Nutritional Ketosis and Intermittent Fasting

Over the last week I’ve documented my progress into nutritional ketosis through a ketogenic diet. Yesterday, I added intermittent fasting to that process. Here are the results.

As most of you know, I have advocated for low carb high fat nutrition to reverse metabolic disease since I began practicing it myself in 1999. My understanding of this powerful tool has grown both with my personal experience of it and with the growing body of literature helping to explain the nuances we should all understand. Over the last three years intermittent fasting (IF) has come into it’s own in large part due to the influence of Jason Fung, MD author of The Obesity Code and The Diabetes Code, both books I highly recommend to my patients. I have adopted IF as a personal routine over the last year and have found it extraordinarily powerful at improving my health and well-being.

There are many different ways to undertake fasting ranging from time restricted eating (TRE) to prolonged fasts. TRE is simply not eating for about 12 hours in every 24 hour cycle such as not eating after dinner until breakfast the next day roughly 12 hours apart (8pm to 8am). Most studies don’t consider this true fasting as many of the genes and benefits of fasting are not measurable until one reaches 14-16 hours of fasting.

Intermittent fasting therefore is usually anything lasting 16 hours or longer with the remaining hours used as an opportunity to feed. A 16:8 protocol is nothing after dinner at 8pm until noon the next day. A 20:4 protocol is nothing between 8pm and 4pm the next day. I recommend many of my patients undertake a 24 hour fast weekly or every fourth day depending on the goal. Again, I stress, please don’t undertake this without talking to me first as many times patients need their medications reduced or altered to avoid being over treated during the fasted state.

Yesterday I undertook a 24 hour fast which ended up lasting 27 hours due to the timing of my dinner meals on Monday and Tuesday. Monday night I ate a quick meal of roasted chicken, blueberries, and macadamia nuts then went to exercise around 5:30pm. I didn’t eat again until Tuesday night at 8:30pm. Tuesday’s dinner of 1/2 of chicken, an avocado, and cheese was 5 net carbs.

Throughout the day I followed my glucose levels on my Libre and my blood ketone levels on my KetoMojo meter. As you can see from the Libre readings below, my glucose levels were exceedingly stable and slowly declined throughout the day to a nadir of about 69 mg/dL right before dinner. My meal didn’t budge that number at all.

The ketone readings steadily climbed to some very nice levels throughout the day and have stayed higher than last week even after I’ve eaten several times today. Starting out the day at 1.0 mmol/L they climbed to 1.7 mmol/L by lunch time, 2.7 mmol/L by the end of work, and 3.1 mmol/L by the time I broke the fast at dinner.

Beneficial ketone zones after an overnight fast should be around 0.5 mmol/L or higher. They are are optimal around 1.5-2 mmol/L while eating a long term ketogenic diet. After a prolonged fast they can be around 3-5 mmol/L.

When I fast I tend to feel better and better as the day progresses. The initial hours can be challenging but as the ketones develop the desire for food all but fades to zero and hunger is non-existent. I really enjoy that freedom. The clarity of thought and presence of mind that comes in this state is one of the main benefits I desire from fasting. It brings me back to it again and again and I find myself looking forward to the next day of fasting.

If you’re interested in learning how to use nutritional ketosis, intermittent fasting, or a continuous glucose monitor for its health benefits give me a call. We’ll walk through the process together to ensure your success and safety.

Nutritional Ketosis, Days 5 & 6

I didn’t get a chance to update the daily posts yesterday as the start of school, high school sports practice, and school supply shopping made for a long day. Regardless, the data hasn’t changed much. I had about 29 net carbs Sunday and 22 net carbs Monday.

This produced very stable blood sugar results as shown below.

The spike on August 4th around noon was due to some heavy outdoor work I was cutting down another storm blown tree. The following trend down into the red zone (again not dangerous) was a recovery period. To a degree this is repeated on August 5th at 6pm where I worked out hiking the Hardin Valley hill. During exercise my glucose climbed and then right afterwards it dipped again. That’s an interesting phenomenon that I’m going to have to study more. It happens more often with outdoor exercise than indoor exercise. Maybe the body heat, sweat, and evaporation have something to do with it. This is a good reminder that not all causes of glucose elevation are to be avoided or are harmful. As the body works it wants to fuel the cells and will send glucose out to do that.

My last meal of the day was at 5:30pm yesterday which was some roasted chicken, blueberries, and macadamia nuts. Then I started my 24 hour fast. I’ve tried to incorporate a 24 hour fast into my weekly routine starting Monday after dinner until Tuesday dinner. For various reasons this is the day I’m least likely to eat with my family so giving up a meal doesn’t usually impact our time together. As I write this I just finished up today’s only meal so the fast ended up lasting about 27 hours. I have to say I feel focused and calm more than normal and I have the ketones to prove it. I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow.

So after one week of ketogenic nutrition with daily net carb intake averaging 19.6 gms per day this morning’s ketone level was a solid 1.0 mmol/L. I hope that one week journey into nutritional ketosis show just how straightforward it can be and how it can be implemented in a very busy life.

