I love dairy. As a man of primarily Northern European descent, my ancestors have been consuming the stuff for thousands of years. It doesn’t give me any issues. You won’t find me chugging tall glasses of straight milk these days, but I’m a big believer in cream, cheese, yogurt, and kefir. Very nutrient-dense food if you can handle it. Lactase persistence? I practically have lactase insistence.
My favorable response to dairy makes keto especially easy. High-fat and fermented dairy is high in nutrients and low in digestible carbs (the bacteria consume most of the lactose). Cheese, cream, kefir, and yogurt all happen to be the most nutritious forms of dairy and the most keto-friendly. Many others getting into keto lean heavily on dairy. It just makes keto easier, especially if you’ve grown up eating dairy.
But globally my reaction to dairy is pretty rare, and that changes the keto landscape for most people.
Most of the world has some degree of lactose intolerance, meaning once weaned from breast milk they no longer retain the digestive enzyme required to comfortably break down the milk sugar lactose. A smaller but still significant chunk of people have dairy protein intolerance; they get an inflammatory or allergic response to the proteins found in dairy, most commonly casein. And there’s also the problem of A1 casein, a relatively novel form of dairy casein that has been shown to cause inflammatory issues in the guts of susceptible people, whereas the more “ancestral” form of casein—A2 casein—does not. A1 casein is far more common these days, and not everyone can handle it or find access to A2 casein-producing dairy animals.
In other words, there are many people reading this blog interested in going keto who either cannot or don’t want to consume dairy. They need tips for doing it dairy-free. And today, I’m going to give them some.
Before anything, make sure you actually are dairy or lactose-intolerant. I wrote a post explaining how to determine whether you truly are intolerant of dairy, as well as some suggestions for overcoming it (if possible).
If you know you’re dairy intolerant or choose to avoid dairy for other reasons, here are a few tips for keto eating dairy-free.
Explore Cream Alternatives
If you prefer cream in your coffee, it doesn’t have to be heavy whipping cream. Other options exist.
Coconut milk/cream: Pretty simple stuff. Coconut cream is richer and heavier.
Coconut butter: Just add a spoonful or two and blend to combine.
MCT oil powder: I’ve never been a big fan of the straight-up MCT oils. They’re fine if you like adding oil to your coffee, but I really prefer using the powdered MCT oil. The way I do it is mix a scoop or two with a little liquid—milk (although not if you’re avoiding dairy), coconut milk, water, etc—and then add the resulting slurry to the coffee.
Cashews: Cashews are a great creamer replacement because they have a natural sweetness to them. They’re also very rich in fat and low in fiber for a nut, so they promote extreme creaminess when blended. Some of my favorite Indian curries use cashews blended into water as the base instead of heavy cream or yogurt.
Tahini: A fantastic alternative to heavy cream is to blend tahini (sesame seed butter) with coconut milk and a teaspoon of blackstrap molasses. I normally blend the tahini into a bit of heavy cream, but coconut milk or cream also work. Don’t fear the few carbs in that teaspoon of blackstrap molasses; it’s key. You’ll find a nice coffee recipe using tahini here.
Macadamia cream: Blend macadamia butter (make by throwing mac nuts into a food processor) with a bit of water. Mac nuts are almost pure fat, so they make a fantastic creamer base.
Hemp: As I mentioned in one of my recent Sunday With Sisson emails (subscribe to the newsletter to receive those if you’re interested), one of my latest favorites is using 2-3 TB whole hemp hearts, a scoop of Vanilla Collagen Fuel, a dash of salt and cinnamon, and blending it all together until frothy and creamy. The hemp provides a ton of magnesium and creaminess, the Fuel gives collagen and rounds it out, and the salt and cinnamon provide flavor, sodium, and a little extra barrier against insulin resistance. All told, it’s a great way to enhance your coffee and provide many of the nutrients you need while ketogenic.
Eggs: Primal egg coffee. Egg yolks are also great thickeners for sauces where you’d normally use cream or butter.
Non-dairy milks: Read all about the relative benefits and drawbacks of the various non-dairy milks, then make your choice.
Get Enough Calcium
Yeah, yeah, conventional wisdom sources are obsessed with people missing out on calcium if they choose to eschew dairy, and they get so much about nutrition so wrong that it’s easy to ignore that one, too. They’re not wrong though. Dairy is a good source of calcium, perhaps the best, and definitely the easiest and most available. And although one reason why people feel they need so much calcium for good bone health is that they’re walking around with vitamin D deficiency—which impairs calcium metabolism—you do need calcium.
How do you get calcium on a dairy-free keto diet?
Eat bone-in fish. Canned sardines are a really easy, really delicious way to do it. An average can provides about 20% of your daily calcium requirements. Trader Joe’s has a great bone-in, skin-on wild pink salmon in a BPA-free can. If you eat all 7 servings in the can, you’ll hit 70% of your calcium requirements plus 35 grams of fat, much of which is omega-3, and 90 grams of protein. You could even slow cook whole bone-in fish until the bones soften enough to eat.
Cook bones or bone-in meat in acidic liquid. The old practice of adding a splash or two of apple cider vinegar to your bone broth pot doesn’t actually extract any measurable calcium from the bones. To really extract calcium, you need lots of acidity. An old Chinese postnatal meal was spare ribs cooked in vinegar (and sugar, but you can leave that out); the vinegar extracted huge amounts of calcium from the bones, giving the mother a much-needed source of calcium as she nursed her child. Cook ribs, shanks, or make bone broth using an acidic liquid like red wine or a high vinegar:water ratio. The Chinese vinegar sauce had a pH of 3.2, so you’ll want to aim for something in that realm of acidity. Red wine runs between 3.3 and 3.5 pH.
Eat collard greens. Some of the other calcium plant sources are also quite high in oxalates, which can bind to calcium and inhibit its absorption. Collard greens have less oxalate than most others and plenty of calcium. They’re also delicious cooked in some bacon fat, bone broth (maybe the high-calcium bone broth from the last section, even), and vinegar.
Focus On Whole Foods Rather Than Isolated Fats
Lots of keto people use dairy as a crutch. They drink cream by the cupful. They eat blocks of cheese like apples (not a bad thing, necessarily). They eat bowls and bowls of stevia-sweetened whip cream. They throw sticks of butter in their coffee. All of this in a quest to “get more fat.” These are good foods, to be sure (it’s a great crutch), but I don’t think they should form the basis of your caloric intake. They should enhance a meal, not replace it.
What if instead of subbing in buckets of coconut cream, cashew cheese, and MCT oil, you ate more eggs, meat, and salads? You don’t need to drink shots of olive oil or avocado oil. You can add them to your salad along with some olives and avocado. You can eat actual foods. Actual meals.
This applies to people eating dairy, too. But if you’re dropping dairy and are interested in 1-to-1 isolated fat sources, perhaps use this opportunity to switch over to a whole foods-focus.
A big reason keto folks rely on dairy so much is that it’s easy. It’s right there, ready to be poured (kefir, cream), sliced up (cheese), spread (butter), or scooped out (yogurt, cottage cheese).
If you’re like most people, and you don’t have unlimited time to whip up amazing meals at the drop of a hat, you need to be prepared. You need to go shopping and get easy-to-prepare and prepared foods.
- Charcuterie/cured meats, boiled eggs, cooked bacon, olives, nuts, seeds, canned fish, smoked oysters.
- Cook meals ahead of time, or make enough for leftovers. A cold chicken leg or cold NY strip steak sliced up are some of my favorite “easy” meals.
- Salad makings prepared and on hand (veggies, lettuces, dressings).
- Coconut butter on hand for those times you just need a spoonful.
