Ketogenic Soylent: FAQ & Experience


#1

6+ month update! With a lot more quotations! I know the Discourse discussion software isn’t really suited to a wiki-style post like this, but at least I was upfront that I’d be updating it from the beginning.

I ate nothing but my own custom version of soylent for a month before I discovered the ketogenic diet. That isn’t documented here. I tried to make my soylent ketogenic for a week or so but failed rather miserably and soon switched to a non-soylent ketogenic diet. Thus this FAQ is largely about ketosis in general, with some personal notes of my experience in ketosis (no soylent). I’d find an official ketogenic version of soylent quite valuable.

What is ketosis?

Ketosis is a natural metabolic state wherein your body runs on ketones rather than glucose for energy. For most people it requires eating 50g or fewer carbohydrates per day, and only adequate levels of protein (your body can convert protein to glucose through gluconeogenesis, so overdoing protein will prevent a deep level of ketosis). High levels of fat are required to make up the calories (when maintaining weight) and provide ketones.

Ketosis is also the same state your body enters when fasting or starving, which you can imagine there is an immense amount of research on. However the body is perfectly equipped for a regular ketogenic diet. The Inuit are an example of a culture who have been on a ketogenic diet for thousands of years. It’s also been used to treat epilepsy with significant success. The induction phase of the Atkins diet is also ketogenic.

Ketosis is also sometimes confused with ketoacidosis, which is a dangerous diabetic condition. This mistake seems easy to make among those familiar with ketoacidosis, so be wary.

Downsides?

A primary risk for a ketogenic diet is that avoiding carbohydrates may make it difficult to receive all the required nutrients, this is obviously not a problem for soylent.

The other main risk often cited is that too much protein can damage the kidneys. However, if your ketogenic diet is high on protein then you’re doing it wrong. A ketogenic diet is carb-restricted, protein-adequate, high fat (once you reach weight maintenance). This risk is also easily mitigated with soylent. Note also that overdoing protein is not as great a risk as it appears even on a non-soylent ketogenic diet. Consider that fat is more calorie dense relative to either carbohydrates or protein (9:4 is the approximate ratio) thus the amount of calories from protein in meat is smaller than it appears.

Decreased performance on a low carbohydrate diet is a myth perpetuated by junk studies of non-adapted individuals. Studies conducted after allowing sufficient adaptation time show equal, improved, or only marginally decreased performance. See The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance.

Eating high levels of dietary fat is not a downside, see “fat loss” and “better heart health” under Benefits below.

Adaptation

Entering ketosis is quick on 0 carb soylent (a few days I expect), however it takes time to become keto-adapted, or fat-adapted.

Glucose in the form of glycogen requires quite a bit of water for storage in the body. This storage must be depleted before the body switches to burning ketones. As it depletes this storage the water comes with it. It’s not uncommon to lose ~5lbs in the first week, half of which is water.

It’s said that during this time you can experience symptoms of lethargy, headaches, light-headedness, weakness, nausea, and so forth. This may seem like a natural consequence of switching primary energy sources but that is not the case. The symptoms are a result of depleted sodium levels due to the water loss. Supplement your diet with extra salt for a time to eliminate any deleterious symptoms during adaptation:

When carbohydrates are restricted the body changes from retaining both water and salt to discarding them. […] The loss of water and salt can reduce plasma volume and make you feel sluggish and compromise your ability to perform outdoors in the heat or in the weight room. As a result, some people get headaches and feel faint. This state of salt depletion causes a compensatory loss of potassium […] The easy solution is to routinely take 1-2 grams of sodium per day in the form of 2 bouillon cubes (or home-made broth).

Phinney, Stephen; Volek, Jeff (2012-06-15). The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance (p. 80-81). Beyond Obesity LLC. Kindle Edition.

Should I cut carbs in one fell swoop or reduce them gradually?

To date, no one has done a study with a large group of subjects to see which strategy yields a higher proportion making an effective transition into nutritional ketosis.

Phinney, Stephen; Volek, Jeff (2012-06-15). The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance (p. 55). Beyond Obesity LLC. Kindle Edition.