Tomorrow I’ll share with you my ketone levels throughout a day of fasting. Stay tuned.

Nutritional Ketosis Day 4

Friday August 2nd was the fourth day of my journey documenting how to achieve nutritional ketosis. So far my dietary intake of net carbs have been 10 gms, 17.6 gms, and 22.5 gms. Yesterday, I had 17.2 gms of net carbs. I’m averaging 16.8 gms of net carbs per day. Not bad, I think.

Breakfast was three eggs, bacon, sausage and cheese with black coffee. Lunch was beef brisket, an avocado, and a tomato with a spoonful of Purely Pecans sea salt pecan butter with unsweet tea. This stuff is very good and is often what I eat with apple slices. At 1.5 net carbs per tablespoon and 12 gms of fat it’s a great low sugar, whole food snack. Breakfast was 5 gms of net carbs and lunch was only 7 gms of net carbs.

I also need to give a shout out to one of my awesome patients who brought me some of the best tomatoes I’ve ever tasted. He came in this week for a routine follow up and we celebrated a reduction of his fasting blood sugar back to normal and a reduction of his fasting insulin by over 50%! Truly unbelievably good work. I’m so proud of you and happy birthday today!

Dinner was a naked hamburger patty topped with cheddar cheese, sauteed mushrooms, diced tomatoes on a bed of baby spinach leaves. Adding another spoonful of pecan butter made the total meal only 5 net carbs.

Again, my glucose readings remained pretty flat all day. This produced a ketone reading of 0.9 mmol/L this morning after fasting overnight. (I forgot to snap a picture of it before leaving the house this morning, whoops).

I’m pleased with this progress. I’ve been able to eat well and feel satisfied while producing a mild nutritional ketosis. My energy level is good and sleep is too. Both are things that I find deepen in their quality when I eat really well.

You may have noticed the dip in my blood glucose around 4-5 am noted in red on the graph above. I don’t have a definitive explanation of that. It could be associated to changes to cortisol and growth hormone levels that usually happen around that time each morning.

I remember that night as being a particularly dream filled night too. While we sleep our metabolic rate isn’t very much lower than when we are awake and REM sleep, where dreams happen, produces brainwave activity similar to doing those same actions while being awake. The brain consumes a large amount of the body’s energy needs at around 16% so it’s possible that my particularly intense dream consumed more glucose than a typical night. It’s also possible that my night time mental activity had nothing to do with my glucose as REM sleep is always dream filled, we just don’t usually remember it as such. Regardless, the dip, I believe, is inconsequential to my overall progress and health. The CGMs don’t measure lows as well as they measure highs and I always take numbers less than 60 gm/dL with a grain of salt.

Nutritional Ketosis, CGM Day 2

Wednesday was day two of documenting my journey into a nutritionally ketotic state of metabolism. As I mentioned yesterday, the body stores glucose which must be utilized prior to becoming fat adapted. Certain cellular machinery must be upregulated to mobilize fat from storage and allow it to enter the energy generating chemical pathways more efficiently. This process often takes about 72 hours on a low carb or ketogenic diet and can be accelerated by adding more glucose utilizing exercise along the way or starting from a low carb state of health. Full fat adaption takes nearly 6 to 12 weeks in my experience with patients when they first attempt to transition to a low carb lifestyle. Interestingly, I’ve never had a patient tell me they didn’t feel better having done so. Sure, some revert back to high carb diets for reasons similar to why it so hard to quit tobacco, alcohol, and recreational drugs; they’re addicting. No one goes back to a high carb diet once they truly experience a low carb diet because they felt better in their old way of life and enjoyed being 20 lbs heavier.

My dietary log for Wednesday started with the Kisner Omelette at Nick and J’s Cafe along with black coffee. That’s a hidden menu item created by one of my friends but unfortunately not named for him. It is a three egg omelette with onions, mushrooms, green peppers, tomatoes, cheese, diced ham, and sausage. It is amazingly good. I tend to have mine without the cheese and the carb content is about 11 gms net mostly due to the onions and mushrooms.

Lunch was a simple plate of pulled chicken breast from Archers with a little of their Moonshine Vinegar BBQ sauce and unsweetened tea. BBQ sauces are common culprits for added sugars especially in this area where tomato based sauces are preferred. The mustard based sauces are probably lower in carb content but the vinegar based sauces of North Carolina are likely the lowest. Each sauce can be pretty individualized so check out the labels if you get a chance or ask the cook for their opinion. Lunch was 0 gms of carbs.

When dinner time rolled around I was pretty excited to dig into my dry rub BBQ beef brisket that I was making at home. Over the last year, I have developed a recipe cooking brisket Sous Vide style for 36 hours that allows me to cook a large whole brisket separated into smaller 5-7 lb bags. Once cooked, I freeze what I’m not going to use right away. These can be thawed in the fridge for a day or two then finished in a 225 F convection oven for two hours. It has become one of my favorite meals and at $3.79/lb I can’t beat that price. It doesn’t hurt that my son loves this recipe and asks for it. It can be hard to feed a picky teenager and every little bit helps.

