Today I’d like to share my notes of Start the Keto Diet. It's a short yet actionable book by Vytautas Alech, who is on a mission to help people optimize their lifestyles to live more healthily and achieve their absolute best in every area from health to wealth.
It's a great little book for anyone interested in trying out the ketogenic diet the right way. The author explains why the keto diet works, tells how to get started and shows what to eat.
Biggest lesson: Fat is not your enemy and can give you superpowers.
My rating: 9/10
Why Go High Fat?
This lifestyle can bring extraordinary results but anything extraordinary does require dedication, and a clear understanding of how and why the high-fat approach works.
I mean, after years of being fed ads for low-fat foods, who would comfortably go for a high-fat diet anyway?
FACT 1: A low-fat diet is unsustainable
Eventually, you will gain back all the pounds you’ve lost, because joyless actions (and foods we don’t enjoy) never turn into habits. It’s crucial that your diet is a habit because it’s this automatic process that keeps you going and helps you stay on track.
FACT 2: Eating low-fat starves your brain
In low-fat diets, due to limited calories, there’s fewer vital nutrients feeding your brain so you can expect your mental game to slip. You’ve got to remember that the brain is largely made up of fat, so eating fat is crucial to maintain its building blocks and keep it thriving. If you’ve ever been on a high-fat diet, you’ll know what I mean when I talk about experiencing a boost mentally from eating fat.
FACT 3: Low-fat diets carry increased risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases
When you reduce your intake of fats, you emphasise the two other macronutrient groups: protein and carbohydrates. And one of these is more dangerous than the other. You’ll notice I use ‘sugar’, ‘glucose’ and ‘carbohydrates’ interchangeably in this book.
Put simply, carbohydrates are sugars.
Now that your blood glucose (or sugar) levels are spiked, insulin is released to stabilise them.
Carbohydrates will always spike your insulin whether what you’ve eaten is an “unhealthy” chocolate bar or “healthy” rice. Your body can’t tell the difference, except it knows it’s ingested carbohydrates that it now needs to deal with.
So when you consume more glucose than there’s space for, the liver has to get it stored somewhere somehow. You can’t sweat out glucose or clear it out via the kidneys.
Instead, the liver shuts down fat metabolism - it stops your body burning fat for its needs - and it starts the opposite process of storing fat. That extra glucose gets converted into fat and stored in your fat cells. And so overeating carbohydrates makes you gain weight.
Why you must change your diet
Interestingly, many studies on weight loss show that after exercise people consume higher amounts of one specific macronutrient: carbohydrate.
The point I’m making in this chapter is that carbohydrates are nature’s known shortcut to gaining weight.
Introducing the High-Fat, Low Carb Diet
- Your body will panic at first because you’re no longer consuming sugar. You’ll go through sugar withdrawals which can make the first few days on this diet rough.
- Your body will go into a state called ketosis. This state of ketosis creates what I like to call a ‘fourth macronutrient group’ (alongside fat, carbohydrates and protein)--ketones. Ketones are produced in your liver when good fats are broken down.
- Your body will start to use ketones as its primary energy source to keep you alive and thriving.
Ketosis is a state at which the body has an extremely high fat-burning rate. By consuming very little carbohydrates, you limit the glucose supply and so you prime your body to burn fat for energy instead.
Being in ketosis means having elevated amounts of ketones in your blood.
A few more benefits of eating high-fat to address your health concerns
- Ketones are the preferred source of energy for your brain. Not surprising given that brain is made up of fat so fat is what’s needed to keep it thriving.
- Low consumption of carbohydrates means little to no sugar consumption. You may be worried how a lack of sugar may impact your body, so I’d like to point out that at any given moment, a healthy person has only about a tablespoon of sugar (in glucose form) in their bloodstream. If your body should lack sugar, it can easily replace it by converting excess protein into glucose (a process known as gluconeogenesis).
