Keto is all the rage in America over the last few years. The name given to followers of the Ketogenic Diet. It, and its sibling, “Paleo” are popping up everywhere on social media.
So, what are they? And, more importantly are they any good?
The premise of the paleo diet is that it follows a diet similar to one of ages past, specifically the Paleolithic era. It focusses on lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. It excludes anything that has been produced through farming traditions over the last 10,000 years, such as dairy, grains and legumes. Many will talk about the new found energy and lack of bloating etc. There will also be a number of people speaking of weight loss.
Paleo is based on fundamental premise that our bodies cannot cope with the rapid changes to our diets. People following the diet may be interested in loosing weight, tackling diabetes, or heart disease and certainly there are research studies demonstrating support for such conclusions. Crucially one of the reasons the diet is so successful hones in on the abstinence of both dairy and grains, the two of which have been directly linked to many of societies modern day chronic illnesses. Casein (in dairy) and Glutamine (in grains) are two of the pro-inflammatory big hitters in the world today.
Taking these out of your diet, irrespective of allergies or food intolerances, will have a dramatic impact on your health and with positive changes to in the gut microbiome and to mental health.
The Keto Diet is similar to Paleo in that it limits the amount of grains a person consumes. Keto goes a little further in this regard as it also banishes potatoes and any other carb you can think of, at least in the short term. The initial recommendation is to limit the amount of carbs to 30-60g a day. This makes fruit a luxury instead of a staple!
So what do you eat?
Ketogenic diets replace carbohydrates with fat. The diet, if following it properly, will suggest up to 70% fat, a relatively small amount of protein and lots of vegetables – specifically those with lots of colour. Be warned though. The temptation with Keto is to fill up with protein but that would lead you down the path of the treacherous Atkins diet which carries a number of health concerns. Keto does not recommend that. Whilst it may be the #1 diet in America at the moment, the diet itself is nothing new. In the 1970's it became a very valuable way to help treat people suffering from schizophrenia.
Keto has since emerged from the medical rooms in a number of dietary protocols specific to things as diverse as heart health, mental health, Austism, MS etc,. The question we really should be asking is, “Why?”
Keto encourages the body to move away from feeding the sugar monster within and begin metabolising fat. The medical term for this state is, “Ketosis”. A person is in ketosis when they have a slightly fruity odour to their breath. This signifies that the body has begun breaking down fat for energy and it releases Ketones which are detected in the breath. Anyone familiar with fasting will be familiar with this experience. It denotes that the body is in a state of detox. Further, it also means your body has begun fighting inflammation.
There are kits available to tell you if, and when, you are in ketosis but the breath test after a few days of starting the diet will also confirm you have reached a Ketogenic state. Other side effects that occur include; weight loss, less (but a better quality) sleep, more energy and reduction in inflammatory disorders. There will, fore the first few weeks, be food cravings for sugar as the carb monster starts screaming out for food... Resist! Resist! Resist! The Fat burner within is much kinder once its given freedom to rule the terrain.
What? Fat? Really!
We all know that Fat is bad, right? Northern Ireland has a high level of CVD (cardio-vascular disease). Suggesting that people should consider a high fat diet is surely just irresponsible. What of Health Agency’s darling food pyramid recommending a low fat, high fiber diet based on Carbs?
Without getting into the whole conspiracy factor: books have been written this very subject. Let me just say that the current advice is good for business, good for government and really, really, bad for your health!
Refined, unsaturated oils should indeed be banned from your dietary intake completely and forever. There is no merit at all to them despite any health claims to the contrary. The oil is refined, heated, extracted with all the nutrients depleted to increase shelf-life. You are, in essence, just eating rancid oil that is carcinogenic.
“What? But I thought these were the healthy fats?”
I know! So did I! I had to concede upon reading copious amounts of material that I was in error this whole time. If you want to find out more I recommend "Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill" by Udo Erasmus.
By all means drizzle olive oil, avocado oil or rapeseed over your salads but you daren’t cook with it, and even then, only use it if it is cold pressed and unfiltered. To fry anything, I’d recommend butter (ideally ghee), coconut oil or lard. Yes, that’s right, lard. Long distained by cardiologists globally, Lard is now making a comeback. It seems our elders and forefathers knew what they were doing with this prized ingredient. Buying lard from a farmer that can ensure the produce is organic and pasture fed is, without doubt, the best way to consume saturated fat for your health.
