Thinking about doing the high fat keto diet? Here’s one woman’s two month experience, plus the dos and don’ts from three experts. Watch Dr. Rhonda Patrick interview keto expert Dr. Dom D’Agostino.
For two months, Melia Robinson, a Senior Reporter at Business Insider, went on a diet craze now popular in the Silicon Valley that encourages eating butter and bacon — and it vastly improved her life.
“Bacon became my new best friend on the ketogenic diet”, says Melia in the article she wrote with the descriptive title, I went on the Silicon Valley diet craze that encourages butter and bacon for 2 months — and it vastly improved my life.
This unconventional diet that ignores the basic tenets on healthy eating is gaining momentum among Silicon Valley tech workers who aim to supercharge their lives.
Take Geoffrey Woo, for example. Mr. Woo is the CEO and cofounder of “cognitive enhancement” supplements startup Nootrobox.
Like many hard chargers in Silicon Valley, Mr. Woo seems to be set on optimizing his performance, and the ketogenic diet is a key ingredient. But as you’ll soon learn, although it resembles the Atkins Diet, the ketogenic diet hardly seems like a “diet” at all. For one thing, it involves eating a lot of fat.
Mr. Woo likes to start the day with a plate of eggs, cheese, and avocado. That’s a lot of fat! He hopes the high fat keto diet will help him live longer and better. Keto dieters believe that a high-fat, low-carb diet turns the body into a fat-burning machine.
The thinking is that when you turn off access to glucose, a primary fuel source derived from eating carbohydrates, the body taps into its own fat stores for energy. Preferentially use fat for fuel instead of carbs, and guess what happens — once the glucose storage is used up (that only takes a few hours), your body begins to break down body fat to use for fuel.
Tech workers living in the San Francisco Bay Area sometimes go to extreme lengths to improve their bodies and minds. For example, at the supplements startup HVMN(formerly known as Nootrobox), Mr. Woo’s company, most employees don’t eat on Tuesdays — a ritual they say improves ketone production and productivity. Fasting one day a week is one of the many approaches to intermittent fasting, which has been shown to assist ketosis.
An increasing number of health nuts — from the internet entrepreneur Kevin Rose to the podcaster, lifehacker Tim Ferriss — swear by the keto diet. And so, Melia Robinson spent the past two months eating bacon, butter, and avocados to see first-hand why the keto movement is so popular.
In this article, you’ll discover:
- What is a “ketogenic diet”
- The pluses and minuses
- Melia Robinson’s experiment seeking ketosis
- The advice she got from keto diet expert, Dr. Priyanka Wali
- Melia’s results after two months on the keto diet
- A deep dive into the science via Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s interview with keto expert Dr. Dom D’Agostino
Let’s dig in…
The High Fat Keto Diet
Reportedly created by Dr. Gianfranco Cappello, an associate professor of surgery at the Sapienza University in Rome, Italy, the high fat keto diet reorganizes the building blocks of the food pyramid. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On average, Americans get about 50% of their calories from carbs, 30% from fat, and 15% from protein.
As Ms. Robinson reports in her article, the keto diet completely upends these proportions of macronutrients — 80% fat, 20% protein.
If I’ve got my math right, that doesn’t leave anything for carbs, but in reality there’s some wiggle room… you can squeeze in between 20 and 50 grams of carbs a day. To put that into perspective, there’s about 30 grams in one apple or one-half a plain bagel.
Yes, it’s true, you might suffer when consuming such a paltry amount of carbohydrates. Headaches, for instance, are commonplace for many people while transitioning to the high fat keto diet.
Why eat so much fat, so few carbs and suffer headaches?
Because, proponents say, the keto diet is like Atkins on steroids. It turns the body into a fat-burning machine.
Surely you remember Atkins. In the 1960s and ‘70s, Dr. Robert Atkins popularized a version of a low-carb diet dating back to the 1920s when then used to help reduce seizures in epileptics. Like the high fat keto diet, the Atkins diet restricts carb consumption to 20 to 25 grams a day during an introductory phase, but then ramps up to 80 to 100 grams a day, which makes it more carb-friendly than the keto diet.
The human body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which is used for energy or stored as glycogen in liver and muscle tissue.
But the body has a second fuel supply tank.