- High-fat, low-carb diets can stop or slow the production of cancerous cells by starving them. This is because cancer cells need sugar to produce ATP and grow.
The one key precaution about this diet is that you have to be careful not to consume more than 20-50g of carbohydrates in a day. This is required to keep you in the state of ketosis.
The Benefits of High-Fat For Your Brain Performance
There are three key reasons your mind will be sharper on a high-fat diet:
1. More energy
Because being in ketosis increases mitochondrial function you are able to produce more energy. Mitochondria are the tiny powerhouses in your body cells which process food and oxygen to produce required energy.
2. More focus
The typical diet of our days is loaded with carbs and gluten. Its byproduct are the devastating free radicals. Via your blood, these trouble-makers are sent straight to your brain where they create a feeling of brain fog and generally make you feel distracted and unfocused. Without them, your blood stream is as clean as a whistle, delivering only the good stuff throughout your body.
3. More brain food
Your primary sources of fuel on the high-fat diet are essential fatty acids like omega 3 and omega 6 (in the right ratios). Building blocks of your body, these essential fats help a variety of cognitive processes, such as memory, learning, processing sensory inputs and just about any other mental task you can think of. Ever heard of essential carbohydrates or sugars? Probably not.
Rather than feeling overwhelmed with a whole new approach to eating, focus on the fact that limiting your intake of carbohydrates is the only thing you have to do.
How to Start the Keto Diet
1. Think: fat first.
Fat is not the enemy, it’s a friend. You need to rewire old habits of falling back to easy carbohydrates. Change starts here, in the moment when you’re no longer afraid to consume healthy fat.
2. Expect the transitioning period to last 3-5 days.
Notably, some people will feel a lack of energy temporarily and they’ll experience sugar withdrawals, perhaps even some shaking. This is called the ‘keto flu’ but not everyone has a rough time during it. Chances are you will cruise into ketosis fairly easily. Still, I would recommend starting this diet on a Friday, so you’ll have the whole weekend to adjust before going back into work on Monday.
On Friday night, go to sleep having eaten dinner no later than 7PM.
On Saturday morning you should sleep in to prolong your fasted state. Nothing too extreme - sleeping in until 10-ish in the AM should do the trick. Now don’t eat breakfast just yet!
After waking up on Saturday morning, go for a long walk in nature. Your body is already in a fasted state and this, in combination with some easy aerobic movement, will help you produce ketones quicker. Don’t forget to take a bottle of water with an added pinch of salt to keep you hydrated and your electrolytes balanced.
3. Dispose of all temptations.
I.e. easy carbohydrate sources in the kitchen. All grains, rice, pasta, cookies etc. have to go.
4. Replace the temptations with vegetables low in carbohydrates.
Ideally leafy greens, olives and and cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli). Also add foods like eggs, salmon, steaks, grass-fed butter (not just any ol’ butter). In the next chapter I’ll list in detail all the foods I find are great for a ketogenic or high-fat diet.
5. Start eating plenty of fat. Fat should make up for 75% of your daily calorie intake, with protein at around 20% and carbohydrates at 5% or less (up to 20g for men or 50g if you’re a female).
It’s a good idea to refeed carbs every 7-10 days, especially for women (to promote hormone balance) and for endurance athletes (for glycolytic efforts that require extra glucose). On the re-feed day you could still eat your usual fatty meals, but the last meal of the day should contain more than 20-50g of carbohydrates though less than 300g.
Here’s a few examples of refeed foods that have a low glycemic index (so they don’t spike blood sugar levels as much as regular carbohydrates):
- Baked sweet potato with a slab of butter melted over the top and sprinkled with cinnamon.
- A bowl of frozen berries (my favourite) such as blueberries. Because I train for endurance events, I refeed carbs a couple of nights a week. This however is not recommended if you’re not training to extremes. By overdoing your carbohydrates you will bounce off ketosis and will need to re-enter the diet following the 3-5 day transition period.
