LCHF stands for low carb high fat (but I like to refer to it as “healthy” fat). It is also known as Keto (for the Ketogenic diet) or Banting (particularly in South Africa) as labelled by Prof. Tim Noakes, doctor and author of the book “The Real Meal Revolution.” This name comes from William Banting, a (formerly) obese undertaker who adopted a LCHF lifestyle based on the advice of his doctor and consequently, lost a bunch of weight and wrote about it in a pubic booklet. This, I might add, was in the mid 1800s (yep this lifestyle has been around waaayyyy longer than the current high carb low-fat message).
But despite the history, what are we actually talking about when we say “Low Carb High Fat??”
1. LCHF = healthy fats (which is why I like to call it low carb healthy fat diet). This includes the following foods:
- Coconut products
- Oils, flour, milk, cream, water and fresh
- Animal products (from pasture raised and fed animals)
- Meat (fatty cuts such as pork belly, mince, chicken wings and thighs, skin on, marbled steaks, offal, bones)
- Dairy (cream, fatty cheeses and yoghurt)*
- Nuts and seeds*
- Oils like olive, macadamia, avocado
- Fatty fish such as salmon and sardines
- Processed meats that are without preservatives and sugars such as prosciutto San Daniele (salt and pork only).
*depends on the person and whether can be tolerated or not
These fats are mainly monounsaturated and saturated but there are, of course, some polyunsaturated fats too. Monounsaturated fats found in olive oil and avocado have been touted as the best source of fat, particularly as the Mediterranean diet gathers such good press. Saturated fats, however, are still demonized but without reason [1. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition]. They are NOT the demons that the medical world have made them out to be (see Chris Kesser’s post). Trans fats, however, are much more harmful to our bodies and these come from vegetable and seed oils like canola, vegetable, sunflower, peanut (etc.). These oils cause inflammation in the body and make them NOT heart friendly at all (despite what some doctors and nutrition experts say!!). Here is an article with links to studies if you are interested in learning more.
2. LCHF = high fat.
Larger than you’ve ever eaten before (after all, that’s what the ‘H’ stands for). The general percentage breakdown of macros differs based on which keto expert you are talking to but I like to aim for 80/15/5 daily: fat/protein/carbs. So what does this look like? Well, it varies from person to person but for me, a moderately active female of 61kg and 170cm tall, this is around 150g fat, 80g protein and around 20-30g carbs. To calculate your macros, try this keto calculator by ketodietapp.
Amount of fat consumed is important but also is the fat source and not all fats are created equal. Too little fat is a problem though as you will not feel satiated for long after a meal. In addition to this, your body won’t have the fat required to send the signals to your brain to create ketone bodies which is the main source of energy when on a Ketogenic or low carb high fat diet. Without the fat, all we have is low carb and this is both unsustainable and will result in constant hunger and cravings, not to mention a whole host of other health problems due to the undue stress on your body. Too much fat may also be problematic for some but again, I believe it has to do with the sources of fat and learning to eat only when your body is legitimately hungry (easier said than done).
Amounts of protein and carbohydrates need to be considered. Protein plays an incredibly important role in our bodies and we will be nutrient deficient and suffer disease and illness without it. Volek and Phinney’s book, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living specify eating between 1.5 – 2.0 grams protein per kg of reference body weight (0.7-0.9 gm protein per pound).
Despite what you may believe, carbohydrates are not an essential macronutrient and without them, our bodies survive just fine. Again, for more information about this, refer to Volek and Phinney’s book (link above).
So 80% fat hey…?! I know what you’re thinking, that this is too much fat, that you will die of a heart attack if you follow this advice.
Did you know that our bodies NEED fat? Without it, our gallbladder turns the unused bile into gallstones. Without fat, our bodies don’t produce enough sex hormones and women can suffer from amenorrhea (loss of period) and may not be able to reproduce or carry a baby to term. It impacts on the body’s ability to produce the right hormones at the right times and women may also suffer from hair loss, mood swings, pain and discomfort, weak nails, hair that breaks and bad skin (the list goes on and on). Without fat, mothers cannot provide enough breast milk or nutrition to feed their baby. Without fat, many vitamins found in vegetables cannot be fully absorbed. Without fat, our brains cannot function to their full potential and many people can end up with depression, memory loss or even Alzheimer’s.
