Keto diet 10 tips for Beginners.

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Keto diet 10 tips for success

I have received several requests to share my experience with the keto or ketogenic diet.

In this video I will going through my 10 tips for keto diet success.  But first I would just like to give a bit of background.

Just over one year ago I weighed 95Kgs,  despite regular attempts to lose weight, the conventional way. That is to reduce calories by eating less and exercising more. At each attempt I did lose a bit of weight and then hit a plateau and then slowly gain again even though I was still eating less and exercising more. Does that sound familiar to any of you? It took 9 months to lose just 3 Kgs this way. 

When I hit 95Kgs for the first time in my life, the alarm bells started ringing; not just because of my weight. My fasting blood sugar (at 8am) was over 6 mmols/Lt, that is in the prediabetes 2 zone. My blood pressure was about 140/90. I knew I was heading for drugs to control these conditions and I did not want that.

Me at 95 kilograms – watch the video to see what I look like now

Then one day I read an anecdote by someone who was basically in the same situation as me and he had turned his medical situation around in 2 months on a ketogenic diet. In the process he had lost 12Kgs.

This sounded a little far-fetched but it got my attention. So I started looking into the science behind keto, I read a few books and did some fact checking in medical journals. It appeared that there is some science supporting the keto diet. So I decided to give it a go.

So how did I go on the keto diet? I am still having trouble believing this. I started about 4 months ago. Here is a summary of what I was able to achieve.

 In that time I’ve lost 11 Kgs, from 92Kgs to 81Kgs

My fat mass (I have a smart scale) went from 24Kgs to 16.5 Kgs.

My pant size went from a tight 38 to a comfortable 34.

 Fasting blood sugar (I monitor it at home) at 8am went from over 6mmols/lt to under 5.5 and often under 5, the lowest was 4.3mmols/lt.

Blood pressure went from 140/90 to around 128/76 mm of hg.

To put into perspective what the keto diet has done for me. I am 73 years old and the last time I saw 81 kgs on the scale was probably 30 years ago but most important is the reduction in my waist size.  As we all know abdominal girth is a serious risk factor for CHD and stroke.

How do I feel – great. Some people report that during the transition into keto they feel a bit listless and headaches known as keto flu. Muscle cramps is also often reported. I did not experience any of this. Occasionally do feel a bit light headed if I stand suddenly from a crouched position, possibly low blood pressure.

So what is a ketogenic diet (keto) diet? In a nutshell it is an ultra-low carbohydrate (CHO) diet (less than 20 grams per day), high in healthy fats and moderate in protein. Carbohydrates are your sugars and starches.

A keto meal

The main energy source is now fat instead of carbohydrates (CHO). Often referred to as LCHF diet which stands for low carb high fat.

The theory is that after 2-3 days of low carbs your body will use up the available glucose in the blood and stored glucose (glycogen) thus forcing the metabolism of protein and fat for energy. Both of which can be converted to glucose.

Another form of energy called ketone bodies (from fat breakdown) is also now also available. Hence the name Ketosis.

In ketosis the reduced amount of glucose available is reserved for red blood cells (RBC) and parts of the brain which can only use glucose for energy. The rest of the brain (75%) can use ketones from fat breakdown while all the other cells are able use fatty acids for energy.

Metabolism of fat

When you are in ketosis the ketone bodies can be detected in blood, urine and breathe.  

I must stress ketosis is a normal healthy metabolic state. Our prehistoric ancestors faced times of plenty, when they would gorge themselves and gain weight through stored fat reserves. They would also regularly face times of famine, their bodies would then click into a ketosis and they would survive off their fat reserves. Endurance athletes often enter ketosis when they have depleted their glucose and glycogen reserves. This beautiful balance has kept us from extinction.

Now, before I go ahead I must point out that diet science is still evolving and no theory is cut and dried. There are still many unanswered questions waiting for the appropriate research to answer them.

 I do now know the body’s response to diet is very complex and there appears to be a strong genetic component.

