It took me quite a long time to write about my ketogenic journey. To be honest, I was hesitant to do it because there are so many keto-experts, and I don’t want people to think I am claiming to be one. For awhile I was resolved to just posting my keto meals in Instagram but I just couldn’t ignore all the messages I’ve been getting from my followers who have been asking me to blog about my experience. At this point, I want to pay it forward and spread the word since it has helped me and my family immensely and has ultimately improved our quality of life.
So, okay, I’ve been on the ketogenic diet for six months now, and in this time I have lost 10 pounds and have gone back to my pre-pregnancy size and weight. This is an amazing feat, one that I seriously thought I’d never achieve because I struggled with my weight for more than a year. I mean I had lost some weight after giving birth, but losing the last 10 pounds has proven to be the most challenging. This includes firming up and losing the belly, which I did effortlessly–I never thought I would get back to this size again, with little exercise!
Now, what is the ketogenic diet all about anyway? And why are people losing weight so quickly because of it? Essentially it is removing sugar and carbohydrates from your diet, and replacing your source of energy with fats, protein and some vegetables (think: green leafy veggies over root crops). Think of it as changing your fuel, from sugar and carbs, which give you that burst of energy but don’t really last very long (and because of this you are hungry all the time) to more dense and energy-efficient food like fat and protein. These take longer to digest so you can go for hours without eating, and it trains your body to use your stored fat as energy or fuel. The objective of the keto diet is to force your body to get into and stay in a glycogen-deprived state and maintain a mild state of ketosis (burning fats for energy). And this will happen when you increase your fat intake and restrict carbs and sugar to a minimum.
We decided to get our entire household into this diet when we had my mother-in-law, Marissa, move in with us last January. She is a diabetic, and has early onset of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, which is why we thought it best if she lived with us. When she moved in with us her condition was deteriorating, and if you could see her then and now, you will be surprised with how much she has improved. Eating clean and sticking to the Ketogenic diet was the best decision we’ve ever made, and we see the good it is doing for her health and well-being. She is more lucid and lively, there is more light in her eyes now, and she can even follow a one-hour Zumba class! Apart from that her mood has improved and she is more calm and relaxed, especially when she doesn’t miss out on her exercises. Of course, her memory is still impaired, and oftentimes she gets confused as to what is happening but everyday we feel that she is improving and we owe it to the keto diet she is on.
Personally, the diet has changed my life completely. No longer do I have brain fog, which was so constant I actually believed I was born with it! I now feel more alive, present and here, which is just amazing. It really made me think, “how did I last for 35 years living practically on sweets and carbs”? I just feel 100% better physically, mentally and emotionally, it is crazy! Physically, I have more energy to last me through the day, I can exercise without getting shortness of breath and vertigo (as I did before); mentally, I am sharper and I can retain information quicker and better; and emotionally, I don’t get anxious or depressed anymore! It is unbelievable how all these are caused by our diet, and how eating clean and wholesome food can change your body for the better. Really, more than the weight loss I do it for this feeling, which I have to admit, I am now addicted to.
Okay, now let’s get to the important part: WHAT DO YOU EAT when you’re on the Ketogenic Diet?
This part is challenging, because you will be cutting out a lot of food that you are so used to eating. Like, rice, bread, pasta, root crops (potatoes, camote and carrots), and all the sweets like cake, chocolate, biscuits, candies, and the list goes on. To be honest, not having sweets (including most fruits) was the hard part for me as I was super dependent on it to wake me up and to lift my mood. I used to eat chocolate for breakfast, I was that bad! So if I could do it, so can you. Actually, getting on the diet doesn’t mean you wont be able to eat these things forever. I mean, you will be able to cheat one day, when you are no longer insulin-resistant. But of course, it will just be a bite or two, not anymore how you’re used to eating it which is 3-4x a day.
