Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Why and How I Eat a Ketogenic Diet Each Day

Thank you for all your interest in my last post on my personal story with how I started a ketogenic diet 10 years ago to heal my chronic health issues I've had since I was a child. It's been a long journey since I've first started, and as I mentioned in my last post, there have been many times I've tried to increase my carbohydrate intake from natural foods (because I believe in eating a variety of whole foods), and yet each time, my body has told me it prefers to be in ketosis in every single way imaginable.  Whether that takes a few months or weeks, ultimately, my body does not like to digest sugars and starches of any kind - period. And I'm here today to answer your questions for me about a ketogenic diet, and my personal take on how I do it and why.

First though, we need to talk about some gut issues ...

The Link Between Digestion and the Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet


I also honestly believe that the majority of people's digestive issues stem from a gluten and grain intolerance, an overgrowth of bacteria (known as SIBO), or some type of imbalance in gut bacteria. Too many sugars or starches (which quickly convert to sugar in the body) can cause an imbalance to occur. Even if we take out these sugars and starches, our digestive systems may have become inflamed and weakened over the years. You can't fix your gut bacteria overnight; it can take years but is well worth the effort. See my post here on that. 

Thankfully, when you remove sugars and starches the fermentation associated with gas, bloating, IBS symptoms, etc. almost becomes null and void. I've also learned that I have to be especially cautious to avoid all probiotics with yeast derivatives (the strain Saccharomyces cerevaise or any strain starting with Saccharomyces which comes from yeast), FOS (fermentable prebiotics) or inulin (another fermentable prebiotic). These are absolutely not necessary and can cause the same issues as sugars and starches do.

Many women are ingesting yeast in some form or another (kefir contains yeast too, but not yogurt) and don't understand why their digestion is suffering. Having dealt with candida and yeast intolerances all of my life, it was only natural that sugars and starches would pose a problem for me.

Touching on one more issue with the good bacteria issue, yes — some yeasts like those mentioned are said to help with digestive issues, however, for someone with digestive upset, it's best to avoid fermented foods that are fermented through wild airborne yeasts, and to stick with cultured foods instead, which are made by implementing good bacteria (such as acidophilus and bifidus cultures) like those from plain yogurt and certain brands of probiotics instead. These are also monitored during the culturing process and less likely to pose a problem in those that are yeast-sensitive.

Sauerkraut and kimchi are exceptions since they contain natural properties that allow them to ferment without adding a yeast to start the process. Anything that causes a gut imbalance can cause major issues, so please pay attention to how different fermented and cultured foods work for you. If one causes a problem for you, it's likely due to it containing yeasts that are added during the fermentation process. Yeast feeds on sugar in the digestive tract that causes symptoms like bloating, gas, etc,, and even brain fog and fatigue. Eliminate it and you'll feel so much better!

I take this probiotic daily if you're wondering what kind I use.

The Benefits of Removing Starches and Sugars for Overall Health


Aside from gut bacteria, removing sugars and starches from your diet can also bring about mental clarity, a better sense of focus, and much less overall fatigue. The reason for this is that even though carbs give us energy, our bodies can only store so much glucose in our bloodstream at one time. And that's a very, very small amount, much less that what's in a typical grain meal or fruit-based meal. Fat, however, stays in our body a longer time and can be used to burn for energy. Since it does not contain sugar, it also doesn't affect insulin levels if eaten from the right source (raw saturated fats and monounsaturated fats).

This is what the premises of the ketogenic diet is about, and as someone who's lived and breathed it for years, I can tell you it's truly life-changing. Whenever I increase my carbs, I slowly notice my mood, work efforts, concentration, focus, and general attitude towards life all start to suffer. I also gain weight and am always bloated.

In fact, would you believe that recently when I went back on a higher fat ketogenic diet and cut out grains and fruit, ironically that week my work was praised more so than it was when I was eating higher carb, and I was told "it was obvious I was better focused." I tell you this to prove that our mental clarity and focus is influenced by what we eat more than we realize, and can't be made up with extra bouts of energy drinks or sugar for a quick adrenaline rush. Our bodies NEED to be nourished and higher fats and moderate protein my friends ... they do that just wonderfully.