- Primal Kitchen® fare—this is pretty much the reason I started making mayo, dressings, and bars. I wanted something I could travel with and just have on hand whenever I wanted.
Most of all, don’t sweat it too much. Dairy isn’t essential. Dairy isn’t necessary. You’ll do just fine with or without dairy.
What about you folks? Do you do dairy? Do you not? How do you approach keto without dairy?
Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care!
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A criticism often leveled against the keto diet is that it’s more expensive than a “regular” (read: SAD) diet. There’s some truth to that. It does cost more to buy meat than ramen and beans. I personally spend more on groceries now than I did before finding Primal. Not only did I shift to buying different types of food, I also came to care more about food quality. I started choosing more pasture-raised meat and eggs, and more pesticide-free and organic produce and dairy.
However, my grocery bills haven’t changed noticeably since going keto. If you’re already eating Primally, your daily foods don’t have to change that much if you decide to try keto. You’ll remove some (okay, most) of the fruits and root veggies, and sub in more above-ground veggies and probably some healthy fats. It’s not a substantial overhaul. However, if you’re coming from a standard high-carb, lots-of-cheap-packaged-foods diet straight into Primal+keto, it can be a shock to the wallet.
Sure, I can tell you that this is an investment in your long-term health and spending more on food now means spending less on medical care later. I believe that. I also know that doesn’t help you today if you’re looking at your food budget and your fridge, now mostly empty after purging it of non-Primal, higher-carb foods.
If you’re committed to making Primal+keto work on limited funds, it can be done. Here are some tips for making it happen.
1) Buy What You Can Afford
With Primal+keto, there are ideals when it comes to food quality, and then there’s what fits your budget. Now is the time to call on the saying, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Don’t stress about buying the best quality everything. Don’t forgo eating vegetables because you can’t always fit organic options into your budget. Non-pastured eggs still have more to offer nutrient-wise than a bagel for breakfast.
In terms of priorities, aim for better quality meat. (I’ll include tips for finding less expensive meat choices below.) Check the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch to see which types of seafood are worth your money and which should be avoided altogether; don’t spend money on the latter.
For produce, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen—the vegetables and fruits they recommend buying organic—and the Clean Fifteen that are safer to buy conventional. Of note to keto eaters, spinach and kale should be organic, but many of our keto-friendly faves make the clean list. Don’t stress if you need to choose conventional avocados, cauliflower, and broccoli.
Remember, too, that it’s not always necessary to look for the organic label even for the “dirty dozen.” If you’re buying from local farmers, ask about their practices. Many small farmers are pesticide-free or use organic practices but simply can’t afford the process of becoming organic certified (it’s quite expensive and arduous). The same goes for meat.
2) Don’t Menu Plan
I’m going against the grain here. Most articles on budgeting tell you to make and stick to a strict plan. I find, however, that it’s more cost-effective to let sales be my guide. I’d rather check out my local grocery stores and farmer’s markets, buy what’s cheapest, and make it work. Use apps that tell you where the sales are and buy accordingly. Sign up for the customer loyalty cards at the stores you frequent so they can send you deals and coupons.
I realize that this might sound stressful if you don’t feel confident in the kitchen. If you’re beholden to recipes, this doesn’t always work. (Of course, you can always look up recipes on your phone in the grocery store—I’ve done it a million times.) Remember that you can always default to making a Big-Ass Salad or an omelet or scramble.
3) Shop Around
Get to know the various supermarkets, specialty stores, and farmer’s markets in your area. Learn what’s the freshest, cheapest, and most likely to be available at each. While it’s convenient to do one-stop shopping, it might be worth the extra time it takes to make two or three different trips during the week to hit up different stores.
Think outside the traditional grocery store box. In many smaller communities, a “big box” store may have the largest selection of meat and veggies, including organic, and a wide variety of specialty products. In my town, Grocery Outlet is the best place to buy organic coconut oil and olive oil, and they carry lots of other keto-friendly staples like nut butters, grass-fed meat, and cheese at low prices.
If you have access to a farmer’s market, definitely make sure you check it out. Sometimes farmers will mark down their remaining items at the end of the day so they don’t have to pack it up. You won’t have the same selection, but you might score some deals.
Also look into local CSAs, farm stands, and meat purveyors who sell direct to customers. Again, you can often find ones that offer sustainable practices and high-quality products without the expensive organic label. Check out Eat Wild and Local Harvest to find farmers near you. I’m a fan of CSAs that sell “ugly produce”—the items that aren’t pretty enough for grocery stores but that are still tasty and nutritious—so it doesn’t go to waste.
Finally, check Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, and so on for people looking to sell backyard eggs for cheaper than the store. If you live in an area where people hunt, you might be able to score some meat this way during hunting season, too.
4) Skip the MCT Oil and Exogenous Ketone Products
Unless you have a medical reason to have very elevated ketones, these expensive products aren’t a priority. You don’t need them to do keto “right.”
5) Reconsider the Keto-fied Baking
Almond flour, coconut flour, arrowroot powder, erythritol, and so on can also be pricey. From a nutrient perspective, there are better ways to invest your grocery dollars. You don’t have to give it up entirely, but consider how big a chunk it’s taking out of your budget and whether it’s worth it.
6) Eat the Stuff that Other People Don’t Want
I’m talking organ meat, bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks, sardines, and the like. The great irony is that these are some of the most nutrient-packed foods in the store, and you can often get them for cheap because the average consumer is looking for boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Good news for you!
Ask the butcher at your grocery store if they have organ meats or cuts that they aren’t going to put in the case because they aren’t popular enough. You might be able to snag cheap (or even free) bones for bone broth that way too—although probably less so now that bone broth has become such a trendy item.
If you’re squeamish about organ meat, remember that almost anything can be ground up in a food processor and mixed with ground beef for burgers or meatballs, or to be hidden in chili or meat sauce. Heart is an excellent place to start. It doesn’t have the distinctive strong flavor of liver or kidney, and it’s very affordable.
7) Your Freezer is Your Friend
Many items are less expensive if you buy them frozen—vegetables (especially off-season), berries, seafood—and they’re just as nutritious. Freezing also allows you to buy in bulk and freeze the extras, or prepare big batches of food and freeze smaller portions for later. If you have a chest freezer, look into splitting a cow or a pig with friends. This can sometimes land you a great deal on a pasture-raised animal.
Throwing away food is throwing away money. There’s no reason to waste food if you have a freezer. Most leftovers can be frozen if you’re not going to consume them immediately (though some things, like mashed cauliflower, don’t reheat well). If your avocados are on the verge of going bad, slice and freeze them. Blend fresh herbs with your oil of choice and freeze them in ice cube trays to add to soups and sauces later. Strain leftover bacon grease into a jar and freeze that, too.
My favorite freezer trick is to keep a large zip-top bag to which I add vegetable trimmings like the ends of carrots, celery, onions, and beets, and broccoli stems. I also keep the bones from all the delicious bone-in meat I’m cooking. (I always buy bone-in when I can—it’s one of Dr. Cate Shanahan’s Four Pillars of health.) This allows me to…
8) Make Your Own Bone Broth (and Nut Milk)
Bone broth is a hot commodity nowadays—no pun intended—and you can spend a pretty penny on it at the store… or you can just make it yourself out of stuff that other people are throwing away.
Whenever I cook a whole chicken (which is usually more cost-effective than buying just breasts or thighs), or when my aforementioned freezer bags fill up, I make a batch of bone broth in my slow cooker or Instant Pot. To store it, I freeze it in mason jars or silicone muffin cups. The latter makes broth “pucks” that are uber convenient for adding to dishes later.