When carbs go missing from a person’s diet, the body uses up its glucose reserves and then breaks down stored fat into fatty acids. When fatty acids reach the liver, they’re converted into an organic substance called ketones.
What are Ketones and Ketosis?
According to Wikipedia, ketones are three water-soluble molecules (acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate, and their spontaneous breakdown product, acetone) that are produced by the liver from fatty acids during periods of low food intake (fasting), carbohydrate restrictive diets, starvation, prolonged intense exercise,or in untreated (or inadequately treated) type 1 diabetes.
The brain and other organs feed on ketones in a process called ketosis, which gives the diet its name. Ketosis is a metabolic state in which some of the body’s energy supply comes from ketone bodies in the blood, in contrast to a state of glycolysis in which blood glucose provides most of the energy your body requires.
Keto-dieters eat lots of fat to maintain this state where fat is used for energy, which happens when the body goes into starvation mode and taps its fat stores for fuel.
In his article, What Are Ketones and Are They Healthy, Dr. David Jockers lists some advantages that ketones have as an energy source over glucose (carbs):
- Ketones are able to create much greater amounts of energy per molecule than glucose. This means when the body begins to convert fat into ketones, you actually have a much more stable and sustainable energy source.
- Burning fat does not create the same insulin and blood sugar response that burning sugar (carbs) does, such as blood sugar spikes. This is part of the profound benefits of being in ketosis including, improved hormone balance, lowered inflammation and improved brain health.
- Many people report feeling much more stable when they go into ketosis. Feeling less hungry, gaining control over cravings, and often experiencing a much more stable emotional state.
Here’s Dr. Jokers infographic that explains how ketosis works:
Ketosis Is Not Necessarily the Holy Grail
More research is needed on the long-term effects of the ketone diet, especially in healthy people. Because the ketone diet is becoming so popular, a good question to ponder is, “Is it safe?”
Dr. Josh Axe weighs in on this weighty question in his article, If You’re Going Keto, Read This First, in which he lists five concerns.
Don’t Do This While One A Ketone Diet
- Consume unhealthy fats — Eat olive oil, avocado, chia seeds, flaxseeds, sprouted nuts, organic grass-fed meat and raw dairy products. Avoid conventionally raised meats and non-organic, pasteurized dairy, as well as heavily processed oils like canola, safflower and sunflower.
- Eat conventionally raised meat — Grass-fed beef is a top source of animal protein, but it’s also higher in precursors for vitamin A and E, as well as cancer-fighting antioxidants, than grain-fed beef.
- Choose the wrong carbs — Carbs don’t amount to much on a ketone diet, but choose sweet potatoes; ancient grains (ideally sprouted) like oats, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth and brown rice; whole fruits; beans and legumes; and small amounts of natural sweeteners like raw honey.
- Ingest insufficient fiber — Low fiber can mean constipation (and I might add, low fiber also can also disrupt the population of beneficial bacteria in your gut), so eat leafy greens like kale and mustard greens, as they’re extremely low in sugar yet high in fiber content and loaded with health-promoting antioxidants and phytonutrients.
- Eat processed foods — Focus on consuming whole, healing foods, and beware of any “diet” or “sugar-free” fake foods that contain dangerous artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose and saccharin. These sugar substitutes may have no calories and zero grams of sugar, but they have been linked to numerous health conditions including headaches, digestive distress, migraines, mood disorders and even cancer.
There’s lots more to know about ketones and the ketone diet. I encourage you to watch the Youtube video below where Dr. Rhonda Patrick interviews ketone expert and researcher, Dr. Dom D’Agostino, but first let’s check in with Melia Robinson and read about her experience on the ketone diet.
Melia Robinson Goes Ketogenic
“I love food I’m a chronic snacker”, says Melia Robinson in her article chronicling her experience chasing ketones:
“When I first learned about the keto diet, it caught my interest because dieters could eat seemingly unlimited amounts of healthy fats, like cheese, nuts, avocado, eggs, butter — foods that have high ‘point values’ on Weight Watchers and are severely restricted.”
Pasta was off her menu — a cup of cooked whole-wheat noodles has about 41 carbs (net of fiber), which would blow through her daily carb allowance in just a few bites.
She had to be careful even with fruits and starchy vegetables. A cup of blueberries has about 11.5 net carbs. Low in fiber, it’s also not filling.
