Whilst I didn’t intend to change my diet until I had experienced significant weight loss it was important for me to plan on not living on a diet product, in my case the Optifast products that I was currently mainly consuming. My wife’s friend who I previously mentioned with regards to the Mushroom benefits had put me onto a podcast; a fella called Joe Rogan had interviewed a Kelly Brogan. Whilst it was a discussion that centred on female health the takeaway for me was how much food impacted on wellbeing. The podcast was good I listened to a few more Joe Rogan podcasts (I have become an avid listener of the Joe Rogan podcast along with the other 4 million people? I pick up a lot from them which will be referenced throughout whatever this ends up being. I’d highly recommend having a listen.) What was evident there were plenty of references to the Keto Diet, I had also been reading Michael Mosely’s material. He is of the 5:2 diet, Mediterranean diet and again I’d recommend his material to have a look at. Hit high intensity training programme is something I will reference later.
So the Keto Diet or at least my take on it: The keto reference is associated with the state of ketosis. The Dr Bovell had explained to me at the outset was the state that would dramatically result in weight loss. The body swaps the use of sugar or glucose for ketones, ketones are produce by the liver by processing body fat hence the loss of weight. This process occurs when blood sugar (glucose) is in short supply.
Ketones are produced if you eat very few carbs and only moderate amounts of protein which is something I forget.
On a ketogenic diet, your entire body switches its fuel supply to run almost entirely on fat. Insulin levels become very low, and fat burning increases dramatically. It becomes easy to access your fat stores to burn them off. This is great if you’re trying to lose weight, but there supposed to be other obvious benefits, such as less hunger and a steady supply of energy, keeping you alert and focused. I wasn’t necessarily experiencing this.
When the body produces ketones, it’s said to be in ketosis and excess ketones leave your body in your sweat, breath or pee. I bought ketone stick to pee on. It appeared I fell in and out of ketosis readily. The fastest way to get back into ketosis was by fasting was not going to be sustainable for me, however understanding what fasting is for you is very important. A twelve hour fast for me proved to be very beneficial. So I ensured that I ate before 7pm and ate again after 8am. By the end of February, I also trained first thing in the morning on a black cup of coffee only.
The most important thing for reaching ketosis is to avoid eating too many carbs. You’ll probably need to keep carb intake under 50 grams per day of net carbs, ideally below 20 grams. The fewer carbs, the more effective. In summary, real low-carb foods like meat, fish, eggs, green vegetables that grow above the ground and natural fats like butter or olive oil should be eaten. Food to avoid contain a lot of sugar and starch. Foods like bread, pasta, rice and potatoes and vegetables that grow beneath the ground. These foods are very high in carbohydrates and knock me out of ketosis if I sniff them.
Furthermore, the food should primarily be high in fat, and only moderately high in protein. A rough guideline is about 5% energy from carbohydrates (the fewer carbs, the more effective), 15-25% from protein, and around 75% from fat. This confuses me no end but there are many food lists available of the net. The advice is to drink two litres of water a day (I do not do this and feel I must improve), and coffee or tea are fine too but with no sweeteners and especially not sugar. A small amount of full fat milk or cream in your coffee or tea is acceptable as is the occasional glass of red wine.
The fewer carbs you eat, the more effective the diet is for weight control, less than 20 grams of net carbs per day should keep you in ketosis, the list that follows give some margins to work with:
Endogenous ketosis occurs when we eat less food than we need (This is why I was in Ketosis in the morning but even eating this controlled diet I was out Lunchtime). Our insulin and blood sugar levels decrease and ketones rise to supply the energy we need. Exogenous ketosis occurs when we eat high levels of fat. While a low carb or ketogenic diet helps to stabilise blood sugars, most of the good things associated with ketosis occur due to endogenous ketosis; endogenous ketosis with lower blood sugars and lower ketones is likely a better place to be than driving high blood ketones with exogenous ketosis if weight loss then a stable weight if what you are after; this is my ultimate goal.
Endogenously produced ketones from a well formulated ketogenic diet ; the reduces inflammation in your body. Inflammation is the stem of most diseases. Heart disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, gastro intestinal issues like chrons, colitis, acid reflux, IBS, cancer and much more. When experiencing a low inflammation diet you reduce your risk greatly. When keto adapted, you burn fat in your diet and fat on your body equally. So once fully adapted, you are using your bodies fat stores to create ketones. This is exactly what you want to have happened in order to lose weight. A ketogenic diet also apparently preserves muscle mass. This is also why fasting is such a great tool in for weight loss when keto adapted. Your body reverts to burning only body fat while preserving muscle.
A ketogenic lifestyle is reported to be great for overall brain function. This includes better mental clarity, focus, improved moods and much more. It must be said I have not really experienced this; as well as the increased energy levels that are often reported when eating a ketogenic diet.
