The Gut Question: better than keto, best for immune health.
“All disease begins in the gut”
~ Hippocrates, 2500 years ago.
Our food system pays very little to no attention to our gut health when selling to us products, telling us we need to snack/eat all the time to lose weight? Because that’s supposed to help us manage our hunger?
Our health care system pays very little to no attention to our gut health, prescribing solutions and drugs, destroying very often trillions bacteria in our gut that outnumber human cells 10 to 1, like they don’t matter?
Gut issues keep piling up. World is getting fatter and sicker, starting earlier and earlier in life. We still think calories are the issue, trying to solve a biological puzzle with some basic mathematics — like “You just count better!” — and all will be fine!
After 6 years of keto I finally got tired of counting carbs. And it just didn’t make sense to me anymore. It didn’t feel right to limit severely many nutrient-dense foods like beans or tubers, or even too much broccoli! Plus, there’s no longest-living population naturally and willingly eating keto, no human-being in “nature” would seek out only fat specifically, 75–80% of it all day and every day. Unless you are an Inuit and HAVE to live this way — you aren’t going to get excited to eat mostly fat all day every day. No is your gut bacteria.
But let’s leave aside my personal diet theories for now and get to the recent data and my latest gut-healthy experiment.
I’ve been trying to lose a few kgs and they just wouldn’t go!
And my period was not regular. And I had this thing, when around 4 PM (about 11 hours after my waking time) I’d hit a wall and my brain wouldn’t be capable of doing anything but sleeping or watching TV. It was like hitting a wall but mentally. Every single day! And that only would disappear when I allowed myself to eat more carbs — more veg, beans, fruit — no junk, just more carbs from whole foods, and more nutrients with them. Weight wouldn’t change. My emotions were kind of flat. I didn’t feel good. No serious issues but it felt like surviving, not thriving. And it felt like there was extra weight stuck in my gut. Literally. My face didn’t look young and shiny anymore. And my athletic performance suffered. And I knew that the answer wasn’t “eat less carbs”, or electrolytes, or organ meats, or more fat. I did all of that.
And then I noticed that when I ate less fat, more veg, more fruit, less animal protein — the next morning immediately I felt lighter, my bowel movements were better, my skin would shine, I’d feel like crushing those workouts.
And then I remembered all the books I read about the longest-living people (Blue Zones) and their fiber-rich diets, I remembered all I read about food combining, and how fat seemed to make our digestion less efficient, unless we eat lots of fiber-rich foods with it. It seemed that people who looked the best long-term, who lived the longest the healthiest, they did something else. Not carb counting.
They seemed to have very gut-friendly diets and lifestyle.
So, I thought, what if I focus on gut health instead of carbs this time?
And so I did.
I started with food combining.
It might seem like an odd place to start, or outdated. But I went with my gut.
I read the classics of food combining (Herbert Shelton and followers) when I was a teenager. I always felt that more simple combinations of foods, eating fruit alone, not combining potatoes and meat — it all worked. It all worked not just for me but for everyone who did it, for all of my clients and my family — more energy, easier weight loss, shining skin, smooth digestion.
And all popular diets actually have food combining principles in them, wrapped in different set of rules, making people avoid the worst possible food combinations like animal fat/protein with high-starch foods and fruit. Most of the popular diets like keto and plant-based also make one eat “cleaner”, better quality foods, more nutrient-dense foods etc — so no wonder people feel better.
So maybe it’s not the amount of carbs or animal products, that cause the problems but how we eat them? From what kinds/quality of foods and food combinations?
I started practicing food combining, every single rule, and I limited the amount of extra fat, stopped all nut butters and fat bombs, fatty coffees. Whenever I’d eat a fat/protein-rich meal — I’d eat 3 times more veggies with it.
Then I thought, with all these years of keto, lots of fat and not enough fiber, my gut bacteria probably might need some help to recover — so I brought the help. Pro/prebiotic supplement in a special capsule, that was supposed to make it through my digestive system.
And I started eating sauerkraut every single day. Not sometimes but every single day.
After a week or 2 of food combining and probiotics — 2kgs just fell off all of a sudden without any fight.
My energy levels kept rising. I started to like my face in the morning again. My skin started to shine. I didn’t need naps or a pick-me up to keep going after 4 PM.
I kept reading, studying, learning and remembering stuff.
I thought, well, I know that probiotics don’t work unless we provide the environment, that nourishes our gut bugs, and the most important factor of that gut-nourishing environment is food for my new gut tenants. If I want more good gut bugs, and I want to heal my gut completely — I need to feed them. Like I would feed a pet, that I want to stay healthy and grow strong.
