Wednesday, October 27, 2021

keto's funny that way

Just a strange, random little meditation.

The whole point of the keto diet, which is predicated on the CIM schema (carbohydrate-insulin model), is that you eat an extremely low amount of carbs every day (20-50 grams, max), thereby stopping your body from spiking insulin, which is your fat-storing hormone. Once your body learns to burn fat for fuel, and with no insulin standing in the way trying to preserve or generate fat, you're supposed to lose weight, or at least lose fat.

Keto says that you do this by eating a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet. Your allies along the way are natural foods, the rule of thumb being, "If the food looks the way it did in nature, then it's probably good to eat." So for proteins, this generally means eating meats, fish, etc. that have been minimally processed. Red meat should look like a big hunk of muscle, preferably with fat shot through it, so steaks are perfect on keto as long as you don't slather them in sauces filled with starch and/or sugar. Rotisserie chicken works; so does duck breast (nice and fatty). Fish is great, too, but pan-fry it in oil because most fish aren't that fatty unless you're talking bluefish or salmon. For veggies, stay away from tubers, carrots, parsnips, corn, and other carby items, but do indulge in leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower). Turnips and radishes are OK; onions might be marginally keto if used in moderation (they contain a lot of sugar). Nuts and seeds are fatty and have a good bit of roughage. Fibrous foods of all types are generally good because the body doesn't really metabolize fiber (hence the concept of net carbs versus total carbs: fiber counts as carbs, but you subtract fiber from the total carb count to figure out your net carbs). For fruits, well, they're full of fructose, but on keto, blueberries and strawberries can be eaten in moderation. Heavy cream is better for you than skim milk; cheese is also fine, but dairy products carry the danger of being calorie-dense, so while you might need some fat for satiety's sake, you shouldn't consume too much dairy.

Keto sure sounds a lot like paleo, doesn't it? The emphasis is on largely unprocessed, natural foods that are low in carbs but high in fats, fiber, etc. The goal is always to keep your insulin from spiking (which is why it's recommended to do keto along with intermittent fasting, which also keeps insulin from spiking). But here's the thing: keto has this whole other side to it that's utterly artificial. This is where we get into various sweeteners like the sugar alcohols (erythritol, etc.), allulose, and so on. Then there's the weird stuff like xanthan gum and powdered whey protein. Psyllium husk is arguably natural, but it tastes like sawdust and serves only to help with texture and fiber. The keto noodles I linked to earlier are from the alchemical world of molecular gastronomy, the assumption being that the chemicals in those noodles do nothing to stimulate insulin production. Many chemical-y keto "substitutes" for regular food end up looking weirdly shiny and/or rubbery; it really is as if keto, seen as a whole, is this two-faced monster that doesn't quite know what it wants to be. And within the keto world, of course, you have partisans who advocate for "strict" keto or "dirty" keto, etc., depending on how they view things like processed meats, artificial sweeteners, etc.

It's a lot to take in, frankly. I'm still learning about this universe, still trying to figure out how to get the requisite macros every day. Up to now, I'd have to say that I haven't once experienced true ketosis; my weigh loss is probably more due to the CICO model (calories in, calories out) than to hormonal balance. But once I figure out how to do this keto thing right, I think the sailing will become smoother. 

If you're starting your own low-carb journey, I'd humbly suggest just cutting back on the usual sources for carbs: bread, pasta, rice, sauces made with a roux or with cornstarch, and sweets of any kind, including cookies, candies, cakes, fruit juices, and sodas. Don't worry too much about finding keto substitutes for these things unless you're really, really craving them. If you're jonesing for bread, though, I have to admit I'm coming around to using fathead dough (which generally contains mozzarella cheese); this results in a heavy bread that's good for keto pizza crusts and bagel-like rounds. I started off hating the very concept of fathead dough, but it avoids the problem of egginess that plagues so many of the early iterations of keto bread, and it's more shelf-stable and arguably tastier than, say, keto soda breads. The cheese is also a very firm binder for almond flour, which otherwise falls apart pretty easily (cf. my experience trying to make almond-flour-based pasta). As for cheat days, if you're a beginner, allow yourself a cheat day per week, then reduce that to a cheat day every other week (which is about where I am: two cheat days per month).

Keto's a bit weird, and it takes a lot of getting used to, and I only belatedly learned that it gets a lot of hate from vegans, who deplore the way keto plays up the the vital role of meat (the carnivore diet is basically a super-extreme form of keto, and it goes in totally the opposite direction from veganism). But if you have an open mind and are willing to indulge in new experiences, maybe give it a try and see how it changes things for you. I hope to have a decent keto routine by early next year; I need at least until the end of this year to muddle my way through things. I'm not there yet, but I will be.


John Mac said...

It is an interesting concept, that's for sure. I more or less followed the Atkins version, I'm not sure where that falls within the keto universe. I did wind up losing 70 pounds (combined with lots of walking), so it worked for me. Keto/Atkins was a diet I could follow because I never had to feel hungry--I could satiate the pangs as long as I snacked on something low-carb. A stalk of celery instead of a candy bar. It was hard giving up the bread and ice cream though.

I recall reading those artificial sweeteners are almost as bad as sugar because they trigger the same reaction in the body. I'm not sure I agree with that. Besides, a zero-calorie diet Coke has got to be better for weight loss than a regular Coke. Soft drinks were one thing I didn't give up.

Kevin Kim said...

Keto is a slightly more intense version of Atkins; the diets are based on the same fundamental principles. Carnivore is keto on steroids.