I’ve long espoused a fairly low-carb lifestyle for optimal health, but “low-carb” means different things to different people.
For some, it means eating the fewest carbs possible, as in a strict carnivore diet or something more like carniflex, a meat-centric approach that strategically includes some plants.
For others, it means a keto or Atkins-style diet that restricts carb intake.
Some people don’t count carbs at all but still consider themselves “low-carb” because they eat mostly meat, eggs, and vegetables, and they limit things like grains, fruit, legumes, and added sugars. Sound familiar? That’s the classic Primal or paleo approach.
What all these low-carb folks have in common is that they need to decide what to eat day in and day out. Thinking about food all the time can become tedious, especially when you’re trying out a new way of eating and don’t know what’s “allowed.” It’s tempting to sort foods into discrete categories based on macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein) and quality (“good” versus “bad” foods) to reduce decision fatigue.
A little planning and motivation will help you start a low-carb, keto, or Primal lifestyle, and under normal circumstances, keeping your carbs on the low side is easy. But let’s not create the illusion that it is easy all the time. From time to time, you may get stressed and eat mindlessly. Or, your aunt drops off her blue-ribbon cake that you’ve loved since you were in preschool, and you give in, just this once. Or, you had a jam-packed day and all you can muster to make for dinner is that package of gluten-free noodles in the back of your pantry. The next thing you know, you’ve eaten enough carbs for a week, and you wonder how you’ll get back into ketosis after a carb binge.
The short answer is, yes you will recover from a carb binge. Yes, you will get back into ketosis. As far as how long it will take to get back into ketosis – that depends on numerous factors, that we’ll dive into here. The important thing to remember is, you did not obliterate your goals with one misstep. Especially after you’ve spent some amount of time in ketosis, your body will allow for fluctuations in carb consumption here and there. That’s called metabolic flexibility, which we’ll go into shortly.
Hi folks, in today’s Ask a Health Coach, Erin will be answering a few more of your carb-related questions, from knowing which ones to include in your total macro intakes to strategies for managing the aftermath of a carb binge. We love getting your questions, so be sure to post them in the Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group or in the comments below. Stephanie asked: When counting carbs, which carbs are counted? Does this include fruits and vegetables too? I realize that all grains and starches should be counted, but does this also include “moderated” foods such as bananas and sweet potatoes? Any advice is appreciated! As a culture, we’re obsessed with carbs. We’re so totally in love with demonizing, scrutinizing, anddissecting the nuances of carbohydrates. The total carbs, subtracting sugar alcohols and fiber, staking a claim on which carbs are good and which are bad. The whole thing’s gotten really out of hand and way too fussy if you ask me. I work with a lot of clients who exhibit symptoms of being carbophobic, swearing that low-carb is the answer to all their struggles. Even if you’ve successfully removed the word “diet” from your vocabulary (congratulations, by the way), I find that people absolutely love to have rules around what they should and shouldn’t be eating. Why Are We So Obsessed with Carbs? Ever heard of decision fatigue? It’s based on the idea that when making a multitude of decisions (especially in rapid succession), our ability to make additional decisions gets worse. And since we make more than 200 food choices per day, it’s easy to see why having rules takes the edge off. Types of food decisions you might recognize: Should I eat breakfast or fast? How much creamer takes me out of ketosis? Should I even have coffee? What about lunch? How many carbs does this have? Is wine okay? And that doesn’t even include the decisions make when dining out, assuming we get to do that more regularly moving forward. The conversations we have in our heads are overwhelming to say the least. Why? Because our minds prefer things that don’t require a lot of thought. And deciding what we should eat — or how many carbs we should have — is just one more thing to tack onto our to-do lists. Martin Binks, PhD and Director of the Nutrition Metabolic Health Initiative at Texas Tech says, “It’s easier to make a yes or no choice. It’s simpler and less stressful to make binary decisions rather than get into nuanced ones,” adding that “food rules can simplify things.” The more variables there are, the harder it is for our brains to make a decision, which at least partially explains our obsession with food rules. Sure, some structure and guidance is helpful — like knowing which foods agree with your body and which ones make you feel foggy and fatigued. But it’s important to learn how to be flexible and eat mindfully to keep your emotional … Continue reading “Ask a Health Coach: More of Your Carb Questions Answered”
After cutting back on sugar and carbs for a while, you understandably start to miss sweets. A common misconception is that you have to skip sweets to meet your goals, which isn’t the case at all. There are plenty of sugar alternatives that fit within the Primal and keto lifestyles, and stevia is one of them.
