When Lisa and I embarked on a keto diet lifestyle in late June 2018 we got the same question over and over: Is the keto diet healthy?
The truth is that, at the time, we had no idea. We had heard so much conflicting information. And while that made us nervous, we really wanted to lose weight and keep it off. So we gave the keto diet a try.
The great news is that we now know that our travel keto diet is indeed healthy. And we have the numbers to prove it!
The World (Or at Least the U.S. Government) Wants You to Think That a Keto Diet is Unhealthy
We read and watched so many conflicting reports about how a keto diet would affect your body.
Keto diet skeptics point out that government data shows that a high fat diet, low carb and low sugar diet is terrible for your cholesterol and will make you fat.
Here’s a happy little quote from the US Department of Agriculture:
Saturated fats and trans fats tend to raise “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels in the blood. This, in turn increases the risk for heart disease. To lower risk for heart disease, cut back on foods containing saturated fats…USDA
Here are some of the things that the USDA says to cut back on – and how we use them every day in our travel keto diet:
- Butter – We use Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter on everything!
- Beef fat – Steaks, ribs and burgers are a staple of our travel keto diet. We sometimes use beef tallow in cooking and beef jerky is at the top our list of travel keto diet friendly snacks!
- Chicken fat – Chicken fat and skin are a big part of our travel keto diet. Chicken wings make sticking to a travel keto diet simple, even in keto-unfriendly countries like Thailand!
- Cream – We love making keto desserts with cream.
- Pork fat – When we are not eating beef ribs, we are eating pork ribs. And another of our travel keto diet friendly snack favorites are pork rinds. And don’t get me started on bacon. Bacon makes everything better – especially the keto diet!
- Coconut oil – We put a tablespoon of coconut oil in our bulletproof tea every morning as part of our Travel Keto Diet Breakfast.
So according to the USDA our keto diet will raise our “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels which increases our chances of heart disease.
This advice from the USDA and other government agencies stressed us out a lot.
Were we killing ourselves by eating a keto diet!?
Numbers Don’t Lie – Our Travel Keto Diet is Healthy
Staying healthy while traveling full-time can be a challenge. And health insurance for Americans like us who travel full time is complicated and expensive.
Our Experience With Colombian Health Care
So we took advantage of the low cost and high quality of healthcare in Medellin, Colombia to get full physicals, dermatology check-ups, and dental cleanings.
We were very surprised that in Medellin the blood lab work technician comes to you!
Because you have to fast for 8 hours before blood work, the lab tech comes by your house in the morning to take your blood so you can then eat and get on with your day.
It is amazing to experience different norms as we travel, and this is one we liked a lot!
In Colombia doctors still make house calls, and we even Whatsapp-ed with our doctor as needed!
Even better, the results of our blood work were posted online in our health portal that afternoon! In the US, we used to have to wait a week or more to see the results of blood tests!
Just one more way the the health care system in the US is totally out of whack: super-expensive for terrible customer service. 🙁
Anyway, we hadn’t had physicals or blood work since before we started our keto diet. And, based on the USDA’s dire warnings, we were nervous about the results.
Here they are:
- Before keto diet: 205 lbs
- On the keto diet: 175 lbs
Matt’s Overall Cholesterol and LDL (the bad cholesterol) Levels:
- Healthy Range: <200 and <100
- Before keto diet: 206 and 119.7
- On the keto diet: 179 and 100.6
So I lost 30 pounds (13.6 kilos or 2.14 stone) eating a high fat, low sugar low carb keto diet. And I’ve kept that weight off ever since.
And rather than going up – and increasing my chances of heart disease as the USDA suggested it would – my overall cholesterol as well as my ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels have fallen from the high range to the normal range (my ‘good cholesterol’ HDL levels have stayed basically the same in the ‘normal’ high-50s.)
In other words, I am far more healthy now than I was before I started eating a keto diet!
Lisa had equally amazing results on our travel keto diet:
- Weight: Down 30 lbs (from a size 12-14 to a size 4-6)
- Overall cholesterol down 5 points
- LDL up 5 points but still in ‘normal’ range
- HDL ‘good cholesterol’ which should be >40 is an amazing 81
Her family has a history of diabetes but on the keto diet her blood glucose (A1C) levels – the major indicator of diabetes – dropped to 4.99 from 5.3 on a ‘normal’ scale of 4.8 to 5.9. No big surprise since she cut most sugar and processed carbs out of her diet!
