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Book Summary: Unlocking the Keto Code – The Revolutionary New Science of Keto That Offers More Benefits Without Deprivation

Nutrition is a highly debated topic with many different opinions. Information on what’s best to eat and what weight loss regimen to follow is abundant – and often conflicting. Should you follow a Keto diet? Or is it better to go vegan? What about intermittent fasting?

In this book summary, renowned cardiologist Steven R. Gundry explains the health-promoting aspects of all three popular diet approaches and suggests a dietary approach that combines the best of all possible diet worlds. His ground-breaking Keto Code program offers all the benefits of a traditional ketogenic diet, with far more flexibility and fewer restrictions.

Book Summary: Unlocking the Keto Code - The Revolutionary New Science of Keto That Offers More Benefits Without Deprivation


Keto diets have been getting it wrong all along, contends renowned cardiologist Steven R. Gundry – and that’s why so many people fail to see results. Instead of acting as a super fuel, ketones play a key role in regulating metabolism within the cells, Gundry argues. This insight forms the basis of the Keto Code, a detailed, multifaceted program to alter mitochondrial function and help you lose weight, get healthier and live longer. According to Gundry, the Keto Code program offers all the benefits of a traditional ketogenic diet, with far more flexibility and fewer restrictions. Alongside thorough descriptions of the science, Gundry provides recipes and tips for food preparation.


  • Conventional wisdom about the keto diet makes out ketones to be a super fuel.
  • In reality, ketones work by causing mitochondria to uncouple and waste calories.
  • The Keto Code program aims to stimulate mitochondrial uncoupling via ketones and nutrients that promote uncoupling.
  • A balanced gut microbiome produces postbiotics that also trigger uncoupling.
  • The Keto Code program emphasizes plant-based foods, whole foods, healthy fats and moderate amounts of protein.
  • To maintain gut and mitochondria health, avoid certain foods – including excessive protein.
  • Intermittent fasting stimulates ketone production – regardless of what you eat.

Conventional wisdom about the keto diet makes out ketones to be a super fuel.

The ketogenic or “keto” diet – a high-fat, low-carbohydrate way of eating – promises to offer massive longevity, weight loss and health benefits, according to proponents. They claim that by dramatically cutting carbs and instead eating 80% of your daily calories in the form of fat, you can trigger your liver to enter a metabolic state called ketosis, producing ketones. Ketones are said to act as a super fuel for your body, a superior alternative to using carb-sourced glucose for energy. Ketosis is supposed to make your body an efficient fat-burning machine.

Scientists first discovered ketones in 1880s Germany in patients with diabetes. Later, research on children with epilepsy showed both fasting and eating a high-fat, low-carb diet could reduce seizures. However, it wasn’t clear why until 1921, when endocrinologist Rollin Turner Woodyatt discovered the connection to ketones.

“New science supports a dietary program that is much more permissive, enjoyable and sustainable than traditional keto diets…with even better results.”

Woodyatt found three conditions incite the production of ketones: feast, as in a high-fat, low-carb, low-protein diet; famine, as in fasting; and diabetes. The link between all three: glucose. When the body has insufficient glucose – either because insulin isn’t moving the glucose into cells or because a person isn’t ingesting carbs – it turns to burning fat instead. Fat cells release free fatty acids (FFAs) into the bloodstream, which the liver converts into ketones. The cells, in turn, use these ketones for energy. This discovery forms the premise of many high-fat, low-carb diets, such as Atkins: by depriving the body of carbohydrates, you force it to burn fat instead and as a result experience quick weight loss. But many people fail to achieve the promised results – because ketones really play only a minor role as an alternative fuel.

In reality, ketones work by causing mitochondria to uncouple and waste calories.

Recent studies on identical twins show that despite having the same genes, one twin can be overweight and the other skinny. How can this be? The skinny twins have mitochondria that excel at “wasting” calories – metabolizing them without turning them into energy. In essence, keto diets work so well for some people and badly for others because of differences in how their mitochondria work.

Mitochondria serve as power-generation stations for the cells. Each cell contains at least 1,000 of these tiny organelles. In a process called cellular respiration, the mitochondria use glucose, amino acids and fatty acids as raw materials to make adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule that provides energy to the cell. The body’s cells make roughly 140 pounds – yes, pounds – of ATP every day, which the cells immediately use for energy.