Nut milk isn’t necessary for keto obviously. However, if you’re dairy-free and buying nut milk, you really have to try making your own. It couldn’t be easier, and I strongly prefer my homemade nut milk (a blend of almond, hazelnut, and Brazil nut) to anything I can find in the store. As a bonus, I use the leftover nut pulp to make pancakes, bread, and rolls. (See the recipe in The Keto Reset Diet.) It’s a double bang for my buck, and no waste.
The Good News…
Despite the naysaying, it’s not only possible to do keto on a budget, but sometimes going keto actually saves you money. First, many people are able to reduce or eliminate certain medications—insulin, blood pressure meds—which can be a significant monthly savings. Second, once you’ve become keto-adapted, you might find that you’re eating fewer calories overall for the same amount of energy. Mark touts this benefit all the time.
Also, your “non-essentials” budget usually goes down. I’m talking things like frappuccinos, restaurant desserts, and alcohol. The cost of a night on the town decreases significantly when you’re fully buzzed off a glass and a half of wine once you go keto! (And when you’re not ordering 2 a.m. pizza.)
So, let me turn it over to you: Do you have other tips for making Primal+keto easier on the wallet? Share them below, and have a great week, everybody.
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I don’t like being told what to do. That’s why I’m not a fan of hard and fast food rules, as I’ve written before. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I believe all foods are created equal. There are foods that aren’t health-promoting in any context. (I’m looking at you, processed chemical nacho cheese-like sauce.) Nevertheless, I’m incredulous when people suggest that they’re not “allowed” to eat certain foods on a Primal or keto diet.
Sure, we Primal folks choose to center our diets around the foods in the Primal Blueprint Food Pyramid. And once you go keto, higher-carb foods—even nutrient-dense ones—are harder to fit into your daily macros if staying in ketosis is important to you. However, I’ve found that keto people are overly prone to policing one another’s food choices based on their notions of keto.
Context is important. As a metabolically healthy person, I recognize that I have the luxury of eating more carbs than someone who’s insulin resistant and who struggles to regulate blood glucose. I also have the freedom to move in and out of ketosis in a way that someone doing a therapeutic keto diet might not.
Depending on your circumstances, the “rules” of keto might be different for you than they are for me. My beef is with people who insist that everyone adhere to the strictest possible version of keto no matter the context or who villainize “carbs” as if that’s a discrete food group. Different foods provide different benefits, so I prefer to incorporate as many types of food as I can within reason. Plus, variety helps me enjoy my diet more.
I don’t want to exclude foods just because they don’t work for someone else—or because of some arbitrary notion that they “aren’t keto.” In fact, here’s a list of foods that people have genuinely told me I’m not allowed to eat on keto, presumably because they’re too high-carb. (And, yes, I eat all these foods even when I’m keto.)
Disclaimer: Of course, I’m not suggesting that you have to eat these just because I do. This is simply a reminder that you don’t have to listen to the keto police. You can and should find a way of eating that suits you personally.
(Note: the carb counts are from Cron-o-meter and reflect the servings I’m used to eating while keto.)
I love beets, so the blame and shame around beets while keto makes me shake my head. Sure, as a root they’re higher in carbs than above-ground veggies. The ½ cup of cubed cooked beets I add to my Big-Ass Salad comes in at 8 grams of carbs.
To me, that’s not bad, especially weighed against the health benefits of beets. They happen to be a fantastic source of folate, manganese, potassium, and other nutrients. The betalain found in beets has been studied extensively as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant compound with a variety of potential medical applications. Beets are also rich in nitrates, which can be cardioprotective, improve blood flow to the brain, and—of particular interest to me—improve cardiorespiratory endurance in athletes. (Although research focuses mostly on beetroot juice or concentrate, eating whole beets appears to work, too.)
I’ll keeping my beets, along with the greens.
You’ll see a lot of soapbox rants on keto boards decrying berries, which is surprising because berries are GRAOKFK (generally regarded as O.K. for keto). Nonetheless, there are plenty of people out there proclaiming that blueberries are too high-carb for keto. I’ve also seen people argue that only blueberries are allowed (presumably because they’re a “superfood”—more on that in a moment).
Take a look at the carbohydrates in these common berries:
- Blueberries (1/3 cup ): 7 grams
- Blackberries (1/3 cup): 5 grams
- Raspberries (1/3 cup): 5 grams
- Strawberries (1/3 cup): 4 grams
As you can see, blueberries actually deliver the most carbs among these options, but their carb count is still pretty modest. Anyway, berries are healthy and delicious. All berries score well on the antioxidant charts, but blackberries and raspberries actually have slightly higher ORAC values than “superfood” blueberries (the blueberry industry must have a better marketing team). Berries also score low on glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL), although blueberries push the middle range of GI.
The bottom line is: if your carb budget is tight, sure, go for strawberries instead of blueberries, but blueberries are hardly a “non-keto” food.
There’s a running joke in our Keto Reset Facebook group about carrots. Along with beets, carrots tend to be metaphorically slapped out of your hand if you admit to eating them in some of the other online keto groups.
I’ve known keto folks who’ll pick the shredded carrot out of packaged broccoli slaw or restaurant salad mix. The thing is, if you manage to painstakingly pick ¼ cup of shredded carrot from your salad, all the painstaking effort saves you less than 3 grams of carbs. (Not worth it if you ask me.) Even a large whole carrot contains only 7 grams of carbs—and low-GL carbs, at that.
I don’t know where this fear-mongering came from. Perhaps it’s because carrots are a root vegetable, and one of the keto police rules is that root veggies are not keto. While it makes sense that most of your vegetable intake should be in the form of above-ground vegetables, that doesn’t necessitate avoiding every shred (literally) of healthy root vegetables.
Truth be told, I don’t eat cashews all that often. At 10 grams of carbs in ¼ cup, they are higher carb than any other nuts I eat regularly, and for no special health benefits. Check out my Definitive Guide to Nuts for the lowdown on how different varieties compare.
One application I do appreciate is cashew cream for dairy-free and egg-free recipes such as this one. Personally, I have no problem with dairy, but for people with food sensitivities, this can be a nice option.
I used to have a grapefruit tree in my backyard, and I’ve enjoyed incorporating fresh grapefruit into summer salads now and then. Arugula, shaved fennel, avocado, and grapefruit is a tasty combo.
Caveat: this one is probably the biggest stretch for people who are still struggling with insulin and glucose regulation. Half a small grapefruit—enough for two servings of the aforementioned arugula salad—packs 11 grams of carbs. That said, grapefruit are among the lowest GI and GL fruits, on par with raspberries. If you’re at a place with keto where you’re ready to test your metabolic flexibility and see how you respond to introducing some fruits in moderate quantities, grapefruit might be one to try.
One-quarter cup of homemade cooked pumpkin has 3 grams of carbs (canned unsweetened pumpkin has 5 grams).
So, go ahead and whip up a homemade PSL sweetened with stevia. There’s a recipe in The Keto Reset Diet Cookbook. In fact, you’ll find several pumpkin recipes in there, including directions for making your own puree.
Tomatoes are another one of those “they taste kind of sweet, so they must be bad for keto” foods. Nah. It’s tomato season right now, and I’m enjoying a Caprese salad with cherry tomatoes every single day. The ten cherry tomatoes in my salad have fewer than 7 grams of carbs. A thick slice of tomato on your lettuce-wrapped burger comes in at a whopping 1 gram of carbs.
Keto folks do need to be mindful of the carbs in sugary store-bought ketchup (which is why I created Primal Kitchen® Unsweetened Ketchup). The carbs in a huge plate of zoodles with marinara can definitely add up. As with all the foods on this list, the quantity matters.
