A low carbohydrate, high fat diet (LCHF) is the healthiest and most effective diet to lose weight and feel better, in my opinion, and I’m going to tell you why.
You may have heard of the Atkins or South Beach Diet or maybe you’ve tried the paleo or ketogenic diet. Even the Bulletproof Diet or Tim Ferriss “Slow Carb Diet”. Well then you have experience with a high fat, low carb diet since all of those diets are just fancy names for the same diet.
The goal behind the diet is simple. By lowering your carbohydrates you decrease the amount of blood glucose available as a energy pathway.Instead your body turns to both stored and dietary fat for a more efficient source of energy for your brain, muscles and organs. As a result your insulin and blood glucose levels drop which causes a positive cascade for numerous other hormones. You have improved cognitive function, reduced sugar cravings and you lose weight!
What’s the trouble with insulin?
Insulin is the “mother” of all hormones in that it truly does impact every other hormone in the body. As you eat a carbohydrate or sugary meal, insulin is released from your pancreas to drive the nutrients from your food into every tissue and cell in the body. Insulin is released to manage glucose and the more glucose that we have, the more insulin we release. If our blood glucose drops too quickly. as is the case after we consume sugary drinks and foods, then we run into cravings for more sugar or salty food, experience tiredness and lethargy or we have digestive problems.
Chronically high levels of insulin lead to weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, and a variety of other cognitive and physical problems because our insulin sensitivity, or our ability to produce the smallest amount of insulin possible to handle blood glucose, decreases. If we continually eat a high carbohydrate diet, our body has to produce more and more insulin to store that glucose. We become insulin resistant which is linked to type II diabetes and weight gain. Since carbohydrates increase insulin to higher levels then protein, fat and fiber, controlling carbohydrates is key to minimizing insulin and losing weight.
Fortunately, our diet by eating low carb and high fat, training, supplementation and lifestyle can increase our insulin sensitivity, keep insulin levels low and minimize blood glucose.
LCHF, low carb high fat, works in two ways. The low carb part keeps insulin levels low to prevent fat storage from the high fat that you’ll be eating. Often times a BIG issue with any type of high fat, low carb diet is that the individuals eat too much fat while also eating too many carbohydrates. We want to avoid this.
The high fat side of the diet shifts the body into a more efficient energy generating pathway. So as you produce less insulin, your body can sustain activity for longer periods of time.
From a health and physique stand point, a low carb high fat diet is superior than a low fat, high carb diet but what are the potential downsides?
Triathletes and endurance athletes have used keto type diets for years and they all report great success from a performance stand point. Crossfit or jui jitsu athletes use a high fat, low carb diet and report that they can’t perform as well as when they were on other diets.
When you first start eating a low carbohydrate high fat diet, you may actually notice less energy and more fatigue than before. During this phase your body is shifting from a glucose-carb driven energy pathway to a fat fueled pathway and it doesn’t initially like it.
You actually may have problems sleeping,brain fog,headaches or you may have an energy drop at various points in the day, including in the middle of the afternoon. You may not notice it but this time of day is when you’d typically grab a coffee with some sugar or a carbohydrate laden “health” bar or a bag of salty potato chips. Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to deprive yourself of calories or “fight” through this tough phase. What you need to do is make sure that your meals contain enough protein and fat so that you stay full enough to not allow this short term phase to derail your progress.
This is where my approach tends to differ from other individuals recommendation for a LCHF diet. While endurance athletes typically strive on a low carb, high fat diet, that is because they are endurance based. They already have been operating on a higher fat approach for an extended period of time in a primarily aerobic sport.
A Crossfit athlete, a grapplin mma fighter or even a bodybuilder will need to slightly adjust their nutritional approach to consume more carbohydrates. This is where a high fat low carb diet differs from a ketogenic diet, where you are attempting to stay in ketosis. If being in ketosis isn’t your concern, and it shouldn’t be for the majority of readers, then you can still get away with 100-150 grams of carbohydrates per day depending on your muscle mass, age, activity level and goals. Specifically if you bookend those carbohydrates around your training time.
You also have to note that not every training day is the same and therefore won’t require the same amount of carbohydrates. So you may have a day you are closer to 150 grams of carbohydrates and another day where you just need 50 grams post workout. Every day your diet should be variable based on your training.
Another important note is that if you are training hard without hitting the minimal carbohydrate threshold for your goals then your body will conserve whatever glucose is around. Remember, even if are on a ketogenic diet, our brain needs a tiny bit of glucose to function.
Our thyroid always isn’t happy on low carb diet either. T3 plays a role in glucose utilization and if there isn’t enough incoming glucose to match the energy that you are putting out then your T3 drops to maintain and hold onto the glucose that you do have. We’ll talk about your thyroid and cholesterol below.
There are tons of studies on the variety of benefits of a low carb diet including.