“What is now apparent is that ketones are, first and foremost, signaling molecules, providing critical messages to your mitochondria about what to do and when to do it.”

Ketones’ true potential for weight loss and better health lies in the fact that they invoke two processes in mitochondria: mitogenesis and uncoupling. In mitogenesis, mitochondria divide to create additional mitochondria – and hence boost the body’s metabolic capacity. But uncoupling holds the real key to weight loss. Uncoupling refers to the disconnection of metabolism from energy production. In essence, when mitochondria uncouple, they metabolize fatty acids without turning them into ATP. The fatty acids’ constituents simply escape from the mitochondria without taking part in the energy-production process. Ketones stimulate both mitogenesis and uncoupling, while also signaling the body’s stores of fat to release FFAs: a perfect recipe for weight loss.

The Keto Code program aims to stimulate mitochondrial uncoupling via ketones and nutrients that promote uncoupling.

The beauty of the Keto Code program is that it doesn’t rely only on ketones to stimulate uncoupling. Many nutrients and processes will also trigger uncoupling. The Keto Code program boosts ketone production and also maximizes intake of nutrients that stimulate uncoupling. These include polyamines and medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), among others.

Polyamines occur in aged cheeses, mushrooms, red wine, nuts and seeds, soybeans, shellfish and tea leaves. In addition to causing uncoupling, polyamines protect against heart disease and memory loss.

“Once you know how the foods you choose to eat can help you harness the power of your mitochondria, you’ll find you can and will improve your weight and health, all while slowing the aging process.”

MCFAs, also known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), belong in the category of saturated fats, but they behave differently from other saturated fats: they can penetrate the gut lining and be absorbed immediately; the liver then converts them to ketones. In other words, instead of fasting or following a keto diet, you can produce ketones in your liver – almost instantly – simply by ingesting MCTs. MCTs occur in fermented foods and in goat, sheep and water buffalo milk. MCTs are also commercially available in the form of an oil or powder.

A balanced gut microbiome produces postbiotics that also trigger uncoupling.

The Keto Code program also brings about uncoupling indirectly by balancing the gut microbiome. When in balance, the gut produces postbiotics such as butyrate and single-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These molecules signal to the mitochondria how much energy to produce – and when to uncouple. Important nutrients that support gut health and postbiotic production include polyphenols, melatonin and fiber.

Polyphenols, an abundant plant-based nutrient, not only promote a healthy gut microbiome, but when they’re absorbed directly into the bloodstream in the large intestine – and about 10% of them are – they also trigger uncoupling directly. Polyphenols occur in many plants, such as cacao, berries, grapes, spinach, kale, coffee, tea, olives and olive oil.

“The objective of the Keto Code program is to find your sweet spot – that Goldilocks place where just enough mitochondria uncouple to support your health and weight loss goals, without going overboard.”

The hormone melatonin, another uncoupler, occurs in red and black rice, red wine, olive oil and several kinds of berries and nuts. Melatonin has come to be known as the sleep hormone and an antioxidant. In fact, rather than causing drowsiness, melatonin more likely increases at the onset of sleep to assist in mitochondrial repair and recovery while the body rests. The idea that melatonin induces sleep probably results from a confusion between correlation and causation.

Fiber, another organic substance found in many plant-based foods, also contributes to good gut health and the production of postbiotics.

The Keto Code program emphasizes plant-based foods, whole foods, healthy fats and moderate amounts of protein.

The Keto Code program emphasizes plant-based foods because they offer an abundance of the nutrients that trigger uncoupling and ketone production; they also provide prebiotics that support gut health. Keys to a diet that promotes uncoupling, gut health and overall health include:

  • Eat fiber-rich prebiotic plant foods: Foods such as tubers, rutabagas, parsnips, radishes, endive, artichokes, leeks, beans and legumes, flaxseed and psyllium seed support a healthy gut microbiome and postbiotic production.
  • Emphasize whole foods: Whole foods offer high levels of resistant starches, which digest slowly, helping to satiate hunger. These starches also produce uncoupling postbiotics when digested. You can transform the starches in yams, millet, taro, rice and sorghum into resistant starches by cooking, chilling and reheating these foods before consuming.
  • Eat healthy fats: Phospholipids, short- and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, and long-chain omega-6 fatty acids all enhance mitochondrial health and trigger uncoupling. Healthy animal sources include sardines, herring, anchovies, salmon, shellfish and bivalves. Consuming the larger wild fish can expose you to heavy metals, and farm-raised salmon, even if organic, contains an unhealthy type of omega-6 fatty acid as a result of their corn-and-soy diet. Vegetarian sources of healthy fats include omega-3 egg yolks and olive oil.
  • Reach for fermented foods: Vinegar, yogurt, sauerkraut, aged cheese, wine, miso and other fermented foods contain SCFAs, MCTs and polyamines, all mitochondrial uncouplers.
  • Consume mitochondria-friendly protein options, in moderation: These include wild fish and shellfish, omega-3 eggs, and dairy products made from goat’s or sheep’s milk. Optimal vegan protein sources include hemp tofu and pressure-cooked legumes.
  • Choose foods that help produce postbiotics: These foods include broccoli, cauliflower, onions, garlic, leeks, chives, shallots and scallions.
  • Get your sweetness naturally: For dessert, eat only in-season fruit, in moderation. Many popular fruits, such as apples and berries, contain enormous amounts of fructose. Instead, choose pomegranate, passion fruit seeds, skin-on kiwifruit or grapefruit.

Traditional keto diets come with significant downsides, including heightened risks of inflammation and heart disease, decreased athletic performance, and monotony that can make it difficult to stick to the diet. Following the Keto Code program provides all the benefits of a ketogenic diet without any of the downsides.

To maintain gut and mitochondria health, avoid certain foods – including excessive protein.

Many foods that feature in the typical American diet can ravage the gut microbiome and compromise mitochondrial functioning. These include highly processed foods. Those Oreos, chips and McDonald’s fries are chock-full of trans fats, chemicals and additives that cause inflammation and damage mitochondrial health. Factory-farmed meats and seafoods contain antibiotics fed to the animals to keep them healthy in crowded conditions. High levels of these antibiotics can remain in the food on your dinner plate and damage the balance of your gut microbiome.

Unfortunately, whole grains and some plants that serve as rich sources of fiber also contain lectins, a type of protein plants use to protect themselves from being eaten. Lectins damage gut health and can lead to leaky gut. Lectins also cause inflammation and can promote weight gain, as they block the hormone that causes you to feel full. Lectins occur in nightshade vegetables – potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and goji berries – as well as in brown rice, grains, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, beans, lentils, peanuts, cashews and chia seeds. Pressure-cooking these foods will neutralize the lectins.

“The damage from lectins can lead to autoimmune disorders including rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, diabetes and coronary artery disease.”

Sugar also causes imbalances in the gut, as it promotes the proliferation of harmful bacteria. Sugar often hides in unexpected places. Read ingredient listings, keeping an eye out for corn syrup, brown rice syrup, all-natural syrup, cane syrup and maple syrup – all euphemisms for sugar. Avoid fruit juice. Artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, also harm the gut microbiome. Instead, reach for healthy sweeteners such as allulose, erythritol, inulin, stevia, xylitol or yacon syrup.

The Keto Code program calls for only moderate amounts of protein. High-protein diets, although touted for their ability to burn calories, only give temporary results. In the long run, excess protein consumption can harm the health of your mitochondria.

Intermittent fasting stimulates ketone production – regardless of what you eat.

In a recent study in Italy, two groups of athletes ate the same amount of calories, but one group ate within a twelve-hour window and the other in a seven-hour window. Those who ate in the seven-hour window – essentially fasting for seventeen hours each day – lost more fat and gained more muscle than the twelve-hour group, and also achieved antiaging benefits – all despite eating the same number of calories.

Time-restricted eating means eating on a schedule that allows long fasting periods. These daily fasts signal the liver to make ketones and prompt mitochondrial uncoupling. The Keto Code program recommends eating all your meals in an eight-hour window, providing a sixteen-hour daily fast. Shift to this schedule gradually by decreasing your eating window one hour each day – or less, if you’re finding it too challenging.


Health, Fitness, Special Diet, Immune Systems, Low Carbohydrate Diets, Other Diet Books, Nutrition, Ketogenic diet

About the author

Steven R. Gundry is a cardiac surgeon, medical researcher and founder of the Center for Restorative Medicine in Palm Springs, California. His books include Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution and The Plant Paradox.