Exogenous Ketones are body supplements that provide users with an instant supply of ketones; apparently early Arctic explorers first encountered this sacred compound, the exogenous ketone was developed by the Inuit’s of the wintry north. No one’s quite sure where it originated, may have been Siberia, Greenland, Alaska or Lapland. What is known is that these societies highly valued the type 1 diabetic, a rare find in the unchartered Arctic. Using an admittedly grisly and cruel process, these peoples would starve the tribe’s diabetic to induce ketoacidosis, harvest the ketone-rich urine, and reduce it slowly to a ketone-rich concentrate over a camp fire. Tribe shamans would dissolve the tar in pine needle tea and distribute it to members exclusively before hunting, warfare, and any activity requiring optimal physical and mental function to boost energy and improve performance. Mark Twain famously quipped, “The strongest coffee I ever had was a Laplander’s piss.”
So to define what you can eat on a ketogenic diet this food list is intended to help make decisions on what to eat and shop for:
All of the food sticks to the strict 5% carbohydrate allowances that are used for a basic ketogenic diet. In general, you can eat from the following food groups:
Fats and Oils; try to get your fat from natural sources like meat and nuts. Supplement with saturated and monounsaturated fats like coconut oil, butter, and olive oil.
Protein; try to stick with organic pasture-raised and grass-fed meats. Most meats don’t have added sugar in them, so they can be consumed in moderate quantity. It is said that too much protein on a ketogenic diet is not a good thing.
Vegetables; fresh or frozen doesn’t matter. Stick with above ground vegetables, leaning toward leafy/green items.
Dairy; most dairy is fine, but make sure to buy full-fat dairy items. Harder cheeses typically have fewer carbs.
Nuts and Seeds; in moderation, nuts and seeds can be used to create some fantastic textures. Try to use fattier nuts like macadamias and almonds.
Beverages; stay simple and stick to mostly water. You can flavour it if needed lemon/lime juice.
Fats and Oils
It is intended that fats will be the majority of the daily calorie intake when you are on a ketogenic diet, they can be combined in many different ways to add to meals as sauces, dressings, or just simply topping off a piece of meat with butter. Fats are vital to our bodies, but they can also be dangerous if you are consuming too much of the wrong types of fats and still loading up with carbohydrates. There are a few different types of fat that are involved in a ketogenic diet. Different foods usually have various combinations of fats, but the unhealthy fats are easy to avoid. Here’s a brief overview:
Saturated Fats; these are the right fats to eat. Some examples of these are butter, ghee, coconut oil, and lard.
Monounsaturated Fats; these are also good to eat. Some examples of these are olive, avocado, and macadamia nut oils.
Polyunsaturated Fats; there is a difference. Naturally occurring polyunsaturated fats in animal protein and fatty fish are great for you, and you should eat these. Processed polyunsaturated fats in “healthy” margarine spreads are bad for you, give them a miss.
Trans Fats should be completely avoided. These are processed fats that are chemically altered (hydrogenated) to improve shelf life. Avoid all hydrogenated fats, such as margarine, as they have been linked to heart disease.
Saturated and monounsaturated fats such as butter, macadamia nuts, avocado, egg yolks, and coconut oil are more chemically stable and less inflammatory to most people, so they are preferred. You also want to have a balance between your omega 3’s and omega 6’s, so eating things like wild salmon, tuna, trout, and shellfish can help provide a balanced diet of Omega-3’s. If you don’t like fish, or just prefer not to eat it, we suggest taking a small fish oil supplement.
Be mindful when eating nut or seed based foods, as they can be quite high in inflammatory omega 6’s. These include items like almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, sunflower oil and corn oil. Eating fatty fish and animal meat, keeping snacking to a minimum, and not over-indulging in dessert items that are dense in almond flour is usually enough to keep your omega’s at normal ranges. Essential fatty acids (the omegas) provide core functions to the human body, but they are often out of balance when on a standard diet.
Some ketogenic diet foods that are ideal for fats and oils (organic and grass-fed sources are preferred):
Animal Fat (non-hydrogenated)
Use cold pressed vegetable oils (olive, soybean, flax, or safflower).
If you tend to fry things up, try to go after non-hydrogenated lards, beef tallow, ghee, or coconut oil since they have higher smoke points than other oils. This allows less oxidization of the oils, which means you get more of the essential fatty acids.
Your best bet when it comes to protein is choosing pasture-raised and grass-fed. This will minimize your bacteria and steroid hormone intake. Try to choose the darker meat where possible with poultry, as it is much fattier than white meat. Eating fatty fish is a great way to get omega 3’s in as well. When it comes to red meat, there’s not too much to avoid. Cured meats and sausages can sometimes have added sugars and added processed ingredients. If you eat steak, try to choose fattier cuts like ribeye. If you like hamburger meat (ground beef), try to choose fattier blends. One thing you do need to be careful of when dealing with meat is your protein intake. Too much protein on a ketogenic diet can lead to lower levels of ketone production and increased production of glucose. You want to aim for nutritional ketosis, so you must not over-consume on protein. Try to balance out the protein in your meals with fattier side dishes and sauces. If you choose to eat lean beef, you have to be especially careful with the portioning of protein. Jerky and other beef snacks can add up in protein very fast, so make sure to pair it with something fatty – like cheese! This maybe where I was going wrong?