Meat, fish, poultry
- Grass-fed (preferably organic) meat including beef, chicken, lamb, pork (bacon!)
- Grass-fed and organic organ meat (liver, brains, etc.)
- Free range eggs (with yolk!)
- Fatty fish like salmon and cod
- Sardines and other sea food (shrimp, anchovies, mussels, ...), preferably caught in the wild. If you pick your fish canned - these should be canned exclusively in olive oil. Other vegetable oils and marinades are heavily processed and inflammatory.
- Goats milk
- Goats cheese
- Grass-fed butter (the supermarket brand of choice: Kerrygold butter but in stick form, not the butter spread).
For drizzling, NOT cooking or heating:
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Macadamia oil
- MCT oil
- Sesame oil
- Coconut oil.
Greens and vegetables
- Fava beans (in moderation)
- Squash (in moderation)
- Tomatoes (in moderation)
- Pumpkins (in moderation)
- Bell peppers (in moderation)
- Cabbage (in moderation)
- Sauerkraut (in moderation)
Why no fruit?
Fruit contains too much fructose which would kick you out of ketosis immediately. This is because fructose is sugar in its most easily absorbable form so it converts into fat instantly.
Moreover, research has increasingly linked fructose to fatty liver disease and obesity.
Other items that don’t fit elsewhere but are great for the keto diet:
- Full-fat coconut milk (check label for carb content)
- Full-fat sour cream (check label for carb content)
- Coconut chunks
- Macadamia nuts
- Fat-rich bone broth
How to hydrate
Being on a low-carbohydrate diet means that your body is less able to retain water, which is usually stored with carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates help your body store water, at a rate of cca. 1g of carbohydrates for cca. 4g of water. This is why people who go on diets seem to lose a lot of weight in the first few days - they’re losing the stored water (the so-called ‘water weight’).
To avoid getting dehydrated, simply increase your salt, magnesium and potassium intake.
- Pink himalayan salt (rich in minerals). Sprinkle this on top of your meals or add a pinch to glass of water.
- Sports electrolyte tabs that are low in carbohydrates. Brands me and my client’s tested: Zero and Nuun.
- Electrolyte solution you can add to any drink.
- Sparkling water with trace minerals, e.g. San Pellegrino.
For example, if you constantly feeling thirsty or your lips are dry - this is a good sign you need a bottle with some electrolyte in it.
Foods to avoid
- Food sources in the inner aisles of supermarkets or anything overly processed.
- Starchy vegetables: potatoes, corn, parsnips, beans, yams, legumes.
- Any item which has 1-2g of carbohydrate per meal (not portion).
An example of a fat-fuelled day
- Canned sardines in olive oil
- A spinach, broccoli and carrot side-salad
- Coffee with a tablespoon of coconut oil and grass-fed butter. You can also blend these along with cinnamon and MCT oils to make a delicious carb free latte.
- Smoked salmon salad with spinach, avocado, nori (seaweed), chopped pine or hazelnuts. All drizzled with olive oil, apple cider vinegar or melted butter. Simply mix it all up for a delicious salad.
- Steak with steamed vegetables (for example, cauliflowers, broccoli, carrots, spinach). Covered in melted butter and mineral salt.
Snacks (if you feel peckish)
- Fresh coconut chunks
- Bacon strips
- Celery sticks
- Quest bars
- Olives etc.
Daily supplements you might benefit from:
- Vitamins: C and D
- Natural antiinflammatories and antioxidants: turmeric/curcumin (with bioperine) and ginger. As well as fish or krill oil.
- MCT oil. This oil which is also main ingredient in the coconut oil converts to ketones the quickest.
- Lastly, the daily essential: magnesium.
Remember, don’t count your calories, just eat until you feel full. It’s not possible for humans to overeat on a high-fat diet because of its satiating effects.
I know that vegetables should take up to 80% of my plate space.
The remaining 20% should contain protein (e.g. meat, fish etc.), and dietary fat.