But, given that she was on the ketone diet, Melia said “yes to fat!” Much like Silicon Valley CEO Geoffery Woo, a typical breakfast for Melia included coffee with half and half, along with cheesy eggs cooked in butter and two slices of bacon.
For lunch, Melia ate a lot of “sad desk salads.” Two cups of leafy greens, an ounce of cheddar cheese, a handful of nuts, and avocado or cauliflower added about six net carbs to the carb tab.
There was a price to pay for nearly eliminating carbohydrates:
“In my first week, I dug up the willpower to resist those sugar binges. But it was not without consequences. My headaches pounded for hours on end. My mind said, ‘Eat something.’”
Drinking more water and adding more salt to her food eased the headaches.
She searched keto blogs for high-fat snacks — called “fat bombs” — to power through the sugar cravings. Loaded cauliflower made with butter, sour cream, cheddar cheese, and bacon became her go-to treat. The keto comfort food didn’t make her feel deprived like many food-restrictive diets do.
You Must Test for Ketones
A common mistake beginners make on the ketotonic diet is that they think they’re in ketosis when they’re not. “Surely all this fat I’m eating — and hardly no carbs — has put me into ketosis”, they presume.
Often times, not.
You must test for ketones to ensure you’re in ketosis.
Melia’s ketone testing meter kit arrived in the mail during the second week of her ketone diet. The pocket-sized medical device uses a small blood sample to measure the presence of ketones.
People diagnosed with diabetes can have a ketone testing meter prescribed by a doctor, but it may not be covered by insurance. Biohackers and “Optimizers” like Melia simply click over to Amazon.com.
She purchased the Precision Xtra Glucose Meter Kit (which also measures ketones) and a 10-pack of ketone testing strips.
Keto adherents use such ketone testing meters to ensure they’re in a state of nutritional ketosis, which is generally considered above 0.3 millimoles per liter of blood.
Entrepreneurs sometimes share their ketone levels on social media. It’s the biohacking community’s equivalent of posting photos of a bathroom scale to celebrate recent weight loss.
Much Needed Advice from Dr. Priyanka Wali
Dr. Priyanka Wali is an internal-medicine physician with specialty training in obesity medicine. She uses the keto diet routinely for her patients who have insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and diabetes.
Who better to guide Melia through her first time on the ketogenic diet then Dr. Wali?
Melia writes that in 2014, Dr. Wali was moonlighting at a weight-loss clinic in San Francisco, and saw first-hand how her patients struggled to maintain their strict diet and weight loss programs. Seeking a solution, Dr, Wali began reading studies on low-carb diets and became convinced the solution had to do with minimizing carb consumption.
Dr. Wali made sure the keto diet worked on herself before prescribing it to her patients, because she “expected to feel a lot of adverse side effects” from eating so much fat, “but what ended up happening was I felt great. I started to have more energy and concentration. I didn’t lose weight, but my fat distribution changed, so I lost weight from my hips.”
To determine if Melia was a good candidate for the keto diet, Dr, Wali had her get some lab work done, which included a cholesterol panel and a fasting insulin level test. Her results were normal, which let Dr. Wali know that from a medical perspective there was no necessity that she go on the diet, and although it wasn’t made clear, this probably influenced how Dr. Wali guided Melia.
Some advice offered by Dr. Wali:
- Melia should aim for 30 to 50 grams of carbs during the day and eat regular, carb-heavy dinners, even if they took me over the limit, so that she could ease off a dependence on carbs. “Sugar addiction is a real thing,” Dr. Wali warned her in their first meeting. Easing into ketosis can avoid “carbohydrate withdrawal,” which can cause irritability, depression, headaches, lethargy, and nausea.
- Track your meals on the Fitbit and Weight Watchers apps, but paper and pen works too.
- Count carbs the smart way: Carbohydrates – dietary fiber = net carbs.
- Fiber is a carbohydrate that the body can’t digest. It doesn’t raise blood-sugar levels, so there’s no use in counting grams of dietary fiber toward a daily carbohydrate goal.
- A cup of almonds has approximately 20 grams of carbohydrates, but 12 of those come from dietary fiber, so that cup only nets 8 grams for the serving.
