Health Hack – Eating Keto/Low Carb – One Year In

I’ve been living and eating based on Ketogenic principles for about the last year. I started this lifestyle because over the years I’ve heard the Dr say things like “your blood sugar is borderline high”, “your blood sugar is high” , “You are pre-diabetic”. After following the comments to their logical conclusion: High Blood Sugar to Pre-Diabetes to Diabetes, I did some research into what health researchers seem to recommend for people with Diabetes. As you can see from some of the first videos below, the research seems to be very positive for using the Keto diet to correct blood sugar issues with the interesting side effect of weight loss. After doing a lot of watching and reading I decided that Keto was going to be something for me to try to beat diabetes before I actually had it.

So a year ago I started and wanted to share my “Keto Notes” on how I’m living Keto. The results for me have been really good, results I wasn’t able to get using other methods. I went from 217lbs to about 190lbs, which at 6′ with a large frame is a pretty good weight for me. I did it without starving and still being able to enjoy going out, having a beer and eating tasty foods. Going Keto really breaks down to three things.

  1. Understanding Keto.
  2. Getting Started – Transitioning to Keto.
  3. Establishing Expectations.

I’m going to leave the Understanding Keto part for the end because it’s really just a lot of watching, reading and understanding.  It’s the research you SHOULD DO before you start so you are sure Keto is for you. Instead lets focus on the success of making the move to Keto which really boils down to a successful start and appropriate expectations.

What is Keto?

The Ketogenic diet, Keto for short,  is consuming foods that get your body into a state of Ketosis. Ketosis is a normal metabolic process, something your body does to keep working when it doesn’t have enough carbohydrates from food for your cells to burn for energy. Instead of burning carbs, it burns fat instead. As part of this process, it makes ketones.

Getting Started

Getting started with Keto is by far the hardest part. When looking in the refrigerator, cupboards and restaurant menus, there are many, many things in that are not a part of the plan. One useful way to get started is to approach the move to Keto as a transition that takes some time and not an overnight switch. Your mind and body have been accustomed to shopping, choosing and consuming one way for a very long time, trying to move “cold turkey” is a shock to the system that’s prone to failure.

Did you know: Just the tortilla in a famous chain burrito can be as much as 40g of net carbs? That’s 5-10 over an entire days carb consumption target!

An alternate approach would be to consider the move to Keto as a transition that takes time. You set the timetable, whether its a week or a quarter but the end goal is to put your mind, body and controllable environment in a place where you increase the chances for success. The goal is that when you get to the end of the beginning you are on stable ground going in the right direction.

An excellent way to start is to consider your mind, body and environment as under construction, a work in progress. The first part of this process is to commit to buying no carb/very low carb and eat through your bad foods until they are gone. This “welcome to Keto” transition period is when when you learn to buy and consume the new, while saying goodbye to the old. Don’t feel bad about eating some 30 carb cookies during the transition, but once they are gone you should probably not buy any more of them.

Establishing Keto Real Expectation

In my experience, Keto is not a quick fix. It’s not a diet. It’s important to recognize up front before you start that this is not an “as seen on TV” way of losing 10lbs in a week. It’s a long term way of life that produces results over time.  For those who I’ve seen transition to Keto, once fully engaged with mind, body and environment, they will lose only about 1lb a week. If they really focus on under eating carbs, and typicality don’t feel great while doing it, they may lose 2lbs in a week.

Did you know: A pint of beer can range from 18 carbs per pint to 2.6 carbs per pint? Which beer are you drinking?

Keto is a long term lifestyle change. Taking carbs out of your diet takes consistent commitment over time.  If you transition into Keto slowly with the right approach, and the appropriate expectations, you’ll get the results that eating healthy will bring.

Hopefully at this point you have an idea how to start and you are being Keto real with your expectations. Now, it’s time to get education on how you go about getting to Ketosis.

Here are some of the diet changes I made:

When I talk to friends about my Keto change there are some common questions that come up. Here are some of the changes I’ve made to help address some of the common questions.

