Many people are surprised to learn that most of what I eat are plants. Especially green leafy plants. In fact, many days I have no animal protein at all.
“Wait, I thought you were Keto,” they typically say with a confused expression.
Well, yes and no.
What I practice is a high fat, low NET carbohydrate diet. I avoid processed and refined carbohydrates like most grains and sugar but continue to consume high fiber whole foods. I’m also very particular about the types of fat I eat since fat is where most of my calories come from. While I do eat animal protein, it is in extreme moderation (by American standards) and I choose grass-fed and finished, wild, or pastured when I can. If you were to randomly test my blood on any given day, I will likely be in a state of mild ketosis. In other words, I am going for more of a Mediterranian Diet than an Atkins Diet.
What I don’t practice is most people’s idea of the Keto diet. This is the bacon-centric model you have likely seen examples of on social media. As long as a food doesn’t have carbohydrates it’s fair game.
You need fiber, folks!
Whenever someone on the Keto diet tells me they can’t poop, I push them towards the produce section. “But fruits and vegetables have carbs,” you might say. Keto is low in net carbs, but a very important part of it is fiber-rich vegetables. Net carbs are the total carbohydrates minus the fiber. In other words, fiber doesn’t count. And it is vitally important to your health.
Fiber is largely indigestible to us, but are a favorite food for our gut buddies. The good bacteria in your gut need fiber to thrive. These little guys make many of the hormones and enzymes that make our world go around. They also influence our thoughts and our perception of the world around us. Dr. Steven Gundry even goes so far as to say that we are nothing more than living quarters for our microbes (1). If we keep them happy, they will keep their home (us) in good shape and running smoothly. If they are not happy, we fall into disrepair and become at risk for disease.
Good sources of fiber include leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach, romaine lettuce, dandelion greens), cruciferous vegetables (Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage), and other above-ground vegetables like artichokes, leeks, celery, endive, and asparagus. There is also another category of microbe-friendly food called resistant starch. This is found in cooked and cooled white rice (think, sushi), Jerusalem artichoke, chicory, green bananas or plantains, and unmodified potato starch.
There is such a thing as too much protein.
Protein stimulates certain biological processes (lots of acronyms start to pop up here, like mTOR and AGEs, but we’re not going to go that deep today) that increase the rate of aging. Yes, protein can help muscles grow bigger, but this growth-promoting behavior can also cause cells to replicate too quickly which hastens aging and can promote tumor growth. That’s not something that I’m looking for.
The longest-lived cultures in the world thrive on moderate amounts of protein, mostly in the form of plants and seafood. Think Japanese cuisine and Mediterranian dishes. Occasionally, maybe once a week or on special occasions, pork, chicken, or red meat might grace the table in these areas. I certainly don’t have a problem with a bit of grass-fed, pastured, or wild meat here and there.
What you don’t see in these areas are protein powders. Whole foods are the answer.
The type of fat matters
Most of the research done that has concluded fat causes chronic disease has been done using industrial oils like soy, corn, canola, safflower, and sunflower oil. These oils are made in a factory, not in nature. That is a key difference. For the last word on the power of fats, read Dr. Cate Shanahan’s Deep Nutrition (2).
Nature’s fats are solid at room temperature. They are essential for proper cell function, brain health, and the construction of healthy arteries. If they are not available, the body will do the best it can with what it has. So if the fat you eat comes from a vat in a fast food restaurant, that’s what your brain will be built from. Personally, I choose avocado, olive, coconut, and grass-fed animal fats like real butter for my building blocks.
Eat less, live longer
In his book The Longevity Diet (3), Dr. Valter Longo cites studies from his lab and others that find people eating lower calories overall live longer. He doesn’t suggest going back to restricting calories as a way of life, however. He suggests periods of fasting.
Dr. Longo’s plan is called The Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD), which is five days on a very low-calorie vegan protocol that comes in a box, which I will talk about later. Outside the 5-day diet performed monthly, quarterly, or semi-annually, he is okay with any type of healthy diet. Other researchers and practitioners suggest periods of intermittent fasting for health. This is can be anything from simply extending the time between dinner and breakfast to 12, 16, or 20 hours to alternate day fasting or even a 72-hour fast. One of the best references for intermittent fasting is Dr. Jason Fung’s book The Obesity Code (4).
Fasting sounds scary and even counterintuitive to those of us who have been firmly ensconced in the low-fat, three meals plus snacks, eat every 2 hours so your metabolism doesn’t crash mindset. I can tell you, however, after practicing intermittent fasting for nearly a year, it isn’t difficult at all. You don’t have to eat constantly. You just have to get off that sugar roller-coaster and focus on fiber and healthy fat.
The point is…
What I actually eat is real food. If you look at my plate you will notice it is mostly vegetables. If you track the macros, it is mostly fat, moderate protein, and very little net carbs. Most of the time my is food prepared in a traditional manner to enhance nutrient value and decrease the anti-nutrients, but I do occasionally deviate. Yesterday was Easter, for example. I had a mimosa made with some kind of pink lemonade and there were jelly beans in the bottom of the glass (something I would normally never touch, but it was brunch and I acquiesced in the name of fun). I also had hashbrowns and dessert. Today I had avocado on sprouted grain toast for breakfast at 10am. Am I in ketosis right now? No. But that isn’t really the point.
Eat a well-rounded diet that works for your particular needs. For me, my blood sugar tends to run a little high. So I choose to eat a diet low in carbohydrates. This keeps my sugar, and therefore my insulin, lower which promotes health not only for my weight but my brain and body function as well. How do I know it is working? I test my blood sugar periodically. I am not diabetic, so I don’t test my blood sugar every day. I test it here and there to make sure I am on track. If it starts to run a bit high, especially when I have fasted, I back off on the carbs. Simple as that.
I also intermittently fast for improved blood sugar and longevity. My normal day involves a 16-hour fast with an 8-hour eating window. Two to 3 days a week I do a 20-hour fast with a 4-hour eating window. To be honest, I don’t count the hours. This is how my schedule happens to work out. I stop eating by 7 pm at the latest and I’m not often hungry before 10 or 11 in the morning. Lately, I have been trying to have dinner earlier to enhance sleep quality, but change is hard.
Speaking of fasting, I am waiting for my first shipment of Dr. Valter Longo’s Fasting Mimicking Diet to arrive. This is the 5-day reduced calorie vegan diet in a box that I mentioned earlier. You can learn about it on ProLon’s website or listen to Dr. Longo talk about it on Dr. Mark Hyman’s Podcast. Rather than doing a spring cleanse that may or may not work, I am pushing the reset button with this clinically proven system. I’ll let you know how it goes!
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