To make life easier, here is a list of food you can eat, and what you should avoid. (Source: www.ketodietapp.com)
Grass-fed and wild animal sources
- grass-fed meat (beef, lamb, goat, venison), wild-caught fish & seafood (avoid farmed fish), pastured pork and poultry, pastured eggs, gelatin, ghee, butter – these are high in healthy omega 3 fatty acids (avoid sausages and meat covered in breadcrumbs, hot dogs, meat that comes with sugary or starchy sauces)
- offal, grass-fed (liver, heart, kidneys and other organ meats)
- saturated (lard, tallow, chicken fat, duck fat, goose fat, clarified butter / ghee, butter, coconut oil)
- monounsaturated (avocado, macadamia and olive oil)
- polyunsaturated omega 3s, especially from animal sources (fatty fish and seafood)
- leafy greens (Swiss chard, bok choy, spinach, lettuce, chard, chives, endive, radicchio, etc.)
- some cruciferous vegetables like kale (dark leaf), kohlrabi, radishes
- celery stalk, asparagus, cucumber, summer squash (zucchini, spaghetti squash), bamboo shoots
Beverages and Condiments
- water (still), coffee (black or with cream or coconut milk), tea (black, herbal)
- pork rinds (cracklings) for “breading”
- mayonnaise, mustard, pesto, bone broth (make your own), pickles, fermented foods (kimchi, kombucha and sauerkraut (make your own) – best homemade with no additives
- all spices and herbs, lemon or lime juice and zest
- whey protein (beware of additives, artificial sweeteners, hormones and soy lecithin), egg white protein and gelatin (grass-fed, hormone free)
Vegetables, Mushrooms and Fruits
- some cruciferous vegetables (white and green cabbage, red cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, fennel, turnips, rutabaga / swede)
- nightshades (eggplant, tomatoes, peppers)
- some root vegetables (parsley root), spring onion, leek, onion, garlic, mushrooms, winter squash (pumpkin)
- sea vegetables (nori, kombu), okra, bean sprouts, sugar snap peas, wax beans, globe or French artichokes, water chestnuts
- berries (blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, mulberries, etc.)
- coconut, rhubarb, olives
Grain-fed animal sources and full-fat Dairy
- beef, poultry, eggs and ghee (avoid farmed pork, it’s too high in omega 6s!)
- dairy products (plain full-fat yogurt, cottage cheese, cream, sour cream, cheese) – avoid products labeled “low-fat”, most of them are packed with sugar and starch and have little sating effect
- bacon – beware of preservatives and added starches (nitrates are acceptable if you eat enough antioxidants)
Nuts and seeds
- macadamia nuts (very low in carbs, high in MUFA)
- pecans, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds
- brazil nuts (beware of very high level of selenium – don’t eat too many of them!)
Fermented soy products
- if eaten, only non GMO and fermented soy products (Natto, Tempeh, soy sauce or paleo-friendly coconut aminos)
- Edamame (green soy beans), black soybeans – unprocessed
- healthy “zero-carb” sweeteners (Stevia, Swerve, Erythritol, etc.)
