Biohacking: what it is and the keto connection

Many of us practice some sort of biohacking or citizen science but don’t necessarily call it that. Feel a cold coming on so take extra vitamins or an herbal tea? Feel tired so up your hydration and/or caffeine? Those small self-directed additions to your routine are biohacking. It’s figuring out unconventional but natural ways to optimize health, energy, nutrition, fitness, and overall life.

On trend

Often biohacking is now talked about on a larger scale as many labs and researchers are working on realizing new limits of human potential. With social media and other internet resources these individuals can easily share their experiments and findings. It’s easier than ever to communicate results and even start a movement or community. Search for biohacking on reddit and you’ll get pages of forums with individuals all over the world sharing resources and their own experiences.

This recent article by Popular Mechanics magazine showcases several types of biohacking including using cryotherapy and sensory deprivation tanks, as well as nutritional “hacks”. The piece specifically mentions the keto diet, and how it’s being studied for positive effects and protection of the brain. Though the author (who experimented biohacks on herself) also talks about having a hard induction period transitioning to ketosis and that she didn’t stay with keto very long. I want to mention that this piece also discusses intermittent fasting which I’ll get into below in this post.

Search the term biohacking online and the top articles will likely include reference to the keto diet. Using ketones for fuel is a type of biohacking to tap into continuous energy and amazing cognitive benefits.

Bulletproof

A champion for biohacking, Dave Asprey created the Bulletproof company which is arguably responsible for the bulletproof or boosted coffee trend. It’s also a staple for many following a ketogenic diet. The practice generally involves consuming coffee blended with fat. The Bulletproof method involves the company’s own coffee beans, their Brain Octane product (a MCT oil based product), and grass-fed butter. There are skeptics online, and not much academic scientific info available, but the first-hand accounts of doing this are astounding. Personally, I have a boosted coffee most weekday mornings. I put MCT oil, butter or heavy cream, and collagen powder in my mixture. It satisfies me for quite a while and I think it does help with my thinking abilities. I notice negative differences on days when I don’t have this mixture, and I look forward to having it.

Intermittent fasting

The other big biohacking link to the ketogenic lifestyle is intermittent fasting or IF. Many keto folks purposely fast during their day and eat only during a certain ‘eating window’. A popular convention is the 16-8 one whereby a person won’t eat for 16hrs (inclusive of sleeping time) and then have an 8hr window for any food they consume for the day. The main argument for IF is to control insulin levels in the body. So many still consume some things (like water, plain tea) while you fast as long they don’t trigger an insulin response. The academic science AND personal accounts of the benefits of IF are abundant. In my opinion, one of the best description led of IF, its recent rise to fame, and benefits is this Harvard Health Blog post from earlier this year. And I recommend searching YouTube for keto-guru Dr. Berg’s IF videos because he presents a wealth of info succinctly in an easy-to-follow manner.

Like most other aspects of a ketogenic lifestyle, intermittent fasting goes against conventional health advice. Aren’t we supposed to eat ‘a balanced diet’ and have three meals with snacks in between? I don’t believe so anymore!

Personally, I try to do IF most days but have mixed results. I find my success depends on what I’m doing (and likely thoughts I’m having), and what I ate before fasting. I’m feeling better and better each day, but am still working through decades of food issues and metabolic damage (separate blog post on that to come!). Getting better or more sustainable at IF is one of my goals this year.

Do you biohack?

So do you do any sort of biohacking to optimize health or performance? I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing at first when starting a ketogenic lifestyle. But I’m fascinated with the topic now!

Dinner pic – chicken soup edition

Made turkey soup with homemade bone broth. In addition to turkey, I added a little carrot, a good amount of turnip, garlic, thyme, and savory.

Making your own broth is easy. I had a turkey back and thighs from a local grocery butcher. They cost about $7 total and made the broth plus provided meat. I just covered the pieces in water and simmered for a few hours in a slow cooker. Then I separated the meat/bones from the liquid, strained it, and popped it in the fridge.

When I took it out to make the soup, the cold broth was gelatinous with collagen and fat. In the soup pot it went with the other ingredients and it was so good! It would have been great (and more nutritious) with spinach or kale.

I did add turnips because I like them! They have about 3-4 carbs per 1/2 cup cubbed pieces. They contain lots of vitamin C, are a source of fiber, and contain potassium, manganese, calcium, and vitamin B6.

I come by my love of soup honestly as it was a staple in my family for generations. Nothing like a good hot bowl of soup on a cold winter day.

