Why I use the <20g KETO diet as a short-term health tool.
by Clara See
When I first discovered the KETO diet, I was filled with a mix of shame, remorse and unexplainable fascination.
Having been educated to view fats as the meanest, baddest, demonic defecation (sibei jialat food) that clogs arteries and flab tummies (bui bui pong pong) to an overnight sensation of THE Holy Grail or Pumpkin to Cinderella was mind boggling.
I was the kind of gal that ate Wantan Mee soup NOT dry, Teochew Fish Porridge NOT Hainanese Chicken Rice, Yong Tau Foo Bee Hoon Soup NOT Char Kway Teow.
Sometimes a bowl of hot water might appear, as random and as rare as the moments I would give in to eat any sort of food that is oily, any food that wasn’t boiled, steamed, or oil-free.
By the time I was 12 years old, I had memorised the entire book of calories for raw meat, vegetables, baked goods and snacks, and various common dishes for Singapore and countries beyond. I was that fanatic, that sort of ‘siao on’. Body consciousness was a big thing in my family and I also told myself that I will never ever ever want to hear the school nurse call me “Rounded & Obese” again.
How did I even get to that stage?
Well, it stemmed from a series of family & life events. Food was and is a common love language at home. It is a non-physical hug, an unspoken phrase of concern and a heartbeat skipping surprise. It is the cheesy excuse of a get together, bonding with our ‘jiak pah buay’ and the unmistakable raison d’etre. Food- the/ (y)our universal love language and I was fortunate enough to be indulged that way.
So after 30+ years of oil-less loving, the mechanics of the KETO diet slapped me like struggling wild caught Barramundi. The self tests, studies backed, results proven effects got me scouring away in a despicable corner of “sia suay idiotness” My supposedly perfect diet have betrayed me and thrown me into a flight of disarrayed realization; I have busted, convicted, whipped & jailed this “MoF” (Mob of Fats?) for over 3 decades long.
The white knight in me is stirred.
Excited to spread the new gospel to bring back justice and redeem my ignorant sins, I went off to start a business based on fat bombs snacks & KETO foods. Surely the world has to know this and the traditional nutritional pyramid has to be challenged.
FATS ARE GOOD! WE WANT MORE FATS! YOU ARE LYING! – the chants that rant off incessantly in my head.
Graced with my newly trimmed figure and innocently sweet fat bombs, I set off to fight the FAT war. I was never really overweight before, but probably more fleshy or curvy. Also, full on KETO did helped me to shed a good amount of water weight & visceral fats.
I ran roadshows, ads, and campaigned. Signed on new business deals & contracts, conducted workshops and classes. Along the way, there were many hits, numerous supporters, multiple doors opened. Alongside also, there were mishaps, rejections and slammed windows too. It is all part of the game, it is all part of the movement.
We started to have our own regulars, many repeat customers, same sweet faces over. It is a niche market, a dedicated and targeted group of people. All these definitely proved to be an encouragement, motivation and fuel for my passion. This is it, I thought. This is the one and only diet, this is THE WAY.
Now is the moment, now is it. Time to convert the 3 most loved people in my life, my father, mother, and my son.
My son was the easiest conquest. He has always been a real sweetheart and the most gratefully precious gift in my life. I started with a reduction in rice and noodles during meal times and a greater focus on good meats and vegetables. Desserts and snacks were seldom available but there is some allowance of an occasional bag of potato chips, fast food and chocolate bars. He soon got accustomed to the low carb way of eating and stopped asking why am I deliberately sneaking the carbs away.
Next was my mother, the most outwardly supportive darling and the gangleader of my family unofficial fan club. As a veteran baker herself, she not only switched to eating my foods as much as possible but also praised my bakes to the heavens and back. She will eat anything and everything I cook to express her support and encouragement for the mission that I am on. TBH, and I am serious, this is the first time in my life that I got any sort of compliments from her.
Months went by, the orders from my mother peaked and slowed. I didn’t really think much about it but just thought that she probably got bored of eating the same foods all the time. Afterall, I was surprised that she kept on eating my low carb foods with her own high carb foods. I was more than grateful that she liked what I was doing above anything else.
Until I found out one day, why she slowed her consumption. High fat foods are not easy on the digestive system and especially so for the older folks. And I believe that she didn’t want to raise the matter as she didn’t want to demoralize me. Also she didn’t want to acknowledge her aging body, a weaker digestive system. But it becomes an obvious point as I dug more to understand about her bowel movements and habits. My mother’s health is not just pink, but even fuchsia neon pink. Looks like 50 when she’s almost 70, exercises for a minimum of 3 hours a day and has a daily fitness regime that will put many 30 year olds to shame. If even her body is overwhelmed by it, I couldn't help but wondered about other people as well.
Then came my dad, the one who has showered me with endless troughs of food throughout my life. He will queue yonks and hours just to make sure that I got my favourite wanton mee soup from Kallang Airport, the best duck rice I loved from Geylang Lor 35 and my one and only Chilli bee hoon from Maxwell market. Food as a love language built such a strong foundation between us, it is almost our few and far between sentimental expression.
But after learning about my new diet path, he soon found that he couldn’t buy the foods that he knew I loved anymore. Getting breakfast from the local hawkers became such an impossible feat. He can’t be buying my fried eggs and luncheon meat only all the time, the foods that we held in nostalgia seems to just slip out of our fingers with the memories.
He used to be known for bringing the best fruit gifts to everyone, something that he took absolute pride in. But now, because of me, because of KETO, the otherwise health elixirs became devilish. The apple of his eye no longer glistened, it has stopped shining.
It was like I was slowly turning into a stranger, the food gifts dwindled. It was like he didn’t know what to say anymore. The silence is deafening.
MORALITY & SUSTAINABILITY
To maintain a carbohydrate level of <20g is actually quite tricky, less so if you are referring to net carbs. All vegetables and especially fruits contains carbs; Meaning, your diet will have to be mostly meats or animal based products. Toxins for both humas & animals are mainly stored in the fat reserves. One is more susceptible to consuming toxins when you consume the fatty cuts of meats from an animal. These toxins can affect anything from your hormones to digestion, brain, lymphatic system and overall health. Unless you can guarantee, chop, confirm, monitor or prove the rearing conditions of the animal, I rather choose better poised quality over quantity.
For the record, I am not a vegan diet supporter, but also definitely not a carnivore diet advocate. I do read up about climate change and farming sustainability but I don’t think I have been convinced enough to pick a side over another for those reasons.
But if one day, I am being forced to pick a side, I do have an answer: It is Vegan.
My very simplistic reason for my choice? I don’t feel good that an animal has to die just so I can obtain the (supposedly) OPTIMAL amount of nutrient density. I will eat it if I am presented with it, and I will appreciate and enjoy a good piece of meat. But will I go all out of my way to obtain that glorious cut? Probably not.
PERSONAL HEALTH BENEFITS
Body Weight: Yes I am skinnier, trimmer and lighter. Being one that is terribly prone to water retention, cutting out carbs has undoubtedly helped to lessen my bloatedness and flatulence.
Decrease in Visceral Fats: Quite a shocker for me when I saw a high level of visceral or organ fat in my first health report. Never expected that as I was slim on the outside but somewhat fatty on the inside. Was even more disgusted as I knew I had avoided fats all my life. The only culprit could only have been carbs or excess sugars. KETO has helped me to bring down my visceral fats from over average to almost insufficient within 1 year.
Skin Health: Apart from complex carbs and fruits, I was never a sugar consumer other than the random cake or treat. But I did get a bit of a breakout from Nuts as I had always avoided nuts due to its high fat content.
Exercise Performance: After becoming properly “fat adapted” (KETO for over 6-9 months), I saw a significant improvement in my endurance level as compared to the times when my body was a sugar burner. Not only was I able to easily complete a Bikram Hot Yoga class, but I feel also energized enough to do another 1 or 2 classes. Never was that the case for me before.
Better Joint Health: Incredibly, it did improve my flexibility and joint pain. Not sure how, but it sure disappeared. Not because of weight either, and I just do not experience anymore joint pain.
Mental Clarity: Something that I wasn’t able to comprehend before. Like how would one know what clear is when one have been ‘foggy’ most of their life? Akin to the parting of the clouds, uncovering of a veil, finally awoken. The feeling is amazing.
Depression: Having struggled with depression for quite some parts of my life, I felt that the reduction of sugar/carb crashes helped to moderate my mood. I experienced less mood swings and emotional roller coasters.
Carb/ Sugar & Fat Quality Awareness: I felt that the carb awareness or fat quality knowledge highlighted by a KETO diet was extremely useful for my food analysis. It gave me a new perspective for my food choices and positively influenced my perception towards different foods.
It is however, not without compromise.
NOT SO NICE BITS
KETO Flu: Uncomfortable for a while, but still bearable and definitely worth it. Just like the beginning of any new regime, it will not be and should not be a bed of roses as your body undergo training & adaptations to strengthen itself.
Hair Loss: Thank goodness I am blessed with thick luscious locks of hair. I sometimes believe that there must be an allocation error somewhere and I must have mistakenly received another set of follicles that should be belonged to someone else.
Disruption in Menstrual Cycle: My cycle did stop for about 3-4 months initially. It did return and regulate after I increased my carb levels on certain days and coupled with a KetoBiotic style of eating. Having been through 2 near death experiences of uterine haemorrhage, missing months of cycles can be very disturbing. I cannot help but wonder about the effects on the hormones and other possible negative impacts. Also, this is not helpful if one to trying to have a baby.
Digestive Issues: 1 day, 2 days, 3 days? Ok… I can deal with that. 6 days? Sorry, but that’s way off. Exercise, magnesium, more fiber, more fat, you name it, I did it. I know mine is a stress induced condition but the body & hormones got into fight or flight mode. I can’t control that and it is highly uncomfortable. I have since found a solution for it with my soup but I think it does says something about the impact a KETO diet has on your digestive system. Also I do not like the quality of the unusually stinky poo. On the other hand, I would like to also emphasize that an extremely high fiberous vegetarian diet is also not ideal for a healthy digestive system. Therefore, I really still think that there should be vegetables & meat, not just one sided.
Carb Oversensitivity: This is the most ridiculous part, particularly for a healthy individual. The Ketogenic diet was initially developed to treat epilepsy and seizures in the early 1920s. It proved to be such an effective method that led others to explore the various benefits of ketosis. With more studies, this diet soon went on to show that it is also an effective tool for blood glucose management, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes reversal.
I was really happy to reap the abovementioned benefits of ketosis as I went along. But just like Newton, I was struck by an apple. Having been on KETO for an extended period of time, my blood glucose has always been well maintained and kept low. Before I got myself a Continuous Blood Glucose Monitor (CGM) I was pricking my finger 3-4 times a day just to monitor my blood glucose reaction towards different food and drinks.
One day, I had an innocent apple and a little soon kueh (steamed turnip dumpling), my blood glucose levels went over 9mg/dl or 170mmol/dl (my average post meal BG is 6mg /dl or 130mmol/dl)
The importance of Metabolic Flexibility is backed by the same logic of Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
Why is that so? Surely it wasn’t this way before. Has my body forgotten how to process carbs? Have I neglected and under utilised that function of the body such that it is deemed redundant? This experience led me on to test out more and more foods, little wonder they say that KETO is a lifelong way of eating.
it appears to be giving up an inherent bodily function to gain advantage over another. Obvious weight gain comes across as inevitable if one tries to switch back. Furthermore, I also developed an unhealthy fear and bias towards carbs. The roles of fats and carbs has reversed. I don’t want to lose the functions of my arms so I can focus on my legs. This is so twisted.
The problem was more about the mismanagement of carb consumption & the lack of activity/exercise rather than the nature of carbohydrates.
Vegetables & fruits DO contain a good amount of phytonutrients, beneficial vitamins and useful minerals that are beneficial for health.
E.g. Imagine having knee problems about years of excessive running, climbing and walking. You listened to various health advices & took part in different fitness regimes. You were pushing yourself to lead a healthy lifestyle and tried to make the ‘best choices’ possible with reference to several medical authorities. 10,000 steps, min 3 times a week, 60 mins each.
One day, you sustained a knee injury, sprained ligament or maybe a torn meniscus and needed an operation to fix the issue.
Would you then conclude that walking is bad?
The 10,000 steps advice is ridiculous?
Our legs should NOT be used again?