It is known that eliminating them all at once is tolerated quite well, so long as you supplement with sodium to compensate for the body’s losses during adaptation. It also seems that reducing carbohydrates gradually may be a bit sketch as you could be in the gray area between running on glucose or ketones:

What we do know is that it takes a couple of weeks to keto-adapt, and you don’t accomplish much towards that goal until you are making substantial amounts of ketones (i.e., eating less than 50 grams of carbs for most people). The other concern with easing into a low carb diet is that once you are eating less than the 150 grams of carb needed to feed your brain with glucose, but still more than the 50 gram threshold below which ketosis is dependably operating, your brain’s fuel supply becomes pretty tenuous.

Phinney, Stephen; Volek, Jeff (2012-06-15). The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance (p. 55). Beyond Obesity LLC. Kindle Edition.

I’ve read ranges between 1 and 8 weeks for adaptation, more commonly 2-4.

Medium-chain triglycerides

Olive oil is high in MCTs, and coconut oil even more so (~60%). They are digested and burned as energy easily and in that respect are similar to carbohydrates.

They also generate more ketones than the long-chain triglycerides that compose the majority of dietary fat, which means ketosis can be maintained with less restrictive carbohydrate and protein intake.

[…] MCT-induced ketone production may not be associated with the full spectrum of metabolic benefits associated with carbohydrate-restricted keto-adaptation. Thus, we do not encourage use of MCT oil. That said, however, neither do we discourage consuming foods that naturally contain MCT.

Phinney, Stephen; Volek, Jeff (2012-06-15). The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance (p. 95). Beyond Obesity LLC. Kindle Edition.

Benefits

These are the commonly cited benefits, my experience/response follows.

  • Significantly less hunger

This was immensely obvious. After losing ~15 pounds and stabilizing at 10% body fat I seem to require more food (seems logical, since I have no major fat excess left to burn). While losing weight though I was astounded and shocked at my hunger reduction, it was a very unique experience.

  • Fat loss without calorie counting

I never counted calories, and I never exercised during my 2-3 month period where I lost ~15 pounds of fat (~16% body fat to 10%). It is true that I didn’t eat unless hungry.

It’s commonly said that you’ll lose weight when calories out > calories in. However this is merely a statement of the overall circumstance that will indeed exist on a fundamental physics level when fat loss occurs. The 1st law of thermodynamics, or energy conservation, does not specifically back up the external acts of eating calories or burning them during exercise any more than it backs up the notion of a purely internal change in fat storage or energy expenditure. It’s an enormously common error in logic. To give some insight into this, consider that the equation contains no arrow of causality; it doesn’t matter which side of the equation comes first. You can even transpose the variables like you learned in Algebra. It says with equal validity that if the fat mass is fixed, then exercising will cause hunger, or eating less will cause loss of energy. It doesn’t say fat mass is fixed, but it doesn’t say that it isn’t fixed, it doesn’t say anything about what’s causing what, whether internal or external. The energy balance equation is about as useful as explaining that the reason a room is crowded is because “more people entered than left”, it’s obvious and not helpful, it reveals nothing about causation. If this is still unclear consider watching CrossFit - Gary Taubes: Why We Get Fat (Unabridged) Part 2, at 18 minutes and 21 seconds.

Here’s just one random little study on mice to show that such a thing is possible, emphasis mine.

Mice on [the ketogenic diet] ate the same calories as mice on [the control diet] and [the high-fat high-carbohydrate diet], but weight dropped and stabilized at 85% initial weight, similar to [the calorie restricted diet]. This was consistent with increased energy expenditure seen in animals fed [the ketogenic diet] vs. those on [the control diet] and [the calorie restricted diet].
A high-fat, ketogenic diet induces a unique metabolic state in mice

  • Muscle-saving fat loss

In Steve’s keto-adaptation experiments in cyclists[6], circulating [branched-chain amino acids (BCAA: leucine, isoleucine, and valine)] rose significantly during the ketogenic diet compared to their levels during the baseline high carbohydrate diet. This occurred despite the fact that both diets contained the same amounts of protein. BCAA oxidation typically increases in proportion to energy demands. In keto-adapted athletes, however, there appears to be less need for muscle to use BCAA as fuel […] effectively demonstrated by Steve’s follow-up study showing that the higher blood leucine levels were a result of markedly decreased leucine oxidation.

Phinney, Stephen; Volek, Jeff (2012-06-15). The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance (p. 33). Beyond Obesity LLC. Kindle Edition.

