Most people are doing Keto wrong.
The ketogenic diet, when it is properly formulated, can (and should) be sustained over the long term.
In order to do that, you need to be consuming foods that feed the microbiome (the billions of bacteria that live in your gut), that are inherently healthy for you, and are anti — inflammatory.
The keto diet, when properly formulated, fulfills all these requirements, but there are common pitfalls most people fall into.
The reason why most people fail at keto in the long term is due to the fact that HOW and WHAT they are eating cannot be sustained very long.
“The human body is a miraculous self-healing machine, but those self-repair systems require a nutrient-dense diet.” — Joel Fuhrman
Most people, when they first start eating keto, use an approach I call ‘dirty’ keto.
A properly formulated ketogenic diet should have high fat, moderate amount of protein and low carbohydrate intake.
Most people “get” this intellectually, but the practical application of it oft falls short.
This is why many people will start off getting their macros on target, but after 2 or 3 weeks are absolutely starving, no matter how much fat they eat.
There are many reasons why this happens, and one of the most common reasons is that your microbiome is starving, and it will direct all your attention to lusting after pizza, or burgers, or both.
Enter the binge. The carb coma. The falling off the wagon. And the feeling of failure once again.
This is how most of the weight loss industry works.
Dirty keto is no exception.
The weight loss industry is rigged to keep you on the yo-yo routine so that you’re constantly buying more ‘stuff’ and feeling like you’re not good enough.
You might get a quick win, but the weight always comes back, because you have not been taught the skills to keep it going on your own.
Have you ever thought “I’m not good enough?”
Have you ever worried that there will never be an “after” photo?
That someone having a body you are proud of is not in cards for you?
I work from a different vantage point.
I always start with the premise that your body WANTS to be healthy, no matter what label you have been given.
Essentially, dirty keto, is what is commonly available in the market right now.
It is when people will eliminate all carbs from their diet, including vegetables, and then proceed to eat equally nutritiously devoid toxic garbage.
I may be breaking some hearts here, but you can’t just eat bacon, lard, and greasy burgers forever.
Dirty keto is a substitution of one bad habit for another.
Sure, getting rid of processed carbohydrates is awesome, but substituting it ONLY for bacon, butter and burgers is not.
Reducing your carbohydrate load has a direct impact on mortality … but are you really going to eat bacon fat fudge as a snack forever?
What are we, 6 years old with no executive brain function? How is this a reasonable long term solution, or considered healthy by any means??
Like I said…play the long game. Bacon fudge, butter, and lard all day err day is not taking into consideration longevity or vitality.
Yes macros are important, but so are micronutrients — the minerals and vitamins derived from plants and other living things.
On a cellular level, eating a properly formulated, clean ketogenic diet will support enhanced mitochondrial function, reduce ROS that cause oxidative damage, prevent cellular senescence, and increase the production of butyrate, B-hydroxybutyrate.
It amplifies autophagy, prevents cellular aging and precancerous pathways like mTOR.
Now, if you are a meat eater, I’m not saying you can never eat bacon.
Of course you can.
And I’m not AGAINST bacon and butter — I love them both.
But I am always going to look at things from both a practical perspective, and from a longevity and vitality lens.
Bacon all day every day (which is what a lot of keto “experts” will recommend) is not a long term solution for optimal health and vitality.
A properly formulated ketogenic diet is primarily plant based.
Meaning we are eating a large amount of vegetables (like green leafy ones with a high fiber content), and then layering appropriate fat and protein on top of that.
What’s nice about a “clean” ketogenic diet is that vegetarians can also be successful in becoming fat-adapted, and also profit from the benefits from a fasting-mimicking diet.
When we think about playing the long game with your health, we should always be asking the following questions:
What are the things I can eat that are anti — inflammatory?
What are foods I can create that will nourish and feed my cells?
What will help with regular and consistent elimination?
What will make me feel good and stabilize my mood, increase my energy, focus, and clarity?
How can I keep my brain happy and healthy?
The answer my friends, are your vegetables and your fats. Just like mom used to tell you.
I realize, as someone who spends most of her time educating people about brain health and optimization, that the brain is often forgotten.
We cannot see the brain, and changes in function are often not noticed because they are so subtle, and because the way the brain is is the way we are.
It is immensely difficult to detect changes unless they are severe.
It is hard to detect changes in your brain, because you ARE your brain.
We need to be thinking about the brain, and optimizing the brain’s performance, because your body, in all its glory, is simply a reflection of brain health and function.
One of the ways in which you can protect your brain is by the fuel you feed your brain in order to perform its best.
Everything follows the brain.