  • Little to no grain based foods, cereals, breads, tortillas, high carb beers, all gone.
  • Unsweetened iced tea with real lemon instead of anything else.
  • Cacao and Vanilla bean powder instead of chocolate.
  • Organic sharp cheddar cheese from grass fed cows.
  • Avocados on everything.
  • Grass fed organic lean ground beef. And Beef Jerky.
  • Coconut creamer or low carb vanilla protein shakes for coffee instead of the sugar based regular creamers.
  • Coconut milk.
  • Lots of Salmon instead of meats. (Make sure you can process mercury)
  • Chicken breasts in coconut oil with salt, pepper and lemon.
  • Coconut oil for cooking.
  • Yogurt, but only a small size of the Dannon Low Carb (Black box) they sell at Costco.
  • Eggs, breakfast, hard-boiled and egg salad sandwiches.

Understanding Keto

Keto calculations

Because we spend a lot of time outside our own homes, learning to do calculations about the food you consume is going to be very important. You will use your experience at the market/online shopping where labels are clear and easy to understand to help guide the decisions you make when the numbers are unavailable or obscured. Over time, you’ll become proficient at predicting the numbers just by looking at the picture or description. The transition is where you are going to educate yourself. The first part of the calculations is understanding calories at a little deeper level.

A calorie is a unit of energy. By definition, a calorie is “the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water through 1 °C”. The scientific definition doesn’t mean much, just remember calories are energy and your body needs energy to survive. It’s important to understand your lifestyle and the amount of energy, in calories, you use in a day. If you consume more calories than you use, that energy is going to be stored, and potentially converted to fat. If you eat far fewer calories than your body needs, you body will try to convert stores of energy, which is a slow process and take time, into energy. This is the foundation of Keto, or getting into Ketosis.  If you are consuming far less calories than you need you will probably not feel great. The goal is to find that sweet spot of consuming enough calories that you body has almost all the energy it needs from food, but not all of it, and keep yourself there. The process of burning stored energy for use today is the foundation of the Ketogenic diet.

  • If food calories > need, energy stored. Fat+
  • If food calories = need, in balance energy from food.
  • If food calories < need, energy from food + stored energy.

If you are trying to lose weight, which situation do you want to be in? Food calories < need!

Next, think about your lifestyle. If you are doing construction outside, a very physical lifestyle, your body will need more calories than someone, say for example, who is sitting at a desk all day without exercise. What about the calories required to move a 120lb body vs a 200lb body. A heavier body by itself will require slightly more calories to move it. This is why YOUR calorie needs are different from others as well as the fact that your calorie needs change day by day. You should work to find a baseline of your normal day to day calorie needs and then vary it based on activity.  Have a rough target for total calories for the day and then vary it based on results. Did you feel good at the end of the day? Are you losing weight (based on appropriate expectations)? Did your blood test come out good? Vary your consumption taking into consideration all of this. I’m 190lbs and have a pretty sedentary life so I’m only targeting <2,000 calories per day on most days.

The final point about calories, which will become important below, is a good rule of thumb is to consider protein and carbohydrates both contain 4 calories per gram, while fat provides 9 calories per gram. Now lets talk about what you eat and how it turns into calories.

Keto Targets

We are going to consume food to create calories for the engine that is our body. All of the food that we eat (and drink) has three categories of how food breaks down into calories which are called “macros”.  The macros are Protein, Carbs and Fats. In the US we have standardized labeling on just about everything we purchase for consumption that allow us to help count macros every day. Here is an example of a label with the important macros highlighted. All labels are in a similar format.

On a Ketogenic diet you are trying to eat a very low carb and high fat diet. So if you are targeting about 2,000 calories a day, which is plenty for most of us, think about the diet balance like this.

2,000 calories total:

Fat 75%  or 1,500cal = ~(166.6g * 9cal)

Protein 20% or 400cal = ~(100g * 4cal)

Net Carbs 5% or 100cal =  (25g * 4cal)

One important note: The calculation above shows (Net carbs). When Keto calculations are done the accepted standard is Net Carbs = Total Carbs – Dietary Fiber as your count for Carbs.

At this point you’re probably saying, great I can look at a label and get my numbers but I consume a lot of different things during the day, how am I going to track this? You’re covered, there is a free app for both iPhone and Android that people have been using for just this purpose for a long time. It has a massive library of foods from Guacamole to Pizze to Pepsi. It’s easy to use and can help you track an entire days macro consumption.  The MyFitnessPal (see link below) application on your phone can be used to just look up the food you are eating as you start transitioning to this diet. When you make the correlation that carbs = fat = bad and you use the app to lookup foods it helps you make future eating decisions. Free and available for iPhone and Android.