While her LDL went up slightly, she’s still well in the ‘normal’ range and her overall cholesterol level went down! And her ‘good’ cholesterol levels made her Colombian doctor very happy.
Like me, Lisa is far healthier today than when she started eating a keto diet.
Our Approach to the Travel Keto Diet
I’m not saying that if you eat a keto diet your cholesterol will go down and you will be healthier as a result.
But ours did.
And we are.
And I’m not saying that the USDA is full of crap with their analysis and their recommendations. But plenty of other people do.
Taubes suggested that, calorie for calorie, carbohydrates in the diet may promote obesity more than fat does because they stimulate the secretion of insulin, which in turn stimulates adipocytes (fat cells) to store fat… so someone who swaps out fats in favor of carbohydrates may start to put on weight because of the generalized effect on fat cells of insulin. Further, insulin drives down blood sugar levels, which in turn promotes the secretion of hunger hormones such as ghrelin, which therefore stimulates further eating.Why Does the Federal Government Issue Damaging Dietary Guidelines?
All I do know is that we think our approach to eating a travel keto diet is very sensible. We are NOT strict keto people we don’t pee on ketostix to see if we are in ketosis.
We take a ‘dirty keto’ net carb approach to the keto diet where you subtract the fiber in foods from the carbs they contain. And that means we eat lots of veggies! After all, no one ever got fat eating carrots or green vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, peppers, bok choy, lettuce and cabbage!
We DON’T eat bacon at every meal. And we try to limit our red meat intake. But cheese, eggs, seafood, chicken and pork are staples. A typical lunch is donner kebab chicken with veggies and a generous helping of olive oil.
We stick to simply prepared proteins and good fats like avocado and olive oil (I now like to say, ‘the more olive oil I eat, the skinnier I get!’). You can read more about how and what we order at restaurants around the world here.
And our favorite homemade keto meals are pretty healthy in the traditional sense too!
And this is the critical thing: we never feel deprived on our travel keto diet. We don’t consciously count calories and starve ourselves as a result! We just eat our keto food until we are full.
Bottom Line – Is a Travel Keto Diet Healthy?
No bread? No crispy french fries? Lots of olive oil and avocado?
Seemed to me like the keto diet was a great way to be miserable AND get fat and unhealthy.
Besides, logic dictates that weight is a net calories game: more calories burned than consumed and you lose weight. There’s no such thing as a magic diet! And I firmly believed the US government when it told me that animal fats would give me a heart attack.
I was wrong.
When a human eats sugar or empty carbs then the body burns that first and burns it fast and hot leaving the byproduct of stored fat. But then, thanks to insulin spikes, the human body gets conditioned to burning carbs fast and hot so it craves more sugar and carbs to burn hot.
That’s why you can’t just eat one potato chip! Your body screams: Let’s keep this fire burning hot! More fuel! More potato chips!!!!
We learned first hand that when you teach your body to burn fat instead of sugar you don’t end up with stored fat. And more critically, burning fat instead of sugar and carbs breaks the body’s addiction to more sugar and empty carbs!
Your body learns to burn fat low and slow. So you don’t constantly crave more fuel.
When we taught our bodies to burn fat instead of sugar and carbs we were less hungry and less inclined to snack. So we eat fewer calories but don’t get hungry!
And that results in weight loss.
But we were still worried. After all, what’s the point of being skinny if you are going to have a heart attack!?
Well I was wrong about that too.
Losing weight by replacing carbohydrates and sugar with good fats and protein has LOWERED our overall as well as ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels. And in my case taken them from dangerous to normal levels.
I often say that I write about our travel keto diet not to preach and proselytize, but because it’s simply a part of our lives now. But then people tell me they’ve been inspired to give the low carb/low sugar keto diet approach to eating a try based on our experience.
And that’s super-gratifying. But my advice is still to make sure you are wholistically healthy by getting regular physicals and watching your blood chemistry as we do.
Stay safe out there, people!
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