What do we know those good gut bugs love?
The ones, that keto diet provides very little of, sadly.
Where do we find those prebiotics? Or prebiotic fibers to be exact.
Fruit, especially apples and bananas (especially green bananas), potatoes and rice (especially when cold), non-refined oats, beans and peas, Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus and mushrooms, dandelion greens, wild blueberries, onions, garlic and leeks, chicory root. Most other veggies, nuts and seeds, whole grains would have some also.
Variety of fibers is the key.
Since prebiotic fiber doesn’t come in huge amounts in most foods we need to consume these foods daily in considerable amounts! And most keto people — we don’t do that of course, counting every carb like we gonna die, if we don’t, or some keto-curse will come after us, instantly making us sick, weak and diabetic.
Unless you are the kind of pet owner who feeds your pet once a week, you probably want to make sure you provide food for gut tenants daily, if you want gut habitat to survive and thrive. Actually, most of bacteria have a life-cycle of about 1–3 days. So, if we want them to thrive — we kind of have to take care of them daily. Just like we brush our teeth or shower every day. Not once in a blue moon on a carb-up day.
I always felt like I wanted to include beans in my meals much more often. Nutritional profile is off the charts — not just protein but also folate and other vitamins, minerals and of course resistant starch (probably the most beneficial kind of fiber for gut healing and sealing). But being keto — beans didn’t really fit my macros, and it felt like too much work for proper cooking (beans have a lot of anti-nutrients that may cause digestive and gut issues unless pressure-cooked). But since I decided to forget about carbs for a while, and I found out that most beans in cans are pressure-cooked these days — I went for it! These days I eat beans 2–3 times per week, 6–7 ounces or 200g each time. I buy the ones with just water and salt. I open up a can and mix them with my other freshly cooked veggies and that’s it! Bon appetit!
And since it’s summertime — I’m eating all the berries and stone fruit I want as the first meal of the day, following all the rules of food combining! (Then I wait for about 30 minutes after my fruit meal and have the rest of my food).
Every time I eat my beans — the smile appears on my face like a rainbow after the rain! I feel so happy inside my gut and out. It might be a placebo but it feels awesome. Beans keep me full even when my calories are super low. I keep shining, looking and feeling better! (I lost 2kgs more after a couple of weeks of that) I eat about 120–140g total carbs, of which about 30–40g are fiber.
Some fats are better for our gut bugs than others. From all the research I dug up on gut health 3 fats stood out — Extra Virgin Olive and Coconut oils, Omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish and shellfish. Avocados and nuts are also amazing. Butter, ghee and other animal fats are kind of neutral. Industrial oils are a no-no.
Olive oil is full of polyphenols that seem to act like prebiotics, nourishing our gut microbiome. Coconut oil is anti-viral, anti-microbial and helps to manage bad and parasitic bacteria in our gut. Omega-3s are highly anti-inflammatory, especially when they come from whole foods, especially marine sources like fatty fish and shellfish.
So based on those findings, I stopped all the bulletproof coffees and adding butter everywhere, and I doubled down on coconut and olive oils, fatty fish, some nuts and avocados here and there.
I can’t forget to mention, that all that was added on top of my regular:
- Sleep routine
- Daily, morning and night walking
- 100% elimination all the questionable and non-beneficial foods, processed foods, any kind of sweeteners or additives
- Multivitamin, drinking calcium-and-magnesium-rich mineral waters
- Daily 18-hour+ intermittent fasting
I believe the only valid and scientific diet is the one that support our gut just as much as our metabolic health and nutrition needs.
We don’t have all the data yet at all, but I think I’m done with superficial practices like carb-counting, that just don’t have any solid scientific data, when compared against a healthy lifestyle and whole foods nutritionally balanced diet.
Go keto if you want to — but you don’t have to, that’s all I’m saying. There are many eating patterns that can work as long as:
- They support our nutrition needs
- They support a healthy metabolism
- They support great gut health and digestion
As for me — I’ll keep going. I lost 4 kgs, that felt “extra”. My energy doesn’t plummet anymore and my emotions and sexual drive, my period are all back to great. My nutrient status is amazing. Despite all the covid-19 I travel and I don’t get sick. I’m killing my workouts.
What I’m up to now?
I hate seeing that this knowledge is not common practice!
I’m working on bringing this knowledge and experience, 2 decades of it, into the masses — into our supermarkets, to our kids and parents, friends through work with supermarkets, offline and online classes, workshops, courses, talks.
Would love to see all of us thrive and live a long health happy life!
Check out my first course for beginners on Udemy — Healthy Eating Crash Course — covering the basics of practice of healthy eating and living.