Finally, Did I Mention That Context Is Important?
If you’re looking at this list, going, “There’s no way I could allot XX grams of carbs to ____!”, is it because you’re limiting yourself to 20 or 30 grams of carbs per day? If yes, is there a specific reason? The Keto Reset Diet recommends that most people aim for 50 grams of carbs per day, not counting non-starchy vegetables and avocados. (If you’re doing a therapeutic keto diet, or if you’re highly insulin resistant, you might do better starting at 30 grams per day.)
With any of these foods, if you aren’t sure if they work for you, consider experimenting. I’m not a huge proponent of measuring and assessing everything, but in this case it might offer helpful info. Eat the food you want to include, then test your blood glucose and ketones two hours later. For example, if you want to add a handful of blueberries to your Big-Ass Salad, try it and see how your body responds. Of course, this only works if you know your baseline blood glucose and ketones—and if you also know how your body responds to the salad without the blueberries.
Or you don’t have to be that systematic about it. Barring a medical need to be in ketosis all the time, you can go by subjective evaluations of how you feel when you include certain foods.
Finally, if you are working with a limited carb budget and want to expand your vegetable (and even fruit) repertoire, considering targeting your intake of these foods around exercise to blunt the effect.
There you go, folks. Surprises? Additions? Responses? Share your thoughts below, and have a great rest of the week.
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It’s easy to forget how weird we all are.
You spend your days reading this and other health blogs, communing with Primal and keto folks on social media, staying abreast of the nutrition literature, arguing about arcane metabolic minutiae on forums, counting your linoleic acid intake, and you forget that most people don’t know 2% of what you know about diet.
So, when you hear people criticize keto, don’t get exasperated (even if the criticisms are silly). Be ready to respond. And hey, not all criticisms are unfounded. In many cases, wrangling with them will only make you more honest and informed about your diet. Let’s look at some of the more astute keto critiques….
1) Your Brain Needs Glucose, How Do You Even Think?
This isn’t so much wrong as incomplete. Yes, the brain famously needs glucose—but not as much as we’re lead to believe. Once you’re keto-adapted, ketones can provide most of the brain’s energy needs. At max ketone production and adaptation, you’ll still need about 30 grams of glucose for your brain.
Your liver can make about 150 grams of carbohydrates a day from gluconeogenesis, so even if you don’t eat any carbs at all (and you can definitely eat carbs on keto) you’ll still be able to manufacture the requisite 30 grams of glucose.
2) Don’t You Need Carbs for Energy?
The beauty of keto (and low-carb eating in general) is that it leads to low insulin—both fasting and post-prandial (after meals). When your insulin is low, you’re able to access your stored body fat and liberate it to be burned for energy. Since even the leanest among us carry pounds of body fat, that means you have tens of thousands of calories of clean-burning energy available for liberation at any time.
Once you’re keto-adapted, you’ll most likely find that you have steadier energy than before.
3) How Do You Get Fiber?
Actually, there are plenty of ways to obtain fiber on a ketogenic diet. Many of the best sources of prebiotic fiber—the kind that feed and nourish the good gut bacteria living in your digestive tract—are fairly low in digestible carbohydrates and mesh well with keto. For example:
- Dandelion greens
- Green bananas (Yes, a green banana is mostly resistant starch, which your body cannot digest.)
- Dark chocolate
- Almonds and pistachios
Plenty of fiber in those.
4) How Do You Exercise Without Carbs?
There are two primary energy systems used during exercise: aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic energy relies on fat; anaerobic relies on glucose. The better you are at burning fat, the more work you can do while remaining aerobic. This preserves stored glucose (glycogen) for more intense efforts, increasing your overall energy efficiency. Particularly for endurance training, being keto-adapted allows you to utilize greater amounts of stored body fat for energy and reserve glycogen for when you really need it.
And besides, if you do engage in glycolytic, glucose-intensive training, you can always cycle carbs in and around your workout sessions. Your insulin-sensitive muscles will suck up any glucose you consume as glycogen without affecting your insulin levels or your ability to generate ketones and burn fat.
5) Doesn’t All That Fat Give You Heart Disease?
The vast majority of studies placing people on low-carb, high-fat or ketogenic diets find that markers of heart health improve rather than decline.
In obese adults with type 2 diabetes, a ketogenic diet improved blood lipids and boosted fat loss compared to a low-calorie diet.
In lean, healthy adults without any weight to lose (and who didn’t lose any weight during the course of the diet), total cholesterol went up from 159 to 208 mg/dL and triglycerides fell from 107 to 79 mg/dL. A lipophobic doc might freak out at the rise in TC, but given that the triglycerides dropped, I bet the change reflects a rise in HDL and an overall positive, at worst-neutral effect.
Now, do some people see classically-deleterious changes to their blood lipids? Sure. Anything can happen. We’re all different. I talk more about keto and cholesterol effects here. But the weight of evidence shows that becoming fat-adapted through a keto diet is better for your heart health than not.
6) You’re Just Losing Water Weight, Not Fat
Here’s the truth:
Yes, when you go keto and start shedding glycogen from your liver and your muscles, you lose a lot of water. That’s because every gram of glycogen is stored with 3-4 grams of water. Burn the glycogen and you lose the water along with it.
But this glycogen-and-water loss is a prerequisite for losing “real” weight. It’s a harbinger for fat loss. Once the glycogen runs low, that’s when you start getting into deep ketosis and developing the ability to burn massive amounts of body fat for energy.
7) I Heard the Keto Diet Kills Your Gut Bacteria
Ah, yes, I remember that study. They either fed people a varied diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and other foods—or a diet of lunch meat and cheese. Turns out the lunch meat and cheese “keto diet” was bad for the gut biome, increasing gut bacteria linked to obesity and metabolic problems and decreasing gut bacteria linked to health. Of course it was.
A keto diet doesn’t have to consist of bologna and American cheese slices. In fact, it shouldn’t. As I explained in the fiber section, a well-formulated ketogenic diet is full of prebiotic fiber, non-starchy vegetables, and even low-sugar fruit that provide plenty of nourishment for your healthy gut bacteria. What these studies and media stories attack is a caricature of keto, a diet full of processed meat and low quality cheese. They aren’t relevant for someone following a Primal keto diet.
8) Keto Isn’t Sustainable
Well, what do you mean by sustainable?
If you’re talking about the “restrictiveness” of the diet at a personal level, that depends. Sure, you can’t go keto and continue eating Pop Tarts and donuts for breakfast, heaping bowls of pasta for lunch, and fast food burgers (with the bun, at least) and fries with a shake for dinner. But you can eat eggs, bacon, and blackberries for breakfast. You can eat a Big Ass Salad full of a dozen different species of vegetables for lunch. And you can have a ribeye with buttered broccoli for dinner with a glass of wine. I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty damn sustainable way to eat in my book.
If you’re talking about the environment, and worrying about farting cows or whatever, the evidence is quickly accumulating that properly-raised and managed grazing livestock can sequester more carbon than they emit, revitalize (and even de-desertify) grasslands, and produce more calories-per-unit-of-input than conventional pasture-raising. A large portion of the world’s surface isn’t even suitable for growing crops and is better used for grazing animals. The environmental sustainability of meat-eating is still an open question, but the popular conception of “meat bad, grains good” is completely incorrect and incomplete.
What other keto criticisms have you encountered in the wild? Leave them down below, and thanks for stopping in today, everyone.
Hussain TA, Mathew TC, Dashti AA, Asfar S, Al-zaid N, Dashti HM. Effect of low-calorie versus low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet in type 2 diabetes. Nutrition. 2012;28(10):1016-21.