Some examples of how to get your protein in on a ketogenic diet are below:
Fish. Preferably eating anything that is caught wild like catfish, cod, flounder, halibut, mackerel, mahi-mahi, salmon, snapper, trout, and tuna. Fattier fish is better.
Shellfish. Clams, oysters, lobster, crab, scallops, mussels, and squid.
Whole Eggs. Try to get them free-range from the local market if possible. You can prepare them in many different ways like fried, deviled, boiled, poached, and scrambled.
Beef. Ground beef, steak, roasts, and stew meat. Stick with fattier cuts where possible.
Pork. Ground pork, pork loin, pork chops, tenderloin, and ham. Watch out for added sugars and try to stick with fattier cuts.
Poultry. Chicken, duck, quail, pheasant and other wild game.
Offal/Organ. Heart, liver, kidney, and tongue. Offal is one of the best sources of vitamins/nutrients.
Other Meat. Veal, Goat, Lamb, Turkey and other wild game. Stick with fattier cuts where possible.
Bacon and Sausage. Check labels for anything cured in sugar, or if it contains extra fillers. Don’t be overly concerned with nitrates.
Nut Butter. Go for natural, unsweetened nuts and try to stick with fattier versions like almond butter and macadamia nut butter. Legumes (peanuts) are high in omega 6’s so be careful about over-consumption.
Here’s a nutritional list of some of the most commonly consumed proteins on keto and their respective nutritional profile. Keep in mind that you still need to balance your protein intake with fat.
Keto Protein Source Calories Fats (g) Net Carbs (g) Protein (g)
Ground beef (100g) 280 23 0 20
Ribeye steak (100g) 330 25 0 27
Bacon (100g) 519 51 0 13
Pork chop (100g) 286 18 0 30
Chicken thigh (100g) 250 20 0 17
Chicken breast (100g) 125 1 0 26
Salmon (100g) 236 15 0 23
Ground lamb (100g) 319 27 0 19
Liver (100g) 135 5 0 19
Egg (1 large) 70 5 0.5 6
Almond Butter (2 tbsp.) 180 16 4 6
Vegetables and Fruit
Vegetables are a vital part of a healthy keto diet, but some vegetables are high in sugar and don’t cut it nutritionally; these need to be cut from your diet. The best kinds of vegetables for a ketogenic diet are high in nutrients and low in carbohydrates. These, as most of you can guess, are dark and leafy. Anything that resembles spinach or kale (Kale chips are very trendy, I’ve tried to make them but failed miserably!) falls into this category and will be the best thing to include in anything you can. Try to go after cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, Brussel-sprouts) that are grown above ground, leafy, and green. Organic are always preferred as there are fewer pesticide residues, but if you can’t get them then don’t worry; there are studies that show organic and non-organic vegetables still have the same nutritional qualities and that both frozen and fresh vegetables are good to eat.
Note: Vegetables that grow below ground can still be consumed in moderation; you need to be mindful about the number of carbs that they have. Usually, underground vegetables can be used for flavour in a broth. I always use an onion, a couple of carrots and a turnip and celery for in a five litre pot. I don’t think I’ll ever find a rule that works perfectly; I’ll just keep tweeking. Eventually I want to consume vegetables with carbohydrates and portion them based on their carbohydrate counts and what I need to feel good and maintain a healthy weight.
As a rule of thumb:
Higher carb vegetables include onion, parsnip, garlic, mushrooms, and squash. Potatoes are obviously included in this list and I simply do not eat them.
Nightshades include tomato, eggplant, and peppers and should be considered for carbohydrate count.
Berries include raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and are good for a fruit fix.
Citrus includes lemon, lime, and orange juice (or zest) in water and in recipes.
Completely avoid starchy vegetables and large fruits like potatoes, bananas and tropical fruits like pineapple have what I consider high carbohydrate counts.
Here’s a nutritional list of some of the more commonly consumed vegetables on a ketogenic diet;
Keto Veggie/Fruit Source Calories Fats (g) Net Carbs (g)
Cabbage (170g) 43 0 6 2
Cauliflower (170g) 40 0 6
Broccoli (170g) 58 1 7 5
Spinach (170g) 24 0 1 3
Romaine Lettuce (170g) 29 1 2 2
Green Bell Pepper (170g) 33 0 5
Baby Bella Mushrooms (170g) 40 0 4
Green Beans (170g) 26 0 4
Yellow Onion (170g) 68 0 12
Blackberries (170g) 73 1 8
Raspberries (170g) 88 1 8
As illustrated the fruits and vegetables that grow underground tend to have higher carb counts, so they must be monitored and limited.
Dairy is commonly consumed in alongside meals on a ketogenic diet. Try to keep the dairy consumption to a moderate level with meals containing protein, vegetables, and added fats/cooking oils. Raw and organic dairy products are preferred but a hard to get hold of in my experience. Processed dairy products are normally two to five times higher in carbohydrates than raw/organic dairy so it does add up over time. Make sure to choose full fat products over fat-free or low-fat as they will have significantly more carbs and are less “filling”. If you want to reduce lactose, or have lactose sensitivities stick with harder, long-aged dairy products as they contain much less lactose. Some examples of dairy you can eat on keto are:
Heavy whipping cream
Spreadable products such as cottage cheese, cream cheese, sour cream, mascarpone, creme fraiche, etc.