- thickeners: arrowroot powder, xanthan gum (keep in mind xanthan gum is not paleo-friendly – some people following the paleo diet use it, as you only need a very little amount)
- sugar-free tomato products (puree, passata, ketchup)
- cocoa and carob powder, extra dark chocolate (more than 70%, better 90% and beware of soy lecithin), cocoa powder
- beware of sugar-free chewing gums and mints – some of them have carbs
Some Vegetables, Fruits, Nuts and Seeds with Average Carbohydrates – depends on your daily carb limit
- root vegetables (celery root, carrot, beetroot, parsnip and sweet potato)
- watermelon, Cantaloupe / Galia / Honeydew melons
- pistachio and cashew nuts, chestnuts
- Only very small amounts, better avoided completely: apricot, dragon fruit (Pitaya), peach, nectarine, apple, grapefruit, kiwifruit, kiwi berries, orange, plums, cherries, pears, figs (fresh)
- dry red wine, dry white wine, spirits (unsweetened) – avoid for weight loss, only for weight maintenance
1) All grains, even whole meal (wheat, rye, oats, corn, barley, millet, bulgur, sorghum, rice, amaranth, buckwheat, sprouted grains), quinoa and white potatoes. this includes all products made from grains (pasta, bread, pizza, cookies, crackers, etc.) sugar and sweets (table sugar, HFCS, agave syrup, ice creams, cakes, sweet puddings and sugary soft-drinks)
2) Factory-farmed pork and fish are high in inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids and farmed fish may contain PCBs, avoid fish high in mercury
3) Processed foods containing carrageenan (e.g. almond milk products), MSG (e.g. in some whey protein products), sulphites (e.g. in dried fruits, gelatin), BPAs (they don’t have to be labeled!), wheat gluten
4) Artificial sweeteners (Splenda, Equal, sweeteners containing Aspartame, Acesulfame, Sucralose, Saccharin, etc.) – these may cause cravings and other issues
5) Refined fats / oils (e.g. sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, canola, soybean, grapeseed, corn oil), trans fats such as margarine
6) “Low-fat”, “low-carb” and “zero-carb” products (Atkins products, diet soda and drinks, chewing gums and mints may be high in carbs or contain artificial additives, gluten, etc.)
7) Milk (only small amounts of raw, full-fat milk is allowed). Milk is not recommended for several reasons. Firstly, from all the dairy products, milk is difficult to digest, as it lacks the “good” bacteria (eliminated through pasteurization) and may even contain hormones. Secondly, it is quite high in carbs (4-5 grams of carbs per 100 ml). For coffee and tea, replace milk with cream in reasonable amounts. You may have a small amount of raw milk but be aware of the extra carbs
8) Alcoholic, sweet drinks (beer, sweet wine, cocktails, etc.)
9) Tropical fruit (pineapple, mango, banana, papaya, etc.) and some high-carb fruit (tangerine, grapes, etc.) Also avoid fruit juices (yes, even 100% fresh juices!) – better to drink smoothies if any, but either way very limited. Juices are just like sugary water, but smoothies have fiber, which is at least more sating. This also includes dried fruit (dates, raisins, etc.) if eaten in large quantities
10) Mainly for health reasons, avoid soy products apart from a few non-GMO fermented products which are known for their health benefits. Also avoid wheat gluten which may be used in low-carb foods. When you give up bread, you shouldn’t eat any part of it. Beware of BPA-lined cans. If possible, use naturally BPA-free packaging like glass jars or make my own ingredients such as ghee, ketchup, coconut milk or mayonnaise. BPA has been linked to many negative health effects such as impaired thyroid function and cancer. Other additives to avoid: carrageenan (e.g. almond milk products), MSG (e.g. in some whey protein products) and sulfites (e.g. in dried fruits, gelatin)
Now, I have to tell you, this will be difficult especially in the beginning. You will feel lousy for maybe the first two weeks, as your body will look for the sugar and carbs it is so used to (you’ve been consuming it your whole life). You will likely get withdrawal symptoms, which is popularly known as Keto Flu. For me, I got constant migraines and stomach-aches and I kept dreaming of eating bread, pasta and rice while Carlos got cough and colds, and his skin broke out. It is different for every person, of course, but it is best to watch out for it so you’re not blindsided. My suggestion is to order from those Keto meal delivery services for two weeks, to get the hang of eating fats and protein > carbs and sugar. This takes out the burden of coming up with a menu plan, which can be difficult when you have Keto flu. Then, when you’re used to it, you can do your groceries and prepare your own food. For us, we made our helpers watch keto cooking videos on YouTube, which was how they learned what ingredients to use and how to prepare our meals. And don’t forget to clear your pantry of any processed, sugary, carb foods! These wont do you any good as they will just be temptation for you when you’re hungry.
That’s it for my first comprehensive post on the Ketogenic Diet! There is actually A LOT more to it (like doing intermittent fasting, knowing the science behind it, and finding out what specific food from the grocery you can eat and/or snack on), but I will write about these in my next few posts. If you have any questions at all, or are interested to start but are scared to, leave a comment below.