Phinney SD, Bistrian BR, Wolfe RR, Blackburn GL. The human metabolic response to chronic ketosis without caloric restriction: physical and biochemical adaptation. Metab Clin Exp. 1983;32(8):757-68.
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For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering questions from the comment sections of the recent posts on daily keto carb limits, within-meal keto carb limits, and electrolytes. I’m addressing questions about alcohol, uniform carb allowances versus personalized, potassium supplementation, salt appetite, salt water, electrolytes after the transition, whether fruits fit in, and why I don’t count above-ground non-starchy vegetables.
Without further ado, let’s go:
How does alcohol count towards the 50g of carbs per day? Would that be measured proportionate to the caloric values (ratio 7 (a) : 4 (c) ) or is it easier to simply ignore alcohol along with the fiber … ?
Alcohol doesn’t “count” as a carb, but I wouldn’t ignore it.
The body stops burning other macronutrients in the presence of alcohol until the alcohol is metabolized. When you consume alcohol, the body suppresses oxidation of fat, carbohydrates, and protein. The alcohol itself can’t really be stored as fat, but its inhibition of traditional fuel oxidation means you’re more likely to store rather than burn dietary fat.
If you’re keeping carbs low to improve body composition, you should definitely take alcohol calories into account.
Why is 50g of carbs set as the upper limit for everyone? Wouldn’t it make more sense to set the limit using macro percentage?
My BMR is roughly 1300 kcal, so 50g of carbs corresponds to a macro ratio of 15% (a bit above the suggested 5-10%).
Is it more important to follow the 50g upper limit or the macro percentage?
Ease of use. I want to make this as effortless as possible for as many people as possible.
And again, it’s total carbs, not net, and you’re eating whole foods, so a good number of those 50 grams will be fiber and thus indigestible (by you).
It all seems to balance out in the end and end up “lower carb” than one might assume by looking at “50 grams of carbs”—for most people.
If people try this and it doesn’t work, then they can come with follow-up questions and get the detailed guidance they need. They can get more specific and take the (admittedly small amount of) time to calculate their macros.
How about low-sodium salt for extra potassium?
Not a big fan. Potassium citrate powder seems to work a lot better than potassium chloride (low-sodium salt) in several areas:
It’s quite tasteless, whereas potassium chloride’s taste is quite distinct.
Just make sure you clear potassium supplementation with your doctor, especially if you have or suspect you have kidney health problems; the kidneys excrete excess potassium, and a bad kidney can make potassium supplementation dangerous.
I’ve struggled with postural hypotension since childhood, but it used to be caused mainly by excessive heat. Recently I made the connection that if I don’t drink caffeine, it goes away completely. Soon as I drink it I’m lightheaded again, *especially* if I’m also pregnant. I could probably benefit from increasing my salt intake dramatically. I find that if I add 1/4tsp sea salt to a cup of water it tastes amazing, so that probably indicates I need more salt. I heard an interview where someone recommended adding salt to water especially if you drink coffee, and they said it tastes gross like you’re drinking sweat, but I really think it tastes delicious.
This is a really important point. Your craving for salt appears to track closely with salt requirements.
The more sodium you need (and the more you’ve excreted), the better salt will taste if you’re eating a natural, whole foods diet without the skewing effect of processed food products. That’s probably why salt in your water “tastes amazing.” This jibes with my personal recommendation for salt:
“Salt food to taste. Don’t avoid added salt if your taste buds and intuition suggest you could and should have some extra.”
I hesitate to offer iron-clad numbers for potassium and magnesium (even though I gave some ranges in the last post). “Sisson says take 200 mg of this and 300 mg of that.” We don’t want that. We don’t know everyone’s needs. We don’t have a “potassium appetite” or a “magnesium appetite,” but potassium tracks largely with sodium and most people aren’t getting enough magnesium so I feel comfortable saying “eat more of them” and having people follow their salt appetite.
Still, I’ll also mention that some people are clinically salt-sensitive, and the effects can be significant, especially in terms of blood pressure. It’s always best to let you doctor know. It’s a definite must if you’re salt sensitive.
Does anyone make a “sole” by diluting pink Himalayan salt, Red Hawaiian Alaea, etc. into water?
Any success with that method?
I’ll sometimes put a few healthy pinches of Hawaiian red salt into a glass of water before bed. When I wake up, it’s totally dissolved and I throw it back. Tastes good for sure.
What I do often is have a couple of mugs of black coffee in the morning with the last one having butter and coconut oil in it.
Then walk 18 holes while drinking a couple of bottles of spring water each with a pinch of Himalayan sea salt.
Seems to work for me
I like it. If it seems to work, it’s working.
Thank you so much for this articles, Mark. You are the first keto expert I have read who says to add electrolytes “for the transition”! I am no longer in the transition period…but I still take all my electrolytes daily. Is a person who is fat-adapted supposed to wean themselves from supplemental electrolytes?? I’ve been keto for over 18 months, and I really do not think I have heard that particular advice before. Could you clarify? Thank you again!
While transition is the most important and full fat-adaptation means you won’t be shedding water/glycogen as often and all the electrolytes with it, you’re not out of the woods entirely because you’ll still be enjoying low insulin levels. And what doesn’t change post-transition is the inhibitory effects of low insulin on sodium retention. If you’re living a low-insulin lifestyle, you won’t retain as much sodium—you’ll expel more—and you should probably maintain higher levels in your diet long-term. Keep your doctor in the loop.
Since potassium loss is downstream of sodium loss (from the kidneys trying to balance out your potassium:sodium ratios), you’ll also need to keep potassium intake up.
And pretty much everyone could use more magnesium, so taking some extra there, too, is likely a good idea.
Question, so should the carbs be coming from below-ground vegetables like beets and onions and carrots, or if it falls under said carb amount per meal, does it matter if it comes from higher sugar fruits or from potatoes? My meals tend to be usually proteins and above ground vegetables, so I wouldn’t be counting any of those. For example I really like pink lady apples. The ones I buy state 16g carbs per apple. Having one of those with a meal would be fine? How about without a meal, would that be more likely to knock someone out of ketosis?
Below ground vegetables and potatoes and fruits all work and count. An apple counts, is completely fine to eat if it fits your personal carb allowance (and even if it doesn’t—it’s your choice!). If you have an apple by itself, there won’t be any fat or protein to slow down the assimilation of glucose, so you’ll get a “faster hit” that could “knock you out” of ketosis. But ultimately it’s about that meal in the context of your daily carb intake, your exercise levels, whether you’ve just trained or gone for a long walk, your fat-adaptation progress, and your goals.
I’m unclear as to why Mark says “don’t count above ground, non-starchy vegetables”. I mean, they have net carbs after you subtract the fiber. Surely a carb is a carb? I can easily eat 15 grams of carb per day in kale and broccoli alone; sometimes in a single meal..
You won’t ever find an athlete carbing up with kale before a race.
That’s it for today, folks. If you have any further questions or comments, let me know down below!
Granchi D, Caudarella R, Ripamonti C, et al. Potassium Citrate Supplementation Decreases the Biochemical Markers of Bone Loss in a Group of Osteopenic Women: The Results of a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Pilot Study. Nutrients. 2018;10(9)
Nicar MJ, Peterson R, Pak CY. Use of potassium citrate as potassium supplement during thiazide therapy of calcium nephrolithiasis. J Urol. 1984;131(3):430-3.
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If you look around the online keto-sphere, you’ll notice that 20 or 30 grams is often the standard daily limit for carbohydrate intake. Any more than that, they say, and you’ll never get into ketosis, never become fat-adapted, and waste all your efforts at reducing carbohydrate intake. And then you come to Mark’s Daily Apple, sign up for the June Keto Reset, or buy a copy of The Keto Reset book and see that I allow 50 grams of carbs per day and don’t even consider non-starchy vegetables as counting against that total carb count.
Why does the Keto Reset allow 50 grams of carbs per day? Why don’t I count non-starchy vegetables?
There are several main reasons.
I Allow 50 Grams of Carbs Because I Don’t Subtract Fiber from Total Carbs. I Don’t Do Net Carbs. I Count It All.
Most keto plans subtract fiber from total carbs to arrive at “net carbs.” They do this for a very good reason: Fiber is not digested, does not count as glucose, and does not impact ketosis. I get it. I’m not denying the fact that the body treats indigestible fiber differently than digestible glucose and fructose. The fiber you eat does not affect your ability to generate ketones. Sure, the body doesn’t treat indigestible fiber the same way as digestible glucose.
But I find it’s just way simpler to count total carbs rather than ask people to pore over the labels and do a bunch of subtraction. This has the effect of giving a “higher total” carb allowance, but the actual number of digestible carbs remains about on par with other keto plans.
Non-Starchy Vegetables Don’t Impact Ketosis in Most People.
For all intents and purposes, foods like spinach, chard, broccoli, and others do not impact ketosis one way or the other. The vast majority of them are so low in carbs that you burn more glucose digesting them than you’re able to extract from them. I’d rather your average 62-year-old retiree who’s trying to get healthier and lose the extra 30 pounds so he can take retirement by the horns not have to weigh and measure his romaine lettuce and spinach. I don’t even want him to have to think about his romaine lettuce. Just eat the stuff!
I’m sure there are extra-sensitive people out there for whom a spinach salad does impair ketosis, but I’m creating general guidelines that work for the largest number of people. Most people can eat one and remain ketotic. And the limit is an upper limit; it’s not a requirement that everyone has to reach.
Non-Starchy Vegetables Offer Many Unique Benefits to the Keto Eater.
Many of them, like spinach, have satiety-inducing effects that reduce cravings for high-carb junk food and make dietary adherence even easier. And they’re often the best sources of micronutrients that keto dieters otherwise have trouble obtaining, like potassium and magnesium.
We Want to Nourish the Gut Biome.
One of the potential downsides to conventional keto diets is the disruption of the microbiome. Several years ago, a study came out claiming to show that “chowing down” on meat and dairy had horrible impacts on the gut biome. Looking more closely, the “meat and dairy” diet was actually a processed meat diet completely bereft of non-starchy plant matter. It didn’t say anything about the type of diet that Primal eaters eat, but it did represent a strike against the conventional caricature of the “salami and cream cheese keto diet.” That’s the “salami and cream cheese” keto diet, the one I cannot support and definitely do not recommend. Having 50 grams of carbs available and not counting non-starchy vegetables makes it easier to eat the plants that contain the prebiotic fiber that nourishes and supports your gut bacteria.
Ultimately, the 50 grams limit with unlimited non-starchy vegetables gives you plenty of wiggle room.
I’ll admit that this has been confusing for some folks. There have been questions about “50 grams” and “not counting non-starchy vegetables.” But it also means that I’m not getting a deluge of questions about whether you should count the carbs in avocados and Brussels sprouts (no and no), whether the asparagus you had last night is going to send you back to square one (it won’t, unless it was breaded and fried and you ate a pound), whether you committed a grave sin by having three bites of roasted potatoes (you only committed a small transgression), and all the other minutiae that bog people down. To me, on net, that balances out in the Keto Reset’s favor. It shows me that people by and large aren’t overthinking the errata (worrying about their broccoli intake). They’re focusing on the big picture (getting fat-adapted while eating a nutrient-dense diet).
How do you folks approach carb counting on your diet? Do you worry about the spinach and broccoli? Do you use net carbs?
Thanks for reading, everyone!
Stenblom EL, Egecioglu E, Landin-olsson M, Erlanson-albertsson C. Consumption of thylakoid-rich spinach extract reduces hunger, increases satiety and reduces cravings for palatable food in overweight women. Appetite. 2015;91:209-19.
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The one piece of advice all newcomers to the ketogenic diet receive is to “get enough electrolytes.” It doesn’t matter what flavor of keto diet you’re talking about—paleo, carnivore, Primal, standard, clinical, mainstream, salami-and-cream-cheese. They all mention the importance of getting your electrolytes, particularly during the transition from a higher-carb diet.
I’ve said it. I say it. It really is important. Heck, a major part of the much-maligned “keto flu” can be directly attributed to inadequate intake of sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Oftentimes, increasing your electrolytes stops the flu from happening in the first place.
Why Do Early Stages Of a Ketogenic Diet Trigger an Increase In electrolyte Requirements?
One of the first things that happens when you go keto is you lose a bunch of glycogen from almost everywhere. For one, depletion of liver glycogen—the storage form of carbohydrates in the body—is the trigger for the liver to begin producing ketone bodies. It can’t make ketones if it’s full of glycogen. And, two, since you’ve just removed virtually all the digestible carbohydrates from your diet and your body hasn’t adapted to burning fats directly, it’s going to burn through the stored muscle glycogen and ramp up ketone production to make up for the rest of your energy requirements.
If you’re going keto (and doing it right), you’ll be depleting your glycogen stores. It’s totally normal, but there’s a side effect: water loss.
Each gram of glycogen in the body is stored with four grams of water. Every time you lose a gram of glycogen, you lose four grams of water and a bunch of sodium, magnesium, and potassium. When sodium drops, your kidneys start shedding potassium to maintain the right sodium:potassium ratio. But even though the ratio might be “right,” the absolute amounts of sodium and potassium are inadequate for optimal function.
As you get better at burning fats directly and your body gets acclimated to utilizing them for energy, you won’t have to maintain empty liver glycogen to stimulate massive ketone production. You can use fats for the majority of your energy requirements and can begin storing more glycogen rather than shedding it instantly. As a result, you won’t shed as much water or lose as many electrolytes.
Another factor is that going keto lowers insulin, and low insulin levels reduce sodium retention. This is one reason why low-carb diets are so good for people with salt-sensitive high blood pressure—they help you get rid of excess sodium.
A Few Signs of Low Electrolytes During the Keto Transition
When sodium gets too low, your body will reduce water stores to maintain proper sodium ratios. This creates a vicious cycle of dehydration that can trigger headaches. Luckily, salt repletion will fix most keto headaches.
If you’ve ever felt dizzy and unsteady upon standing up from a seated position, you’ve experienced postural hypotension. Blood pools in the lower half of your body while sitting and the blood pressure is inadequate to adjust in time. Without enough blood in your brain, things don’t work so well. It only lasts for a second or two, but it’s no fun.
Sodium depletion—as occurs in the early stages of keto—is a major risk factor for postural hypotension. Eating more salt is a quick fix. This isn’t keto broscience, either. Standard medical treatment of postural hypotension is to have the patient consume up to a tablespoon and a half of extra salt per day.
Poor Physical Performance
When you go keto, you might notice a drop-off in your physical performance in the gym or on the field. Part of this is a transitory effect of your tissues adapting to a new energy source. But another explanation is that you have low potassium levels.
In the muscle tissue itself, potassium acts as an electrical conduit during muscle contractions—and muscle contractions are what make a muscle “go.”
To some extent, low energy is part and parcel of the keto transition. You’re not great at burning fat and ketones yet. You’re still missing carbs. That’s okay, that’s normal. It’s a necessary evil, and it will pass.
But low energy can also be a symptom of low electrolyte status, as potassium and magnesium are all important co-factors in the production of ATP, the body’s energy currency.