Soft Cheese including mozzarella, brie, blue, colby, monterey jack, etc.
Hard Cheese including aged cheddar, parmesan, feta, etc.
Dairy is used to add extra fats the ketogenic diet requires into meals by creating sauces or fatty side dishes like creamed spinach, but dairy products have protein which should be taken into account when pairing dairy with protein-heavy dishes.
A nutritional list of the most commonly consumed dairy items on a ketogenic diet follows.
Keto Dairy Source Calories Fats (g) Net Carbs (g) Protein (g)
Heavy cream (30g) 100 12 0 0
Greek yogurt (30g) 28 1 1 3
Mayonnaise (30g) 180 20 0 0
Half n’ half (30g) 40 4 1 1
Cottage cheese (30g) 25 1 1 4
Cream Cheese (30g) 94 9 1 2
Mascarpone (30g) 120 13 0 2
Mozzarella (30g) 70 5 1 5
Brie (30g) 95 8 0 6
Aged Cheddar (30g) 110 9 0 7
Parmesan (30g) 110 7 1 10
It is said that some people experience slower weight loss when over-consuming cheese. If you notice that you have hit a plateau or slowed down in weight loss and are not where you want to be consider reducing the amount of dairy you eat.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are apparently best when they are roasted to remove any anti-nutrients. Try to avoid peanuts if possible, as they are legumes (and they grow underground) which are not highly permitted in the ketogenic diet food list. Raw nuts can be used to add flavourings or texture to meals and choose to consume them as snacks – which can be rewarding but may work against weight loss goals. Snacking, in general, will raise insulin levels and lead to slower weight loss in the long term. Nuts can be a great source of fats, but they do have carbohydrate counts that can add up quickly. It’s also particularly important to note that they do contain protein as well. Nut flours add up in protein rather fast – so be wary of the amount you use.
Nuts can also be high in omega 6 fatty acids, so it’s good to be careful with the amount you consume. For typical eating, you want to stick with fattier and lower carbohydrate nuts.
Fatty, low carbohydrate nuts: Macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, and pecans can be consumed with meals to supplement fat.
Fatty, moderate carbohydrate nuts: Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, and pine nuts can be used in moderation to supplement for texture or flavour.
Higher carbohydrate nuts: Pistachios and cashews should rarely be eaten or avoided as they’re very high in carbohydrates (2 handfuls of cashews is almost a full day’s allowance of carbs).
A nutritional list of some examples of the most commonly consumed nuts on ketogenic design follows:
Keto Nut Source Calories Fats (g) Net Carbs (g) Protein (g)
Macadamia Nuts (60g) 407 43 3 4
Brazil Nuts (60g) 373 37 3 8
Pecans (60g) 392 41 3 5
Almonds (60g) 328 28 5 12
Hazelnuts (60g) 356 36 3 9
Nut and seed flours are great to substitute for regular flour. Commonly consumed on ketogenic diet, seeds and nuts are frequently seen in baked recipes and dessert recipes. We often see the use of nut flour such as Almond and seed meal such as flaxseed but should be eaten in moderation. Mixing multiple flours to get a realistic texture in baking recipes is possible and combining flours and experimenting with your baking can lead to much lower net carb counts in recipes. Remember that different flours act in different ways as well. For example, you would only need about half the amount of coconut flour as you would almond flour. Coconut flour is much more absorptive and generally, requires more liquid, I have baked bread substitutes that are nice and moist and other that are dry and crumble. The ingredients aren’t cheap so consume even the failures; just eat plenty of butter with them!
A nutritional list of some examples of commonly consumed ketogenic nut/seed procucts:
Keto Nut/Seed Baking Source Calories Fats (g) Net Carbs (g) Protein (g)
Almond Flour (60g) 324 28 6 12
Coconut Flour (60g) 120 4 6 4
Chia Seed Meal (60g) 265 17 3 8
Flaxseed Meal (60g) 224 18 1 8
Unsweetened Coconut (60g) 445 40 8 4
Water and Beverages
The ketogenic diet has a natural diuretic effect (Diuretics can cause you to pass more urine than usual. They work on your kidneys by increasing the amount of salt and water that comes out through your urine), so dehydration is common for most people starting out. If you’re prone to urinary tract infections or bladder pain, you have to be especially prepared. Two litres of water should be drunk a day. The body is made up of about two-thirds water; hydration plays a substantial role in our everyday life. Many people choose keto-proof coffee or tea in the morning to ramp up energy with added fats. While it is a great thing, it’s also important to consume flavoured beverages in moderation. This is amplified when it comes to caffeine as too much will lead to weight loss stalls; try to limit caffeinated beverages to a maximum of 2 cups a day.
