Who knows about the keto diet? It seems to be all the rage in some cities and unheard of in others. When I tell people in Austin that I’m on the keto diet, the most popular response is, “I am, too!” followed by, “Hey check out this website or podcast or book by this guru or that innovator”. Whereas, when I traveled to New York City—and mind you, we’re not talking about Papua New Guinea—the most common response was, “What’s that?” It was hard to find my bone broth and barely berry-sweetened smoothies. Because going keto is such an amazing experience, I want everyone to know about it, including all of New York, lol.
So what does keto stand for?
- a) Kangaroo meat, Edamame, Tarantula legs and Orange zest. All mixed together in your blender.
- b) KEgs of beer and TOrtilla chips. Nothing but. For one month.
- c) A wise adage: Keep Every Toenail On
- d) An observation: Koalas Eat Tacos, Obviously
- e) the ketogenic diet, as in: your liver is burning ketones (an alternative energy source) instead of glucose.
I will let you ponder the list and come to your own conclusion.
Throughout history, technology has been developed for a specific industry and then repurposed for a different commercial application. Did you know that laser hair removal machines were invented to remove tattoos? Technicians discovered that hair did not grow back on the site of the effaced tattoo, and voilà, permanent hair removal was born! (Fun fact: I know this because I was a guinea pig for these machines when they were first being tested in the 90s). The keto diet was introduced 100 years ago, in the 1920s, as a treatment for drug-resistant epilepsy. It soon became apparent that the diet worked as a weight loss strategy. And now, scientific research is exploding over the keto diet because it has promising applications far beyond weight loss—to treat neurological disorders and even certain cancers.
How does it work?
When you digest carbs (sugar and starch), they are converted into glucose. Glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream, and with the help of a hormone called insulin it travels into the cells of the body where it can be used for energy. As you continue to eat carbs, your blood sugar rises. More insulin is released by the pancreas to stabilize your blood sugar. If your pancreas is not able to produce enough insulin or your body stops responding to it, you may develop diabetes. This can lead to additional health conditions that stem from insulin resistance.
On a keto diet, carbs are replaced with fat and protein. This puts your body into a metabolic state known as nutritional ketosis. Your body can no longer rely on carbohydrates for its energy needs so it burns fat as its primary fuel source. Fat is converted into ketones in the liver, and this provides energy for the brain, as well. Blood sugar and insulin levels fall dramatically and ketones rise. Because you are burning fat, you lose weight. Blood glucose remains more stable throughout the day which results in more energy and less appetite. Eating fat makes you feel full so you eat less. It also reduces levels of the hunger hormone leptin which is responsible for appetite. On keto you continue to eat a normal amount of protein so there’s no loss of muscle. It’s complex and counterintuitive, but it works!
What do I eat on keto? Will I starve?
There are so many good foods to eat, and you don’t have to restrict yourself! Where should your calories come from? The generally accepted macronutrient breakdown is:
- fat 60-75%
- proteins 15-30%
- carbs 5-10%
To get into ketosis, you must eat the right amount of carbs, fats, and protein based on your needs, activity levels, and goals. This article helps you understand how to calculate the appropriate ratios.
Here’s what you want to eat:
FAT: avocado oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter, MCT oil, ghee, coconut oil, pastured eggs, lard, bone marrow, tallow, chicken and duck fat
PROTEIN: pastured meat, eggs, fish (wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, cod), shellfish, shrimp, collagen
LOW-CARB VEGGIES: most green and bitter veggies (chard, collard greens, bok choy, endive, kale, kohlrabi, radish, zucchini, asparagus), lettuces like arugula and spinach, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower. Eat in moderation the more colorful veggies like pumpkin, rhubarb, tomato, eggplant.
LOW-SUGAR FRUIT: raspberries, strawberries, blackberries are best, followed by blueberries, which are higher in sugar, lemon, lime, olives, avocado, (yep, they’re both technically fruits, and good source of healthy fat!)
NUTS, SEEDS, BEANS: coconut, raw high-fat nuts like macadamia and walnuts. Almonds and pecans okay. Less cashews and pistachios, because they have more carbs.
DAIRY: grass-fed butter and ghee, whole milk yogurt, heavy whipping cream, fermented milk products, like greek yogurt and cheese (if made from whole milk, the vast majority of the milk sugar is “eaten” during this process, leaving a relatively low carbohydrate count).
PROBIOTIC: It’s a good idea to take a probiotic as well as a prebiotic. Probiotics break down food and aid healthy digestion. Prebiotics are food for the probiotics and make them more effective. They are also a type of dietary fiber, and since the keto diet eliminates a lot of fiber, this is a way of maintaining good gut bacteria.
