How Can I Get Enough Veggies if I want to Integrate Some Keto into the Mix?

What a great question.

One of many that arises with the plethora of information saturating the wellness space on this trendy, “new” concept:  allowing the body to become reliant on fat as its primary fuel source, rather than depending primarily on sugar.

The premise of an authentic ketogenic diet is that by integrating an eating model consisting macronutrients balanced in the following manner: high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, the body is forced to burn fats rather than carbohydrates (1).

When we consume carbohydrates, we are ingesting glucose, which is then transported around the body and is particularly important in fueling brain-function.

Undoubtedly, sugar addiction abounds; the average American consumes 94 grams of the white powder per day (2)!   And it’s not simply a matter of not having enough willpower to nix it; research reveals that excessive sugar consumption in humans increases dopamine levels in a way similar to other drugs, such as cocaine.

Yet sugar is completely legal and what’s worse, we are continually told that it, amongst everything else, is ok in moderation.

A combination of mixed messaging, confusing diet and nutrition information and a desire to address subsequent health and weight issues with quick-fix methodologies has helped pave the way to where the US is today: fatter and sicker than ever before.

One of many of these misconceptions is that when cycling a ketogenic approach into one’s eating routine, that it’s not possible to intake enough veggies.

In actuality, it is.

While it is important not to confuse a low-carb approach with a no-carb approach, as well as not to blur the lines between one who voluntarily opts to integrate eating this way a few days per week with an already sick patient who would potentially benefit more from rigidly adhering to a lower number of grams of carbs per day, in neither case is the objective to consume zero carbs.

We do need some carbs; but that some is the part that confuses many as well as from where and when to source this macronutrient.

Carbohydrates are just one source of energy (3); the key is to realize they needn’t be the primary or certainly sole one. They help fuel your brain, kidneys, heart, muscles and central nervous system and aids in digestion by providing fiber.

However, when we present our bodies with an opportunity to shift to relying more heavily on fat as our primary fuel source,  in which there is less carbohydrate in the diet, the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies. The ketone bodies pass into the brain and replace glucose as an energy source.

People facing health challenges including but not limited to the conditions below can benefit tremendously (4):

  • Overweight / obese
  • High blood sugar, metabolic syndrome, diabetes (both type 1 & type 2)
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Epilepsy
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Other neurological conditions
  • PCOS

So, too can those who may not (yet) have a diagnosed health condition, but are lurking in the murky waters of subclinical illness, now more commonly known as leaky gut, which is the primary underlying cause of digestive conditions. It’s also a contributor to autoimmune diseases, depression, brain fog, anxiety, allergies, eczema, acne, and chronic low energy.  Worst of all, leaky gut can be silent and show no symptoms in the early stages. It’s also believed to affect over 70% of the population (5).

The list doesn’t stop there; on the flip side; humans who have already achieved a state of health closer to optimal can also benefit from shifting away from their reliance on carbs (yes, sugar) in order to progress along their path to higher performance, not only in sport, but at work and in life as a whole.

And while this may read like an overstatement, the bottom line is that most of us are eating too much sugar, including too much fruit, not enough good carbs (which translates to in season, local, organic vegetables, primarily those which are leafy and green) and not still trying to force themselves into a too-low fat approach to eating.

Generally speaking, most can benefit from making at the very least, some subtle changes, in order to begin to see results.

Whether or not this entails integrating a keto approach periodically is another topic; simply starting out by having a mindful awareness to what you’re eating, where it’s coming from and how you’re feeling is goal number one.

If you’re already following an authentic Paleo approach  (traditional hunter-gatherer societies typically consume between 30–40% of their total calories from carbohydrate) (6), you may opt to test the waters out by experimenting with a day or two of a lower percentage of calories coming from carbs while increasing what you’re getting from fat, while allowing your protein consumption from properly sourced animals to remain moderate.

Fat sources should be natural and varied; not just the unsurprising coconut oil, olive oil and raw avocado, but also humanely sourced animal fats such as grass-fed tallow, pasture-fed lard and goose and duck fat.

Incidentally, if you are beginning to tinker with keto, don’t forget to cycle it, especially you ladies out there, by adding in strategic carbohydrate when appropriate at least a few days during the week.   For example, fellow endurance athletes need to understand how and when to add in that baked yam with dinner to prepare for a long bike ride the next day, to add banana and coconut water to a recover meal when executing a two / day session plan as well as how to make some wiggle room for that anniversary dinner out when a flourless chocolate torte and some cab is in order.

Last but not least, don’t get too caught up in the pseudo keto stuff out there.   Just easy as it now is to pop into any store and find neatly packaged products labeled as Paleo (as well as Vegan or gluten free), we can now find keto cookies, keto energy bars, a plethora of keto coffees ‘and more or less any other item one could conjure up.

Is there space for these items in your day to day?

Perhaps, but once again, the understanding of why one would adopt this approach, how it works and most importantly, if you’re clear enough to test it out properly is tantamount not only to your success but to ensuring it doesn’t go South and leave you in a less healthy place than you may already be.

Am I a believer in a keto approach?

Absolutely; with the caveat being that it’s only a part of one’s regime, and that the foundation is a Paleo inspired one, consisting of abundant, in season veggies, moderate portions of mindfully sourced proteins and ample natural sources of fat.

Let’s pause for moment and throw out the labels of Paleo and Keto, and for argument’s sake, just call it food.

A brewed coffee or tea with MCT oil, coconut butter, or grass fed dairy if you partake, blended together before a workout.

A freshly prepared mug of bone broth if it’s a day for intermittent fasting and if not, a breakfast of two eggs over easy cooked in coconut oil, 2 cups of sautéed spinach with garlic,  4 ounces of smoked wild salmon and a handful of blueberries as a meal after your exercise session.

Alkaline water, perhaps with a twist of lime, throughout the day.

A lunch consisting of half of last night’s leftover grilled, grass fed flank, a large bed of arugula, avocado, olive oil, a handful of raw, sprouted walnuts and a twist of lemon.

For dinner, sautéed broccolini, shredded seaweed, wild black cod and olive oil.

Without listing portions or macros, that’s my typical day to day.

It’s fresh, local, in season, simply prepared, delicious, healthy and most importantly… it’s food.

So, yes, circling back to the topic at hand at the beginning of this post, it is absolutely possibly to include enough vegetables during the days of an eating plan which veer more heavily toward a keto macronutrient profile than a Paleo one.

Some of the best veggie choices are low net carb for those of you who are counting and when prepared and eaten in a balanced manner can absolutely be the health promoting approach you’re looking for.

Keep in mind to tread lightly when it comes to the packaged, refined items and equally so, when reading warning of ‘the dangers of keto’ just as much as the ‘dangers of Paleo’.

Often simply by checking the source of these hyped pieces, we can soon see what and who is behind the mixed messaging.

Most importantly, if you remember one thing, you’ll be a step ahead, always:  eat food.  and move.