Something that is also referenced is the experience of Keto Flu when transitioning to fat fuelling due to dehydration and lack of electrolytes. Make sure that you replenish your electrolytes and drink plenty of fluids. An easy way to do this is by drinking bone broth.
Some examples of commonly consumed beverages on keto are below:
Water; this will be your staple, go-to source for hydration. You can drink still or sparkling water.
Broth; loaded with vitamins and nutrients. More importantly, it will kick start your energy by replenishing your electrolytes.
Coffee; improves mental focus and has some added weight loss benefits.
Tea; has the same effects as coffee, but many don’t enjoy tea. Try to stick with black or green.
Coconut/Almond milk; you can use the unsweetened versions to replace your favourite dairy beverage.
Diet soda; try to severely reduce or completely stop drinking this. It can lead to sugar cravings and sometimes insulin spikes in the long run.
Flavouring; the small packets that are flavoured with stevia are fine. You can alternatively add a squeeze of lemon, lime, or orange to your water bottle.
Alcohol; choose hard liquor or red wine. Beer and mixers is a killer. Frequent consumption of alcohol will slow weight loss down so everything in moderation.
Spices and Cooking
Seasonings and sauces are a tricky part of ketogenic diet foods, but people use them on a regular basis to add flavour to their meals. The easiest way to remain strict is to avoid processed foods. Sea salt is preferred over table salt, as it is usually mixed with powdered dextrose. Most pre-made spice mixes will have sugars added to them, so make sure you read the nutrition label beforehand to make sure you know what’s inside. If you have the choice, never include added sugar into your spice blends or food. Always remember that spices do have carbs in them, so you should make sure to adjust your nutrition based on this. Some of the more commonly used spices include:
Both salt and pepper can be used for seasoning without worrying about the nutritional information and typically speaking, the number of carbs in spices is minimal, so you don’t have to drive yourself crazy with measuring and recording.
Condiments and Sauces
Sauces, gravies, and condiments should be avoided if pre-made; they usually have added sugars or use sweeteners that aren’t friendly on the ketogenic diet. If you choose to make your sauces and gravies, you should consider investing in guar or xanthan gum. It’s a thickener that’s well known in modern cooking techniques and lends a hand to low carbohydrate by thickening otherwise watery sauces. Luckily there are many sauces to choose from that are high fat and low carb. If you’re in need of a sauce then consider making a hollandaise or simply brown butter to top meats with.
Although great in health and theory, you may be like many others and not have the schedule to be able to make everything from scratch. Although it varies from brand to brand (make sure to read the ingredients), standard pre-made condiments for keto include:
Salad Dressings (choose fattier dressings like ranch, Caesar, and unsweetened vinaigrettes)
Staying away from anything sweet is the key to success – it will help curb your sweet cravings to a minimal, which essentially leads to success on the ketogenic diet. If you have to have something sweet, though, there are some options available to choose from. When searching for sweeteners, try to go with liquid versions as they don’t have added binders (such as dextrose). On ketogenic diet, you want to try to stick with lower glycaemic index sweeteners; sweeteners with low glycaemic impact (or index) have little effect on blood sugar. The higher the glycaemic index is, the higher your blood sugar will spike during consumption. Here’s a recommended list of zero GI sweeteners:
Stevia; one of the most common sugar substitutions used on the market today and is incredibly sweet with no glycaemic impact. The liquid form is preferred.
Sucralose; a very easy but very sweet substitution to sugar with the liquid versions are preferred.
Erythritol is a great sugar substitution that has zero glycaemic impact. It’s special because it passes through our bodies undigested, and is excreted without absorbing the carbs.
For those looking for something just a little closer to real sugar, you can use Xylitol. It cooks and tastes very similar to sugar, but it has a slight glycaemic impact; a little more than a tenth of sugar. It is great, but be mindful that it is very toxic to animals and it will raise insulin levels slightly.
Cravings and Sugar Addiction
Most of the cravings that we get are caused by sugar. Sugar, at the end of the day, is an industry that’s run on addiction. There have been numerous studies showing that sugar stimulates the reward centres of the brain. When we constantly consume sugar, we release dopamine in our brain creating an addiction and an increased tolerance. Over time you will have to eat larger and larger amounts of sugar to continue the dopamine secretion. Once our body is dependent on a chemical reaction in the brain, we can find that we’re craving things even when we’re not hungry. When trying to shift from a high carbohydrate diet to a ketogenic diet, cravings can definitely get strong. The recommendation is that when switching to keto, you restrict using sweeteners completely for the first 30 days. It normally leads to breaking sugar addiction and ultimately not having cravings.
Besides sugar, sometimes our bodies crave food because of lack of nutrients. The craving usually goes away if you fulfil your nutrient intake in a different way. A few ways to get rid of these cravings include:
Fruit and berries; most fruits are not allowed to be consumed due to the high sugar content. Many people still eat berries, but you have to control your portioning with these. Be careful blueberries and cranberries as they add up in carbohydrates fast.
Chocolate; you can eat chocolate on keto, but you have to be very cautious with the serving sizes. You want to stick to very dark chocolate (90% or higher), as this will have much fewer carbs.