The polyunsaturated fats that are excellent for your health are the essential fatty acids that you can’t generate internally. Omega 3’s and 6’s but specifically the Omega 3’s are crucial to reduce inflammation and help restore the body to health. Fish oil with a high proportion of DHA is a highly sought-after ingredient for many people seeking to support their body in re-couperating from chronic ill-health. Flax seed oil and hemp oil are similarly rich in Omega 3’s and essential for an anti-inflammatory diet but as with any polyunsaturated oil, you really do need to pay attention to the detail as it will oxidise rapidly and go rancid. Small bottles with a short shelf-life (that are kept in the fridge) are essential. If you can buy it directly from the farmer upon pressing it, that is what I'd would recommend. Alternatively, buy the whole flax seeds (not milled) and mill them at home in the food processor and add them to your salads, or use the milled seed as thickeners in sauces – just being careful to not overheat the seed.
Despite public health advice, scientific research confirms that fat is the preferential food source of the body – it certainly is the preferred food source of the brain and testes. Similarly butyrate (found in butter) is an energy source for the good bacteria in your gut which in turn play a critical role in your own physical and mental health. Yes, that’s right, bacteria in your gut affects your mood! Crazy, right?
Sorry, I’ve gone off on a tangent. Back to the Keto diet. Does it work?
Many doctors taking a functional approach to medicine have started using the Keto diet to start fighting inflammation. Again, the question we should be asking is, “why?” What is it that makes this such a significant diet. Why do people following a ketogenic diet, which is high in fat reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and loose weight with many adherents even being cured of diabetes. One of the fastest growing health concerns could be controlled if diet was changed as opposed to insulin administered as a drug.
Omega 3 fats support the body in releasing hormones such as resolvin which act as an anti-inflammatory. The fat and fiber in the diet, along with the absence of grains allows the gut to heal. Both diets feed the good bacteria in the digestive tract whilst also starving those sugar craving bad bacteria – thus transforming your microbiome to one that is healthier and offers you free energy in return for your kindness. Healing the gut reduces many, many auto-immune diseases. The fats help restore cell tissue fluidity, brain tissue and permits the body to start fighting real health problems such as pre-cancerous cells which feed on sugar.
The evidence is very convincing in supporting the argument that fat-based diets are BIG HITTERS in reducing inflammation and disease in the body. You can do a quick search on PubMED or science direct for connections between Ketogenic diet its use Brain & breast cancer, MS, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn’s, Autism, ADHD, Allergies, GERD, osteoarthritis, irritable bowel disease, Diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Dementia, Ischaemic heart disease, coeliac and thyroid disease. Is there a danger of stroke or athlersclerosis? Well, research seems to suggest the opposite but again, it would take your doctor to be fully up to speed on the roll of HDL, LDL and VLDL within the blood. Essentially, cholesterol is critical for cell membrane life. Being without it is not good. There are numerous books to consult on this. May I suggest “The Great Cholesterol Con” as a light-hearted slightly irreverent read. Its not a scientific as some of the better books but it certainly rams the point home in an easy to understand manner. Other books include, "Brain Drain", "Wheat Belly" & "Gut & Psychology Syndrome"
With this in mind one might well begin asking another pertinent question, “Why on earth has my health practitioner not suggested I look at this?” I guess the only answer to that question is that health practitioners are busy and they work in extremely stressful environments. Certainly, drug companies don’t want the word to get out that there are anti-flammatory diets out there that might make it unnecessary to take their tablets. I don’t have any time at all for drug companies but I do have sympathy for people trained in medicine. Diet wasn’t a major part of a doctors training – think a matter of days as opposed it being part of their core training and you won’t go far wrong. Further, dieticians are required to follow Health Agency guidelines even if they are up to speed on the latest research.
That said, things are changing fast. If you have been reading health books with a publishing date before 2010 I’d recommend recycling it as the newest text books in health care provision (specifically 2014 – present) are all pointing to a more holistic approach to treating the body. Diet is no longer a side-line matter but at the root and branch of systemic chronic disease. Most books will now be published with dietary protocols and very very few will have any objections to a Ketogenic diet.
Herbalists and nutritionists look at the whole person. Assessing a clients diet is an integral factor to a patients first consultation. There is no doubt that Ketogenic and Paleo diets may have a role to play in therapeutic intervention but it must also be used in the knowledge that like all new fads there can be unforeseen consequences and it isn't a panacea for everyone.