Another benefit of eating keto is that you are NEVER hungry! You're eating enough calories, but those blood sugar cravings, swings, and hunger strikes that leave us miserable and moody ALL go away. This normally takes a week to transition to as all the extra glucose stored in your body from the carbs you were eating starts to be used. As this happens, you might feel a little off, but when that glucose has been burned, the body will start to use fat for fuel. When you become keto-adapted, hunger decreases, energy increase, mental clarity flips on like a light switch, and carb cravings literally go away. If you're always hungry, you're not eating enough fat and are eating too many carbs.

Now, what about protein?


I love my protein. SO much! However, one thing to know about a ketogenic diet is you no longer have to worry about if you'll get enough. In fact, you are probably eating too much. Our bodies can only use so much protein at one time, and if you're eating too much protein, you might suffer indigestion, constipation, and just generally feel like crap. This is because your body is so busy digesting the protein, it can't get to the fat you're eating quick enough. When that occurs, you'll feel tired after eating, might still be hungry, and may even have carb cravings. It never allows for the brain to use fats for fuel, or the metabolism, like it was meant to do. We do need protein, but fat intake should be higher than protein intake at each meal in order to be in ketosis. Some sources of protein (like fish and hemp) are also good sources of both fats and protein, which makes them great to include. Just don't overdo it and choose the best sources.

Now, what's the best sources of protein and what do I eat?


As I mentioned in my last post, I am a meat-free eater. That means I am not vegan and do not eat red meat, pork, lamb, etc. I was for a 100 percent vegan for a long time (several times actually) and the only way I can be at peace with not being vegan is because of how many different attempts and approaches I've made, and knowing how much time I've spent studying different ways to do it with chronic digestive issues. I can not explain why animal foods work for me, even those most people have issues with like dairy (which yes, I do eat).

 I can also say that I would honestly would love to be vegan for ethical and environmental purposes, but because so many vegan sources of protein are higher in carbs (beans, legumes, and even some nuts and seeds), I found it hard to stay in ketogenic mode for long while maintaining optimal hormone balance. I also had some rotten digestive issues start to come up again EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I also just generally struggled with lots of brain fog, anxiety, and even slight depression. I hate to admit this more than anyone could know, and felt ashamed for a long time, until I looked at how little animal protein I consume in a day compared to my other food choices and saw how much they made a difference for my health. Some things are not fair or easy to understand, and this is something I've struggled with heavily over the years, yet I've come to accept when I saw how my skin, hair, digestion, brain health, and mood improved after I added extremely high-quality animal foods back.



Therefore, I am a form of vegetarian that works for me, and quite honestly, my health has never been better. Do I think this is how everyone should eat? No. I believe a different type of ketogenic diet can be eaten for everyone, and even those that want to remain or try to be vegan.

 If you want to eat vegan and ketogenic, know that you can, but will need to be careful at what foods you choose. You'll need to cut out beans, legumes, and grains from the get go — they are high in starch and the majority of their carbs come from excess carbs, not fiber like most people believe. This would leave seeds (pumpkin, hemp, chia, flax), coconut, avocados, macadamia nuts, walnuts, almonds and Brazil nuts as the best sources of fuel besides plenty of leafy greens and vegetables. All are good sources of fats and protein but low in starch. If your digestion and hormones do fine with a vegan ketogenic diet, please- stick to it!

However, for me, my inflammation, hormones, and overall depression history required something different. As hard as it was, I believe we need to listen to our health needs and make the best choices that we can. If we don't, we will not be able to live our best life, contribute our best selves to the world, and will just ultimately be sick and unhappy. I go out of my way to choose local organic and grass-fed plain Greek yogurt (Atlanta Fresh), local pastured and organic eggs (Vital Farms), and do eat only sustainable wild sources of fish (never farmed) from Vital Choice or Wild Planet foods once or twice a week. My libido, energy, mental clarity and digestion are stellar when I eat this way.

I know in my heart I will never touch meat, pork, and will never eat factory farmed animal foods or genetically modified sources of any food - animal or plant-based. Vote with your dollars people!


Fats for the Brain ... My Top Choices


My top choices for healthy fats are predominately the following foods:

 2-3 tablespoons daily each of ...