Gut Health; whilst researching the Ketogenic Diet it became evident that gut health was also a benefit many claimed. I had already discovered that the gut had a many neurons as a cat’s brain and needed to be trained to accept the resetting of your bodies accepted weight. I was keen to understand this more so again embarked on some research. Poor gut health is not only linked to gastrointestinal problems, but more research point to it playing a role in the management of serious diseases like diabetes, autoimmune disorders, arthritis, depression and chronic fatigue syndrome. Many diseases that may seem totally unrelated to the gut such as eczema but may actually be caused or worsened by gut problems. The gut contains seventy percent of the body’s immune system, and the gut contains an ecological community of commensal, symbiotic and pathogenic microorganisms that plays a major role in immune health.
The digestive system is at the centre of your wellbeing and is involved in so many vital processes. It is responsible for converting food into simple nutrients and delivering them to the body via the bloodstream. There are a variety of things that wreak havoc on our digestive system; gastrointestinal health can be the root cause for many other health issues including brain and mental health. However, it is entirely possible to restore the full health of your gastrointestinal system, which can have major positive effects on your entire body, from mood, to memory, and more. Healing your gut allows the body to build a stronger immune system and produce the right kind of bacteria that tells your brain that it’s okay to feel good again. The health of your gastrointestinal system is extremely important to your overall well-being. It is largely responsible for the critical functions of the body’s digestive and immune systems, beneficial bacteria in your digestive system have the capability of affecting your body’s vitamin and mineral absorbency, hormone regulation, digestion, vitamin production, immune response, and ability to eliminate toxins, it is believed that a good gut has a bearing on your overall mental health.
Scientifically known as intestinal hyper-permeability or leaky gut syndrome to us mere mortals is not uncommon, and new research shows just how strong the connection between gut health and brain health. Digestion, mood, health, and even the way people think are being linked to their “second brain,” in their gut. The Enteric Nervous System (the cat brain), is what scientists are calling the 100 million or so nerve cells that line the entirety of people’s gastrointestinal tracts. The main role of this is to control digestion, but in doing so, it communicates back and forth with the brain as to the overall health of the body’s gut, and in turn, its immune system. The connection between gut health and mood has been known for some time, as individuals suffering from bowel-disorders such as Celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or leaky gut are more likely than others to also suffer from autoimmune diseases and mental issues such as depression and anxiety. Symptoms related to poor gut health can be as obvious as abdominal pain, bloating after meals, reflux, or flatulence, but also less obvious like headaches, fatigue, joint pain, and immune system weakness. Generally speaking, the health of your gastrointestinal system is determined by the levels and types of bacteria in your digestive tract. Ideally there is a balance of bacteria, however, an imbalance between beneficial and harmful bacteria results in gut dysbiosis (microbial imbalance). Most often, dysbiosis is the result of too many bad “bugs,” including bacteria, yeast, and sometimes parasites, and not enough good ones. This imbalance causes damage to the mucosal layer of your intestinal tract; the normally smooth intact mucosal layer becomes permeable, allowing food proteins to enter into the blood stream. This consequently activates your immune system, causing inflammation, food sensitivities, and a myriad of symptoms throughout the body. Some research has shown that when the gut is irritated or inflamed, which usually happens when the body is trying to digest foods that are overly processed or that it has sensitivity to, the Enteric Nervous System signals the body’s Central Nervous System which can then trigger mood changes. More new studies suggest that digestive function may also affect certain cognitive functions, such as thinking skills and memory, as well as early Parkinson’s disease. With regards to mental health, a 2015 Cell Journal study found that, although serotonin is well known as a brain neurotransmitter popularly thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness. Approximately 90 percent of the body’s serotonin is made in the digestive tract. A lack of this “peripheral” serotonin, which is cultivated by certain bacteria in the gut and the production rate of this can affect mental health. It has also been linked to diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, leaky guy, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis. The type of food that a body processes can have a huge positive effect on the functions of the brain. When the gut is healthy, the brain is happier, certain microbes found in the gut can work to help heal and protect the brain in the long-term. With the typical diet being filled with processed, sugary foods, the gut becomes damaged over time and therefore less functional. Diets filled with carbohydrates and gluten are damaging as they allow bad bacteria in the gut to grow exponentially. Some research suggests that this type of diet has been linked to mental health issues ranging from headaches and ADHD to depression and dementia. It is possible to reverse and repair the damage that’s been done to your gut over years of unhealthy diets or imbalances. It is good to first figure out what exactly is going on within your body and to determine what food sensitivities you may have that could be affecting your body’s ability to absorb nutrients or digest. I know my body does not process bread. I feel better without it and when I do eat it (another addiction) my gut tells me it’s not good. Research what supplements you could benefit from that will help your gut stay healthy for the long term then make an actionable plan for yourself to get your body back to optimal gut health. Nothing beats advice from a certified nutrition expert but my research has led me to believe this is a good simple plan for good gut health:
Remove irritating or inflammatory foods from the diet, there are 3 main categories of inflammatory foods which should be removed from the diet in order for you to regain the health of your gut. These are:
Wheat (grains); it is a myth that the consumption of wholegrain, especially wheat & gluten containing grains (includes barley or rye grain), is actually healthy for the human body. Studies indicate that the inflammatory properties of wheat which when consumed can lead to obesity, leaky gut syndrome, diabetes, acidosis, accelerated ageing, heart disease, neurological issues & more. It has been demonstrated that two slices of whole wheat bread can actually raise blood sugar more than 2 tablespoons of pure sugar can which is a concern when considering the consequences of fluctuating blood sugar on health & longevity. Numerous researchers have indicated that wheat causes leaky gut; increased intestinal permeability, in everybody who consumes it so in order to heal the gut lining you need to remove it from your diet. Consuming gluten-free grains is not an alternative because they are often high in carbohydrates which can feed pathogenic microbes within your gastrointestinal tract.