Can keto solve medical problems?
Clinical trials are underway testing diverse medical applications for the keto diet. Research shows that reducing carbohydrates improves your markers for heart disease; for example, the triglyceride levels in your blood drop. As you increase saturated fat, your HDL cholesterol levels go up, improving the ratio of triglycerides to HDL cholesterol, a critical marker for heart disease risk. In fact, keto may be an effective therapy for many neurological disorders including headaches, sleep disorders, bipolar disorder, autism, Alzheimers, and even brain cancer.
Guess who is on the keto diet?
- a) Homer Simpson
- b) Buddha
- c) the Good Food Fighter
- d) Queen Elizabeth
- e) Sponge Bob Square Pants
- f) your mother
- g) your friend’s gerbil
That’s right—the Good Food Fighter. I decided that I wanted to be a lean, mean, fat-eating muscle-making machine—in green! My father-in-law will be 85 next month and he walks at least 5 miles while playing golf and does 50-80 push-ups. Every day. So I figured it’s never too late to be in the best shape of your life. I never lost all my baby weight after getting pregnant 13 years ago, and I decided I was out of excuses. So I took the leap and I’ll never go back. In addition to losing 17 pounds, there were some unexpected benefits:
- More energy. I’ve suffered from fatigue conditions all my adult life, like chronic fatigue syndrome. There are days when I just have to lie down in the middle of the afternoon. On keto this never happens! Fatigue gone!
- Morning zip. I’ve always been sluggish in the morning. My whole life. No matter how many hours of sleep, I’m never refreshed. Now I spring out of bed in the morning, even if I go to bed too late the night before. Amazing!
- No more headaches. For years I’ve been getting headaches. Sometimes two in a week. All gone!
- No more sugar addiction! Yes, it was hard at the beginning, especially to let go of chocolate. But when you are released from your sugar addiction, it is liberating! Same with carbs–I don’t even miss pizza, pasta, bread. No thanks, I’m good….
- Not hungry! That’s right. When you eat all that tasty fat—whole milk yogurt, cheese, all kinds of nuts, avocados, eggs cooked in butter, veggies roasted in chicken fat, salads drenched in olive oil, rich soups, smoothies with coconut oil, you get satiated quickly and simply don’t require as many calories. It’s true!
We’re all addicts.
Let’s face it—we’re all carb and sugar-addicted. Even if you’re celiac, you can eat pasta made with rice flour and waffles made from potato flour and tapioca starch, all high-glycemic alternatives that spike your blood sugar and are therefore unhealthy. But not if you’re keto. Because then you just get used to saying no to the avalanche of processed carbs and you embrace a new lifestyle.
It feels good.
And there’s the other unintended consequence: most people on keto want to stay on keto because they don’t feel deprived, they’re happy with the food they get to eat, and they like the way it makes them feel. So it’s very different from a calorie-counting or food-portioning diet.
For how long?
There’s some controversy about how long you should be on a keto diet and the jury is still out. You should drink more liquids and be warned that keto is not about eating steak for every meal, which will put too much stress on your kidneys. There are a lot of very healthy foods that are not allowed on the diet. So I go back and forth between keto and paleo (the paleolithic, or “caveman” diet). What’s the difference? I am fine with being off all grains, wheat, and desserts (except for very very dark chocolate) but paleo is less restrictive—allowing root veggies, beans, and all fruit, and I want to be able to occasionally eat carrots, lentils, sweet potatoes, and the whole gamut of produce. Still, I feel great when my body is burning ketones, so that’s going to be the default.
How do you know you’re in ketosis:
You can test your levels using urine sticks, blood sticks, or a blood meter. You can also test for acetone levels in your breath using a breath analyzer. When your ketone levels are higher than 0.5 millimoles per liter, you’ve achieved ketosis. However, the GFF never used these testing methods—I just noticed my clothes sliding off my body. And I experienced most of the tell-tale signs:
- Reduced hunger
- Keto breath (a metallic taste in your mouth)
- Weight loss
- Flu-like symptoms: You may get headaches, chills and lightheadedness, but this only lasts a few days. Don’t do intense exercise while your body is switching metabolisms. I went on a bike ride on my third day and almost blacked out and fell off my bike going up a hill. I didn’t do enough research. But you will.
Ready to go keto?
Do your homework. There are tons of online resources, some in this blogpost. I will provide additional information and resources next week to help you get started. It’s also good to work with a nutritionist or trainer who is familiar with the ketogenic diet.
See Keto Part 2 for:
- What’s for dinner at the GFF’s house
- Ramiya’s Rockin’ Keto Recipes
- the GFF’s Favorite Keto Desserts
- Keto bread
- Keto resources