Last 50 years (or so)
I was born in 1970. I remember eating very differently than we do today. I remember my grandmother cooking real food, that was savory and delicious by anyone’s standards, but I remember loving the boxes of mac-n-cheese that my mom found so convenient to fix, frequently. Boxed food was a relatively new thing for us. As you can imagine, it was around this time that we (Americans) began shifting the way we ate. We bought into the low fat mantra that we are only now, publically, realizing was completed unfounded, scientifically.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I love data! The problem is, in order to use data legitimately, you have to understand it, completely. This means that you have to read the evidence, comprehend it and then translate it into a real language that we can all relate to. There are only a few people that are able to this well. I will provide links, in the article below, to a couple of these, fine, folks. I believe you will be interested in what they have to share.
So, without looking at the data, let’s observe what has changed in the last 50-60 years. Yes, this anecdotal but follow me for a bit, please. As important as data is in the decision making process, so is critical thought and just plain, common sense!
In the last half century we’ve seen:
- Tremendous increases in Dementia & Alzheimer's
- Type 2 Diabetes & Metabolic syndrome now impacts a majority of our population
- Skyrocketing cancer rates
- Hockey stick increase in depression, anxiety & ADHD
- Autoimmune disorders drastically rising
- Oh yeah, and then there’s what some are referring to as the obesity epidemic
I doubt many would argue with the above statements. If you disagree, I am happy to have that conversation.
So where am I going with all of this? Well, I believe (as does a growing movement) that we need to go back to eating real, whole food and we need to do it now! Food does not come in a box. Notice that I didn’t say “Food shouldn’t come in a box.” That’s because whatever is in the box is a far cry from food. It is so far removed from anything organic that is it no longer considered food. Oh, and it does not decompose? Seriously, people, eating these food-like substances will not produce good results. If you question this statement, please refer to the, above, list of growing health problems in the world.
Ketogenic Lifestyle - An introduction
What the Ketogenic diet is not
A well formulated Ketogenic diet is not the common low fat, high carbohydrate and low calorie diet so many doctors push on us today.
Low fat, high carb diets do not work. If you don’t have, personal, experience with them, then I encourage you to ask anyone around you. They can help you lose weight, to a point, but they are not sustainable because they leave you feeling tired, hungry and grouchy, all of the time!
There is a growing body of evidence against the efficacy of low fat, high carbohydrate diets, but let’s put our heads together and think, critically, about this for a moment.
Pretty much everyone accepts that sugar, and therefore anything that metabolizes into sugar, is BAD. But do they know why sugar is bad? Here’s a short lesson.
In a healthy state, we have less than an estimated 1 teaspoon of sugar in our blood at any given moment. That equates, roughly, to 1 packet of table sugar. Given what we know about the amount of sugar and carbs consumed daily, it is safe to say that our bodies regulate sugar consumption, heavily. It does this through a pancreatic release of Insulin. Most people are, at least, vaguely familiar with this hormone.
What is not necessarily common knowledge about Insulin, is that it is inflammatory, in nature. One of it’s primary jobs in the body is to cause inflammation. For acute situations, such as trauma, inflammation is protective, but a chronically inflamed environment is now being tied to diseased conditions such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and depression.
Another vital role that Insulin plays in the body is it tells the fat cells to open up and let fat in for storage. So in essence, any calories consumed and not used get converted into fat and stored if Insulin is present. This might be obvious, but in that moment, if you are storing fat, you are not burning it.
So what does this mean?
Each time a person consumes just a little too much carbohydrate (remember that carbs break down into sugar), Insulin is released, inflammation occurs and excess calories are stored as fat. For anyone eating a Standard American Diet (SAD), this happens several times throughout a day because we are conditioned to eat high carb meals, every 2-4 hours.
Are you starting to see the picture?
The Ketogenic Diet
In short, a well formulated Ketogenic diet involves lowering your carbohydrate consumption, while increasing fat and moderating protein to the point of switching the battery packs of our cells (mitochondria) from burning glucose (sugar) to burning ketones (fat) to make energy. This is referred to as ketosis and is a natural and preferred state for our brain as well as our bodies, as a whole. Our bodies will remain in ketosis until we consume enough carbs or protein (more on that at a later date) to switch our mitochondria back to burning glucose.
You see, humans, as a species, did not evolve using only carbohydrate as our primary fuel source. At least, not for much of the year. We evolved to survive in a feast or famine situation. We’ve existed in some form on this planet for an estimated 2 - 6 million years. And up until the last 500, we did not derive a majority of our food from agricultural means.