Dairy; even the tiniest amounts of skim milk in a coffee can set of a systemic immune reaction to shut down the inflammatory molecules which have moved into the bloodstream. Reactions and symptoms such as acne, sore throat, gas, bloating and aching joints can be instant or even days later making it hard to distinguish which foods cause the issue in the first place. This inflammatory reaction results in an outpouring of insulin into the system making weight loss (among other things) near impossible. A wonderful side effect of removing these foods is that our immune system stops making the anti-bodies against them, & subsequently we begin to crave them less & less! Dairy foods can potentially be a very healthy food, however due to the processing of dairy products including pasteurisation, homogenisation, the adding of chemicals and antibiotics health benefits is being compromised. It is not recommended that you consume most dairy products whilst healing your gut.
Sugar; the detrimental effects that processed sugar has on our health is evident but put shortly, sugar does the following:
Causes blood sugar imbalance
Increases the risk for diabetes, obesity & heart disease
Causes systemic mineral deficiencies
Causes tooth decay
Causes inflammation of the brain
It is important that until there is balance in the microbiome, even natural sugars such as those that come from fruit can potentially feed the pathogenic microbes which may be in your gut. So staying away from all processed sugars, grains & most fruit is a good idea whilst you heal your gut. Fruits which can be included are lemons, limes, tomatoes, avocado & cucumber.
Replace the inflammatory foods with healthy options so that the digestive system can be reset. These include low-sugar vegetables, certain nuts & seeds, healthy fats & animal proteins. Ideally, your plate should be 80% green vegetables such as salad greens, spinach & kale. Add a palm-sized amount of colourful vegetables such as carrot, sweet potato & beetroot. The remainder of your plate can be filled with healthy fats & proteins coming from animal or plant-based sources. It is recommended on a Gut Healing Protocol that you consume bone broth or ‘stock’.
Portion sizes, with correct ratios are important and need to be considered as is eating until you are 80% full. Food should be consumed by chewing thoroughly and slowly.
Combining foods needs to be thought about whilst healing your gut to prevent slow motility (the contraction of the muscles that mix and propel contents in the gastrointestinal tract) and unhealthy fermentation within your gastrointestinal tract. This means combining starchy carbohydrates with proteins should be avoided. For example having mashed potato with chicken results in poor digestion; this is because the carbohydrates in the potato require an alkaline digestive environment whilst the proteins in the chicken require an acidic digestive environment. A good breakfast would be eggs, spinach, avocado and tomato, as opposed to having eggs on toast; lunch could be some grilled chicken with a green salad and dinner could be some bone broth with some cauliflower rice.
The idea that bacteria are not all bad is something that doesn’t necessarily follow when you think how we are bought up and bring our kids up these days with cleanliness being next to godliness or whatever my Mum used to say. I have only just recently understood that your gut flora is developed from the gulp of fluids a baby takes as it is being born. Doesn’t need much of an imagination to appreciate what that is likely to contain. Good bacteria or probiotics live in your body and actually help you maintain health and even fight diseases. You can get probiotics, along with the fibre that good bacteria eat called prebiotics from certain foods and supplements.
The importance of probiotics and their role in human health has been in the mainstream for at least a decade by my reckoning but there is still some potentially confusing terminology. To differentiate and define the most basic terms explanations follow:
Probiotics; the good bacteria: The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, present a health benefit on the host.” What that means is that probiotics are the bacteria that your body needs. Your digestive system when healthy is full of good bacteria that help your immune system, work to keep your digestive system healthy and efficient. Bad bacteria too gets into your body, and if the bacteria balance get out of kilter (microbial imbalance), probiotics add good bacteria back into your system. You’ll find probiotics in fermented foods such as yogurts (with live, active cultures), sauerkraut, and kimchi. Keep in mind that for the most part it is very difficult to get enough probiotics through eating foods alone, and that a supplement is probably necessary.