Stevia is widely used in the low carb community to satisfy sugar cravings or simply add a touch of sweetness to a hot beverage or dessert, but should it be? What is stevia? Is it safe? What is its effect on insulin, if any, and does it have a place in a Primal Blueprint eating strategy? Let’s investigate.
What Is Stevia?
A lot of people categorize stevia as an artificial sweetener, but it’s important to note that stevia is not an artificial sweetener at all – it’s a plant-derived natural alternative to sugar.
Stevia is an herbaceous family of plants, 240 species strong, that grows in sub-tropical and tropical America (mostly South and Central, but some North). Stevia the sweetener refers to stevia rebaudiana, the plant and its leaves, which you can grow and use as or with tea (it was traditionally paired with yerba mate in South America) or, dried and powdered, as a sugar substitute that you sprinkle on. It’s apparently quite easy to grow, according to the stevia seller who tries to get me to buy a plant or two whenever I’m at the Santa Monica farmers’ market, and the raw leaf is very sweet.
Summer is for grillin’ and smokin’ meats. Brisket, ribs, tri-tip, sausages, pork shoulder, chicken, salmon… I’m making myself hungry. What goes perfectly with grilled and smoked meats? BBQ sauce. Whenever I mention how much I enjoy barbecue, someone says to me, “Wait, Mark, can you have BBQ sauce?” I get it. BBQ sauce is often on the list of condiments to avoid on low-carb, Primal/paleo, or keto diets. People are surprised to find out I can and do eat BBQ sauce regularly. I’m not just being rebellious and ignoring my own rules here. Although there is some important nuance that I’ll cover in this post, it’s definitely possible to enjoy BBQ sauce even on low-carb and keto diets. Stay on track no matter where you are. Instantly download your Primal and Keto Guide to Eating Out Is BBQ Sauce Keto? There’s nothing inherently un-keto about BBQ sauce. It’s basically tomatoes, vinegar, and spices. No problems there. I know some keto folks will say tomatoes aren’t allowed on keto, but I think that’s nonsense. No vegetable is de facto forbidden on a healthy keto diet if you ask me. “But tomatoes are fruit.” Okay, fine. You can still eat them on keto. Some people can’t do nightshades, so they would want to avoid tomatoes, but that’s an issue of intolerance, not carbs or ketosis. Separate issue. The biggest considerations here are how many carbs are in BBQ sauce and whether it’s a good way to way to spend your carb allotment. Already this is a nuanced question. There’s a lot of individual variation in carb tolerance and what constitutes an optimal keto diet for a given person. As a starting point, the Keto Reset recommends that most people aim for 50 grams of carbs per day without counting above-ground, non-starchy vegetables. For some people, this might be too high; for others, it’s too low. I’ve also recommended a flexible limit of 18 grams of carbs per meal (unless you’re doing OMAD). Some brands of BBQ sauce have 18 grams of carbs in a single two-tablespoon serving. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend devoting your entire carb allowance to a small ramekin of sauce. On the other hand, Primal Kitchen Classic BBQ Sauce only has 3 grams of carbs per two tablespoons. Other brands are somewhere in the middle. You can easily stay under your carb limit and enjoy a big plate of meat, a side of grilled zucchini, and a generous pour of a lower-carb BBQ sauce. Given that most of the carbs in a sauce like Primal Kitchen’s come from tomatoes, I see no reason to avoid it. Aren’t Sweeteners Prohibited on Keto? Again, this isn’t a straightforward question. On principle, most keto folks choose to abstain from sugar altogether. A small amount of sugar won’t necessarily knock you out of ketosis, but it’s certainly wise to limit consumption of sugar-sweetened BBQ sauces. There are more keto-friendly options anyway. Some brands use “natural” sweeteners like date paste or molasses. These aren’t inherently … Continue reading “Is BBQ Sauce Keto?”
The Primal Blueprint is generally considered a low-carb way of eating, especially in contrast to the Standard American Diet and the like. We’re not anti-carb. My Big-Ass Salad is a huge bowl of carbs from vegetables, after all. We’re selective about the sources of our carbs and generally mindful about how many we take in.