6.   Phinney SD, Bistrian BR, Evans WJ, Gervino E, Blackburn GL: The human metabolic response to chronic ketosis without caloric restriction: preservation of submaximal exercise capability with reduced carbohydrate oxidation. Metabolism 1983, 32(8):769-776.

A major selling point for a ketogenic diet. I’m not a good candidate to demonstrate this, but my 15lbs weight loss took me from ~16% body fat to ~10% body fat, which seems pretty darn good to me. I did neither cardiovascular nor strength exercise.

  • Balanced energy, stable blood sugar

Body stores of fat fuel (typically >40, 000 Calories [kcal]) vastly exceed its maximum stores of carbohydrate fuel (~2,000 kcal).

Phinney, Stephen; Volek, Jeff (2012-06-15). The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance (p. 7). Beyond Obesity LLC. Kindle Edition.


[…] blood sugar can be well-maintained via metabolic processes such as gluconeogenesis without dietary carbohydrates in the keto-adapted human.

Phinney, Stephen; Volek, Jeff (2012-06-15). The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance (p. 53). Beyond Obesity LLC. Kindle Edition.

I absolutely notice much more balanced and sustained energy in myself. Without carbohydrates to influence blood sugar the body maintains it quite well.

  • Less sleep required, better sleep, waking more refreshed, etc.

Ordinarily when we sleep, as when fasting, ketones are elevated in the blood. I would postulate that when our body is highly adapted to burn fat and it’s our primary source, more energy is available all night long, and waking is more natural. That’s just a guess however, it could be an assortment of things. This was very apparent during my adaptation phase, but now it’s less noticeable. Perhaps I don’t experience the benefit without excess fat remaining to burn, or perhaps I’ve simply become used to it.

  • Clearer skin

I was skeptical of this one. There is very little research on acne and diet (I didn’t say very little correlation). The science behind this is that the insulin response to elevated blood sugar levels from carbohydrates is too high in some people (hyperinsulinemia) and this “elicits a hormonal response that supports unregulated epithelial growth and increased sebum secretion”.

Ofiyeva, M. (2013). Adult Acne - The Connection Between Diet, Insulin, and Your Skin. [online] Retrieved from: http://www.dermaharmony.com/adultacne/dietinsulinandyourskin.aspx [Accessed: 5 Nov 2013].

Here I am 6 months later still on a ketogenic diet 95% of the time, and I have to say that this has been the most profound change for me, even better than the fat loss. The improvement to my skin is so noticeable that this is the #1 reason I stay on this diet. Let me put things in perspective: I was on Accutane, the strongest acne treatment drug available, which worked briefly, I was then on Dan Kern’s The Regimen for at least a few years (effective but spendy and an enormous hassle), and now I’m on nothing. I just spot treat with a tiny amount of benzoyl peroxide. The anti-inflammation property of this diet is insane. Before this diet If I wasn’t doing a regular preventative treatment on the regimen my inflammation would escalate, and as it got worse it would get worse faster, think an exponential scale. Now with good sleep my issues are few. I only spot treat and everything heals in linear time. It’s incredible.

  • Better heart health!

There is a misconception that a high fat diet will put you at the risk of heart disease. This is due to the common, and flawed thinking that ingesting fat must cause you to gain fat, in your blood and in your body. The reality is that when carbohydrates are restricted the body adapts to burning fat for energy so incredibly that you not only lose fat, but the levels of fat in your bloodstream drop as well. Your heart health markers improve in all areas.

In two recently published studies we showed that a low carbohydrate, high fat diet significantly decreased circulating levels of saturated fat[23, 59].

Phinney, Stephen; Volek, Jeff (2012-06-15). The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance (p. 72). Beyond Obesity LLC. Kindle Edition.


#2

I’m also on a ketogenic soylent and will report when I’ve been on only soylent for a week. Right now I’m adjusting the ingredients.


#3

This is where I’d say be very careful. Very very careful.


#5

Keto is dangerous. Soylent is not even alpha. Both together… :expressionless:


#6

You must be having to consume somewhere in the region of 150g of fat every day - all in olive oil? How is it mixing? How does it taste?

How much protein are you consuming in a day, would you have said 150g would be too much?