I am not claiming to be an expert and I am not recommending this diet without first consulting your own medical professionals. We are all different (age, gender, genetics, medical history etc) so what might work for me may not work for you.

If you have any chronic medical condition or are on any medications it is essential to seek medical advice before making any lifestyle change!

Just before I discuss my 10 tips, I need to explain a tiny bit about the theory behind the keto diet so that you know what I’m talking about.

The doctors that promote the keto diet believe (with justification) that obesity is a primarily a hormonal imbalance centred on prolonged high insulin levels which ultimately leads to insulin resistance and diabetes 2.

Insulin regulation, they acknowledge, is complex however carbohydrates are potent stimulators of insulin. Insulin’s job is to control blood glucose when it gets too high. It does this by helping blood glucose to enter the cells where it is used for energy or stored as glycogen or fat.

Insulin also inhibits fat breakdown which severely resists any attempts at weight loss so a level of obesity inevitably follows.

One of the main obstacles for most people to adopt this diet is getting used to regarding animal fat as healthy. This goes against conventional wisdom. I regard animal saturated fats as healthy this includes red meat and dairy (butter, cheese cream). Other healthy fats include fish and some vegetable fats like olive oil, avocado and coconut oil but does not include refined or altered polyunsaturated vegetable oils like cooking oils and margarine. These, in fact, may increase the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) through the inflammatory effect of omega-6.

Chargrilled steak with avocado and salad

I had no problem eating animal fat because, for some time now, evidence has slowly been mounting that healthy animal fat in the diet does not affect blood cholesterol and lipid levels.

 High blood cholesterol is indeed a risk factor for CHD but it does not appear to be related to eating animal fats. Five years ago I went back to eating animal fat as part of my diet and have been monitoring my blood lipids ever since. I have had no change and possibly a slight improvement of those levels.

I realise this explanation that I have given is very simplistic, there are many more factors (eg genetics) and hormones which determine one’s body weight at any particular time. Perhaps I will talk about them in future posts, if you are interested please feel free to leave comments below this post.

 The main thing to remember is that the keto experts believe that weight gain is determined by a group hormones with persistent high levels of insulin playing a central role. Bear this in mind as I discuss the ten things I found useful to me and lead to my losing weight and improving my blood pressure and blood sugar.

Please also remember we are all different and what works for one may not help another. I had to do some experimenting to find out what things worked for me.

 Here are the 10 things that helped me the most. Not in any order of importance.

  1. Carbohydrates must be reduced to as low as possible.

Under 20 grams/day; you can forget about calories up to a point, they are far less important. Sugar is an absolute no no.

Cut carbohydrates

 Carbs and sugar in particular will increase blood glucose followed by a rise in insulin often causing a rebound dip in blood glucose a few hours later which then stimulates the hunger hormones.

One needs to read the nutritional info on the product labels for a while but eventually you will know which products. For fruit and veg look them up on Google.

Insulin curve will follow glucose curve

 I used to have to have a chocolate after supper every night, now I don’t even think about it. It is often said that sugar is addictive, I truly believe that, it took a while of abstinence to break the craving.  Unlike proteins and fats carbohydrates are not an essential nutrient.

 Worse still, unlike fats and proteins there are no satiety hormones released when we consume carbs so we can just keep eating or drinking. Have you noticed that after a large meal and feeling very full you can’t eat another steak but there is always room for chocolate or ice cream.

2. Only eat whole natural foods that you can recognise as unprocessed.

Whole natural unprocessed foods

Processed foods often have added sugars (often fructose), preservatives, colouring, and flavouring. In addition milling and sifting in factories often removes healthy fibre. Have you noticed that bread these days does not readily go stale or mouldy any more, that is not natural and often the body has no knowledge of how to handle these additives.

You need to assist the body to do the job it was designed for. Get your carbs and fibre from low carb vegetables, limit fruit (because high in sugar) choose fruits with the lowest sugar. It has been shown that the fibre in real fruits and veg. protects against the effects of carbs by resisting their absorption by the gut and slowing metabolism there by reducing the rise of blood sugar and hence insulin.