In fact, when we look at your body ,all parameters of your body — HRV, blood pressure, respiratory rate, forced vital capacity, grip strength, hormones, lab markers — will give you a good picture of the health and vitality of your brain, too.
Hormones out of whack? We need to look at the brain.
Overweight? We need to look at the brain
Low energy? We need to look at the brain
Cannot sleep through the night? We need to look at the brain.
Poor focus? We need to look at the brain.
Mood swings? We need to look at the brain.
We need to stop looking at the end organ as the primary focus, and instead look a level or two up to find why downstream changes are happening at the organ or behavioural level.
So, when we are talking about the best fuel you need to feed your brain (and therefore your body), we need to be thinking about the best possible foods for lowering inflammation, improving autophagy, removing cellular senescence, enhance energy production with whole, nutrient dense foods.
Because all these things help your brain.
We need to be thinking about a clean ketogenic diet.
Not dirty keto.
Not bacon, burgers, and butter.
Just because it fits the macros, doesn’t mean you should do it.
“Go vegetable heavy. Reverse the psychology of your plate by making meat the side dish and vegetables the main course.” — Bobby Flay
A properly formulated ketogenic diet should be plant based. Meaning, that the majority of your food should be green leafy vegetables.
All carbohydrates are not created equal. Green leafy veg like kale, spinach, swiss chard, bok choy, broccoli, and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kim chi all have an extraordinary amount of insoluble fiber.
Along with the phytonutrients derived from these vegetables, the fiber plays an important role in becoming fat adapted, or ketogenic.
Dr. Jason Fung describes fiber as an “anti-nutrient” and I love this as an explanation.
Insoluble fiber means that it cannot be broken down by the gut bacteria, and does not dissolve in water.
It is indigestible, an “anti-nutrient” if you will, because it does not break down and become part of you.
It passes through you, cleaning up the debris, sopping up excess hormones, and cleaning out the gut track like a pipe cleaner.
Fiber is also great at retaining a lot of water, thereby making stool bulky and softer.
Consuming fiber does not affect blood sugar levels and therefore will have a negligible effect on insulin.
“There are receptors to these molecules in your immune system, in your gut and in your heart. So when you say, ‘I have a gut feeling’ or ‘my heart is sad’ or ‘I am bursting with joy,’ you’re not speaking metaphorically. You’re speaking literally.” Deepak Chopra
Often forgotten is looking at the relationship between your gut and your brain.
When you are on a dirty keto program, one of the most common complaints is by week 2 or 3 you are starving. More correctly, it is your microbiome that is starving.
Part of the way we blunt this hunger response is via resistant starches. In other words, starches that “resist” digestion. These are abundantly found in oats, green banana flour, legumes, and beans.
On a traditional ketogenic diet, with a standard Fat:Protein:Carb ratio of 70–20–10, what I have often found is you are absolutely starving by about week 3 and will overeat and binge on protein, and carbs.
This is why most people “fail” at keto.
However, when we integrate fiber and resistant starches into the picture, this hunger response is blunted.
Look at this experiment on consuming resistant starches and the blunting effect on post prandial blood glucose levels.
In this graph, they are looking at the effects of taking resistant starches, followed by a high glycemic food. When taking resistant starches, the effect on blood glucose levels are outstanding compared to the baseline — a 28 point rise compared to almost 170.
When in a state of ketosis (either through a fasted state or via a fasting mimicking diet like keto), consuming resistant starches does not disturb this state:
Resistant starches are great for a ketogenic diet — they blunt your hunger response, and also blunt elevated blood glucose levels when carbohydrates are consumed.
Part of why resistant starches are so great is instead of being digested, they are selectively feeding the “good” microbiota in our gut.
As these microbiota chow down on the resistant starches, they will produce short chain fatty acids as a by product of their meal. Of particular importance here is the short chain fatty acid known as butyrate.
Butyrate has a whole host of beneficial effects.
One important one is decreasing gut permeability.
When the lining of the gut is more permeable, we are more susceptible to developing food allergies, food intolerances, and an overall immune system on high alert all the time.
Having an increased permeability of the gut has been associated with almost all proinflammatory conditions, including most autoimmune conditions, fatty liver, and heart disease.
Inflammation is the linchpin to most lifestyle diseases.
One of the primary objectives we must look at in any health protocol is to heal the gut.
The obvious reason here is it makes digesting food a more pleasant and efficient experience. We all want to be able to eat without gas, bloating, indigestion, or diarrhea.
But it is the knock on positive benefits to our neurology that is of particular long term importance.
The gut has its own nervous system — the enteric nervous system — which has strong communication pathways with the brain and central nervous system.