I started Keto back in October and lost just over 2 stone in a matter of 5-6 weeks. I couldn’t believe how much more energy I had. The diet was expensive but given that I’d stopped wanting food all the time and was only eating once or twice a day I found that the cost wasn’t all that different. I’m a bread lover and I thought the transition was going to be terrible but after the first 5 days those cravings disappeared. My love affair with bread is forever changed. Within 3 months I re-introduced potatoes and rice and now eat carbs in small amounts throughout the week but easily transition in and out of ketosis without much thought. I’m amazed at how my blood pressure dropped whilst fitness levels have rose despite the lack of much exercise.
Is it right for everyone? – No. But for many people, it is an absolutely great diet to be on, at least temporarily, to get your body back into a healthy cycle. One GP recently told me that if they could suggest just two changes for every person entering her practice it would be banishing refined cooking oils from their diet completely and forever as well as abstaining from grains. That’s a big statement to make, and whilst it isn’t a cure-all by any means the implications are huge.
So, a word to the wise. Everything in moderation. Dairy and Wheat as we currently buy them are not doing our bodies any favours, but nor do we have to throw the baby out with the bath water (unless of course we are chronically sick in which case you might wish to consider it). Your body is amazing and will generally heal itself provided it is not abused. All things in moderation and once you have detoxed from sugar it becomes increasingly easy to listen to the guts need for nutrition and what the body is telling you it needs.
As for the vegetarian and vegan amongst us... It is very difficult to maintain a keto diet and remain a true vegan. Its difficult for the vegetarian but possible for a pescatarian. That said, 'healthy' vegetarians and vegans are unlike to need such an anti-inflammatory diet in the first place.
I realise it was long post. Hopefully you were able to stick with it and find it both useful and interesting.
Heal those Blisters!
Any hill-walker worth listening to will already be well aware of the vitues of plantain. There wasn't much of it today on my little forage but you can see the leaves of Plantago major L. in the top left hand corner of the basket. For botanists amongst us you might note that my basket contains Plantago lanceolata L., and not Plantago major L. There are obvious differences between the two herbs for those interested and to be honest, familiarising yourself with the two is a pretty good idea if you are out and about alot. That said the properties for the plant are the same regardless of which of the two species you use - so it really is just a matter of knowing what they both look like in case one of them isn't readily available.
Plantain, also known as "Ribwort" have valuable healing properties. I mentioned hill-walkers before because plantain can be a very valuable plant for those suffering from blisters due to the chaffing of their skin within the sock and walking boot. All one has to do is chew on a leaf for a few seconds to break up the cell walls and then place the plantain directly on the red skin and secure it in place with the sock. It is good at soothing inflamed and sore skin and is one of the main topical healing agents used by herbalists, whether it be in a lotion, compress, ointment or poutice for cuts or bruises. Similarly it can be used on heamorrhoids and ulcers.
Used internally Plantain will have a similar impact on internal membranes but it also acts as a gentle expectorant making it very useful for coughs or bronchitis. These same properties make it a useful addition to medicines prescribed for diarrhea, cystitis and hemorrhoids when accompanied by bleeding.
Making a tincture couldn't be easier but the ratios can vary a lot depending on what herbalist you follow. Some use a ratio of 1:5 w:v in 40% alcohol; others will use a ratio of 1:2 fresh herb. Those that do will suggest a 25% alcohol concentration. Considering Plantain is readily available throughout most of the year I'd absolutely recommend going for the fresh version with one caveat. Sometimes making ointments from fresh herbs can produce water, which molds easily. In such cases you might want to consider making an ointment with platain infused in oil and in this instance dried plantain may well be benificial if concerned about spoiling.
Today's little foraging spree brought some childhood memories to mind. I was on the hunt of everyone's favourite childhood herb. What child can ever fail to be amused by a herb known as "Sticky Willy"? What adult ever thought it appropriate to convey the name of such a herb to children? Most of us have memories of running around through parks and playgrounds throwing this plant at friends and family in the hope of getting it to stick to their clothing without them noticing, or as twist on the game, "tig". The rather bland tasting Galium Aperine (Cleavers) is a bit of a traditional wonder. It evokes childhood memories of me walking up Cavehill in Belfast with my grandfather who was rather taken with the idea of educating his grandchildren of Belfast's many weeds - be it horse-tail, cleavers (he would never have said the word "willy"!), nettle or primrose.