Steven R. Gundry, MD, is the director of the International Heart and Lung Institute in Palm Springs, California, and the founder and director of the Center for Restorative Medicine in Palm Springs and Santa Barbara. After a distinguished surgical career as a professor and chairman of cardiothoracic surgery at Loma Linda University, Dr. Gundry changed his focus to curing modern diseases via dietary changes. He is the bestselling author of The Longevity Paradox, The Plant Paradox, The Plant Paradox Cookbook, The Plant Paradox Quick and Easy, and Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution, and has written more than three hundred articles published in peer-reviewed journals on using diet and supplements to eliminate heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disease, and multiple other diseases. Dr. Gundry lives with his wife, Penny, and their dogs in Palm Springs and Montecito, California.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 How We Got Ketosis Wrong 1
Chapter 2 Ketones Are Not a Super Fuel 10
Chapter 3 Harnessing Our Cells’ Petite Powerhouses 28
Chapter 4 The Power of Uncoupling 43
Chapter 5 The Keys That Unlock the Keto Code 54
Chapter 6 The Truth About Fats 75
Chapter 7 Rewriting the Stars 88
Chapter 8 The Nutrition Paradox 103
Chapter 9 The Keto Code Program 113
Chapter 10 Moving Toward Keto-Consumption 162
Chapter 11 The Keto Code Recipes 181
Acknowledgments 221
Appendix: Supplements 225
Notes 233
Index 251


From the author of the New York Times bestselling Plant Paradox series comes this revolutionary take on the keto diet that debunks common myths and shows readers how to reap the rewards of keto with less restriction

Like many doctors and nutrition experts, bestselling author Dr. Steven Gundry has long endorsed the ketogenic diet—a style of eating that heavily restricts carbohydrate intake to make the body burn fat for fuel. Because ketosis offers a variety of health benefits, including weight loss, reduced risk of illness, and enhanced energy, Dr. Gundry believed his patients’ efforts to adhere to the challenging regimen was worthwhile. That is, until his research uncovered a shocking truth: We’ve gotten keto all wrong.

In Unlocking the Keto Code, Dr. Gundry reveals the biological mechanism that makes keto diets so successful: a cellular process known as “mitochondrial uncoupling.” As it turns out, ketones are not the magical fuel source they’ve been made out to be; in fact, the body cannot run on ketones and fats alone. Over the long term, a very low carb-diet can lead to muscle wasting and poor cognitive health.

Luckily, you don’t have to restrict all carbs to reap the benefits of ketosis; you simply have to have enough ketones and other plant compounds called polyphenols present in your body to “unlock” the process of mitochondrial uncoupling. In this insightful, empowering, eminently practical book. Dr. Gundry explains the many ways readers can ignite this process, from feasting on plant-based foods (carbs that are typically off-limits on a keto diet!) to enjoying ketone generating foods such as goat and sheep milk products, to implementing a timed eating schedule. You will even discover the real reason how superfoods, even apple cider vinegar, work their magic; and its not what they you think!

Grounded in cutting-edge science, this is the book for all the people who have tried and failed on a keto diet; for vegetarians and vegans who want to go keto; and for anyone who wants to lose weight and enjoy better health while eating a wide variety of foods. With food lists, hacks, and all-new recipes, Unlocking the Keto Code makes going keto easy and enjoyable for the first time.


“An epochal piece of research. ‘Unlocking the Keto Code’ is a mind-bending, head-scratching new tome that is going to cause a ruckus….in all the right ways. Required reading for anyone on — or ever thinking about – a keto diet.” — James Nestor, bestselling author of Breath

“Dr. Gundry has done it again. He has the unique ability to take complex scientific information and turn it into simple and practical solutions. His latest book is a must-read for anyone interested in optimal health and longevity.” — Dr. Jack Wolfson, board-certified cardiologist and founder of The Natural Heart Doctor

“[Dr. Gundry’s] new approach will offer a fresh perspective for dieters eager for a change… those dedicated to radical approaches to weight loss and healthfulness will welcome the author’s presentation of the latest research. An encouraging “tune-up” diet guide featuring a host of weight-loss alternatives.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Dr. Gundry has always been a skilled disruptor of commonly held beliefs that tend to cause people to struggle with their health. Ketogenic diets, though rooted in long-lived nutrition principles, have led to a startling misconception about how they work. Dr. Gundry, true-to-form, comes sweeping in with Unlocking the Keto Code to clarify this nutritional phenomenon like only he can. You’ll be healthier, happier, and more empowered by reading this book.” — Shawn Stevenson, bestselling author of Eat Smarter and host of The Model Health Show

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