So then, where did we get our food? How did we live to be here some 2 million years later? Well, that depended on where we lived, but regardless of geography, we were all alike in that we hunted and we gathered our food. We ate fish, meat, nuts and seeds and seasonally we may have come across a berry patch, but always in the late summer and early fall because whatever we ate, we did so seasonally.
Fish, meat, nuts and seeds are made primarily of fat with moderate amounts of protein and little to no carbohydrate. Interesting. So, if we were consuming this type of food for a majority of the year, when food is available that is, our bodies were in a natural state of ketosis. In the fall, when carbs were available, our bodies would switch back to burning sugar, producing an Insulin response resulting in the storing of excess calories in the fat cells of our bodies. Fattening us up for the winter, so to speak!
Remember, also, that there were often weeks and certainly days, when no food was available. This is the famine part of our history. When food is unavailable, after a period of days, our cells will switch into ketosis and use our body fat for fuel. If we didn’t possess this capability, we would have died out long ago. Our bodies are designed to survive and even evolve with the capacity to use both sugar and fat for fuel.
Ketogenic Diet Benefits
I believe that we all benefit from becoming keto adapted. This is a new term meaning that our cells have upregulated (turned on) their ability to burn ketones for fuel. Most of our cells have this capability, but if it hasn’t been used in a while, we are not very efficient at it. It takes everyone a period of time to blow the dust off of our fat burning machinery, so to speak. For those that are the most metabolically healthy, is could be as little a handful of days. For those with severe metabolic syndrome or Type 2 Diabetes, it might take months. The typical adaptation period is 2-4 weeks.
There is a slew of references, in the form of research and expert qualified opinions, shared at the bottom of this article to support my opinion as to the benefits of, at least, cycling into a state of ketosis, periodically.
- Protection against or recovery from Type 2 Diabetes
- Protection against many cancers
- Protection against or recovery from heart disease
- Weight loss
- Protection against brain fog or improved mental clarity
- Controlling Epileptic seizures
- Improving emotional well-being (depression, anxiety, ADHD)
- Anti-inflammatory. Draw your own conclusions!
You’ve heard me refer to a “well formulated” Ketogenic diet several times throughout this article. What I am basically saying is that your fat consumption needs to be high, typically 70% minimum and up to 85% for those with severe health issues.
Carbohydrate should be less than 10%, generally, with protein making up the difference at an estimated 20% of the calories consumed daily. Ideally, this ratio holds true for most meals.
I know this seems counterintuitive, but remember, we evolved to eat, mainly, fat. It has only been in the last century that this has really started to change, especially since the 1960’s.
One extremely important take-away, here, is that we all may require slightly different macronutrient ratios on the Keto diet to stay in ketosis. There is no One Size Fits All diet plan and we need to stop pretending that there is! It’s best to start aggressively, then back off the amount of fat once you’ve become Keto Adapted. I will explain more later.
What’s the deal with Protein?
Generally speaking, we eat too much protein. Related to the Ketogenic diet, too much protein can and will prevent you from transitioning into a state of ketosis. Here’s why.
Many of you may be familiar with practice of eating protein to supplement carbs when engaging in high performance athletics. This is done because our bodies can only store an estimated 2000 calories of carbohydrate based energy at any given time. Athletes have been known to supplement their caloric intake, before an endurance event, with protein so the liver can, later, convert it to glucose in a process called gluconeogenesis.
It is because of our body’s ability to do this that we need to ensure that protein consumption, on a Ketogenic diet, is kept to moderate levels. We must eat only what we need so excess protein is not converted to glucose and burned. This bests support our ability to become Keto adapted.
Which brings me to another very interesting and important point. Ketosis is a muscle sparing metabolic state because when using fat for fuel, we do not need to take protein from muscle to use for energy supplementation. If we need more energy we simply burn our own body fat and can have as much as 49000 calories of energy in ready reserve. Think about that the next time you are at the gym working your butt off to make gains!
7 steps to getting started on a Ketogenic Diet
There are seven basic steps to get going with a Ketogenic diet. This information should be enough to provide a basic roadmap for getting started. If you would like more direction, I encourage you to check out the many resources, published, at the bottom of the article. Any of which, may be purchased through my Amazon affiliate program.
1. Prepare your mind for this change
Accepting that fat is good may be tough for some folks. We have been conditioned to think otherwise. We are told, almost constantly, that low fat diets are the way. But here’s a little food for thought. Medical Doctor’s are not trained in nutrition. They are lucky to receive four hours of diet and nutrition education in their entire medical course track. They are great at trauma and perhaps pain and disease management, but know next to nothing about how to create health.