 Fibre also provides bulk to the meal and gives a feeling of fullness which releases satiety hormones and helps to stop eating. Fibre is also essential to a healthy gut microbiome which we beginning to understand is an important feature of human health.

3.Keep insulin levels low.

To achieve this I eat as infrequently as possible. All foods stimulate an insulin response sugars and CHO’s have the greatest effect and fats the least with proteins somewhere in the middle.

However it is not as simple as that as even the taste of food and food entering the stomach will also elicit an insulin response which occurs before any nutrients have entered the blood. Artificial sweeteners therefore also cause a rise in insulin levels.

Indeed there appears to be a neurological component as well, just anticipating food will stimulate insulin. I have had to train myself to only eat when I am hungry so what I do is skip a meal if I am not hungry and fast until the next scheduled meal.

4. Don’t snack between meals.

 Mama told me don’t snack between meal and she was right.

Don’t snack

All foods stimulate insulin production and if you believe, as I do, that high insulin levels are the primary cause of obesity then it is wise to keep insulin levels as low as possible for most of the day.

 Longer periods between food intake have been shown to be beneficial for weight loss.

5. Beat hunger

Choose foods at your meal which will keep you satisfied for a long time. Proteins, fats and fibre do this because they don’t stimulate insulin as much. They also stimulate specific satiety hormones which urge you to stop eating.

Steak mushrooms salad

 I have found choosing the right foods is more important than reducing calorie intake. Sounds wrong but it worked for me. It has been shown that when you cut calories your body compensates by conserving on BMR and other house-keeping tasks. The drop can be as much as 40% of BMR and conversely increasing calorie intake can speed up BMR by just as much.  Also BMR is responsible for far more calories burned then is exercise for most people.

One kg fat is worth about 7500 calories. It would take 3 standard marathons to burn one kg fat. With a BMR of 2500 calories/day means your body is burning the equivalent of a standard marathon while you are just sitting around.

6. Beat the sugar craving.

The only way to do this, I have found, is to phase it out of your diet. I started by cutting out all snacks between meals. Then step 2 was to cut out sweet stuff during meals including condiments.

Remember artificial sweetens are not beneficial as a substitute as they also stimulate insulin production and there by contribute to weight gain.

 Secondly they perpetuate the sugar craving. I used to drink quite a lot of ‘diet’ drinks, I phased them out by slowly adding more and more soda water to them.

7. No to Fructose.

I believe fructose is the very worst carbohydrate and should be avoided whenever possible. Fructose is 50% of household sugar (sucrose) the other half is glucose. Fructose is also found in fruits and is mass produced from corn as a cheap sweetener for many refined foods. It is sweeter than glucose and often improves shelf life so is used extensively in breads, biscuits and confectionary in general especially candy, sweets or lollies.

 Why is it so bad? Unlike glucose the body’s cells cannot use fructose for energy so it all has to be metabolised in the liver where it is converted into glucose, lactose, glycogen and fat. Excessive intake, which is easy if you have a sweet tooth, can lead to fat accumulation in the liver and indirectly elsewhere as well.

 In the condition ‘non-alcoholic fatty liver’ the liver will not be firing on all 4 cylinders and can lead to increased blood glucose, increased insulin, insulin resistance, obesity and diabetes 2. So stay away from fructose in processed foods!

Whole natural unprocessed fruit is good for you in that it is rich in vitamins and a an excellent source of fibre. Fruit generally however is high in sugar including fructose, these carbs however are not as damaging because the fibre consumed with them helps to inhibit their uptake and metabolism. It is highly unlikely that one would suffer any liver damage from consuming whole natural fruit. The danger of fructose comes from it being added to sweetened processed foods including sweetened fruit juices. It is fine to eat fruit when in ketosis but it would need to be very limited to stay under the 20 grams of carbs per day limit.

