Low Carb Toolkit

Ketostix

KetostixWhen you initially start nutritional ketosis your body will start dumping excess ketones (including acetoacetate) via urine. So, these sticks are quite handy to show when you are entering the early stages of nutritional ketosis.You can buy them from a number of online sources for about five quid for 50.

It took me 2 whole days of carb restriction before mine changed colour. Women are probably more used to this kind of thing than men, but it’s just a case of dipping the tip of the test stick into your urine – I never bother with a piss pot – I just pop the stick into the stream for a split second.

As you become more keto-adapted over the following weeks, these sticks will become less and less reliable, because acetoacetate becomes less prevalent in your serum (being replaced by other ketones), and you will be dumping less of it in urine.

I know for a fact I am in ketosis, and sometimes I will try a stick just out of interest and find it comes up clear! I usually find that half an hour after eating a reasonable meal that I do still show around 1.5 mmol/L (the measurements are printed next to the colour bars).

Stocking up with the right foods

So, now you have some free cupboard and fridge space. The following list is by no means prescriptive, and certainly isn’t exclusive, but if I knew then (when I started) what I know now, this is what I would have had available.

Drinks

Bovril helps maintain sodiumAs you embark on your ketogenic journey, your body will dump sodium, which means you are going to urinate more and you will need to replace some sodium by increasing your daily intake.

So drink plenty of water – at least the recommended 4 pints for men, 3 pints for women. Hydration is critical to your body, and if you don’t drink enough on a ketogenic diet you are going to feel unwell, take it from someone who knows.

I used to drink so little in my earlier life, that I was probably always slightly dehydrated, and that ended up producing kidney stones. Since then I’ve always made sure I have a glass of something to drink next to me – and always keep a bottle of water with me when I am out and about.

  • Diet (no added sugar) cordials and fruit juices – You will drink more water on a ketogenic diet, and if you find plain water difficult, then choose your flavourings carefully because they will contain fructose (which you will want to avoid) or artificial sweeteners. It’s really Hobsons choice, and you are probably better off drinking something else.
  • Clear broth stock such as Bovril – (they do a nice chicken flavour too), or Miso soup (Japanese soy based) – both available from major supermarkets. These generally contain around a gramme of salt, which will help to keep your sodium levels up.
  • Tea and coffee – although it’s important to limit your caffeine intake, tea and coffee offer satisfying alternatives to soft drinks. There are some concerns regarding decaf coffee but decaf tea seems to be more accepted as safe. There are also many other teas you can enjoy, including camomile, mint and other fruit teas.
  • Cream – yes folks, you can now enjoy full fat cream in your tea and coffee.
  • Nut based milks – almond, hazelnut, and coconut milk are quite nice – although most have some level of sweetener added.

Vegetables

Green VegetablesThere is a great deal of ignorance around ketogenic diets, and many think we sit around eating bacon all day. This simply isn’t true – I eat egg as well!

In all seriousness , fiber is an essential part of any healthy diet, and you can enjoy a broad range of low carb leafy plant based food. The general rule to follow is to select only parts of plants that are above ground. Many vegetables that grow below ground are high in sugars (think carrots, onion, potato, parsnip, betroot etc.)

Here is a short list of good ketogenic veg to get you started:

  • Cabbage (white, savoy, red) – you will learn to love coleslaw
  • Cauliflower – great with cheese sauce
  • Brocolli – come on – every loves brocolli
  • Spinach – it worked for Popeye
  • Choi (Bok or Pak) – Chinese cabbage is great in spicey broths.
  • Chilli pepper – although red chillies have a bit more sugar, if they are hot, you aren’t going to eat them by the bucket load
  • Courgette – great fried
  • Avocado – Guacamole isn’t for everyone, but it’s a good ketogenic food
  • Lettuce & Salad leaves – Any of the prepacked salad leaf products are fine
  • Cellery – idea for spreading soft cheese/pate onto
  • Kale – it’s not just for decoration on salad bars
  • Carrot *
  • Onion *

* These vegetables are relatively high in carbs but I include them here simply because you can use a small amount of them to add extra flavour to things like coleslaw. For example, in 500g of coleslaw you only need around 30g of red onion to provide a bit of extra zing. Likewise with coleslaw a little grated carrot goes a long way. For more information on vegetables see the ketogenic diet vegetable carb list here.

Meats & Protein

Meat proteins

A low carb ketogenic diet is NOT a high protein diet. Protein is an inefficient fuel supply, and breaking down a lot of dietary protein to produce glucose places an unnecessary strain on your liver and kidneys. Remember, your main source of fuel from here on is FAT. However, that said, the protein that you do eat should be the best quality you can afford. Always avoid intensively farmed non-organic produce where possible. For more comprehensive information see the ketogenic diet proteins nutritional breakdown.

Most of all remember to monitor your meat intake, getting at least an equal amount of oily fish to ensure you don’t end up consuming a disproportionately high amount of omega-6. Here is my essential list of meaty goodness:

  • Sausages – good quality sausages from a butcher should contain less than 1g carbs per sausage. Most supermarkets stock good quality sausages from outdoor bred pigs. Stick to plain, or seasoned sausages – ones with leek or apple in will contain far more carbs.
  • Smoked Mackerel – High fat, and very filling – these bad boys are excellent at filling a gap and also keeping your sodium levels topped up, and they keep for a while in the fridge.
  • Fish steaks – Most supermarkets stock salmon and cod/haddock – avoid ones in sauces as these often contain hidden carbs.
  • Chicken thighs – cheaper than breast and more fatty, so ideal for ketogenic diets – buy with skin on as these will contain more fat.
  • Paté – No more worrying about the fat in pate! Bring it on! Ardene, chicken liver, pork and stilton – whatever floats your boat – but just check for carbs/sugar in any containing non meat items such as cranberries.
  • Pork Scratchings – A handy snack, high in fat and salt. Again, there are a lot of mass produced brands that are full of preservatives, but if you can find “proper” scratchings and your teeth are up to the job, then these are good.