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Look at the labels on everything and try to eat the foods that get you to the right macro balance by the end of the day. Watch the carbs, keep them as low as possible, make sure you are eating healthy foods (vegetables, fruits and organic meats and dairy) most of the time and keep your carb count low. Don’t obsess to the numbers, strive to keep your carbs low, make sure you are balanced with good fats (Omega 3) and Proteins and just live your life. Results start to really show up after about a month.

Educational Articles and Videos

Here are some articles and videos to watch, they will explain many of the details. The guy in the youtube videos is unique but he explains things pretty well.  <– Love the graphics on here, simple and easy to follow

Watch out – Keto Rash is really a thing!

Watch out for the dreaded Keto Rash (Google it, it’s a thing). If your skin starts to get itchy, dry and/or red you are probably getting Keto Rash. The best guess (since they really don’t know the exact cause) is that your liver can’t keep up with the fat processing so the toxins from the digested fats and proteins start to come out your skin. If this starts to happen you can try using Tea Tree Face Wash from Trader Joes, adding some bile salts to your diet to help the liver and when that doesn’t work (it didn’t for me), just start consuming some healthy carbs for a while.

Important recommendation about 2 months in

Keto changes the way your body makes energy. You are eating foods that your body may never have had in the amounts you’re feeding it. It is an important verification step, even if you feel great and you are losing a pound a week, that after a month or two on Keto you need to go to your Dr. and get a blood test. Some people can’t process mercury. Some people are eating more nuts and may have small nut allergies. Taking a blood test can tell you a lot, it’s not very difficult and can give you the piece of mind that the Keto foods you are choosing are having the positive impact to go with the new energy.

Notes about eating out

    • Steak and broccoli (Or Steak and Steak)
    • Grilled Chicken Breasts
    • Salmon and vegetables.
    • Omelettes
    • Whataburger
    • In-N-Out – Double Double Protein Style (Wrapped in lettuce)
    • Snappy Salads: Texas Taco Salad, substitute extra cheese for the chips.
    • Chipotle: Order the bowl (tiny amounts of rice/beans), double meat, lettuce, extra cheese, sour cream and guacamole.
    • Most burger places: Order the regular burger, just without the bun. Skip the fries.
    • Substitutions! Just order what you like and take as many of the carbs out that you can.

Hard core Keto

Note up front, I have never done this and my results were obtained without going this hard core.

There are many people that are very, very serious about getting in and staying in full Ketosis all the time. I’ve seen athletes take this hardcore approach and I think for those diagnosed with Diabetes this is probably very important as an example. Eating a high fat low carb diet puts the body in a state of Ketosis. Ketosis can be measured by the amount of Ketones the body is producing. The Ketones can be measured with Ketone Strips that are readily available.  Here is a good sampling of Ketone Strips you can buy on Amazon.

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Staples of the Keto Diet

Here is the shopping/food list that I work from when shopping at Whole Foods, Trader Joes or Amazon:

  • Healthy Fats become the key Energy Sources, should be High Quality like Grass Fed meats.
    • Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter from Grass Fed Cows 0g
    • Coconut Oil  0g
    • Olive Oil  0g
    • Mayonnaise 1g
    • Avocado 2g <- in Salads, on Chicken, In Omelets.
    • Heavy cream 3g
    • Aioli 2g
    • Guacamole 3g
    • Cream cheese 4g
    • Heavy Cream for coffee
    • Sour Cream all natural from grass fed.
    • Cream Cheese
    • Primal MCT
    • Coconut Milk on Amazon
    • Creamed Coconut on Amazon
    • Olives
    • Pecans-4/Macadamia Nuts-5/Brazil-4/Hazelnuts-7/Whole Almonds-10
  • Vegetables/Fruits no additives, should be fresh and organic
    • Spinach 1g
    • Lettuce 2g
    • Avocado 2g
    • Asparagus 2g Yuck
    • Cucumber 3g
    • Celery 3g
    • Tomato 3g
    • Cauliflower 4g (Cauliflower Rice)
    • Green Beans 4g
    • Cabbage (w/butter & tumeric) 3g
    • Broccoli 4g
    • Carrot 7g
    • Onion 7g
    • Lemon in water/fish
    • Spinach Frozen Organic
    • Sauerkraut
    • NO CORN 15g
  • Fruits
    • Raspberry 3g 1/2 cup
    • Blackberry 4g 1/2 cup
    • Strawberry 6g 1/2 cup
    • Blueberry 6g  1/2 cup
    • Coconut meat 6g
    • Lemon 6g
    • Plum 6g
    • Peach 9g
    • Watermelon 10g
    • Cherries 10g
    • Orange 10g
    • Apple 12g
    • Kiwi 21g
    • Pineapple 12g
    • Mango 13g
    • Grapes 16g
    • Banana 20g
  • Protein
    • Eggs 1g
    • Bacon 2g
    • Sausage 2g
    • Kerrygold cheddar from grass fed cows 2g
    • Bacon once a week. 2g
    • Sardines in olive oil or water – Yuck
    • Mackerel Fillets
    • Wild Salmon has great Omega3 and Potassium
    • Organic Grass fed meat so the grains and their sugars don’t transfer to you.
      • Ground beef should be organic grass fed
    • Organic Pork Shoulder
    • Grass fed lamb leg
  • Baking/Spices
    • Flaxseed flour
    • Almond flour
    • Coconut flour
    • Desiccated coconut for sweets
    • Apple cider vinegar
    • Little baking powder.
  • Goto Snack List
    • Hard boiled eggs
    • String cheese
    • Beef Jerky from Costco
    • Unsalted/uncoated nuts like peanuts, pecans, etc…
    • Dark chocolate covered cherries
    • Chef Robert Irvine’s Fit Crunch – Chocolate Peanut Butter bars (13g Carbs, 3 from Sugars)
  • Spices
    • Sea salt and ground sea salt
    • Black pepper
    • Turmeric – add it to cooked eggs, salmon, ground beef.
    • Oregano
    • Herbs du provonce
    • Italian herbs mix
    • Organic Basil
    • Chicken Bouillon low in carbs
    • Paprika
    • Onion
    • Garlic and dried garlic
  • Drinks/Sweets and Extras – Try to add to your electrolyte deficit here. Costco has decent electrolyte water. You need to up your water intake on this diet. I average 4-6 bottles of water per day.
    • Mostly plain water (remember bottled water has PCB’s most of the time)
    • Lemon to the water
    • Costco 0g carb electrolyte water
    • Coffee without sweetener = 0g carb. Try adding Coconut water, Cacao, Vanilla bean powder or Heavy Cream to your Coffee
    • Unsweetened Iced Tea (Check the labels, there are lots that are 0g Carb choices)
    • Tea in the afternoon, Green Tea + Yerba Mate = 0g carb.
    • Chamomile tea at night
  • Sweets
    • Cacao Powder substitute for chocolate, it tastes different but is ok.
    • Vanilla Bean Powder in coffee
    • Cinnamon powder
    • Ground organic ginger
    • Dark Chocolate 90% or higher
    • Whole foods has dark chocolate covered cherries that are 10g carbs.
  • Alcohol
    • Beer
      • Michelob Ultra (Available Everywhere!): 2.6g
      • Bud Select 55: 1.8g
      • Miller Genuine Draft “64”: 2.4g
      • Miller Lite: 3.2g
      • Busch Light: 3.2g
      • Natural Light: 3.2g
      • Coors Light 4.5g
      • Corona Light 5g
      • Bud Light 6.6g
      • Guinness Draught 9.9g
      • Blue Moon 12.5g
    • Alcohol
      • Vodka (Three Olives, Absolut, Grey Goose, etc.)
      • Rum (Captain Morgan, etc)
      • Gin (Tanqueray, Beefeater, etc)
      • Tequila
      • Whiskey (Jack Daniel’s, etc.)
      • Scotch
      • Brandy
      • Cognac (Hennessy, etc.)
  • Extras
    • Pesto with olive oil on chicken
    • Red Pesto
    • Artichoke
    • Tomato sauce all natural
    • Concentrated tomato
  • Things not to eat….
    • Bread of any kind.
    • Cereal of any kind.
    • Tortillas of any kinds.
    • Chocolate 56g
    • Cookies 58g
    • Pasta – Cooked 29g
    • Bread – 46g
    • Rice – Cooked – 28g
    • Chipotle Burrito = 46g carbs just in the tortilla
    • Fruit juices (typically 25g carbs per glass or more)

Supplements you might need

  • Get an Omega 3 fish oil supplement to counteract the bad fats
  • Magnesium Supplements
  • Need to add some Sodium for Electrolytes
    • Costco sells electrolyte water, get that.
    • Cup of chicken broth
    • Add a little salt to your food.
  • Potassium intake
    • Avocados are a good source.
  • HMB Supplements

Some Keto friendly product I use

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