There’s been a surge of interest in the low carb high fat diet, on the back of controversial documentaries8, celebrity chef7 and sporting team6 endorsements plus numerous credible scientific reports9-11. Food trends such as butter or ‘Bulletproof’ coffee have also surged on the back of the low carb high fat movement. If one adheres to a strict low carb high fat diet, it generally entails keeping carbohydrate intake at between 50-100g/day. Cutting carbs to this level requires a rather dramatic change in diet, especially if one is used to a conventional high carb, low fat diet as advocated by the official Australian Dietary Guidelines.
1. Become an Avid Food Label Reader
The average individual starting a low carb high fat diet might be surprised at just how pervasive carbohydrate is in the food supply. A good way to acquaint oneself with typical carbohydrate levels in food is to become an avid food label reader. When comparing carbohydrate content across different foods, the easiest way is simply to compare the figures in the g per 100g column. 10g of carbohydrate for every 100g of a food means the food is 10% carbohydrate by weight. As a general rule, if trying to keep carbohydrate intake between 50 and 100g per day, its best to avoid foods that have above 10g of carbohydrate per 100g.
On the flip side, it’s also important to get acquainted with the amount of fat in food. In the case of meats, poultry and dairy there can be a considerable variation in fat content depending on the cut of meat or the type of dairy, i.e., double cream versus thickened cream. Because the emphasis of a low carb high fat diet is to eat more fat, choosing a fat cut over a lean cut or a full cream option over a skim one.
An effective way of keeping track of carb and fat intake is via the various food apps such as fitness pal which allow an individual to store nutritional data for a given food via scanning the foods barcode using the phone’s camera. Using a diet app for a week allows one to get a good appreciation of their daily macronutrient intake as well as where the majority of their calories come from.
2. Consider Adding Extra Salt to Diet
When following a strict low carb high fat diet with a daily carbohydrate intake at or below 50g per day, it is a common phenomena that kidney function changes such that sodium excretion increases significantly3. This is thought to be the underlying cause between the light headedness, fatigue and nausea that is commonly experience during the first 1-2 weeks of a strict low carb high fat diet. The most commonly prescribed solution is to use salt liberally on food and consider the use of a stock cube each day.
3. Don’t Eat Too Much Protein
One of the key differences with a low carb high fat diet (aka ketogenic) and a more traditional low carbohydrate diet is that it is not meant to be high protein, but rather moderate. Unbeknown to many, protein itself is actually insulinogenic, meaning that it can also stimulate the production of insulin like carbohydrate, albeit to a lesser extent. In fact, hydrolysed whey protein has shown to be the most powerful inulin stimulator5. Keeping protein intake at low to moderate levels is particularly important when trying to follow the strictest form of a low carb high fat diet, namely, ketogenic diet. It is hard to produce appreciable levels of ketones when one is consuming a high protein diet, even if carbohydrate intake is low.
4. Don’t Focus on Counting Calories & Eat According to Appetite
Low carb high fat diets are popular for their ability to regulate hunger. By reducing carbohydrate intake to very low levels, the theory is that the body learns to burn more of its fat stores for its basic energy needs. As such blood glucose levels are typically lower and more stable1. This in turn tends to moderate the traditional hunger cycle that is linked to cyclical peaks and troughs in blood glucose levels. What’s more, there is good evidence to show that when consuming a low carb high fat diet and producing appreciable levels of ketones, there is a trend towards a reduction in appetite2. Proponent of a ketogenic diet argue that it is important to only eat according to hunger and not according to conventional calorie requirements.
5. Work Out Some Key Easy Meal Options
Changing from a conventional diet to a low carb high fat diet involves a considerable change in food consumption. As such, it is advisable to have some easy low carb high meals that one can resort to during the period of transitioning to the new diet. Some basic examples include bacon and eggs or coconut milk smoothie or some high fat sausages with a side of low carb green vegetables lightly fried in butter.
6. Don’t Avoid Saturated Fat
The question of what particular fat one should eat or exclude as part of a ketogenic diet often arises. Traditional ketogenic diets derive their fat in large part from saturated and monounsaturated sources, with only a minor portion coming from polyunsaturated and essential fatty acids. In fact, recent studies that have successfully employed a low carbohydrate diet for fat loss have included generous amounts of saturated fat4.
7. Consider Tracking Ketone Levels
Very strict low carb high fat diets with a carbohydrate intake below 50g/day typically result in an increase in ketone body production and excretion. Blood ketone levels can be monitored easily, much in the same way that blood glucose is for diabetics. Monitoring blood ketone levels regularly during the first month of a low carb high fat diet is an effective way of tracking progress on the diet. As a general rule, individuals tend to see more benefits as their ketone levels increase.
- Mikkelsen KH, et al. Systemic, cerebral and skeletal muscle ketone body and energy metabolism during acute hyper-D-β-hydroxybutyrataemia in post-absorptive healthy males. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2014 Nov 21:jc20142608. [Epub ahead of print]
- Gibson AA, et al. Do ketogenic diets really suppress appetite? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2014 Nov 17. doi: 10.1111/obr.12230. [Epub ahead of print]
- Nielsen JV, et al. A low-carbohydrate diet may prevent end-stage renal failure in type 2 diabetes. A case report. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2006;3:23.
- Saslow LR, et al. A randomized pilot trial of a moderate carbohydrate diet compared to a very low carbohydrate diet in overweight or obese individuals with type 2 diabetes mellitus or prediabetes. PLOS ONE. 2014;9(4): e91027.
- Power O, et al. Human insulinotropic response to oral ingestion of native and hydrolysed whey protein. Amino Acids (2009) 37:333–339
- Edmund, S. (2014). Melbourne players to adopt radical paleo diet in 2015 AFL season. [online] HeraldSun. Available at: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/afl/melbourne-players-to-adopt-radical-paleo-diet-in-2015-afl-season/story-fni5f91a-1227133470817 [Accessed 26 Nov. 2014].
- Bagshaw, E. (2014). My Kitchen Rules chef Pete Evans raises heat over Paleo diet. [online] The Sydney Morning Herald. Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/diet-and-fitness/my-kitchen-rules-chef-pete-evans-raises-heat-over-paleo-diet-20140930-10nwr0.html [Accessed 26 Nov. 2014].
- Abc.net.au, (2014). Catalyst: Low Carb Diet Fat or Fiction - ABC TV Science. [online] Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4126228.htm [Accessed 26 Nov. 2014].
- Gu Y, et al. Very low carbohydrate diet significantly alters the serum metabolic profiles in obese subjects. Journal of Proteome Research. 2013;12:5801−5811.
- Mobbs CV, et al. Treatment of diabetes and diabetic complications with a ketogenic diet. Journal of Child Neurology. 2013;28(8):1009-1014.
- Farrés J, et al. Revealing the molecular relationship between type 2 diabetes and the metabolic changes induced by a very-low-carbohydrate low-fat ketogenic diet. Nutrition & Metabolism. 2010; 7:88.