For the last 9 months I’ve been following a stone age diet (very similar to a paleo diet) and its something I’ve really began to enjoy. I love knowing what’s in my food and trying different takes on standard recipes, not to mention the feeling I get when someone comments on how much they enjoyed one of my dishes. It means making everything from scratch – including dressings, sauces and marinades but it’s so worth it. If you’re not sure what stone age/ paleo is, the basic concept is that you eat how our ancestors (cavemen) would have eaten (living off the land and sourcing what was about). The diet’s been adapted to take into consideration cooking and baking techniques of the 21st century as well as changes in farming (some crops are not considered Paleo as they contain chemicals that can cause us more harm than good). It’s also about removing toxins from your diet / life such as chemicals in beauty products and so on. The Paleo life is huge in America and Australia and is fast becoming so in the UK too. Many people follow the diet to help with health conditions, food intolerance’s, manage gut problems such as Small intestine bacteria overgrowth (SIBO) or small bowel bacteria overgrowth SBBO, IBS and gluten intolerance. Other people follow it just because they enjoy eating fresh and knowing what’s going into their food! If you want to know more about it then check out my posts on the Stone Age diet and food intolerance or take a look at The Paleo Mom who explains everything so simply.
If you’ve never heard of the Keto* diet before then you’re not alone because neither had I! I only became aware of it when my specialist told me I needed to incorporate it into my (already strict) eating regime! You see in addition to being Paleo I have to avoid foods that (are Paleo but for me) also aggravate my SIBO which means I often have to tweak recipes, avoiding acidic foods of those that can damage the lining of the intestines. It’s difficult but I’ve began to get the hand of it so after reading up on Ketosis I was pretty stressed out (I simply wanted to throw myself on the floor and cry). Adding in this element meant more things to manage and have to be aware of (see below for more info on ketosis). Anyway that said, It’s been five weeks now and I’m slowly getting to grips with the what, why and how the ketogenic diet will help my health improve.
*please don’t confuse the Keto diet with diabetic ketoacidosis!
Paleo Vs Keto
One thing that the Paleo and ketogenic diet definitely don’t have in common is that the keto diet encourages dairy (heavy whipping cream, cheese and so on) whereas the Paleo concept is pretty much dairy free (although some Paleo eaters do allow grass-fed butter). Their argument is to suggest dairy is ok to eat if you’re not intolerant, whereas the other side states that dairy is the root to many health problems and people can benefit from cutting it out of their diet (only once you cut it out will you notice the benefits – sinus problems, congestion, and regular coughing are all signs of intolerance!). If you are struggling with your health I would really recommend cutting it out for a few months and see if any of your symptoms ease. I was told to avoid dairy to help with sinus/ congestion/ runny eyes that I’ve suffered from for years, I removed it from my diet (for 8 months) and it was only when I tried reintroducing it in small amounts that actually noticed any difference (coughing, sore throat, congestion – all began to return agh!). It’s been wonderful not having to buy packets of tissues all the time (for nose blowing and watery eyes). So for getting around the dairy side of the keto diet instead of creams, yogurt, milks in cooking etc I sub with coconut milk, coconut cream, ghee (clarified butter which I make myself) and kefir, which is a type of culture that I make with coconut milk. The only app that really takes dairy intolerance and Paleo living into consideration (that I’ve found so far) is the keto diet app. Many of the recipes will suggest alternatives or are do-able without dairy.
Where does the Keto diet come from?
Now bearing in mind I’m not a doctor this is a simplified explanation and I have listed a number of websites and books below that will help to give you a better understanding if you want to know more. The basic principle is that Ketogenic diet was developed in the 1920s as an anti seizure method for people who suffered from epilepsy. It became unpopular and stopped being used in the late 1930s when epilepsy drugs were made and was then only really used with people who didn’t respond to the drugs. The diet has slowly made a bit of a come back within the last 20 years as its been found to help with certain cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and many auto-immune diseases. The diet is NOT to be confused with a low carb diet (such as the Atkins diet) as there is a lot more to it than lowing your carbohydrates intake. The diet has to consist of a balance of carbs, fat and protein – the amounts of each are dependant on an individuals weight, height and body fat percentage. (The Keto Diet App Blog and ‘Ruled me’ blog have information and a special calculator that will work out what your Carbs/Protein/Fat numbers are. These numbers are known as ‘macros’).
So, how does a keto diet work?
When we eat, the body chooses the easiest option for making energy and that is by using carbohydrates. When you eat carbs the body processes it into glucose, then the body responds by producing insulin in order to carry/ distribute the glucose around the body.
Glucose is the easiest molecule for the body to produce and that’s why its chosen over everything else. When you lower your carbohydrates intake, your body is forced to find other ways of making energy. If you eat too much protein when lowering your carbs the body will also turn it into sugar via gluconeogenesis (because the body cannot store protein). This is why its important to make sure your balance of fat, carbs and proteins are the right amounts and why this diet differed from a Atkins diet. When you lower carbs, eat high fats and get the right balance of protein, your body is forced into what is known as ketosis. This is a natural state where the liver produces (what are called) ketones which are then used as energy. It’s effectively using fat as an energy source.
If you want to know more about ketosis and the benefits, I have listed the resources I have been using below. If you are considering going keto for health reasons you need to see this as a lifestyle change and not a diet (and you may want to speak to your GP. I see a specialist who had recommended this so am under supervision). Many body builders and gym bunnies use this diet as it can help with weight loss as your body uses fat – including stored fat as fuel. For those who use it to manage a health condition, it would be seen as a life long diet as reintroducing processed foods/ sugars and carbs into the body could cause the health complaint to return/flare up (eg IBS, inflammation, fatigue etc).