Given that, readers always want to know the “right” way to incorporate carbs. Which carb sources? How many? When? How often?
The Primal Blueprint Food Pyramid and Carb Curve provide answers to the first two questions. The latter two… well, those are more complicated.
I’ve written about these topics many times, but the questions keep on coming. Today I’m going to try to condense the main points into one post. I’ll touch on some issues you’ve raised in the comments of recent posts, too.
In truth, I keep getting questions because there are so few definitive answers about the optimal way to incorporate carbs in your diet. Underlying hormonal and metabolic health, activity level, and lifestyle variables to make it impossible to make across-the-board recommendations. Few studies address these issues, and those that do always use standard high-carb diets in their manipulations.
The best I can do is explain the logic behind different strategies and encourage you to experiment. As with so many things, it might take time to discover which strategies work best for you.
Instantly download your Keto Reset Diet Recipe Sampler
If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!
Folks, I have been grateful for every story that has come my way over the years. It’s an incredible privilege being on the receiving end of your reflections and evolutions, and they are why I’ve kept at it all these years—knowing the message and information have made a difference in people’s lives. I appreciate every single one. This success story comes from Registered Dietician, Primal Health Coach, and cancer survivor Martha Tettenborn. She takes us through her journey from learning to advise a low-fat, high-carb lifestyle to beating cancer using Primal principles. Enjoy! —Mark
It has become my passion to share the power of nutritional interventions for improving health overall, but especially in the treatment of cancer. I have come to this from personal experience…
I studied at University in the early 1980’s to become a dietitian, because I had an overwhelming interest in nutrition and wanted to be in a helping profession. At that time, the cholesterol and saturated fat theory of heart disease and overall health was considered cutting edge science and we were fully indoctrinated into the low-fat approach to almost all health issues. The only exception was using a high calorie, high protein approach to under-nutrition (such as with failure-to-thrive or cancer patients), and in that situation, we recommended using sugar or honey, butter or cream, and other added fats and simple carbs to increase the caloric density of foods.
Even after publishing several books and hundreds of articles that draw upon the science of ketosis and low-carb living, I keep researching, thinking, revisiting, and discussing the underpinnings of ketosis. My writing partner, Brad Kearns, and I maintain a running dialogue on all things keto. The latest conversation revolved around two very common questions or “problems” that keep coming up in the ketogenic community: why am I getting low ketone readings?
It’s a fair question. Why do some people on a keto diet register high ketones while others eating the same way register low numbers?
I won’t offer definitive answers fit to etch into stone. I will offer my exploration of the research, some educated speculation, and actionable advice you can ruminate on. And by all means get back to me with your take on the questions and my explorations, please. Dialogue is essential to understanding.
One of the more common questions we get in the Keto Reset Facebook community is, “How do I break through a weight-loss plateau?”
Stalls are frustrating. You’re cruising along on your Primal or Primal + keto diet, and then all of a sudden, you hit a wall. Let’s be clear: this is a totally normal and expected part of the weight loss process. Weight loss is never linear. There are always downs, ups, and flat spots.
In fact, if you’ve been losing weight for a while, and then you stall out for a week or two, I wouldn’t even consider that a plateau necessarily. Your body might keep losing weight on its own if you give it time and don’t stress about it. Still, I get it, you’re eager to kick-start the weight loss again.
Beyond the great debate about how many carbs we should be eating, there is another question you might be wondering about: When is the best time of day to eat carbs?
Today we’re going to dig into the data and see if we can get some answers. Before we do, though, I want to make something clear. The types and amounts of food you are eating are much more important than nutrient timing when it comes to health, body composition, and even athletic performance.
Before worrying about nutrient timing, you should:
Eliminate the “big three”—grains, excess sugars, and offensive vegetable and seed oils
Consume an appropriate amount of food for your goals and activity level—neither too much nor too little
Ensure that you are getting enough micronutrients via diverse, nutrient-dense foods, plus supplementation when necessary
I’d also say that macronutrients—the relative amounts of carbs, protein, and fat you’re eating—comes before nutrient timing in the hierarchy of “likely to matter.” A Keto Reset is probably going to impact your health and body composition more than changing the timing of your carb intake.