Prebiotics; the fibre food for bacteria: Prebiotics are the food for probiotics. Taking prebiotics helps probiotics work better and more efficiently. Prebiotics not digestible by humans, but they stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria. Common prebiotics are inulin (a natural storage carbohydrate present in many species of plants, including wheat, onion, bananas, garlic, asparagus) and carbohydrate fibres called oligosaccharides. In between the simple sugars and the starches are a group of carbohydrates that I have never heard of no idea what they are. I have read food labels and seen oligofructose on ingredient lists. Oligosaccharides are found naturally in small amounts, in many plants. Plants with large amounts of oligosaccharides include chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, they are also found in onions, leeks and garlic, legumes, wheat and asparagus. It is said that a good Mediterranean diet can give about 10 grams of oligosaccharides daily. Recent studies have indicated an important characteristic: the human digestive system has a hard time breaking down many of these carbohydrates. Most escapes the digestion system in the small intestine and reaches the colon where it performs a different function: that of a prebiotic.
Prebiotics refer to food components that support the growth of certain kinds of bacteria in the colon or large intestine. Initially some studies concluded that oligosaccharides were the main prebiotics, but recently it has been established that resistant starch which is converted to fermentable fibre also feed these bacteria.
The bacteria that feed on fermentable carbohydrate produce many beneficial substances, including short-chain fatty acids and certain B-vitamins. Additionally, there is some evidence that they may promote further absorption of some minerals that have escaped the small intestine, including calcium and magnesium.
Further studies have shown that short chain fatty acids provide many benefits, both locally in the colon, and in the rest of the body. In particular, butyrate has received attention as possibly being protective of colon tissues from damage, including colon cancer and ulcerative colitis. A good source of butyrate is butter a the green leafy vegetables, other possible benefits include:
improved insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism
improved immune system function
Prebiotics are found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and many researchers believe they are as important as probiotics when it comes to a healthy gut.
Many foods contain probiotics and prebiotics but it’s difficult to get enough probiotics strictly through food. It is commonly thoughts that you need to take a probiotic supplement to get enough probiotics in your diet to maintain good health. Fermented foods which formed a larger portion of the human diet in time gone by because it was a great way to preserve food contain probiotics. During fermentation yeast is added to a food to change its structure. Primarily, sugars and starches are broken down during fermentation producing live bacteria. It’s the live bacteria in the food you eat that make it full of healthy probiotics. Probiotic-rich foods include the following:
Yogurt (with live cultures)
Kimchi (a spicy fermented cabbage common in the Korean diet)
Dark chocolate (a good, high-quality chocolate)
Some soft cheeses (such as Gouda) contain Lactobacilli bacteria
Sourdough bread may also contain Lactobacilli
Fruits such as bananas and tomatoes
Vegetables like artichokes, green beans, leeks
Repair the gut lining; by decreasing the level of inflammation within your gut by removing foods that increase the permeability of your gut lining and adding calming, nourishing foods such as bone broth so that the cells can become highly functioning. There are numerous supplements & foods which can potentially speed up the healing rate of your intestinal lining. Two of which are bovine colostrum & aloe vera. Colostrum can be used to assist the healing of gut lining. Colostrum is actually very similar in terms of its nutritional content across all mammalian species. It is the first form of milk produced by the mammary glands of mammals; therefore bovine colostrum from cows can be used. Gut protective substances in colostrum can work within the gut to help fight off infections of pathogenic bacteria & fungi. Lactoferrin (protein found in cow milk and human milk) & transferrin (main protein in the blood that binds iron and transports it around the body) are particularly interesting nutrients in colostrum; actually both are mineral-binding carrier proteins which attach to iron, thus starving pathogenic bacteria & yeast. Colostrum has been shown in scientific studies to help control infections, assist in the healing from Crohn’s disease & aid healing of the gut lining.
Aloe Vera is an amazing plant that has the potential to not only heal burns but apparently also our gut lining. As an alternative to colostrum, Aloe Vera may be used to reduce inflammation within the gastrointestinal tract & to assist in healing the gut lining. Aloe Vera can also be used as a prebiotic. The gel in Aloe gives it its healing properties but it does act as a laxative. Aloe Vera may be particularly helpful in healing inflammatory and acidic conditions of the gut like ulcerative colitis & gastritis.
Develop a diet and add in fermented foods; commit to a long-term approach. Once you have healed your gut, symptoms may have gone away for 2-3 months it may be time to begin to evolve the diet a little more. Restricting normally healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables & some gluten-free grains like rice to heal to heal the gut. This step is used to begin to slowly reintroduce these sorts of foods back into the diet, using an appropriate reintroduction process. I simple way to do this would be to wake in the morning drink some water and consume a single serving of fruit you would like to include in your diet. Now wait for between 2-3 hours before consuming anything else and ask yourself these questions:
How did it make me feel?
Did I feel energised?
Was my digestion sound after it…or did my belly rumble, tumble & growl at me?
How did I feel at 4pm that afternoon - did I start craving sweets & sugary foods?
Did I get an itchy throat or rash?
These are the critical questions you should ask yourself & if you have any concerning answers then chances are you’re not ready for that food. Remember it is important to eat new foods on their own so that you can determine their effects. You should follow this protocol for foods such as:
Fermented Foods (i.e. apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut, kefir)
Remember to utilise the “4 R’s” of gastrointestinal and digestive health: