DUDE: “Dude, I’m on this new diet and I feel amazing. You should definitely try it.”
ME: “You think so? I was thinking about trying the keto diet”
DUDE: “I tried the keto thing already and I felt awful. It doesn’t work.”
ME: “What do you mean it didn’t work? You mean you didn’t get any results from it?”
DUDE: “Oh yeah I got lean but after like two months I felt like crap. There’s just no way you can get enough antioxidants by eating all that meat and fat and with no vegetables.”
ME: “Wait, hold on…you didn’t eat any vegetables while on keto?”
DUDE: “Yeah you can barely have any vegetables at all and that definitely can’t be good for you.”
ME: “I’m pretty sure that’s not the case but regardless, how did you test for ketones when you were doing keto?
DUDE: “Oh you don’t have to do all that expensive testing. You can tell when you’re in ketosis because your breath changes to a metallic flavor”
ME: “Ok I see, so you barely ate vegetables and you didn’t test for ketones the whole time. You do realize the whole point of doing a keto diet is to get into ketosis right?”
This is a real conversation I had with an acquaintance in mid 2017: He was giving me his thoughts on his experiences with the ketogenic diet (keto). He quickly revealed to me that he had not done much digging for good information, or maybe he just saw a headline from some mainstream media source. This very conversation is representative of many other very similar conversations I have had with people who want to try it but have a very skewed perception (if any) of what keto really is and what it’s meant to accomplish. I want to clear things up a bit and give you a brief synopsis in 1,000 words or so of what keto really is and what it’s not, in case you or anyone you know wants to give it a whirl. If you try building a house without creating a blueprint, that piece of junk will fall apart after the first rainstorm. In this case, the house is your body and the rainstorm could be anything in your life relatively stressful.
The ketogenic diet works very well if you are eating the autoimmune protocol (AIP), paleo, or going a strict 30 day challenge. Not only does it work well, but it is the best way to stay in ketosis for any length of time and make sure you are getting your macro and micro-nutrients. Paleo, AIP and keto are actually very complimentary to each other. You can eat all paleo foods and achieve ketosis at the same time. In fact, that is the very thing that I’m recommending.
If you are following an AIP approach I would definitely recommend you keep you’re available food list as food CHOICE is the centerpiece of AIP. You’ll want to continue to control inflammation as much as possible. All vegetables (except nightshades) are fair game and you can get your fats from coconut products, animal fats, olive oil, bacon and lard. You can tailor what you eat, based on individualized food sensitivity screening, and the practitioner recommended protocol.
Takeaway: Keto requires, in most cases, a balance of macronutrients (fats:carbs:protein) which can help you benefit from a your body buning fat as it’s primary energy source. .Paleo foods are still the base on which all of this is built.. Making paleo or AIP paleo this base can give you the best opportunity to not only tolerate, but thrive on your keto diet.
Ketosis, a state in which your body begins to use ketones, rather than glucose, as a primary energy source. A relatively high fat, low carb, moderate protein balance at somewhat of a calorie deficit is one of the most efficient ways to drive up ketone levels. You can technically do it by fasting or eliminating fat or protein from your diet altogether, but none of those are really good long term solutions, nor are they very comfortable to experience. If you’re following AIP you may want to check out the Wahl’s Protocol and how she modifies the keto diet to incorporate a plethora of nutrient density.
The energy boosting and cognitive benefits of keto come from achieving the optimal amount of ketones in your bloodstream. In order to achieve this in the most efficient way you must be eating a small enough amount of carbs, large enough amount of fat and the right amount of protein for your body to begin using ketones as its primary source of energy. If you eat too much protein in a carb deprived state, it will begin converting to glucose and toss you out of ketosis through a process called gluconeogenesis. At that point you’ll have very little ketones and not enough glucose to feel strong. It’s like being in purgatory. Too little fat and you won’t produce enough ketones to get into nutrition or optimal ketosis. Again, you will just feel suboptimal at that point. And of course, if you’re attempting to get into ketosis via carb deprivation then eating too many carbs with such a high amount of fat just means high glucose levels and fat gain is likely following.
Here are a few things you need to know when doing a keto diet
When counting carbs on keto you should be counting NET carbs. This means that fibrous (leafy greens, red/yellow/green vegetables) carbs are optimal compared to starchy carbs (potatoes, rice, oats, grains etc) since they have a much smaller effect on blood glucose and insulin levels, and high blood glucose can take you out of ketosis. Some people unassumingly count total carbohydrates and find themselves consuming tiny portions of broccoli florets as their carb intake. That’s a quick path to the low carb flu. A well-planned, healthy keto approach can include broccoli, cabbage, kale, endive, bell pepper, mushroom, asparagus, and arugula all in one day (some of which are not AIP, for those following that protocol). Even at the low end of recommended keto carb consumption (20-30 grams per day), you should be able to get ample amounts of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Supplementation with a quality multivitamin can help supplement the nutritional gaps if necessary. Pictured below are sample pictures of 20g of carbs in one day.
Fiber also contributes to the picture as it greatly affects or essentially reduces the impact carbohydrates have on rising glucose levels. You should count NET carbs rather than total carbs. Once you begin counting NET carbs rather than total carbs you will begin to see a more than adequate volume of fibrous veggies pile onto your plate, bolstering your micronutrient status.
Total carbs – total fiber intake = NET Carbs
It is essential that you test for ketones during the first few weeks of a keto diet. Everyone is a little bit different and it may take some experimenting for you to get into an optimal range.
You can test your ketone levels in the comfort of your own home as well. All you need is a glucometer. I use one made by PrecisionXtra and it’s relatively inexpensive. Make sure to buy ketone strips. The glucometer will cost around $30 and the strips will cost around $40, totalling $70 up front. You will need to replenish strips once they’re out. Test your ketones first thing in the morning and track the success of your plan. If you’re diet is working optimally, you will begin to see your ketones register in the 1.5-2.5 millimolar range. This is considered the panacea of a keto diet.
Finding the right balance of fats, carbs, and protein will take some experimentation but ketogains.com has a great starting point with their online calculator. Eating too many carbs, too little fat, or too much protein can be enough to prevent you from experiencing optimal ketosis and thus hover in the treachery of low carb purgatory (not quite enough carbs to feel good and not quite in ketosis either).
One thing you may want to consider is a high quality, food based multi-vitamin and electrolyte supplement. Unfortunately, industrial farmland has nutrient depleted soils and many of our crops don’t develop near the same nutrient status they did 150 years ago, thus benefiting from supplementation. Bone broth is an excellent source of electrolytes and here is a youtube video by Robb Wolf on how to make your own at home. If you are looking for a grass-fed, grass-finished, gelatinous bone broth, made with organic vegetables, choose from Paleo On The Go’s chicken or beef bone broth.
Jeff Volek is one of the leading researchers on low carb dieting and athletic performance. In his book, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance, he found that performance benefits of keto began diminishing around 77% VO2 max. This means that the more intense (heart rate wise) your workouts get, the more your body will be demanding glucose to fuel the activity. The more submaximal the activity, generally the better keto will work for you. More research has to be done in this arena to develop a solid opinion on the subject, however. The future is indeed exciting.
In conclusion, there have consistently been positive research papers coming out lately about the therapeutic, cognitive, and athletic benefits of a keto approach. But you can’t just spread ghee on a steak and expect to feel good. Remember that keto works primarily when there is some sort of deficit, whether it’s from the calorie, carb, fat, or protein column, so that in itself can be looked at as a stressor on your body; one that can be addressed easily with ketosis. However, if your sleep patterns or stress levels are erratic, your body may not take well to the added stress of a caloric deficit. I highly recommend reading up more on the subject and feel free to ask any questions in the comments below.