Does one give up eating for the fear of choking or do they?
The mere fact that fats are harder to digest and the metabolization of fats requires the additional work from the digestive system, liver & bile is a consideration itself. Just like everything in life, there is more than one side to the coin.
Yes, perhaps the scale of the traditional nutritional pyramid is somewhat skewed or distorted, but this does not mean that carbohydrates are utterly useless.
The fact is, it is completely unfair to completely discredit & condemn carbohydrates or sugar. Maybe it might cause inflammation, metabolic syndrome and some might argue that is not an essential nutrient - but this is in excessive consumption, cellular dysfunction or external pollution, etc…
It could also trigger certain hormonal problems, some mental conditions and definitely obesity issues - but again, it is due to over consumption, gene mutation or pollutants, etc
Have you noticed? Trends & media spotlight brings excessive consumerism. Salted egg, Mala, Truffle; sounds familiar? Please don’t be a lemming; Make informed choices.
Extreme focus in any specific area/function of the body will bring imbalance to the entire system. Isn’t it obvious that too much of anything is not good?
Sorry to say this, but if you take this same mentality and apply it to a strict KETOGENIC diet or food group, it is only a matter of time that a similar problem will surface.
A healthy body is balanced; all the organs are meant to support one another and cooperate to work in unison.
Therapeutic actions or diets are meant to heal & rejuvenate the respective organs so they can regain their original functions; It is NOT meant to discharge or deem them redundant. Based on this theory, one should leave the therapy once he/she is healed or recharged.
TO KETO OR NOT TO KETO? YES BUT NOT ALWAYS!
I know it sounds really stupid for a business that sells KETO or low carb foods to say this, but yes, this is my HONEST hand-to-heart OPINION.
*It is however different for one with a medical condition to focus on, e.g. epilepsy, diabetes, obesity etc. Which perhaps might require more detailed attention or an extended period.
And these are the main reasons why I conclude that a strict <20g KETO diet is a good short term therapeutic diet (rather than long term) for most individuals with non specific health conditions. It is a good tool for sugar/glycogen emptying, detox & reset, metabolism flexibility training and overall health maintenance.
Is it something long term? So ok, you wanna give up the use of your right arm and let your left arm do all the work? Isn’t it better to have the flexible use of both arms just in case?
Because you don't want to be defeated by a fruit; you want to be able to absorb the good vitamins in fruits & vegetables; you want to still be able to metabolise carbohydrates efficiently when you eat them
Also can I perform the same function and expect the same efficiency over time? Yeah, there is a tipping point and even a machine needs rest & repair…
The Best Diet?
I don’t believe in the something as being ‘The Best’. It is a matter of suitability, timing and availability. The Best is what works for you most appropriately in accordance to your goals & criteria at that given moment. Giving a starving cat a vault full of the best Hon Maguro is worse off than a rotting bit of anchovy if it can’t access it.
Because of the modern lifestyle, our general carbohydrate intake has to be lowered. "Keep to a ceiling of 100g net carbs on high days and less than 30g net carbs on low days. This allows for greater nutrient diversity and better metabolic flexibility"
Strict <20g KETO diet should be used as a short term cleanse, detox or reset + LCHF (Low Carb Healthy Fats for long term maintenance)
Just like Fats, there are Good Carbs and there are Bad Carbs. Please don’t inflict the same undeserved judgement on Carbs like how Fats has suffered before. They don’t deserve the bad name or the unnecessary shaming.
It is us that needs to up our Game of Knowledge on Nutritional Awareness & Food Mindfulness.
Listen and observe your body to know and understand what works for you and what doesn’t. One man’s meat could be another man’s poison. Our body & health is as unique as our thumbprint, iris, habits, knowledge, character and background.
Nutritional Awareness & Diversity
Read your ingredients & nutritional labels. Consume a variety of foods from varied sources and reliable suppliers. A diverse profile of nutrients not only improves your microbiome gut health, strengthen immunity and also expands your nourishment network.
Gain Metabolic Flexibility
Exploring different foods and ways of eating will help to keep your body adaptable and open. Exposing yourself to understanding and experiencing several ways of eating will expand your nutritional horizon and acceptability. You want to expand and grow your body functions, not limit and restrict it.
Good intentions always