How To Re-establish Optimum Electrolyte Balance During Keto Transitions
The fix is simple. Eat more sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
- Salt your food to taste (your salt appetite is a good barometer of your sodium requirements).
- Drink salty broth (true bone broth is ideal, but good bouillon or store-bought is also acceptable).
- Aim for 3-5 grams of sodium.
- Eat zucchinis, avocados, leafy greens, and medium-rare steak with all the juices (the juice contains tons of potassium).
- Use potassium citrate.
- Aim for 3-5 grams of potassium.
- Eat leafy greens, halibut, dark chocolate, nuts.
- Consider hemp seeds. They’re incredibly high in magnesium, low in phytate, and a little bit goes a long way.
- Use magnesium supplements. The chelated magnesiums (those ending in “-ate,” like citrate, glycinate, or threonate) tend to be the best absorbed. Another option is to use topical magnesium chloride oil.
- Aim for 500 mg of magnesium.
My favorite way to get a big dose of these electrolytes in one fell swoop is to pour a big glass of sparkling mineral water (I like Gerolsteiner) and add juice from 2 limes or lemons, a teaspoon of salt, and a scoop of magnesium powder. Great and incredibly refreshing. Sip on that twice a day, and you’ll be fine.
In my experience, electrolyte loss is the biggest stumbling block for people new to keto. It’s also one of the easiest to avoid. So get after it!
What’s your favorite way to get enough sodium, potassium, and magnesium? Got any great no-sugar electrolyte drink recipes you’d care to share?
Thanks for reading, everyone.
The post Electrolytes and Keto: Why They Matter for the Transition appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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How many carbs can you eat in a sitting and still “stay keto”? What constitutes a “keto meal”?
I’ve gotten many questions about this topic.
First of all, let’s get this out of the way: Keto is not a religion that punishes heretics with eternal damnation (or eternal reliance on exogenous sugar for energy). This post is not intended to make people feel guilty for eating five grams of carbs over the” limit.” It’s not even intended to set a hard limit in stone. It’s simply to provide people who care about this sort of thing a basic, admittedly rough, guideline for staying below the keto carb threshold within meals throughout the day.
First of all… there’s a problem with establishing a universal keto carb threshold….
Why Universal Keto Carb Thresholds are Problematic
Carb thresholds are a very personal thing. Not in the sense that you should only tally up your within-meal carb counts behind closed (and locked) doors, but in the sense that they are extremely context dependent:
- The number of carbs that knock a person out of ketosis will differ from the amount that will knock another person out of ketosis for genetic reasons.
- The number of carbs that knock a person out of ketosis will differ day to day and meal to meal based on his or her exercise and activity levels.
- The number of carbs that knock a person out of ketosis will differ based on ketone- and fat-adaptation status.
- The number of carbs you’ve eaten in previous meals and the amount of carbs you plan on eating in subsequent ones influence how much you should eat at this meal.
We All Have Different Genetic Keto Thresholds
Take the Inuit, for example. Despite eating almost nothing but seafood and marine and land mammals and their fat, with negligible amounts of carbohydrates, the Inuit rarely show evidence of ketosis. A legitimate fast isn’t even enough to reliably produce ketosis in the Inuit. It turns out that many of them possess a gene variant that prevents ketosis and drops blood sugar during fasting and starvation. They’re great at burning fat directly, not so good at reaching ketosis. Even if we’re not talking about Inuits, every single person has different genetic potentials for generating ketones and responding to carbs.
How You Exercise Has a Huge Effect
If you create a glycogen debt through intense training, a significant portion of the carbs you eat immediately after will go toward replenishing that glycogen rather than contribute toward your energy consumption. You can remain in ketosis and store those carbs away in your muscle. Exercise alone stimulates ketosis independent of diet; if you’re a highly active person, you’re probably already dipping in and out of ketosis without even changing what you eat. Your carb threshold will be higher.
How Far Along You Are In Your Keto Adaptation Has An Effect
At this point, I can have a big sweet potato with dinner and be right back to ketosis in the morning. I can eat beef larb salad over some steamed jasmine rice for lunch and coconut curry for dinner while on vacation in Thailand and bounce right back without issue. Because I’m fully ketone-adapted and fat-adapted, and my mitochondria are adept at burning fat, I have the metabolic flexibility to drift in and and out of ketosis as I please. The idea of a hard “keto threshold” becomes less relevant when you’re fully keto-adapted.
How Many Carbs You’ve Already Eaten (and Will Eat) Also Figure In
If you’ve already eaten 40 grams of carbs for breakfast, you have very little leeway for future meals. If you had bacon, eggs, and steak for breakfast, you can handle a larger dose of carbs.
Making things even harder, these contexts are impossible for the average person to quantify. It’s hard to tell exactly how much glycogen debt we’ve incurred through our training—how many carbs we’ve cleared out and can safely assimilate. It’s impossible to quantify our genetic keto threshold, and you can’t exactly count the fat-burning mitochondria you’ve generated or put a number to your degree of ketone-adaptation.
Why Keto Carb Thresholds Are Helpful
Everything is fuzzy at the margins. Very little in life and the universe is totally binary and clear-cut. But thinking of the world in binary terms and separating things into categories can be helpful. Too much fuzzy thinking renders making decisions hard. It breeds indecision. It paralyzes. We need something.
That’s where a keto carb threshold for determining “keto meals” comes in: Despite the very real limitations of establishing a true keto threshold, they can be helpful for beginners and other people trying to make decisions about what to eat.
Imagine you’re a beginner to this Keto Reset thing. Do you want to have to consider how many carbs you’ve burned through exercise today, which genes you have, or whether you’ve successfully produced enough fat-adapted mitochondria before deciding on how many carbs you can get away with? Or do you want a number that may be imperfect but will probably get you in the ballpark?
“Eat this many.”
“Stay under this number.”
Simple things you can have as touchstones and landmarks when you’re getting started and progressing along your journey…
Keto Carb Thresholds: So, How Much Per Meal?
All that said, here are some good rules of thumb for within meal keto carb thresholds:
- Keto meals should, generally speaking, stay under 18 grams of carbs.
- Keto snacks should have no more than 8 grams of carbs.
That’s total carbs, not net. Also, keep in mind that we don’t count above ground, non-starchy vegetables. Count the carbs in blueberries, not spinach. Count the carbs in beets, not kale. Count the carbs in carrots, not broccoli.
In my book, this is the easiest way to think of carbs on a keto diet. You don’t have to subtract fiber or weigh your romaine lettuce. You just count the carbs that, well, count.
There are contextual modifications, as we discussed earlier—exercise and activity levels, genetics/personal tolerance, keto adaptation status, previous meals.
And keep in mind just plain common-sense modifications:
- If you’re eating one meal a day, you can get away with more carbs in that single meal than the person who eats 3 square meals and 2 snacks.
- If you’re eating 3 meals and 2 snacks, you can’t get away with as many carbs as the person who eats one or two meals.
The more advanced you are, the more you can integrate your context into your decisions. This integration will happen intuitively, ideally. Then you can just eat and trust that your subconscious is keeping its end of the bargain.
If you’ve just finished a CrossFit WOD or gone bouldering for an hour or hiked up the local mountain, you’ve most likely incurred enough of a glycogen debt that a few extra carbs at your next meal won’t impact you keto status.
If you’re close to goal weight, you have steady energy all day, you can effortlessly skip meals, have a few wedges of watermelon at the birthday party that don’t affect you one way or the other… you’re probably reasonably fat-adapted and can handle a few more carbs per meal.
