Holiday Eating, Keto Style
Don’t let baked goods derail your
Living the keto lifestyle never stops Desiree DiLorenzo, 23, from enjoying herself at a holiday party.
No matter how many cakes, cookies, pies and other sugar-laden foods grace a table, she’s prepared. “I plan ahead,” says DiLorenzo, a Somar, California, resident, personal trainer and full-time student. “I always bring something along with me, even if I’m not asked to bring anything. It’s a gesture to thank the host—and at least there will be something there I can eat.”
DiLorenzo’s favorite bring-along party food? “A spinach artichoke dip,” she says. “It falls into the ketogenic category, and I can eat it with a fork or with veggies while others dip their chips.” She finds that cheese-and-meat platters, as well as meat-and-cheese roll-ups, also work well.
Tips for Staying on Target
Most Americans gain about a pound during the holidays, according to a New England Journal of Medicine study. Most people never lose it, and those pounds quickly add up.
Sugary treats and other high-carb holiday choices make this goal more than a little challenging at the end of the year. That’s especially true if you follow the keto diet, in which fats and protein predominate, and carbohydrate is held to a minimum.
Whether you’re on a keto diet or simply trying to manage your weight, planning ahead is key.
“A lot of people go to parties unprepared, and then they turn it into a free-for-all,” says Joshua Carter, CEO of Carter Fitness in West Hills, California, and founder of 28DayKetoCamp.com. “Then that one ‘cheat’ day turns into a month of cheat days. It’s fine to use a party situation as a pre-planned cheat day and part of your overall plan, but get in your workout and get back to your normal eating pattern as soon as possible.”
In party situations, Carter suggests that people generally stick with meat and vegetables. “Keep it pretty basic, maybe some salad. But stay away from high carbs with fat, like mashed potatoes with gravy and butter. As for office holiday parties, have your favorite protein bars or other ‘allowable’ foods on hand so you’re not tempted by treats.”
“Unless your host is doing keto, it’s best to check in a day or two ahead of time to see what’s on the menu,” says Jenn Fillenworth, MS, RD, registered dietitian and former owner of an adult ketogenic diet clinic in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “And bring a keto-friendly dish so that you know you have at least one thing you can snack on.” Meats, fish and poultry are fine unless they’re prepared with breading or flour, says Fillenworth. “Stay near the cheese tray, and butter and oil-type offerings, which make it easy to get in your fat servings.”
Surprisingly, gravy can also be a carb source and should be avoided, says Fillenworth. “Gravy contains flour to form a roux (a thickener of butter and flour). If you’re doing the entertaining, make your own gravy by using a non-carbohydrate thickener like xanthan gum.”
Preparation starts before you leave the house. “Eat something before you go,” says Carol Aguirre MS, RD/LDN, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “You don’t want to arrive hungry and then spend the next two hours staring at crackers, chips, cake and eggnog.”
Aguirre suggests these foods as portable, keto-friendly options for traveling or bringing to parties:
• Biscotti (made with almond flour)
• Grilled portobello mushrooms
• Creamed spinach
• Roasted broccoli
• Roasted Brussels sprout
• Roasted turkey
• Roasted lamb
If you’re unsure of the carb content of certain foods, Aguirre suggests using one of the widely available apps, such as MyFitnessPal, that tell you exactly what is in a specific item. And don’t worry about staying 100% on track. “If there is a tray of delightful cheese making the rounds, don’t feel bad for trying a new brand. The trick to beating the holidays keto style is to know what you’re saying yes to, by making smart and knowledgeable choices,” Aguirre notes.
What about pushy party hosts? “The best thing to do at a party or function is to say thank you, accept and keep talking,” says Aguirre. “Chances are, they won’t even notice if you don’t drink their eggnog.” If the negative voice inside your head is the problem, Carter suggests reframing your thoughts. “It’s a mental mindshift. So shift any thoughts of deprivation of ‘I can’t eat this or that’ to ‘I get to eat this way.’ Being healthy and happy is worth it.”
Taking a Break From Keto
If you find it too difficult and would like to deviate from your diet, Aguirre advises doing it wisely.
“Know your trigger foods that may make you overeat dramatically and stay clear of those,” she says. Also avoid foods you know make you feel worse the next day. For many people that includes alcohol, wheat and cheese. And lastly, have a plan for when and how you will restart keto. “Just know that some people might experience a bit of a ‘keto flu’ when re-adjusting, but if you’ve been keto for a while then that readjustment period is often just one day,” says Aguirre.
“In the end,” says Aguirre, “not obsessing about your diet and learning how your body reacts to different foods, keto and non-keto, will help you live a healthier and more fulfilled life.”
Dealing with the "Keto Flu"
One good reason to avoid falling too far off the low-carb wagon is the way you may feel once you climb back on.
Severely cutting carbs can result in symptoms such as headache, muscle soreness, sugar cravings and irritability, as well as various GI-tract issues. Known as the "keto flu," they can occur when the body switches over from a carb-based metabolism to one that burns fat as the primary energy source.
Not everyone suffers these miseries, which can vary in intensity and are only temporary. But the best way to avoid getting the keto flu at all is to watch your carb intake.
Controlling Blood Sugar to Fight Cravings
One problem with eating the keto way is that you may really crave carbs at the beginning. These cravings stem from the way carbohydrate can cause levels of glucose, or blood sugar, to spike after each meal and then crash. Falling blood sugar levels often cause the body to say "more, please," which can lead to you to start obsessing about the sweet stuff.
Cutting carbs to a bare mininum should eventually kill these kinds of cravings. However, they can make the start of your changeover from carbs to a more fat- and protein-based diet a difficult experience.
Fortunately, there are herbs (and natural substances found in them) that can help take the edge off of sugar cravings. These include berberine, a compound found in several herbs long used in Eastern medicine. Researchers have found that berberine can help lower blood sugar and increase the healthful probiotic microbes that inhabit the digestive tract. It also helps reduce the kind of unhealthy inflammation linked to chronic disease.
Cinnamon (especially the Ceylon variety) is well-known for its ability to control glucose levels. Other helpful herbs include banaba, native to Southeast Asia; garcinia, an Indian herb traditionally used to control appetite; and gymnema, another Indian plant known in Hindi as “destroyer of sugar.”
Many people use shakes for their ability to supply on-the-go nutrition. Today, you can find shakes that make it easier to stay on a keto diet (and help keep blood sugar within healthy ranges) no matter how busy you are—or how many high-carb temptations you encounter.
A premium keto shake should derive about 75% of its calories from healthy fats such as coconut oil and medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), with another 15% or so from a high-quality protein source like whey. Very-low-sugar carbs should make up the rest.