The High-Fat, Low-Carb Diet

There are countless types of diets trending today: weight loss, crash, detox, low-fat , high-fat, low-carb and many more! It seems like every time we turn on the TV or read the news, there’s another fad diet promising real results. People get excited and jump on the bandwagon only to discover that it’s too difficult to follow or doesn’t work with their lifestyle.

Recent research has confirmed the message that practitioners in holistic medicine and nutrition have been delivering for years: that eating more foods with healthy fats and less carbohydrates, as well as getting healthy portions of fruit and vegetables, is good for your overall health and can lead to sustained weight loss. Many people find it difficult to heed this advice however, since it sits in stark contrast to the message we’ve been receiving over the past 50 years that all but vilifies fat consumption.

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However successful, the low-fat diet campaign was not based on research when it was launched in the 1960s, but rather came out of growing pressure on the US government to address growing rates of cardiovascular disease and provide guidance to the US population. To this day, there is no evidence to justify the low- fat diet. On the contrary, research shows that instead of working to support overall health, eating too little fat causes us to eat more carbs and sugars than is healthy, reduces our good cholesterol (HDL), and causes a number of other biochemical disturbances. Instead, researchers and doctors now increasingly recommend eating a diet higher in fat and lower in carbohydrates.

How It Works

The science behind the concept of eating more fat and less carbohydrates is quite sound. You see, fat is very satiating, so you become fuller more quickly than you do with carbohydrates. Thus, while fat has more calories per gram than carbohydrates, you will actually end up eating less. Haven’t you ever noticed yourself mindlessly finishing an entire bag of chips before you realize what happened? That’s because you can eat a lot of carbohydrates before ever feeling ‘full’.

Further, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and cause a release of insulin. The more carbohydrates we consume, the more insulin is released into the bloodstream. Insulin then causes a sudden drop in blood glucose levels, leading to cravings and the in infamous ‘sugar crash.’

Eventually, your cell receptors become less sensitive to the effects of insulin, which will cause your body to release more insulin, store more fat, and decrease your insulin sensitivity, ultimately this can lead to Type II Diabetes. However, as long as you avoid refined carbohydrates, you will eventually avoid the cravings for these unhealthy foods when you’re hungry (or especially when you aren’t).

Adaptation Phase

Of course, you won’t be able to switch your diet overnight and feel no effects. During the first week or so of drastically decreasing your carbohydrate intake, you will likely experience sugar withdrawal from the processed foods you have been consuming. You see, sugar causes release of opioids and dopamine, which make it highly addictive. In fact, a study conducted by Dr. Nicole Avena of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai has revealed that sugar has been shown to have the same or worse reactions than crack when going through withdrawal; and, has been shown to be eight times more addictive than cocaine. So, while some people think that it’s the lack of eating that’s making them feel lightheaded and nauseous, it’s actually the sugar withdrawal that’s the culprit.

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This detox period, or adaptation phase simply means that your body needs time to produce the enzymes and other chemicals required to start using fat as its primary fuel source. Throughout this period, it is common to experience symptoms, such as: brain fog, fatigue, headaches, lightheadedness, insomnia, bad breath, low-level dehydration, and a feeling of heaviness throughout your body.

The adaptation phase is short-lived. Although it may feel like it’s much longer than it is, just trust that your body is ridding itself of the addiction to sugar, and you will thrive on the other end.

Benefits

A study by Dehghan and Mente found that high carbohydrate intake was associated with a higher risk of mortality whereas higher total fat intake was associated with a lower mortality rate. In fact, there is a whole range of benefits to the high-fat, low-carb diet, some of which include:

  • Decreased risk of weight gain, blood pressure, heart attack and cardiovascular disease

  • Potential for fat loss and muscle gain

  • Decreased inflammation

  • Decreased cravings and appetite, preventing potential of overeating

  • Improved blood markers such as HDL/LDL, triglyceride, and glucose

  • Decrease in stress on digestive system

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What to Eat and What Not to Eat

An ideal meal plan following the high-fat, low-carb method would include approximately 50% percent of your calories from healthy fats, 25% from carbs, and 25% from protein. Don’t confuse healthy fats with trans fats and “fatty foods” however. You want to get your fats from foods like fatty cuts of grass fed meat (beef, lamb, pork, bacon), pastured poultry (chicken, turkey, duck), wild oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), whole pastured eggs, pastured fatty cheeses, and healthy oils like nuts, avocado, pastured organic butter, olive oil, and coconut oil.

Don’t forget to fill up on cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts), leafy greens (spinach, arugula, chard), asparagus, zucchini, cucumber, etc.; and, beware of overdoing it on vegetables high in carbohydrates, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, beets, and peas. In addition, Miller and Mente found that high fruit and vegetable intake is associated with lower risk of non-cardiovascular and total mortality. It is suggested that three to four servings of raw fruits and vegetables per day is an appropriate intake.

Remember to avoid low-fat, processed, sugary, refined products, as well as starchy carbohydrates like wheat, oatmeal and rice. Avoid fast foods, soda and alcohol. Focus instead on eating the freshest, closest-to-nature whole foods you can access. A good rule of thumb to follow is if it has a long expiry date, you’ll want to avoid it.

The best time to make a change is now. Once you make it through the adaptation phase you’ll feel like a whole new person with higher levels of energy, less cravings (if any), healthy weight, and no sugar crashes! It’s your life, and your health, so start today.