Prior to getting to eat my brisket I felt hungry, or rather, unsatisfied. I took that to indicate that I needed more fat intake. I think this relates to the Rabbit Starvation I mentioned yesterday. With 30-45 minutes left for my brisket to finish in the oven, I ate a cup of Fage whole fat (5%) Greek yogurt. This was 7 gms of carbs but 11 gms of fat and very satisfying. The 10 oz of brisket I ate later was 0 gms of carbs. It’s a moderately fatty portion of the brisket too.

For the day I had about 17 gms of net carbs with the majority of that being from the yogurt and the onions in the omelette. I’ve told my patients for years that once you get to about 20 gms of carbs or less per day that’s about as low as one can go. Even an egg as 0.7 gms of carbs and although many nutritional counters log meats like chicken and brisket at 0 gms of carbs per ounce that’s probably not true. When one eats 16-20 ounces of meat per day there is going to be some accumulation from these small amounts. However, the point isn’t to keep the carbs as low as possible or document every single quarter gram of carbs. The point is to keep the carbs low enough to keep my blood glucose stable and in the normal range.

The net effect of this day of Keto food was a pretty stable glucose reading. I call this a win. The lows, in this scenario, are inconsequential. I’ll talk more about them in another post.

So what was the result the following morning after a night of fasting? My serum ketone level, beta-hydroxybutarate to be precise, was 0.5 millimolar/L. That’s a 0.2 mmol/L increase from the prior morning. Remember that 0.5 mmol/L is the lowest end of the ketosis scale. My goal will be too get in the 1.5-2 mmol/L range.

Nutritional Ketosis CGM Experiment Day 1

During the last series on using a Freestyle Libre continuous glucose monitor (CGM) I documented the effects of a typical Western high carbohydrate diet on my blood sugars. Many of the meals I ate were obvious treats containing a lot of sugar, but many were just traditional foods, like toast, which still had a significant impact.

In this series I’m going to show the progression into nutritional ketosis (NK), that is, the process by which my body adapts to using ketones from fat breakdown as a major fuel source. The definition of nutritional ketosis is somewhat in flux but it’s generally accepted that NK begins around 0.5 millimolar of ketones as measured in the serum or blood. I will be using my KetoMojo ketone meter every day to show you the results I’m obtaining.

To start off this experiment, I was not particularly careful on my diet over the weekend. I ate quality food, mostly, but not very low carb.

Starting Tuesday, July 30th, I began to follow a ketogenic diet and will continue to strive to keep my carb intake 20 gms per day or less with a maximum of 50-60gms per day for the two week duration. These are recommendations I often give patients with type 2 diabetes and they are very successful in reversing that disease process. My default carb goal is about 75-100 gms per day. I’ve learned over the years that this is the level at which I feel really well and energetic. I focus on my carbs from whole foods such as fruit and sweet potatoes and allow variation from day to day depending on my activity level and taste buds. So a day of hiking might allow for more carbs after returning home while a day of office work I’d try to be more strict.

My diet log for yesterday is pretty simple. I ate three eggs fried in ghee and two pieces of Swaggerty sausage for breakfast along with my multiple cups of black coffee (3 gms of carbs). Lunch was with a friend at Archers BBQ consisting of 1/2 lb of pulled pork and unsweetened tea (0 gms of carbs). I know unsweet tea is sacrilege in the South but there’s a reason diabetes is so prevalent here too. Dinner was two roasted chicken thighs with sauteed onions and mushrooms (5 gms of carbs). My daughter and I then went to work out at VitalSigns which was 40 minutes on the elliptical and 25 minutes of resistance training with machines and body weight exercises. Trying to keep up with a cross country running Freshman during her workouts has left me sore many times this summer. After our work out, I made a protein powder shake about an hour before heading to bed (2 gms of carbs). That’s actually eating later in the night than I really want to, but I felt like the shake was a good idea. Part of the whole purpose of these meters is to allow someone to become more self-aware and be able to respond to their body’s needs instead of just following an regimented program that can’t adapt.

Nutritional profile for the day.
Note: carb count rounded in write up

The nutritional content of my day was very low at about 11 gms of carbs for the whole day. Protein was pretty close to my max goal. From prior personal experience, I don’t feel great when my protein intake gets too far above 160 gms for too long, but that can be dependent on my fat intake. This has been called rabbit starvation by Arctic explores like Vilhjalmur Stefansson due to eating the lean protein of rabbits without enough accompanying fat. However, I don’t want anyone to think that’s a prescriptive level, just my experience with my own diet.

So what was my result after one day of a ketogenic diet, a moderate intensity exercise for about an hour and fasting for 8-9 hours while asleep? Unsurprisingly, it was pretty normal. My ketones were still pretty low.

The human liver makes glucose continuously and can supply all the needs that the body has. Additionally, it stores about 2500 kcals of glucose as glycogen. That would take about 2-3 days of minimal activity to burn through or about 2-3 hours of intense activity. My one day of low carb intake and modest calorie expenditure is not enough to move me into nutritional ketosis. We’ll see what tomorrow holds.