*Improved blood glucose control
*Reduced total cholesterol, improved HDL “Good” cholesterol, lower LDL “bad” cholesterol and reduced triglycerides.
*Reduced body fat and visceral fat around your internal organs including your heart
*Lower inflammatory blood markers including C-reactive protein
*Better appetite control due to the satiety effects of protein, fat and fiber
*Improved brain health and potential benefits in Alzheimer and Parkinson biomarker reduction.
*Increased gut health due to the whole food nature of your diet.
* You may also experience initial weight loss as glucose stores water and less glucose means less water storage.
Often times when I advise a client to jump on a high fat, low carb diet I hear all about how they can’t because their cholesterol is going to rise. What if I told you that it wasn’t a direct relationship?
While your doctor may be concerned with a total cholesterol (HDL+LDL) over 175, a total cholesterol level of 200 to 240 is actually linked to to the lowest level of all cause mortality.
It may not even be an increase in “bad” or LDL cholesterol at all.A average cholesterol panel won’t give you an example of your particle count, that is the LDL that may actually cause harm. More advanced cholesterol testing is always beneficial.
If your triglycerides, blood fats, increase, it may be because you’re losing weight. As you consumer a higher fat diet, you’ll have more fats freely available in your blood stream. Of course a blood test,which is a measure of a specific time, may show you have higher triglycerides because you have more fat floating around your blood stream and you’re losing weight. What cells are your body tapping into for energy on a LCHF diet? Fat cells, more fat will be floating around your body!
You’re stressed! Stress causes decreased thyroid function. Less thyroid function decreases LDL receptor activity so your LDL can’t clear from your blood as fast.
My point:cholesterol won't increase just because you eat more fat in your diet. Cholesterol is a lot more than the fat you eat.
Another negative side effect of a LCHF diet is digestive stress due to lipopolysaccharides (LPS). These bacteria and bacterial neurotoxins often “leak” through the gut in individuals with leaky gut syndrome and play a role in inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease and diabetes. In high fat low carbohydrate diets where individuals just consume high amounts of fat foolishly, the fat “pushes” the LPS through the gut lining more than it normally would.
So while there’s a fine line between eating a low carb high fat diet and gut health, it all comes down to individual gut health and tolerance.
A potential benefit of a high fat diet is that you will eat or “graze” less during the day. Since the make up a high fat, low carb meal is dense with more protein and fiber packed fruits and vegetables, you won’t snack during the day. By giving your digestive system time “off” between full meals you cause less digestive stress needed to break down food.
I ask because I hear from people every day who “eat low carb” but when you look at their food logs or ask them if they measure their macros, they always respond with “no”. Most people are shocked to see what 100 grams of carbohydrates actually is when measured. It’s what most average folks eat for dinner alone and here I am telling you to eat no more than 100 grams per day!
Yes, there are numerous studies that show the advantages of lowering insulin levels to reduce diabetes, lower blood sugar, improve cholesterol and lower inflammation. Many individuals report that they get off of prescription medication after a few months of a low carb diet.
I don’t want you to count calories or macro nutrients. On a LCHF diet, the purpose is to eat quality whole foods. I want you to make better nutritional choices but I do want you to count carbohydrates. Why just carbohydrates? If our insulin levels aren’t kept under control, all the high fat that we’re eating will be stored as body fat.
Plus, by tracking your carbohydrates, you’ll get a better understanding of the amount that you need daily to train hard, recover or have enough energy.
There are a few quality supplements that can accelerate your progress of a low carb, high fat dieting including omega-3 fish oil, Glucose Support, Ultra Probiotic 10 and BCAAS.
Omega-3 fish oil can work to increase insulin sensitivity as fish oil gets added to the fat layer of every cell and it won’t allow insulin to bind to the cell as easily. Combined with a a LCHF eating approach, this decreases insulin sensitivity and inflammation.
Just do not mega dose fish oil. I know it’s common on a high fat diet to view fish oil as a healthy fat because it is but mega dosing fish oil is not the answer. I typically advise 9 Physique Formula fish oil capsules per day to rebalance the “good” omega-3 levels to the “bad” omega-6 levels. If you stay strict to a low carb diet, you will reduce your omega-6 volume.
This Physique Formula designed product contains multiple herbs and nutrients that are shown in research to increase insulin sensitivity. It’s an effective supplement at the early stages of a low carb diet when insulin sensitivity is compromised and effective during the last few weeks of a LCHF diet after insulin sensitivity has improved in order to increase the sensitivity.
Gut health is essential for proper insulin sensitivity. When gut health is compromised, cortisol rises which causes your blood sugar to increase even while you are on a low carb diet. Adding Ultra Probiotic 10 into your diet ensures that you’ll get enough healthy bacteria into your gut. A high fat diet delivers butyric acid, a fatty acid involved in gut health Remember that we talked about the need for proper digestive health? Well a probiotic contributes to that case and a LCHF diet helps!