It is ubiquitous; typically found in hedgerows all around the country. This little wonder arrives in early spring. It grows up to 2m tall in the midst of the hedges and it is all edible but you probably want to go over it pretty well first to make sure you get the greenest and freshest parts of the plant. Things have a tendency to stick to cleavers and whilst a bit of dirt may well do your gut microbiome some good you don't want too much of a good thing to spoil your tinctures or smoothies. More about those in a minute.
It is more than just a childhood novelty herb though. Cleavers is an extremely useful herb to the herbalist. It has been used for generations to help people suffering from low grade chronic infection and as a specific for the lymphatic system. Cleavers is also a diuretic and this essentially means it is a great herb to help detoxify the body or rid the body of excess water (otherwise known as lymphatic drainage). For anyone keen on fasting or trying the 5:2 fasting currently in vogue you might particularly like cleavers. It has been used over the years as a means to allieviate that nasty headache you might get when going through detox. These same functions have an incredibly important use on skin conditons such as eczema and psoriasis by working from the inside out. Traditionally it is used as an anti-inflammatory herb to help allieviate mastitis and cystitis. More recently it has been used to support people suffering from cancer due to its anti-neoplastic properties.
Its best used when fresh. When making a tincture I tend to go for a 1:2 w:v ratio in a 25% alcohol. However cleavers can be used fresh in a tea, popularly used with nettle as a spring time detox. It can also be easily juiced into a smoothie of your choosing and is bland enough not to affect the taste. One thing to note about cleavers infusions however is that they don't last long and will quickly ferment. If you aren't going to drink it I highly suggest you freeze it and use the ice-cubes in the days to follow.
As for the other herbs in my basket today: We forgot to set out some chicken fillets from the freezer to defrost overnight so I decided to go out and gather some nettles. The result was a mish-mash of some left over pasta and chicken, some onion, garlic, olives, pepper and turkey bacon along with some nettles (instead of spinach) and herbs for a lovely little nettle stir-fry. The yellow petals going into the mix was that of gorse, adding a lovely hint of coconut to the dish. I'd offer you the recipe but its pasta - what could go wrong? Just feel free to experiment.
Wine Making Season Commences
Gorse flower is around for much of the year but between March & May when the sun shines on the gorse flowers you may be lucky enough to fill your nostrils with the pleasing aroma of coconut. Its interesting because today, when I was out picking it, the smell reminded me of those sun lotions my mum used to apply. I can't say I was much of a lover of sun lotion - I'm still not, but the smell stuck with me.
It wasn't until I went to read up on the chemical constituents of Gorse that something very interesting was discovered. Gorse flower contains carotenes which are the most important of the carotenoid vitamin A precursors. Whilst used commercially as a food colouring for fats such as margarine it is also used as a sunscreen agent to prevent the photosensitivity reaction of erythropoeitic protoporphyria (Hoffmann, D., 2003 "Medical Herbalism"). It makes me wonder if the commercial suncream had any coconut in it at all.... Perhaps the cheaper gorse-flower was a suitable and cheaper alternative. I might have to go hunt some labels in my local pharmacy next week.
I confess it wasn't for medicine I went picking some of these wondefully bright and abundant flower petals. We have some family members staying with us at present and my brother-in-law is particularly interested in my brewing history. I promised to introduce him to the wonders of country wines. Where better to start than with a delightfully sustainable and palatable Gorse Wine. It is normally the first country wine of year I tend to make, usually in conjunction with some Dandelion. Gorse is by far the preferred wine of the two and I confess I am a little late to start this year so I've religated Dandelion for another time.
Next on the agenda for my brother-in-law will be an introduction to Nettle Beer. With a two week turnaround - he might still be here to enjoy the end result. Gorse, I'm afraid, may just have to be enjoyed by myself as it takes a year to mature. Oh, what a shame!
At the end of the week strain off must into a demi-john and fit an air-lock and wait 2-3 months. Rack off the wine into a second demi-john when it stops bubbling and bottle when clear for a nice dry wine. I'm not a lover of sweet wines; if you like it sweeter you may need to add more sugar after opening.
Its a bit of a waiting game, I'm afraid. It will need bottled for another 9-10 months before enjoying this one. The only up-side is that next year when you go out foraging for gorse you will be able to come home and open up a bottle to treat yourself for all that hard work.
If you are not that patient I refer you to the wonderful John Wrigth of River Cottage fame. He suggests a gorse rum infusion. That should be ready in just 2 days. Add a handful of gorse, a tsp sugar and half a litre of white rum, wait two days and you blessed with a lovely infusion. Personally, I preferred the pommegranate rum much better than the gorse rum - but that's not to say I have any left of the gorse rum to share! Not that my bar is particularly high!.
