I Tried Keto, Part 2: I Liked It, But …

I’m finally getting back on track with this blog, as I described last week. So although it’s August 13 today, I’m now reporting on my own January challenge, which was to get into ketosis for a week and try it out for myself.

My keto shopping cart at Whole Foods. Olives! European cheeses! And chipotle lime mayonnaise (which can make even sardines taste good)

I wrote (much) earlier on this blog about the trendy “keto diet” here. Basically, ketosis is a backup system when the body runs out of its limited stores of carbohydrates.

Our immensely complex and awesome bodies are a sort of like hybrid cars — we can run either on carbohydrates or fats. (Sometimes we do both at once, for instance during endurance exercise.)

Eating a high-fat, moderate-protein, very low-carb diet causes a shift to the state of ketosis, where the body is burning primarily fat and producing ketones (rather than glucose) to fuel the brain.

This sounds quite exciting, and Google just gave me 95,900,000 results for “keto,” so clearly people are getting on board. Here is my personal report and my conclusions, in case they are of interest …

My groundrules for my keto week were:

  • A daily target of only 20 grams of net carbs (total carbohydrates minus fiber). This is really low (some other keto plans allow 50 grams per day), but I wanted to be sure to truly experience ketosis.
  • Moderate, not high levels of protein. If I consume more protein than my body needs to maintain my muscles etc., my ever-resourceful body can make sugar out of that excess protein.
  • Only healthy fats and proteins: to me, that means grass-fed, pastured or wild-caught animal products, and minimally processed or unprocessed plants such as avocado, nuts and olive oil.
  • Plenty of “vegetables that grow above the ground,” generally a great guideline for a low-carb eating plan. Looking at my food diary for that week, I see arugula, cauliflower, eggplant, kale, basil, parsley, watercress, cilantro, mushrooms, spinach, asparagus, cucumbers, sauerkraut, and bok choy.
Guideline I posted on my fridge, found online at https://ketosizeme.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Printable-List-of-the-Carbs-In-Foods.pdf

I reduced my carb intake a few days before the challenge by strictly avoiding anything made with flour or added sugar (which I try to do in general anyway, but some tends to slip through). My ketosis week started when I stopped eating on Friday evening, burning through my stored sugar during the normal overnight fast.

After having only 19 grams of carbs (by my calculation) on Saturday, I tested my urine on Sunday morning and was positive for ketones. I went to Zumba class at 9:30 a.m. and felt like I could fly through the air. Many people find that they think clearly and have lots of energy in ketosis, which seemed to be the case for me too — I’d say that I felt about 110% of normal.

Fortunately I didn’t have any problematic symptoms, known as “keto flu,” during the transition, likely because my body is already used to switching over to fat-burning, thanks to the experience I’ve built up with longer workouts and intermittent fasting.

On Wednesday I babysat a friend’s daughter at my house, and I served baked salmon with Trader Joe’s yuzu sauce (citrus-vinegar) and lots of vegetables — she loved it and didn’t seem to feel like anything was missing. Fortunately, it looked nicer than the meal pictured below 🙂

Red snapper, avocado, greens, peanuts, Spanish chorizo, avocado oil dressing … and I was pleased to learn that pure tequila has no carbs and I could include it in my week

By Thursday, though, I was starting to rebel against this way of eating. The turning point actually came at lunch on Wednesday, when I realized that I could eat only half a beet, and I still didn’t stay within my carb goal (22.5 grams that day).

Only half a beet allowed on Wednesday; is this really a healthy eating plan?

I was really craving fruit, and I was frustrated to find that even onions are carb-heavy.

I made it through Friday (sort of: 29 grams of carbs) and was relieved to stop, but also glad that I’d succeeded in my one-week challenge.

My observations/conclusions:

  • Of course an experiment of one person for one week does not mean much, if anything, but I did feel good, and I lost about 2 pounds.
  • I realized that extreme low-carb eating requires severely restricting many categories of foods that promote good health and longevity according to research: fruit in general; whole grains such as oats; root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, onions, carrots and beets; all kinds of beans; and legumes such as lentils and peas.
  • I did another keto week from August 1 – 7, with similar results. When I ended it by eating a peach, the sugar from the fruit hit me like a Starbucks nitro coffee 🙂
  • I think a keto week (or a few weeks) can be a good challenge for a healthy person without an eating disorder or any issues with fat metabolism. Learning to count carbs, staying away from starches/sugars, road-testing your alternative fuel system, and burning a little extra fat can all be beneficial.
  • On a high-fat diet like keto, I would recommend paying close attention to the quality of the fats. It just can’t be good to consume large amounts of factory-farmed animal products full of hormones and antibiotics, or highly processed commercial “keto” products.
  • After eating very low-carb for several days, even a food with a tiny bit of natural sugar, like cheese, tasted super-sweet. Once again I found it amazing how quickly my tastes can adapt and change.
  • I felt that my keto week was a good way to crank up my alternative fuel system for a while. Surely we evolved to use both systems, living off sugar and starches at harvest time, and burning fat during lean months or when only meat was available. It’s likely a very good thing to be “fat-adapted” and be able to switch back and forth easily.
  • There is some tantalizing evidence that the keto diet can be used to combat cancer . If I’m ever diagnosed with cancer, I’m definitely giving it a try.
  • But meanwhile, I’m just going to keep it in my repertoire as an occasional tool, like fasting. The research just isn’t there yet to support keto as a long-term beneficial eating plan (except for children with epilepsy, where any drawbacks are balanced by the diet’s ability to control their condition).

Have you tried a keto eating plan? Do you want to take one on as a temporary challenge (if you think it’s a healthy option for you)? Do you have any questions about my personal experiment? Let me know in the comments!