  • Artisana Raw Coconut Butter (not oil, it can quickly lead to weight gain for me). Coconut butter is FULL coconut meat rich in fiber, protein, enzymes and B vitamins. Oil has NO vitamins, minerals or fiber. I'm not sure why, but the oil makes me gain and the butter does not, it actually helps me stain lean. I'm sure that it's because oil is not a whole food and coconut butter is. Coconut butter also tastes incredible, so rich and smooth!
  • Organic, Grass-Fed Heavy Cream or Half and Half ( in coffee, Organic Valley brand)- These saturated fats are truly some of the most satisfying, easiest to digest thanks to being sugar-free and lactose-free, and they contain beneficial nutrients for the brain and metabolism. I wish I had given myself permission years ago to realize this. Whatever you do, do not drink skim milk or even low fat milk, it's loaded with natural sugar (lactose) and some non-dairy milks are full of gut-harmful additives. Go for organic, grass-fed cream!
  • Ground Flax and Chia
My top foods I eat each day are: leafy greens (all kinds), coconut products (raw flour, shreds, butter), organic Greek yogurt, green vegetables (asparagus, broccoli, celery, zucchini), seeds (pumpkin, hemp, flax, chia), sustainable sourced wild fish, pure acai fruit (no sugar, high fat),Vega One, grass-fed gelatin, pastured eggs, cultured cottage cheese, coffee and tea

Most people would be surprised to learn that I actually only eat twice or three times a day now. In fact, I eat more calories at each meal and am less hungry than ever. Fats are the most satiating foods, and I make sure to prioritize them, not fear them as I once did. I used to eat "mini meals" that were low in fat and carbs or higher in carbs and was ALWAYS hungry. 

Now I can eat larger amounts of calories in moderate portions and have never felt better or more satisfied. 

To be more candid with you, here are my meals each day:


Meal #1 (after my morning workout and after 1 cup coffee with organic half and half or heavy cream- I have my second cup of coffee with this meal below)

My first meal is normally around 12 p.m. each day - I get up at 7 a.m. and drink water in the morning and take BCAA's before and after my workout that keep my energy up while I work out and have a morning conference call with work. BCAA's also boost brain function, reduce insulin spikes, and prevent muscle loss). Why don't I eat first thing? Quite honestly, for my digestion. In the morning, the body is in cleansing mode, and though I think breakfast is a beautiful thing, my digestion works much better through two larger meals each day. My first meal comes after my workout, call, and shower. 


Nutrient-Packed Smoothie Ice Cream


(Makes about 3 cups that I freeze covered for two hours, and then eat with a spoon. I can't stand to drink meals, so I make my smoothies super thick! Freezing makes them even more thick and adds a much better flavor and texture.)

I blend in the Vitamix and let it freeze while I do yoga, shower and drink a cup of coffee, then come back and it's frozen and I eat with a spoon:)

Afternoon:



I typically just have a couple cups of coffee with half and half or heavy cream, or a piece of 100 percent SunSpire baking chocolate. Sometimes I also have a tablespoon of raw coconut butter to hold me over til dinner since I eat a late first meal.

Dinner:

Normally, I have double the amount of Meal 1 (because it's my favorite!), but I use frozen organic spinach, add to the blend 1/4 cup organic pumpkin puree, use 1/3 cup coconut flour instead of just 2 tablespoons, and top it with 2 tbsp. raw coconut butter and pumpkin seeds with walnuts. I have a sweet tooth, so this dinner works really well for me. I like to use Vega One French Vanilla in this mix. 



Or on nights I want more substance, I sometimes eat Vital Farms organic pastured eggs or wild fish, a salad, artichokes, raw sauerkraut, and some steamed broccoli drizzled with warmed coconut butter or with walnuts and pumpkin seeds added. The only fish I will eat are wild caught Atlantic salmonWild Planet brand wild albacore tuna or salmon, or Wild Caught Halibut. I normally only eat those once a week (sometimes twice). If I have one of those meals, dessert is frozen another cup of organic low-fat Greek yogurt (1 hour in the freezer) topped with NuNaturals cocoa syrup or just mixed with coconut flour, cinnamon, flax and chia seeds. 

And In Conclusion ... Here's Why I Remain Ketogenic


I'm always upbeat, in a good mood, energized, recover faster after workouts, have more lean body mass and feel stronger, am consistently focus all day and never crash mid-afternoon like I did with grains and other starches, never ever hungry with after meals, am no longer EVER bloated, and my digestion is overall great. 

For more tips, I'll be sharing some supplements I take each day for digestion, gut healing, and proper nutrition in my next post, so stay tuned!:)

If you're concerned about a ketogenic diet and its long-term effects on medical health, please check out this resource for health answers to the top myths about the diet. 

I hope this answers all of your questions!:) Stay tuned for the winner of the Vega One giveaway coming up this weekend!!

Be good to yourself and may you be blessed, 

Heather