Dairy

Dairy produce

Provided you are not intolerant, dairy provides a great source of saturated fats, calcium and other micronutrients. Again, there is massive industrialisation of dairy produce, so look for organic, grass fed produce whenever possible.

  • Eggs – are actually OK. Numerous studies (here are just three [1] [2] [3]) have proven that dietary cholesterol has little to do with serum choresterol. In fact HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol, which is the good cholesterol, usually increases. LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol usually changes very little but may increase slightly when eating more than a couple of eggs a day [1] [2] [3] [4]. However, the methods used to measure LDL in most blood tests are rather limited, and don’t provide the whole picture – LDL particle size (which is not provided under the NHS) has been shown to be strongly and inversely related to risk of developing CVD, and ketogenic diets have repeatedly caus LDL particle size of increase, bringing benefit.
  • Milk – go for the full fat variety – the older amongst you may be thinking of gold top, but in the super markets it’s usually got a blue plastic top. Low fat milk will contain far more carbs per volume in the form of loctose.
  • Cream – cream in your coffee? What’s not to like! It broke my sugar habit instantly. Cream is also an excellent addition if you are making soups, stews, casseroles, curries or other meals containing a lot of liquid. If you are lactose intolerant (oddly my intolerance pretty much cleared up after cutting out carbs) then consider coconut milk below.
  • Butter – At the time of writing, the mainstream media were buzzing with with reports that fat, after all, wasn’t as bad as we have been told for decades – Butter is a rich source of nutrients you won’t find in margarine, and apart from that, it just tastes so much better.
  • Cheese – Take your pick – just avoid the low fat cheeses as these will contain more carbs – and festive cheese containing fruits will also be high in carbs.

Fats and Oils

Various cooking fatsWhen your diet consists mostly of fat, then you are going to become a fat connoisseur. Learn to love it – you have to. Your body requires energy to survive, and if it’s not coming from carbohydrates, then it’s got to come from fat, plain and simple.

There are 3 main classes of fats in real foods – saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. A ketogenic diet requires mainly saturated and monounsaturated fats (for reasons explained below). Therefore, my cupboard contains the following. I show them in the order of volume I consume, from Olive oil the most, and Sesame oil the least (due to the high polyunsaturated content). You can learn more about fats here, and where to find fat and how much to eat here.

  • Olive oil – high in monounsaturated fat (~70%)
  • Butter – high in saturated (~50%) and monounsaturated fats (~24%)
  • Coconut oil – high in saturated fat (~84%)
  • Rapeseed oil – high in monounsaturated (~60%) and polyunsaturated fats (~20%)
  • Sesame oil – high in polyunsaturated fats (~40%) and monounsaturated (~40%)

Bakery

Coconut BreadIt’s bread, Jim, but now as we know it. Say goodbye to wheat, spelt, rye etc. And let go of your bread expectations. The biggest loss for me was not being able to bake and eat my beloved ciabatta bread any longer. Rather than try to imitate wheat bread, I quickly came to my senses and decided simply to wave it goodbye and move on.

Baking is not for everyone, but if you want something chewy to spread your pate on, then it’s worth learning the basics. Recipes abound on the net, but the most common ingredients you will be looking for are:

  • Milled flax seed – this is your essential sawdust/fibre source – it contains almost no carbs at all, with almost 100% fibre. It’s often added to recipes to give a bit of bite/chew.
  • Almond flour – a great alternative to wheat flour for many simple muffins and breads. High in protein and fibre, very low in carbs.
  • Ground Almonds (Almond meal) – Great for texture – and don’t forget, this is essentially what you make the frangipane filling for Bakewell tarts out of – so it fluffs up great with egg and butter.
  • Coconut flour – quite a different beast to almond flour, coconut flour will soak up more liquid and produce a different texture – the coconut flavour is more obvious than almond is in almond flour.
  • Ground Coconut – Again, a wonderful texture, but again, the flavour is more obvious.
  • Psyllium husks – This is another high fibre, low carb, milled product that helps binding ingredients, especially in breads (if you find Xanthan gum doesn’t agree with you). It is also a mild laxative, so it will also assist in other ways!
  • Carbquik – this is an American product but is now easily available in the UK from online shops like carblife.co.uk – It’s a kind of flour/shortening, substitute that you can make muffins, bread, pizza bases, pancakes and other things from – Again, it’s pretty neutral in flavour so you can make sweet or savoury things with it.
  • Baking Powder – You will use a lot of this. Because we are not baking with gluten/wheat, then yeast is not much use for two reasons.
    1. Firstly, there is no gluten so the CO2 produced by the yeast doesn’t become trapped to form the small bubbles that create the bread texture/crumb.
    2. Because we are not using ingredients that contain any real amount of digestible sugars, there’s no food for the yeast to consume, and fart out CO2.
  • Sukrin Bread Mix – For the less adventurous bakers or when you are starting out, the Norwegian company, Sukrin, produce a pretty nice low carb bread mix. You can buy it in 1kg packs or smaller 420g packs. The smaller packs even come with a tin foil baking tray. It’s a case of adding water, mixing briefly and baking – simples!

Other oddments

A few things that I found handy to have around as quick fixes for my habitual cravings.

  • Eatwater Slim Noodles – these are an interesting food to say the least – zero carbs and pretty much no calories either – and no cardboard taste, although they are a bit rubbery, they are certainly not offensive. Most health food shops stock these or something similar.
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