A little nerding out for my neuronerds: Developmentally, the enteric nervous system is made from neural crest cells. Specifically the vagal neural crest cells…which is why we have such strong gut reactions to stimuli. A “gut feeling” is the communication between the central and enteric nervous systems via the vagus nerve.
Ever feel nervous about something and then immediately have to go to the bathroom, or feel like you were going to throw up? It is because of the strong vagal tone and communication between a perceived stimuli in your brain, and the enteric nervous system in the gut.
I know. So cool, right?!
The communication between the gut and the brain is paramount, and making sure your enteric nervous system is aligned with your autonomic nervous system should be a goal in any nutrition program.
So when we feed the microbiome and they produce butyrate levels are high, you allow for gut healing to occur…but it is also important in brain health.
The butyrate effect is the gift that keeps on giving.
Butyrate helps keep the brain healthy by upping the expression of neurotrophic factors.
Butyrate, and the structurally similar B-hydroxybutyrate (which is produced in a ketogenic state) help increase BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), GDNF (Glial-cell derived Neurotrophic Factor) and NGF (Nerve Growth Factor).
All of these help in the maintenance of nerve cells that you already have, but also help grow new, healthy nerve cells.
In other words — butyrate, and B-hydroxybutyrate keep your brain big and juicy.
“There’s a great metaphor that one of my doctors uses: If a fish is swimming in a dirty tank and it gets sick, do you take it to the vet and amputate the fin? No, you clean the water. So, I cleaned up my system. By eating organic raw greens, nuts and healthy fats, I am flooding my body with enzymes, vitamins and oxygen.” — Kris Carr
The other pattern I have found most often with people doing dirty keto engage in, is unknowingly they consume too much protein.
Day over day, week over week, a dirty keto diet will predictably lead to an increase in protein consumption.
This is because eating protein, if you are not feeding your microbiome, can feel more “satisfying” than fat, and with time, you want to eat it more and more.
Excess much protein consumption is insulinergic, just as carbohydrates are.
Meaning, consuming protein will raise insulin in the same manner carbohydrates do. The excess protein will be converted into glucose, thereby raising insulin levels, and fat storage.
The insulin will try to scurry the glucose into the liver, muscles, and fat cells.
Protein also has the double edge sword of also activating mTOR — a pathway that is involved in aging, cancer, and brain cell dysregulation.
I have written about how protein may actually be making you fat here, and discuss the mTOR pathway in greater detail.
Again, with my longevity glasses on, excess protein consumption is also related to creating more cancer cells.
This is from chronic mTOR activation which leads to increased cell proliferation, cell division, and it inhibits autophagy.
Autophagy is the clean up process that gets rid of the mutated, damaged bits of cellular debris that results from natural metabolism.
The only two populations that can and should benefit from mTOR activation are children and pregnant women — as they require cell proliferation in order to grow.
“I really believe that the more informed you are about the benefits of a healthy bite versus the chain reaction that you’re going to put into effect in your body when you take that bite — you just suddenly don’t want to make that choice for yourself anymore. It’s beyond willpower at that point; it’s become a desire to do something good for yourself.” — Christie Brinkley
When I am teaching my kids as well as my clients how to build up a proper meal, I ask them to consider the following:
Where are the plants on your plate?
Where are the fats on your plate?
Where is the protein on your plate?
Plants, fats, protein. In that order.
The plants should take up the majority of your plate. A cup of spinach, for example has 7 calories and 0.4g net carbs.
You can eat a mountain of spinach before you need to start worrying about messing your macros.
Not to mention having the knock on effect of improvng blood glucose control, and being chock full of vitamins and minerals: niacin, zinc, as well as vitamins A, C, E and K, thiamin, vitamin B6, folate, calcium, iron,magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese.
Drizzle with olive oil and some vinegar and sop that all goodness up into your cells.
So for those of you are trying keto, or have “failed” at keto in the past because no one was emphasizing real food, I encourage you to think about your diet and the knock on effects not only on your waistline (which will be profound), but also on your health markers as a whole.
Eat your vegetables.
Eat nourishing, brain healthy fat.
Heal from the top down.
Heal from the inside out.
Do keto clean.
Now I’m not arrogant enough to think that fuel is the only way in which we can heal.
But often we need to move the needle SOMEWHERE first, and then layer other lifestyle changes at your pace.
But eating a clean, ketogenic diet will help you right now, and it will help you over the course of your life.
Start small, and learn how to do this first.
You got this.
Download my quick start guide, including keto superfoods, my fasting checklist, and my restaurant survival guide.