Melia Robinson’s Results from the High Fat Keto Diet
Let’s tick off the Melia’s results bullet point by bullet point, and use her own “voice” as quoted from her Business Insider article:
- I got 0.4 mmol/L, a low-level state of nutritional ketosis. In less than two weeks on the diet, my body flipped the switch on burning carbs to burning fat as its primary fuel source.
- Three weeks in, I felt the difference. Even on days when I ate bunless cheeseburgers for lunch, my energy was sky-high. I no longer needed coffee to stay awake in the afternoon.
- I suddenly could go three, four, even five hours without thinking about food. My snacking became much less frequent, and I became more focused on work as a result.
- When I splurged on a bagel or pizza, which did happen, I wanted to curl up under my desk and nap within 30 minutes of eating. I felt uncomfortably full and groggy.
- When my parents came into town over one weekend and I went rogue, I wound up with a ketone reading of 0.3 mmol/L, which meant my body was burning more carbs than fat.
- [After her parents left] I returned to the diet on Monday, but it takes an average of five days for the body to use up the leftover glycogen reserves and return to nutritional ketosis, according to Dr. Wali.
- After eating mostly fat, protein, and leafy vegetables for one month, I reached my peak ketone reading of 0.9 mmol/L — a strong indication that I reached a state of ketosis.
OK, so at this point you’ve gotten the basics about the high fat keto diet and got a front seat look at how one such dieter, Melia Robinson, chased ketones.
Now it’s time to take a deep dive into details, because if you’re ever going to try the keto diet, the more you know the better will be your results.
Drs. Patrick and Dom D’Agostino — all you need to know about ketosis
At this point, I imagine that only those readers seriously contemplating trying the keto diet have gotten to this point. Or perhaps you’re a Dr. Rhonda Patrick fan. (I certainly am!)
In either case, you’re in for a treat, but it will take some time to digest, because the video is long and the material gets sciency from time to time.
This video features a conversation between Dr. Rhonda Patrick of FoundMyFitness.com(and an expert on aging, cancer and nutrition) and Dr. Dom D’Agostino, an assistant professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa, and an expert on ketosis.
Without further adieu, here’s the video, and below it is a list of what was covered just in case you don’t have the time or inclination to watch it all:
Here’s what Drs. Patrick and D’Agostino covered:
• Dom’s efforts at teasing out the differences between induced nutritional ketosis (through a low carbohydrate, high fat diet) and ketosis from the dietary introduction of exogenous ketones, like beta-hydroxybutyrate, especially in the context of therapeutic and performance enhancing effects.
• His work on formulating ketone esters.
• The differences in tolerability between MCT (medium chain triglycerides) powders versus liquids, as well as the amount of supplemental MCT a person would need to consume in order to achieve mild ketosis without carbohydrate restriction.
• The differences between different types of ketogenic diets.
• The modified Atkins diet which has been demonstrated to have similar efficacy to the classical ketogenic diet in the treatment of drug-resistant epilepsy and how it may be a slightly more practical option for achieving therapeutic nutritional ketosis.
• The importance of making the correct carbohydrate choices, even and maybe especially in the context of a ketogenic diet, with a diverse variety of raw vegetables being the most favorable.
• What keto adaptation is and what it means, at a physiological level, to be keto adapted and how this is distinguished from short periods of ketosis we experience in our day-to-day lives.
• Some of Dom’s ideas around cycling various dietary strategies as a way of promoting metabolic flexibility.
• How ketones, when used as a source of energy, may result in a net reduction in the number of damaging reactive byproducts known as reactive oxygen species than what may be produced by other forms of energy metabolism while also producing more ATP from, proportionately, the same amount of oxygen. … and a heck of a lot more.
Your High Fat Keto Diet Takeaway
A lots to digest here, eh?
Remember these five things:
- Aim twice before you pull the trigger, meaning, learn as much as you can about yourself (blood tests) and the high fat keto plan you’re going to do.
- Start off slowly; meaning, don’t drive your carbs consumption down from, say, 100 grams per day to 30 overnight, but rather do so gradually over the course of a few weeks.
- Eat high quality macronutrients (fats, protein, carbs) per the suggestion of Dr. Axe above.
- Test for ketones regularly — get that glucose meter and testing strips.
- Recruit a friend to go along for the ride — it sure will help you stick with it and add much needed support and camaraderie.
May you shred the body fat.