#7

Soylent is definitely alpha and I’m in no means encouraging anyone else to try this, I’m just posting my results. I should perhaps make this clearer somewhere near the top. Done. I have however been on Soylent exclusively for a month now and it’s been absolutely amazing - that’s why I decided to attempt making it ketogenic. So far things are actually going better than I expected.

If you want to post links to literature you feel makes a particularly good case against ketosis please do so, I think we would all welcome it. In my research the main (practically only) concerns were lack of potential nutrients and overconsumption of protein. In the other cases I found there seemed to be a major misunderstanding and mischaracterisation of it (they seemed to be mistaking it for ketoacidosis).


#8

Luckily because fat is so much higher in calories than protein and carbohydrates it’s not massively more volume-wise, but it is indeed more weight wise, approximately ~140g.

It doesn’t mix particularly well (I’m also using soy lecithin powder even though I’m not certain this is the right environment for it to be an effective emulsifier, I don’t know enough), great after I blend it but worse throughout the day. The taste seems to vary. It always tastes quite delicious in the morning, like bananas. The taste seems to worsen throughout the day. It does require some tolerance. Perhaps if I used my immersion blender to mix it throughout the day it would stay delicious, I guess I will find that out on Saturday. It’s also thinner which I find easier to drink, less gritty (not to say it was particularly gritty at all with maltodextrin, but it’s noticeably less so).

150g of protein is too much for me, but that’s because my job has me quite sedentary for the time being (changing soon!).

Yes all olive oil. I want to try coconut oil because I tend to love coconut drinks (but not flakes on my deserts >_<) but I’m not sure yet on how to source it in sufficient quantities. I figure one or the other should used, combining them would be disgusting wouldn’t it? Heck if I know.


#9

Thanks for the reply Chris, I’ve been interested in something like this since I first heard of Soylent.
I’m thinking of giving something similar a go but following a more cyclic diet:

Standard day:
30g Carbs
150g Protein
120g Fat

Training day:
150g Carbs
175g Protein
65g Fat

Am I right in thinking this should keep me in ketosis for 5 days of the week while ensuring on the 2 days of the week that I work out I have enough energy stores to push hard and feed my muscles?

Being a reasonably active 21 year old male I don’t think the quantity of protein is too high. Following this should allow me to keep seeing reasonable increases in my lifting while simultaneously cutting down bodyfat - we shall see!


#10

To be honest I have no idea, I’m not qualified to say. I’m just good at absorbing and acquiring information from all over the net. :smile: I’ve read many forum topics asking and answering your exact question but there was never much confirmation at the end. Seems more like a try-it-and-see until we collect more information.


#11

I’ve been waiting for somebody to start a Ketogenic version. Good on you for taking it on. I’ve been eating ketogenic for a few months now. I’ve gone from 208 to 188 pounds. I feel energetic, focused, and am rarely hungry. One thing I wanted to discuss was the types of fat you are consuming. I really believe that saturated fats are necessary for the body, especially male. Without them, you might have lower testosterone levels. Olive oil is mostly poly-unstaturated. Macadamia nut oil is high is mono-unsaturated. Coconut oil is high in saturated. I think a healthy combination of all 3 would serve you best. Not sure where to get them in bulk though. Good luck to you.


#12

Thanks for mentioning saturated fat! This is actually one area I’m looking hard at, since it seems a large part of a ketogenic diet, and coconut oil is high in it.

I just found these two hits:
http://www.more.com/health/healthy-eating/saturated-fat-good
http://www.toscareno.com/2013/01/29/coconut-oil-a-saturated-fat-good-or-bad/#.UW8hOrWkr4I

Both interesting reading. (I’m not claiming they are reputable sources.)
If saturated fat raises LDL with HDL, that’s a totally different ball game. Also the ketogenic diet is known to lower LDL.

I’m going to try switching to coconut oil as a test, see what the flavor is like, etc.

Hmm, the only problem here is coconut oil is way expensive in that large of quantities. Looks like we’re talking ~$2.77 per day for a low-calorie (~1,500) soylent with entirely coconut oil for fat. $83 a month or so, ouch. I will at least try it, and work on combinations later. Or you know, I’ll just have eggs, bacon and sausage in the morning… :smile:


#13

You’re mashing two experiments into one and judging by what I read above and what we know about Soylent, I’d say it’s a pretty big risk.

If something goes wrong, how do you know what caused?