Macros, Menus and Planning
These two websites have a Macros calculator as well as pre-written menus and recipes. I would suggest you visit these pages to work out what your macros are. You will need to know your height, weight and body fat. There are visual images to help you work out your body fat percentage.
Information and Menus – Keto Diet Resource
This website gives a great explanation and can answer any questions you may have about the diet. It tells you about the science behind ketosis, busts myths and has recipes and menu ideas.
Recipes – ‘No bun please‘
This website has some fab recipes which is important when making the change as it helps you to keep your menus fresh. It has everything from pizza to puddings!
Science, Advice, Testimonials – Maria Emmerich
Maria’s website is full of information on the science behind ketosis and is the reason why I bought her book. It’s been a mine of information and is a must have for anyone looking at going keto for health reasons.
For a medical perception take a look here
Increase Your Fats
Eating a high fat diet may sound odd, especially as many diet clubs and weight loss program’s suggest eating low-fat, but the point to remember is that you need to eat the right fats. See the link (here) to an article in an American health and fitness magazine with comments from medical professionals. Rather than provide several links to similar information I would encourage you to carry out your own research into the ‘good fats versus bad fats’ debate, you may be surprised what you learn.
These are all known to help the body, brain and the mitochondria. There is a lot of research around eating this way and one good example would be Doctor Wahls who developed progressive Multiple Sclerosis but managed to recover and remain healthy by eating a high fat diet. Her diet isn’t quite a strict ketogenic diet but has many of the same principles. She has recently published a paper on how eating the right diet and taking the right supplements can help people recover from auto immune diseases. It’s a great way to get a basic understanding of how eating the right foods can heal the body. It’s about 14 minutes long and I would recommend watching it (See here).
- If you were considering starting a ketogenic diet there are a number of tips that I would recommend to you before you actually start. I would suggest doing 1-2 weeks worth of research and planning before starting as it can be an emotional roller coaster to begin with. These are things that I have discovered on my own journey as well as advice I have come across whilst researching the diet.
- Before you even dip your toes in the big pool of ketosis research. Read, read and read some more. Make notes and imagine how its going to fit into your lifestyle (such as working life, taking packed lunches to work, socializing, home life – those who will also eat like it).
- A great point that I read was that you should convert to a Paleo diet before trying a ketogenic diet as the change in eating (not to mention cooking) a diet which is unstructured straight to keto is HUGE! I was already Paleo for 8 1/2 months before going keto and the change was still difficult even for me. If you are not dairy intolerant it might be less complicated as there are plenty of dairy filled recipes on the internet but only a few dairy free. The keto diet is similar to the paleo diet in the sense that it eliminates grains and processed foods and means cooking from scratch. If you’re a pre-made junky (e.g buy your Bolognese sauce, ketchup, cereal and bread) then you’re in for a BIG shock!
- I recommend you buy a book/ download a menu and/or buy an app, it will make your life so much easier. Buying an app will help as you wont have to do the math and will work out the nutritional content of foods. I purchased the Keto diet app when I started and its the best one I have found. Its Paleo friendly and also does dairy free options. Its available on iPhone and iPad (im not sure about android phones) and costs between £1.99- 2.99 (It was on sale when i purchased it). With the iPad version you can buy bundles of recipes such as ‘salads’, ‘treats’ and so on. I purchased all of the recipe bundles making the total cost of the app about £7 (which is SO cheap and worth it as I’ve used it everyday and already cooked a handful of the recipes)
- Pre-plan your menus for at least a week in advance – it might take you a few days to do this but you’ll be glad you did once you start. There’s nothing worse than being hungry and trying to work out the balance of foods. It also helps when shopping as you know what you’ll need for that week and can prepare and cook things for later in the week.
- Dont worry about numbers! For the first week or two just focus on getting to grips with the diet rather than being spot on with your stats. Aim to eat 30-50g of net carbs, slowly bringing your amount down (20g is the recommended number). Once you’re eating the right types of food and getting to grips with the balance, you can start to tweak and look at calories and work closer to your suggested percentages.
- Once you find recipes or menus that work and reach your percentages – write it down! Then when you have a tough day or a busy day ahead you can just stick to that menu as you’ll know it’ll work.
I have downloaded the following apps and found them useful. I have listed them in order of the most useful (1=best).
1. Keto Diet App
This is by far the best app I have found because not only can you keep a food diary (logging all the foods you eat) you can add in recipes or single ingredients that you use regularly. For example I spent one day adding in the recipes that I cook often – thai curry, spicy burgers, Paleo cookies and it works out how many carbs/ fat etc are in the serving. I also added in a single ingredient (oat milk) which I did by entering in the nutritional information from the side of the carton. This app has recipe bundles that you can choose to add-on (ipad version) and I highly recommend them.
2. Carbs Counter
This app available on the iPhone is a meal logger where you enter in what you eat and it works out the nutritional content. You can enter your measurements (weight and height) and set the level of carbs you want to reach. It’s a great app for on the go and it has a pie chart image to give you a snap shot idea of your percentages.
3. Ketogenic Food Checker
This app available on the iPhone is a simple guide for those just starting out. It has a library of foods (with images) and you can check if it’s keto friendly. For example you can search vegetables and it will tell you if it’s keto or not. If it is it will tell you how friendly – if an item is high in carbs it will tell you to avoid or eat on moderation. It’s helpful to have when planning your meals and going shopping.
Feedback and Help
If you’re also following a keto diet I would love to hear from you – any advice you can give will help me and anyone else who stumbles upon this post. For those wanting to try this diet (for whatever reason) any questions you have please ask and I’ll do my best to help. After all I know how hard it is and I’m still working my way through it!