8. Skip breakfast and burn early morning blood sugar with exercise.

Most of us will experience a rise in blood glucose just before waking as the body prepares us for the day. This glucose comes from glycogen and fat reserves.  This is known as the dawn phenomenon.

Dawn phenomenon

If this glucose is not burned through physical activity and particularly if we add to that blood glucose with breakfast we will produce insulin to restore that glucose to our body’s fat and glycogen reserves.

 So the body has in fact already provided us with breakfast, from our fat and glycogen larder, we don’t need to eat. This provides us with a golden opportunity to burn off some of our stored fat every day.

 I found this most beneficial to my weight loss effort. Take the dog for a walk or develop and exercise routine. Instead of breakfast I have black, sugarless coffee or tea.

9. Fasting my secret weapon.

This is such an exciting tool not only for weight loss but also as a treatment and preventive for some medical conditions. Fasting can mean just not eating between meals of actually skipping one or more meals.

I always miss breakfast so each day I fast for 16 hours and feed during an 8 hour window. Then once or twice a week I may only eat one meal a day (24 hour fast) and occasionally I will do a 36 hour fast depending on what my weight is doing. If my weight loss stalls or reverses I take more drastic action.

It is important to keep hydrated during fasting by drinking water or black, sugarless tea or coffee. If you are fasting for any length of time it may be wise to take some vitamin and mineral supplements . It is also OK to do exercise or any mental work, the body functions very efficiently mentally and physically while in ketosis.

The funny thing is if I am busy I don’t get hungry or I may have a transient hunger which soon passes. People who have fasted for days, weeks or months report that after day 2 hunger is a thing of the past.

 I have not needed to fast more than 36 hours to achieve my weight loss goals.

Reported Health benefits from fasting include weight loss, lowering of BP, lowering of blood sugar, reversal of type 2 diabetes, reversal of non-alcoholic fatty liver, Alzheimer’s, polycystic ovary syndrome and slowing of certain cancers.

 Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine was strong advocate of fasting in the treatment of a number of ailments.  

I must stress that it is essential to seek medical advice before embarking on any fasting especially if have any medical condition or if you take any drugs.

10.  Stress and cortisol.

Cortisol is the so called fight or flight hormone. It is produced in response to stress and results in a rise in blood glucose, to prepare us for anticipated physical exertion. In today’s world that physical exertion very often does not follow stress. This causes a rise in insulin and the returning of the glucose to the cells very often as abdominal fat.

 Included in this is insufficient sleep. It appears that less than 7 hours sleep may start to cause a rise in body mass through the action of cortisol. Things like sleep hygiene, meditation, yoga and exercise may be helpful here.

combat stress

This is how we de-stress

So where to from here. I am about a kilogram away from my goal.

The big question is ‘do I regard the keto diet as a way of life’? In my opinion, no it is not. As I mentioned before, our bodies have been designed to alternate between a metabolism of storing fat in times of plenty and a metabolism of burning fat (keto) during hard times. So what I believe is that to remain healthy we need to simulate this cycle. So when I go onto maintenance I will be gorging myself at celebratory occasions, such as holidays, birthdays, weddings etc and when my weight goes above my chosen weight range I will then go back into keto for a month or so to get back on track. In a future post I will report how this strategy is working for me.

I will also be doing posts of some of the recipes of the keto meals we have enjoyed. Here are some of our favourites

Always remember being stuck in times of plenty with concerns of weight gain is a first world problem, spare a thought, and perhaps a few cents, for those on this planet, who are less fortunate and stuck in times of famine.

I must acknowledge and thank Dr Jason Fung and Professor Tim Noakes for generously sharing their knowledge through their books and video presentations. Any inaccuracies in my presentation are the result of my misinterpretation and should not in anyway reflect on these knowledgeable gentlemen.

By Matt Erasmus

In future posts I hope to expand on some of these topics.

Click on the link below to watch the video presentation.

This link will show the video presentation.

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