3. LCHF = largely plant-based and minimal fruit.
LCHF veggies of choice are considered the above ground ones but mainly the green ones. Think kale, broccoli, spinach, bok-choy, lettuces etc. In addition to these, there is cauliflower, cabbage, zucchini, asparagus and mushrooms. Veggies to avoid are those higher in carbs such as onion, garlic, carrot and tomatoes. There are also veggies that fall into the group of night shades such as eggplants, potatoes and (all) peppers that some people react to, causing their body to become more inflamed and suffer from pain. Generally speaking though, if you are just starting out, eating any plant foods is always a better choice that anything processed or grain-based. Do think about eating seasonal vegetables and if possible, organically grown. There are the well-known Clean 15/Dirty dozen lists that you can refer to so that you can make better choices.
Minimal fruit is important when doing LCHF. This is for a few reasons:
- Fruit is extra sweet, sweeter that it ever was in nature due to genetic modification. The sugars in fruit create blood sugar spikes and this is what we’re trying to avoid.
- Hunter/gatherers didn’t eat fruit in the same quantities that we do. The reason that fruit makes our blood sugar spike is because it was necessary to store the sugar as fat for later use (think hunting or in times of famine or lack of food).
- Fruit is now available all year round and we can buy fruit from one climate in a completely different one. Think of the tropical fruits like mangoes and pineapples. Our bodies have adapted to our climates too and we need to consider this.
- They are higher in carbs that other foods and even though there is the argument for eating the whole fruit and gaining the fiber so there is a slow release of energy and it is more easily digested, in the end, it still produces an insulin release and if you are metabolically ill and trying to heal, this is something you don’t want.
All this said, fruit eaten every once in a while, is not too troublesome. The lower-carb fruit options include:
- Berries (most varieties although cherries are quite sweet)
- Citrus fruits like limes and lemons (great squeezed in soda water)
- Coconut products
If you do choose to eat fruit, eat it whole and be aware of how it makes you feel (whether you crave more fruit or other forms of sugar etc.).
I tend to eat some fruits outside of this list when it’s summer or I’m on holiday in a tropical climate. These fruits add additional water to your body and are refreshingly good. However a glass of water would be just as good :).
4. LCHF = no preservatives, no refined sugar or carbohydrates.
This really is all the bad stuff. I’m talking biscuits, cakes, sugary treats, lollies (aka candy), sugary jams. Fast food, bread, pasta and rice, chips. Anything deep-fried or cooked in rancid oils.
We really are just simplifying food when we cut out all the crap. I’ll be honest, it sounds hard. How do you stop eating sugar when it’s in everything and you crave it? How do you stop eating bread and pasta? (Oh I know this one well, I’m Italian!). Vegetables??!! What fun are they especially when we’re raised being told that we’ll get something delicious if we eat all of our (gross) veggies?!
So yes, low carb high fat means cutting out a lot of our “comfort foods” but seriously, once you lose the attachment to these and start to feel so much better, you wont miss them and when you go back to try them again, you will realise that they weren’t all that special to begin with (my experience with bread) and then some other things will taste so sweet that you won’t want to eat them. (I can even taste that water can be sweet!) But above all, fat is SO DAMN TASTY that you won’t want to go back! Seriously.
WHAT LCHF IS NOT…
- HIGH PROTEIN
- NO VEGGIES
For a full list of keto approved foods, head to the Real Meal Revolution website as it is an amazing resource and starting point for new banters. There is a green, orange and red list. You can eat anything on the green list and pretty much as much of it as you want (only eat until no longer hungry of course). Orange is an “in moderation” list and Red is a never eat list.
So if you are sick of being moody, getting depressed, feeling bloated, having bad skin, suffering from PMS, putting on weight each year, always feeling hungry, craving sugar, falling asleep in the afternoon, feeling foggy, suffering from headaches, reacting to foods, suffering from allergies or getting sick on a regular basis. Or maybe you have metabolic disease in your family and you’d like to avoid getting one or many of these (obesity, heart disease, diabetes or hypertension); Or maybe you’re genetically pre-disposed to cancer or Alzheimer’s, and also don’t want to suffer from these then maybe have a little think about whether a low carb healthy fat diet is for you. I know that it changed my life, maybe, just maybe, it will change yours.