Culture

Starting a Keto Diet for Fun and Profit. And Bacon.

So you want to do a Keto diet? I don’t blame you.

Keto diets go by various names: “Atkins” or “New Atkins,” “low carb high fat,” or “low carb ketogenic.” Of these, “low carb ketogenic diet” — “LCKD” — seems to be the currently-popular name, possibly because people are so indoctrinated to believe that high-fat anything is bad that the same diet needed a new name.

“Ketosis” here refers to a metabolic state in which there’s little enough sugar in the blood that the body resorts to converting fatty acids to ketones; the body can and does use those ketones, in the form of ketone bodies, for fuel. Some glucose is needed, which the liver can make through gluconeogenesis, the fancy horse-doctor word that means “making new glucose.” A ketogenic diet is simply a diet with little enough sugar to push your body into a ketotic state.

There are a dozen variants of keto diets, with various rules and all with proponents who will tell you that their variant is the absolutely most bestest diet ever.

The thing is, the variants seem to vary only very slightly. So here’s the 25 words or less version of the LCK diet:

Eat fewer than 20 grams of carbs a day and don’t sweat the other stuff.

Now, honestly, if you’re not severely type 2 diabetic, as I am, you can probably get away with more, even up to 50 grams a day. But staying under 20 will certainly get almost anyone into ketosis.

How do you do it? I recommend starting with a food diary and a scale: write down everything you eat, figure out the amount of carbs, and stop eating carbs if you get above 20 grams. But after a few days or weeks of that, you get the basic idea and the food diary is less necessary.

An even easier version is to announce that you’ve become a carnetarian: you only eat meat, fish, dairy and eggs. Stick to that and you’re pretty well guaranteed to stay below 20g a day. Now, you can easily include salads, but don’t say “salad” as part of your list. Then, when you eat a salad, say a wedge of iceberg lettuce drenched with blue-cheese dressing and crumbled bacon, you’re “cheating.”

You know, a diet where you can have steak with butter for dinner, and six eggs with cheese and bacon for breakfast, is not so awful.

So, here are some questions and answers.

Q What do you eat?

A It’s really easy. Eat all the meat, eggs, cheese, heavy cream, and butter you want. (Watch out for milk, it has a lot of carbs.) Bacon is your friend. Salads are pretty free too. In general, don’t eat anything white: no rice, no bread, no noodles or pasta. (Okay, you can eat cauliflower, and it’s white, but I can’t handle cauliflower rice or cauliflower mashed potatoes. Make something like gobi masala.)

Oh, and a hint, a trick that works well for me: grocery store french-fried onions. Two tablespoons added to a salad only add about 4g carbs but improves the salad dramatically. Same trick works with chopped nuts if you’re careful. And peanuts in the shell are a pretty good snack, because you have to crack a lot of peanuts to get many carbs. But be careful, and maybe hold off on nuts until you’ve gotten the hang of it, because a couple of big handfuls of shelled nuts can blow your day’s allowance real quick.

Q Don’t I need to watch my calories too?

A I don’t recommend it. First of all, the usual calorie counting methods are fatally flawed from the start, because the way they measure the calorie content in a food is by burning it to ash in pure oxygen and measuring the energy released. Metabolisms don’t work like that.

More important, though, is that LCK diets actually turn out to be lower in calories than you might think. You see, the meat, eggs, and cheese all digest slowly and are very satisfying. Looking at my food diary, in January I averaged 1767 calories a day; February, 1746; March, 1660.

Maybe you’re a bigger meat eater than I am, but it doesn’t seem likely. I suspect you’ll find that an LCK diet does fine on the calories without you needing to fret about them.

Q What about cholesterol?

A One of the unexpected things on an LCK diet is many people see there cholesterol and their lipids in general improve. I went off statins because I really felt like I was having mystery muscle pain with them about the same time I started this. In four months, my total cholesterol had dropped and my lipid balance had improved.

Q Isn’t this just like Paleo (Atkins/Low Carb High Fat)?

A Yes. Now, Paleo cuts some other things but allows more carbs; Atkins is basically the same as LCK. The low carb high fat folks will insist you get 60 percent or so of your calories from fats, but guess what: it happens pretty automatically, because meat, eggs, and cheese get around 60 percent of their calories from fats too.

Q I’ve heard people say they feel bad when they start a low carb diet. Is this true?

A Some people do — it’s called “Atkin’s Flu” in fact. For a few days you may feel a little achy, a little fuzzy-headed, but it passes. Now, I’ve heard people say that’s a function of changing electrolyte balance, but I don’t know the details. What I do know is that within a week or two I was feeling more clear-headed and sleeping better.

Q Don’t you miss sweets?

A I do sometimes. But then, on April 30, my friend Terry finished the first draft of his new book Savannah: A Love Story for the 21st Century (adv.) and we decided to celebrate by going to Dairy Queen and getting what we both were craving: a chocolate shake. It sure tasted good.

Then we both started feeling bad: headache, woozy. My glucose went above 300 and stayed above 200 for 3-4 hours. I felt like hell, and the hangover lasted two days.

So, I’d say, if you really crave sweets, give them a try. It’s marvelous behavior modification.

Q What do you get from all this?

A Well, since I started on January 1, I’ve lost 21 pounds and lowered my A1c from 12.3 percent to 7.2 percent — which is to say, from risking blindness and neuropathy to reasonably mild diabetes. Terry started in mid-May and has lost around 15 pounds. (He’s not diabetic so hasn’t been tracking his blood sugar.) Both of us generally feel good — I certainly feel better than I have in a long time.