Dinner pic – at an Italian restaurant edition

Went to Piatto which is a pizza and pasta restaurant. Was nervous about being tempted by the beautiful smells of wood-fired handmade pizza. But kept to it with a Caesar salad with chicken for my main (it’s an oldie but a goodie keto-friendly meal). The restaurant makes their own dressing which wasn’t creamy and had a spicy kick. I had pacchi di prosciutto for an appetizer which was pretty filling. That dish was amazing with fresh stringy mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto and smothered in a tomato sauce. Not sure of the dish’s macros but it tasted amazing and had to be better for me than pizza.

I’m looking forward to experiencing more restaurant meals this coming year and learning how to navigate my diet while eating out.

Keto-friendly chocolate chip cookies

I made this recipe recently and the resulting cookies were chewy and satisfying. The recipe is from the site Fat For Weight Loss. It’s a great one and the recipe page has various ingredient options with photos. I used regular almond flour (not fine ground) and added xanthan gum. I didn’t have grass-fed butter but did use butter, of course. The sweetener I had was Swerve, and the chocolate was my fav Lindt 78% cocoa chopped up into pieces.

The dough before baking didn’t look the same as the pic for the original blog recipe. But I kept going and things worked out.

I put small balls of dough on a cookie sheet lined with a non-stick baking mat. That made 15 with some dough leftover. The original recipe said it would make 12 cookies so perhaps I made mine smaller and/or my ingredients made more volume. I did not smoosh or flatten them before baking.

These baked for about 15mins. The original recipe said to bake for 10mins but I kept checking mine and thought they needed more time in the oven. The cookies didn’t spread too much but flattened out to a nice cookie.

As with most keto and gluten free baked goods I found these were better a day after they were baked. The texture gets chewier which I love. Also as with most of my keto-friendly baking these cookies were gobbled up pretty quickly by me and my family. I’m looking forward to trying this recipe out again soon and see how it works next time.

Common ‘keto-friendly’ foods

If you read all my original What is Keto? post or have just landed here after reading other keto resources you may indeed feel overwhelmed. Rest easy! A ketogenic lifestyle does not have to be complicated. And if you haven’t started yet but want to, I think you should just jump right in with both feet. You’ll figure out how to swim as you go.

Please note that I am a meat-eater. You can do keto while keeping vegetarian, or even vegan, but I’m not a great resource for those specific diets. Maybe I’ll look into it more and do a dedicated post in the future.

If you cannot eat gluten, or find you have a sensitivity to it, then you’re in luck because most ‘keto’ foods are gluten free too! If you’re very sensitive to gluten then still be vigilant about cross-contamination at home, while out and about, or in manufactured products.

There are lots of great food as nothing is technically off limits if it fits your macros. Remember that ‘keto’ is eating to promote the metabolic state of ketosis. But here are some go-tos I have regularly:

  • First and foremost: any fish or seafood. Tuna from a can, salmon pan seared in olive oil, shrimp or scallops…I’ve recently found basa fish and love it pan-friend in butter. Where I’m from, cod fish is king but it’s usually deep fried in a beer and/or four batter coating which is not keto-friendly so I often have it ‘undressed’ or without the batter. Tarter sauce and a squeeze of lemon is great with it, too.
  • Cheese. I love cheese and eat more than I’d like to admit.
  • Pepperoni or salami. These often go hand-in-hand with cheese as a snack.
  • Nuts. I eat lots of nuts now, especially ones with higher fiber content like almonds. Nut butters are also great for baking or making fat bombs (recipes to come!)
  • Eggs. These are a staple of most on the keto diet. I make big batches of boiled eggs weekly and keep them for lunches or a quick snack. Crust-less quiche is also a big hit in our home.
  • Bacon. I’m not going to even pretend that the poster food for the keto diet isn’t something I eat. I don’t eat it everyday, mind you, but I do love it.
  • Veggies. This may surprise you but many on a keto diet eat tonnes of vegetables. Spinach-based salads are my fav, and a good Cesar salad with chicken, or a cobb salad are my go-to restaurant meal when I can’t find anything I’m sure will fit my macros. I tend to stay away from root veggies such as carrots or more sugary ones like corn and peas. But that leaves lots to choose from such as asparagus, peppers, and all the cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and similar leafy greens.
  • Berries. It’s true that I don’t eat much fruit but I love berries, especially when they’re in season but I get frozen ones for smoothies other times of the year. Berries are higher carb but have lots of fiber and can satisfy a sweet craving.
  • Avocados. Loaded with good fats and some fiber too.
  • Chicken wings. Make them yourself or ensure those you’re buying aren’t breaded or have extra carbs. Also watch out for any sauce on them as the sauce may be too high-carb for your diet.

These are all standard in my diet. What you’ll notice is they are mostly whole foods or can be used as ingredients in home cooking. I do cook a lot, but am partial to some packaged foods that are keto-friendly.