BCAAS are included in a low carb diet because they can increase fat loss and muscle gain. During a low carb diet, it is very hard to build muscle but BCAAS are shown to increase muscle growth when calories are low. BCAAS during fasted training also appears to reduce muscle breakdown.
The set up of a low carb, high fat diet is pretty straight forward. You want to eat protein and fat, veggies and fruits while minimizing your carbohydrate intake around your workout time..
Aim to eat the following foods
Beef, Pork, Bison and Fatty Fish Like Salmon and Sardines (I prefer grass fed or organic beef)
Chicken, Turkey and Lamb
Bacon, Pork and Sausage
Grass Fed Butter
Almonds, Cashews, Walnuts and Macadamia Nut
Honey and Diary: While controversial, a tiny bit of each is not going to wreck a LCHF diet
All Fruits with a primary focus on berries
Vegetables incuding dark leafy greens, peppers, mushrooms, cucumber, squash
High amounts of fruits other than berries
Fake butters like hydrogenated fats and margarine
Fast food and prepackaged foods
Maple Syrup, Corn Syrup and Sugar
Processed foods and fillers like soy, corn, wheat and gluten. Read your labels!
As mentioned above, eating a low carb diet doesn’t mean that you don’t eat any carbohydrates. After all, you’re in the gym so you need to refuel and recover. I prefer you to use gluten free carbohydrate options such as potatoes and rice. Oatmeal is a bit controversial as it does contain some anti nutrients but I do include it on some low carb diets. Just monitor your energy and digestive levels after you eat oatmeal.
No, whole wheat or whole grain breads still contain gluten are s loaded with chemicals designed to keep them fresh. So no, you need to avoid them. If you really love bread, there are gluten free breads available that you can use in a pinch.
Of course, herbs and spices are actually the second healthiest food in the world behind organ meats. I use nutmeg and cinnamon in my coffee and I cook all my meats in oregano, basil and other herbs. Trader Joes has a lot of chemical free, sugar free and fat free mixtures with sea salt to really flavor your food.
Milk or cream is okay but sugar is not. Just a splash of whole milk or heavy cream can go a long way to increase your dietary compliance. You can use coconut or almond milk.
The transition from a low carb, high fat diet to a keto diet isn’t that big. You would need to tweak your carbohydrate intake lower until you are actually in ketosis, which can be measured by keto sticks and achieved faster with keto salt supplements. A big problem that a lot of keto dieters make is eating too much protein. While you do need protein to increase muscle mass, some amino acids will be converted to glucose from a process known as gluconeogensis which will actually kick you OUT of ketosis.
A great way to combat this is to add coconut oil or olive oil to your protein sources. (Side note: the topic of BCAAs and keto is a hot one right now, here's my take.)
Should I eat fiber while low carbing it?
Yes because optimizing gut bacteria requires indigestible fiber to to combat the inflammatory signals of too much protein. Eat your fruits and vegetables but also eat some heifer or sauerkraut or kombucha. to reduce bad gut bacteria.
Yes but don’t go overboard. A cheat meal or two is fine but a cheat day is not. A high fat and high carb meal, think pizza, is fine but going from low glucose to a sudden spike in blood glucose is going to cause oxidative stress and cause glycated stress.
Again, I’m not saying that you can’t have a large cheat meal, you can. But having an all day, all you can eat cheat day is going to be why your LDL cholesterol increases on a high fat diet.
Yes, but it’s entirely in your control. Most people who start a low carb diet do experience some type of hunger in the first 2-3 days but that’s because they do it wrong. Let’s look at an example. You spent all weekend eating burgers, pizza and candy but on Sunday night, you tell yourself that on Monday you’re going to eat low carb.
Once mid morning hits on Monday you’re already starving. What went wrong? In this typical scenario, you likely either skipped breakfast or just had some eggs and a small piece of fruit or a protein bar. The issue isn’t with low carb dieting, it’s with the obsession about eliminating foods or restricting calories. What I want you to do is ignore counting calories, just focus on the amount of carbohydrates that you’re eating. If you’re hungry then you know you should include more fat, protein or fiber in your diet. If you’re hungry, you’re not eating enough!
Remember, it’s okay to be hungry, it’s not okay to be starving.
Protein can be incredibly satisfying but that’s only if you eat enough. Most people under estimate the amount of protein that they need to eat whereas they typically only eat a handful of meat. If you are hungry after eating protein then you need to include extra fats and fiber in your meal.
Following a low carb, high fat diet can drastically improve your health and physique in a short period of time. You may even decide that you love the energy and cognitive function that you now have. Remember, it doesn't need to be restrictive at all. Try it now!