2. Know where to start with your macronutrient ratios
A pretty aggressive macro ratio starting point is 80% - fat, 15% - protein and 5% - carbs. While you won’t need to track calories on a Keto diet, as your body will tell you when to stop eating, you should limit carb consumption to 40 grams on the top end. You could go as low as 20 grams reasonably.
While you won’t need to track your ratios long term, I found it helpful to take advantage of the free version of the Fitness Pal app, in the beginning, because it allows you to customize your macro ratios. You can use the barcode feature to scan much of the food you are eating until you learn what’s what.
3. Get your blood work done!
Your health markers are going to improve on the Ketogenic diet. I think it’s very beneficial and perhaps even a little validating to measure the improvements. Make sure you ask your physician for a particle size LDL cholesterol test. It’s called an NMR.
One of the few markers that may appear to be going the wrong direction is your LDL-C. Traditionally, high LDL-C has been thought to be bad and associated with heart disease when, in fact, it’s not the total count that is important. It is the count of each particle size contained in the LDL. Small and dense are bad. Light and fluffy are good!
4. Make a plan
Knowing what you will eat is critical to success on this diet. If you do not plan ahead, you will not be successful. Having said that, it’s not all that hard. It just requires a little forethought.
I encourage you to follow me on Pinterest because I post a lot of good Ketogenic advice, including meal plans, recipes and tips & tricks.
NOTE: Traveling and attending events can be hard if you are not well prepared. Make a plan and take snacks with you. You will find that once you become Keto adapted, your ravenous hunger caused by the yoyo effects of being a sugar burner are gone!
It’s an amazing thing to not be driven by what and when your next meal will be!
5. Clean out your pantry & Stock up on essentials!
- All boxed food
- All sugary drinks
- Bread & Pasta (there are low carb options, more on that later)
- High carb veggies
- Most fruit (for the first month or so)
- Condiments can be full of hidden sugar. Read the labels!
- Sweets & pastries (I promise you won’t miss them in a couple of weeks. Also see my many fat bomb recipes on Pinterest!)
Stock up on:
- Organic coconut oil
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Grass fed butter (see bulletproof coffee recipe)
- Almonds, walnuts & macadamia nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Water, tea and organic coffee
- Grassfed meats, chicken and fish
- Eggs, eggs and more eggs!
- Low carb salad veggies (romaine, spinach, kale, radishes, cauliflower, onion, peppers, etc.)
- Balsamic vinegar (with olive oil for dressing)
- Low carb cooking and snacking veggies
- Sour cream (make your own ranch dressing - yum!)
- Cheese please! Make sure it’s hard cheese.
- Low carb peanut butter
- Cream cheese (great with celery!)
- LOTS OF REAL FOOD!
As a BONUS - Here’s a link to the BEST fathead pizza recipe known to man or woman!
6. Measure, adjust and measure again
Take stock of how you feel. If you are starting to feel flu-like, it’s working! Don’t panic. The “Keto Flu” is not unusual. When your body starts to transition over to burning fat you get rid of any fluid you’ve been unwittingly retaining (usually due to inflammation). Along with the water, you will release key electrolytes such as magnesium, sodium and potassium. Supplementing these will help reduce the flu-like symptoms, which don’t last long anyway. Visit my products page for recommended supplements.
If you need more concrete validation you can use Keto urine strips to test for ketones in the urine, but only in the first few weeks of this adaptation period. In the beginning, your body is not be very efficient at burning fat and will release a specific type of ketone through urination. Over time, your body learns to convert these into a more usable ketone body. As a result, you stop releasing them and will be unable to accurately measure for them using these strips.
You will lose weight. This is a side effect of doing the right thing for your body! In the beginning, you will lose water weight, but do not fret, the fat will start coming off, shortly thereafter!
If you are not seeing these results, increase your fat and lower carb and protein ratios until you find the magic mix! Remember, we are not all the same!
Making changes this drastic is a big deal. You will fall off of the wagon. When you do, remember all of the things that motivated you to make this change, in the first place, and climb back on!
The first couple of weeks are harder, but over time it gets so easy, it is ridiculous! Seriously, your life will change in ways you cannot imagine!
Don’t sell this success short, celebrate and I say, do it BIG!
Want more in-depth expert advice?
I own all of these books and they have proven invaluable to my success!
Thanks, as always, for reading!
*Remember to check with a healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, including the introduction of supplements.