And through trial and error and simply doing the work and paying attention to what happens, you’ll learn your personal carb tolerance over time. Maybe in the near future we’ll even have high-powered data that can pinpoint your genetic carb tolerance to remove the guesswork.
But for the time being, especially if you’re just starting out with keto or find yourself staring at food labels in the grocery store aisle for a disproportionate amount of your life, “7-8 grams of carbs per snack and 16-18 grams of carbs per meal to stay keto” is a good rule of thumb.
What about you, folks? How many carbs do you limit yourself per meal to stay keto—or not?
The post The Keto Carb Threshold: What Constitutes a “Keto” Meal? appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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If you read any of those “10 Reasons Keto is the Worst” articles out there, the common anti-keto argument you’ll see is that it’s too hard. The premise: keto must be unsustainable because eating meat, eggs, avocados, veggies, nuts, coconut, etc. is just too arduous long term. I’m sure you can guess how I feel about that.
Nonetheless, when you switch from a SAD diet to Primal or Primal-keto it genuinely becomes harder to grab convenience foods. It’s not that you can’t. The selection of packaged foods being marketed to keto folks has exploded in the past year or so. Rather, your growing awareness of ingredient quality, coupled with a desire to control your food and nutrition, makes it feel harder… and probably less desirable.
For that reason, many people end up doing more cooking at home, which means more time devoted to grocery shopping and meal prep. This is good news. But once in a while, especially during busy weeks, it’s nice to give yourself a break and grab something easy. Plus, sometimes you find yourself stuck somewhere without a lot of food options. And then there’s the craving for foods you once loved and wish you could find keto-friendly versions of….
So, while I think that preparing your own food is a great ideal, I also want to cover keto where keto dieters actually live—in the (generally speaking) non-ideal world. I’ve always said, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” How can we apply that to keto convenience food?
My readers know I’ve always advocated for the 80/20 principle: aim for 100% compliance, but give yourself the freedom to respond to your circumstances and (occasionally) your desire for wisely-chosen indulgences. Primal and keto eating have to be enjoyable to be truly sustainable. If this means you sometimes incorporate convenience foods, so be it.
Convenient “Whole Foods”
Pre-made frozen hamburger patties and pre-cooked chicken skewers were in heavy rotation when my kids were deep in the school-sports-homework-friends circus. Rotisserie chickens are usually not the “cleanest” (look for “naked” organic options if you can), but they aren’t the worst thing in the store by far.
Bone broth is easy and economical to make, especially if you have a slow cooker or pressure cooker, but there are several companies now offering high-quality bone broth that I enjoy sipping on throughout the day.
While fresh is best when it comes to vegetables, I haven’t riced a head of raw cauliflower in ages now that frozen organic cauliflower rice is available in every market we frequent. Frozen veggies retain most of their nutrients. Pre-cut vegetable noodles are an easy time-saver.
With all these foods, you’ll definitely pay a premium over doing the work yourself. However, if you can afford them, and it buys you some time in your busy schedule, don’t let concerns over small nutritional trade-offs get in the way. Grab that rotisserie chicken and a bagged salad, or pre-made zucchini noodles and a jar of (extra virgin olive oil) pesto guilt-free.
Convenient “Packaged Foods”
Basically I’m talking here about eating food with labels, foods specifically meant to make your life easier or to quell a craving for a SAD food.
Spoiler alert: I’m not going to give you a straight up NO to any of these. If you want to eat them, ingredients should be your primary consideration. There are plenty of foods being marketed as keto and low-carb that are not at all Primally aligned. Carb count doesn’t matter to me—if a product contains hydrolyzed wheat gluten and canola oil, I’m out. Yes, some of these you can make yourself—and I’ll provide some recipes for alternative options within each category even though I know this misses the point of convenience foods.
Breakfast is such a sticking point for people when they go Primal or keto. It’s the area in which folks seem to feel the most “deprived.” One of the most common questions we get in our Facebook groups is, “What do I eat for breakfast if I’m sick of eggs?” It’s no surprise then that you can now buy keto pancake and waffle mix, and grain-free “oatmeal” and granola. There are even keto cereals creating quite a buzz in the marketplace. Honestly, I don’t have a problem with these products occasionally. While you can find a thousand ways to do keto-friendly breakfasts that offer more nutrition, I know Americans have a particularly nostalgic attachment to our conventional breakfast foods. If eating keto cereal once in a while is the thing that makes the rest of your diet smooth sailing, go for it.
I’m not a neutral bystander here—Primal Kitchen makes a keto-friendly protein bar. Primal Kitchen or not, however, I’m not opposed to bars as a snack, as a quick pre- or post-workout bite, or as a lunchbox treat. Personally, I like to take a bar during a long paddle or bike ride. This is a category, though, where you really want to check labels. A lot of manufacturers fill their bars with fiber (to drive down the net carbs) and sweeteners, which some folks are sensitive to.
Make-it-yourself alternative: Vanilla Coconut Collagen Bites
Meal Replacement Shakes and Powders
Again, I have skin in the game here, since Primal Fuel was one of my flagship products. I still love and use it regularly, so obviously I have no problem with whey protein shakes. At the same time, I’d offer this caution: if you’re consuming a protein shake most days but otherwise aren’t eating a variety of complete proteins—ideally animal based—you should aim to diversify your protein sources.
You’ll find a variety of keto shakes on the market being sold as complete meal replacements. I have to admit I’m leery of these, perhaps because they harken back to traditional diet shakes promising quick weight loss, nutrition be damned. A popular diet brand that shall remain nameless—you know the one—is even marketing keto shakes now.
Since whey protein powder is already so convenient, I’d suggest whipping up a quick smoothie with veggies and a few high-antioxidant berries, plus some MCT oil if that’s your thing. However, if you can find a meal replacement shake with ingredients that pass your personal bar, I’m not going to tell you no. Just use them sparingly, not to regularly replace meals of whole foods.
My favorite basic smoothie: Keto-Friendly Chocolate Protein Smoothie (I usually add a big handful of baby spinach too!)
If a plate of cheese and crackers is what you crave the most, a couple brands make seed-based crackers that are actually pretty tasty. On the other hand, you can just get crackers made of dehydrated cheese and double down. Every year at the various conferences I attend there are more and more chip substitutes made with unconventional ingredients like chicken. Unfortunately, there isn’t any way to make popcorn keto (sorry), and I’ve yet to see a good keto pretzel, although I’m sure someone’s working feverishly on it.
My sense is that when people want snack foods, it’s really the crunchy texture and salty taste, and the easy, even mindless, quality that they crave. Unlike the breakfast foods, it’s not so much an emotional or nostalgic attachment to specific foods. For those reasons, I think this is one category where it’s usually just as easy and satisfying to find different snack options altogether rather than seeking out keto-fied versions of the old SAD foods.
Try this instead: Bacon Guacamole with Cheddar Chips
Keep It In Perspective
At the end of the day, it’s all about choices. We live in a food environment where temptation is everywhere. Our lives are too often over-busy and over-stressed, and sometimes reaching for a convenience food option is something we depend on.
Let me be very clear: I’m not suggesting that these are on par nutritionally with whole, “real” foods, nor do I think they should be staples in your diet. Of course, it’s best to treat these foods like occasional treats or fallback rations. If being able to grab convenience foods here and there makes keto living possible for you, then go for it. Just be intentional about it, and don’t let it become a slippery slope. As you become more accustomed to keto, you might find yourself reaching for them less frequently.
What say you? Which keto convenience items, if any, do you enjoy? Have your choices changed over time? Thanks for reading.
The post Keto Convenience Foods: What To Try (and What To Skip) appeared first on Mark’s Daily Apple.
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