Spring is in the air... Let the foraging commence
One of our children, who affectionately calls me "Plant Man", asked what my favourite herb was the other day. It didn't take long to reply with this wonderful little plant, Nettle (Urtica Dioica). It brings tears and some swelling to children everywhere, perhaps a few profanities from adults and is generally regarded as a nusience weed. It is amazingly overlooked as a food-source that grows in abundance to many during that all too important period in the year when there is little else to use on the veg patch.
Nettle is full of vitamins, cholorphyll, proteins and minerals, can be used as a food staple, used to make dyes, make the most wonderful tonics to support good health and even be converted into fabric as an alternative to hemp or linen. For those into brewing you can also endulge in some nettle beer. It is a perfect spring time beverage, light and fresh yet full of goodness. Nettle's use has perhaps fallen to the wayside since the war-time yet there is much to be said about this free, abundant and local food source. Lady birds and aphids understand this and perhaps we would do well to listen. Ask any organic gardener worthy of such a title and they will all say nettle is one of the most important organic fertilizers to them.
Nettle works on the kidneys and mucous membranes, helping to remove excess and bring about balance. It is a diuretic, anti-inflammatory and a galactagogue. It is full of flavanoids (which are anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative), carotenes, Vitamins C, B & K. There are traces of calcium, iron, magnesium, sodium, phosphorus and potassium, making this a much cheaper alternative to things such as spirulina. Nettle also has one of those unusual reputations as a blood cleanser, making it a wonderful herb to use for people with skin problems.
Those treacherous stingy trichomes contain Acetyl choline & histamines and serotonin. This is why people with Arthritis can be seen running their hands over some nettles. The temporary pain of the sting brings with it anti-inflammatory properties and the feel-good factor of the seratonin. Sting yourself too much though and you will be unable to sleep!
Nettles are a boost to the system to help us get up and going on those cold mornings but they are more than that. They are also an important part of many herbalists medicine cabinet as Hay-fever season approaches. Nettle has been used for hundreds of years for its anti-allergy effect. How does it work? Well nettles inhibit both the action and production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (such as TNF) which are released by cells and influence immune system response. The impact of nettle however is mild and it is usually used in conjunction with other herbs such as eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) and Elder (Sambucus Niger). It should also be taken for a few weeks before allergy season commences for best effect.
Nettle seeds have recently been studied as a means of restoring the kidney's and adrenal glands whilst the roots appear to be useful as hair tonics and prostatic problems.
If you would like to find out more about some of the research into nettle you can check it out here.
That's enough of the why... onto the how I use nettle.
Truthfully, our nettles could have been harvested last month but as we were launching the business and completing exams it got pushed back a bit. Still, in just a few short minutes I managed to harvest some well fertilised nettles (thank you ducks!) to fill a carrier bag - enough to make a big pot of soup and fill the dehydrator for some of our anti-histamine teas. Actually Nettle features quite a lot in most of our spring teas as it is such a wonderful nutritional tonic for this time of year. You will find it in our following tea blends: Strength, Revival, Tov, Awete,
To make Nettle Soup you will need.
Directions couldn't be simpler. Melt the butter and saute onion and garlic for 3-4 minutes. Add a potato and carrot for another few minutes. Add the veg stock and simmer for 10 mins before adding the nettle. I add the nettles quite late as over-cooking them will break down some of the nutrients. Simmer for a further 5 minutes and then blend.
For variations you could add some wild mushrooms, add some spices or a dollop of creme fraiche. Non Shaw and Christopher Headley recommend using mallow leaves in nettle soup as the nettles themselves can be a little drying. I confess I haven't yet tried this.
The photo of the soup below is of a Keto Bread Carla is currently working on. Details of it to follow shortly.
Nettle & Cleavers De-tox
The best way to consume Nettle at this time of year is fresh. That way you get to preserve all the nutrients from the plant. An easy de-tox recipe is to blend fresh nettle leaves and fresh cleavers into a smoothie. A wonderful tonic and immune booster for this time of year. The use of cleavers is a wonderful way to clear toxins from the body quickly and especially useful when fasting as it helps prevent the headache.
Crush enough fresh nettle and cleavers to fill a pan and cover with cold water. Allow to steep overnight. Strain and drink over the next few days.
And for those of you who like the idea of fermenting. I can do no better than the wonderful John Wright of River Cottage.