#14

I would be concerned if I hadn’t already been on soylent for a month with great success. That, combined with Rob’s continued experimentation, is enough for me to continue my own specific experimentation. At this point I’m only conducting one experiment, that of ketogenic soylent, as far as I’m concerned.

Also it’s quite possible (likely?) that I will only use this ketogenic soylent for fat-adaptation, and then transition in solid foods for one or two meals a day.


#15

I’m going to hit up the grocery store tonight and buy some coconut oil. I’ll report how it goes.


#16

LDL isn’t necessarily bad. What you want to avoid is small, dense LDL which will then stick to artery walls. Bigger fluffier LDL doesn’t cause as much of an issue, which is the kind you get on a ketogenic diet. Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes has a whole part explaining which fats do what to LDL and HDL levels.


#17

Thank you for sharing your results. I’m very interested but a little too scared to try it myself just yet. I’ll let you be the guinea pig first.

Several years ago I did the Atkins thing (like everyone else at the time) and I really liked the way I felt in ketosis.

But I’m vegetarian, so all of my protein sources also had carbs. So for me to stay in ketosis I couldn’t eat many vegetables. And I ended up making myself sick. (Mostly extremely constipated.)

Looking back, I’m sure I was lacking several nutrients, but I wasn’t keeping track.

I like the idea of trying again with Soylent. At least this time I could make sure I’m getting all the nutrients I need. (Assuming they’re all absorbed, but that’s another story.)


#18

Too much oil? Since starting my ketogenic soylent (like the second day) I noticed a slightly odd sensation in my mouth, like there was something still to swallow after swallowing. I eventually checked my throat and it was fine. Another day I put my finger in there and exactly on the spot that was troubling me, some bit in my mouth was a bit sore. I’ve paid attention to it each day since.

Today I tried coconut oil (more on that later) and the problem became much more pronounced and I checked my mouth in the mirror again, this time certain things looked a bit red and somewhat swollen.

I cancelled my plans to drink the rest of the soylent and had a low-carb burger instead. The need-to-swallow sensation vanished, although my mouth needs some more healing work (nothing uncomfortable, it just looks like it could).

I’m concluding this is way too much oil to drink on a daily basis. Also the coconut oil went badly. I’ve since done a bit of research and people heartily recommend slowly working up to coconut oil. While the olive oil quantities (and possibly even coconut oil quantities if someone chose to do that) in the original soylent is probably fine, especially with carbohydrates, drinking this much oil on a daily basis seems no bueno.

Therefore, I’m going to be trying almonds (I love almonds) or some other food for my fat source from now on, but otherwise continue with soylent and a ketogenic diet. (I bet soylent is super delicious without the oil, I’ll have to pace myself on it though, don’t want too much potassium or other minerals at once.) I just wanted to get this warning out here as early as possible. In retrospect it was possibly a bit stupid consuming that much oil on a daily basis for a week, but hey, SCIENCE.


#19

This is probably not directly related to olive oil . In his I used to drink 1.5 k calories of olive oil and or coconut oil and walnut oil. It could be the quality of oil you have possibly or not related at all. I know quite a few people who have and some who still do DRI k lots of oil for calories. Curious though how much fiber you have been taking the last several days and what fiber source you are using. Also forgot to add plaque and such thing that exist in your mouth are oil soul able so with your oil intake you could be breaking up plaque colonies in your mouth which could cause irritation.


#20

I selected my olive oil very carefully. The coconut oil I just went with what was available at the supermarket but I have no reason to believe it’s “low quality”. 10g Kirkland Signature soluble optifiber, which I’ve found very necessary and so far just the right amount (first I tried 5).

That’s very interesting about plaque being fat soluble.

By the way the effect seemed worse with coconut oil, but that’s hard to quantify. There seems to be a fair bit of info out there about starting slowly with coconut oil… although I don’t think any have mentioned this as far as I know.


#21

I looked more carefully and did a little research and it appears to be my tonsils. It’s very slight though, and definitely no white spots or anything like that. Also a peruse of the web seems to indicate people actually use coconut oil to treat this! Interesting. I lowered the amount of coconut oil in my soylent to two tablespoons, and lowered olive oil as well with plans to eat some low carb food tomorrow and Saturday. Will be acquiring a large bag of almonds probably on Saturday and trying that. Should be interesting.