet or body fat.

Eating healthy fats primes the body for this process, called ketosis.


Studies on high-fat, low-carb diets suggest they can help dull hunger, promote weight loss, and improve markers of heart disease, though more research is needed.

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Sydney Kramer

Research out of Dr. Westman’s clinic at Duke University supports a ketogenic diet as part of treatment for obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and fatty-liver disease, according to Time.


A limited body of research suggest the keto diet may stave off diseases associated with aging, such as Alzheimer’s and cancer.

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Christopher Furlong / Staff / Getty Images

Mitochondria are known as the powerhouses of the cells. They take in nutrients and churn out energy for the cells. Research suggests a ketogenic diet may increase the number of mitochondria in brain cells, according toScientific American.

When these “energy factories” are topped off, neurons in the brain may be better able to ward off stress from age-related brain diseases that ordinarily exhaust or kill the cells.


Web searches for the diet have exploded since 2015, according to Google Trends. The keto diet has attracted a cult following of athletes, biohackers, and runway models.

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Shutterstock

Source: Google Trends


LeBron James famously dropped 20 pounds by eating meat, fish, and veggies over the summer in 2014. He told CNN it made him leaner, and quicker on the court.

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Streeter Lecka/Getty

Source: Business Insider


Adriana Lima slims down for Victoria’s Secret’s fashion shows by cutting carbs two months in advance. Protein shakes, green vegetables, and grilled meats sustain her.

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Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty

Source: New York Magazine


In 2016, Kim Kardashian shed 60 pounds of baby weight by adhering to a less strict version of the keto diet. The new mother limited herself to 40 grams of carbohydrates a day.

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Slaven Vlasic/Getty

Source: Self


Internet entrepreneur Kevin Rose avoids sugar highs and crashes by eating a low-carb diet. “I’m not totally carb-phobic, I’m refined carb-phobic,” he tells Business Insider.

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Flickr/Joi Ito

Like Kardashian, Rose follows a modified version of the keto diet. He says by sticking to greens and healthy fats, he fuels his body in a way that feels good.

Rose sometimes wears a continuous glucose monitor, or CGM, that measures sugar in his blood, which keeps him accountable and informed about the peculiarities of the human body.


Tim Ferriss, a tech investor, podcaster, and author of “The 4-Hour Workweek,” got hooked on the keto diet while battling Lyme disease. He says it helped ease his joint pain.

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Andrew “Drew” Kelly

Source: Bulletproof


Ferriss measures the level of ketones in his blood by pricking his finger and testing the blood with a device called the Precision Xtra from Abbott Laboratories, as many as four times a day.

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A patient takes a blood glucose test using a device like the one Ferriss uses to measure his ketones.
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Stoyan Nenov/Reuters

Source: Bulletproof


In the Bay Area, an increasing number of techies follow another trendy diet, intermittent fasting, that has them going without food from 14 hours to several days. Many keep a keto diet on days when they’re eating, or break their fast with a keto-friendly meal.

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider

What is intermittent fasting, and how does it work?


On Wednesdays, Woo breaks a 36-hour fast with a keto meal of bacon, eggs, and avocado so that he can keep his body in ketosis longer.

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Melia Robinson

Woo — whose startup, Nootrobox, makes supplements designed to boost brain power — says, “We are generally pretty healthy people, and we want to be even better.”

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Melia Robinson/Business Insider