Newspaper headlines can be confusing with what’s good for you one minute being bad for you the next. It’s understandable that you feel confused, that is after all what the headlines are designed to do, to unsettle you. The difference between relative risk and absolute […]
After I received a few questions about how to get started with losing weight on a ketogenic or low carbohydrate diet, I wrote Getting started with your ketogenic diet : Part I, giving my thoughts on which foods to eat and avoid. Now for a […]
I am frequently asked for tips on how to get started on a ketogenic diet for weight loss. There are many reasons as well as weight loss to eat this way, so for weight loss or for health, here are some ideas.
As with everything, getting started can be the hardest part but before the WHAT, it might help first to understand the WHY.
Without carbohydrates in your diet the body will soon start to burn fat for fuel. As a result of breaking down fat, ketones are produced. There are three types of ketones, acetone (which you might taste or smell on the breath), acetoacetate (which can be detected in the urine) and beta-Hydroxybutyrate (which can be detected in the blood). When these are detectable, the body has been burning fat for fuel. It is a state that makes losing weight much easier. To reach this state, you’ll need to keep daily carbohydrate intake to around 20g. These come from vegetables and nuts.
Another crucial result of his way of eating is that it will lower insulin levels. Insulin is secreted when you’ve eaten and the more carbohydrates consumed, the more insulin is released into the blood. Insulin stops your own fat cells from giving up their fat stores so a low insulin state is what is needed for the body to burn it’s own fat.
Now, knowing that the target is to lower insulin levels, it makes sense when you look at which foods should be eaten and which foods should be avoided in a ketogenic diet.
So, what is good to eat on a ketogenic diet?
Meat and Fish (it is no longer necessary to search for lean meat, take the fattier cuts)
Natural fats (butter, olive oil, dripping, coconut oil, avocado oil)
Dairy: cheeses and cream
Full fat yoghurts (avoid sugary, flavoured low-fat yoghurts like the plague)
Nuts and seeds
Vegetables: green, non-starchy vegetables do the job. Avocados, asparagus, peas, broccoli, sprouts and cauliflower, cucumbers and olives. Tomatoes, peppers and carrots can form part of a ketogenic diet. There are many more.
This list can best be summed up as Eat Real Food.
The fewer the carbohydrates in your diet, the better for lowering insulin levels. The thing about ketogenic diets is finding what works for you as everyone is different and reacts differently. It may take time and experimentation to find what suits you, but there foods to avoid.
Breads and crackers
Pasta, rice and potatoes
Sugary drinks including sodas and fruit juices (and beer, sorry, but you might find red wine is OK)
Chocolate and sweets (but 80+% cocoa chocolate has good magnesium levels and is low in sugar)
Cakes, donuts and biscuits
A word about diet drinks and artificial/fake sugars… These do not raise blood sugars BUT they can raise insulin. As insulin drives weight gain, you need to avoid bothering your pancreas to secrete it and to keep the levels low.
Aiming for a high proportion of fat (75%) moderate protein (20%) and carbohydrates (5%) will get you started. There are ways to track your intake using apps or websites. I have used Myfitnesspal, CarbManager and Sparkspeople (though this last app is no longer supported you can use the website to track what you eat). You can tell the apps what you have eaten and they will calculate the macro percentages (carbs, fat and protein). Note I have not mentioned counting any calories, we’ve moved on from that. Some apps can scan a bar code on your product and register what you have eaten. Tracking what you are eating can really help and can show up some surprising results about what is in our food.
Here’s a starting tip so things don’t get complicated – I merely track carbs and keep them low, whilst eating more fat and moderate protein until I’m full. You might need to spend a bit more time in the shops at first, looking for alternatives to the sugary fat-free stuff, but it is there.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is the rough time you can have for week or so when coming off sugars and carbohydrates. I’m not going to sugar-coat it, it can feel rough, but getting through that withdrawal was the best thing I did and there are ways to make it feel better (more on that to come).
That’s enough food for thought just now.
Coming up in part II, I’ve written an action plan detailing what to do next if you want to get started on a ketogenic diet, as well as some links of more places to go for support.
When it comes to weight loss advice we are often told to stop and think about what we are about to do, when we reach for food and snacks. This is supposed to stop us from overindulging through mindfullness. Mindfullness is a big buzzword of […]
We need to talk about breakfast.
The most common question I am asked when it comes to diet is what to eat for breakfast, especially by those seeking a low-carb option. When you’ve got a whole family to sort out before school and work, breakfast needs to be fast and free of too much thought. It is no wonder breakfast cereals have risen in popularity (convenience being one thing but the vast amounts of addictive sugar being another). In the past, it has been no different in my house, especially once my girls were able to make breakfast for themselves. Health seekers, keen to not fill up on so much sugar will go for yoghurts, low-fat of course, fruit juice, raisins, and oats. Either way, the sugar and carbohydrate content are still high and the hormonal response by the body will be the opposite of what you might think. I wrote about this in another post here.
As a doctor based in hospital, I was recently discussing the overnight wayward blood sugars of one of our patients when the breakfast trolley was wheeled past. Our conversation stopped in its tracks, I just couldn’t take my eyes off the breakfast. I was asked if I wanted some.
Er, no thanks.
The trolley was laden with toasted white bread, with pots of fake butter and jams, there were boxes of sugary breakfast cereals with skimmed milk, there were cartons of orange and apple juice and low-fat fruit yoghurts. I was shocked at the amount of sugar and carbohydrate we were feeding our patients but that’s breakfast isn’t it? It really shouldn’t be.
I was told that you can’t expect hospital patients to get bacon and eggs, after all who is going to cook it? Of course, there is nobody to cook it, because we are too cheap to pay someone to cook for our patients. We choose cheap convenience over our health and the health of our hospital patients. They need protein and fat, but we can’t provide it with the resources or the attitudes that we have.
At home it is easy to make the effort to change what we choose for breakfast. We can choose how to start our day with a breakfast that will not shoot up our insulin, nor prevent fat cells from giving up their precious reserves and will not make us hungry only hours later. In hospital it is a different matter. The foods we feed our patients, the very people who need the best nutrition that we have, are based on the government guidelines that attempt to prevent obesity, diabetes and heart disease. They don’t prevent obesity, diabetes or heart disease, they make it worse.
Breakfast needs to break free from the low-fat, high-carb sugary nonsense. We need eggs, meat, fish, real yoghurt, real butter, real cream, nuts and seeds. It can’t be fat-free and protein-free, these essentials are being restricted by this diet. The only thing you are restricting with a low carbohydrate diet are chronic western diseases.
What we need to do is to start taking what we feed our patients seriously, as seriously as we take all the drugs we dish out. We might be able to do that at home but unfortunately, things won’t change in our institutions without a change in the government guidelines and that’s not coming any day soon.