Welcome back to my very own 3 month diet experiment where I tried a Low Carb High Fat diet out, the aim being to see if it resulted in fat loss, if my lipid profile and blood pressure improved, to see how expensive it would be, and whether it was practical and sustainable.
I have had several comments about Part 1 of my blog, and it’s great to have generated so much interest in this. A lot of the comments have been related to fat/ weight loss – and this is a big draw card for a lot of people who want a quick fix.
Let me fill you in on what I found.
There are a few points around the diet plan that need to be highlighted that seemed to have fallen through the cracks when the media have taken hold of this diet.
- By eliminating most carbohydrate we have to ensure we get plenty of fibre from other sources. Other sources being your non carbohydrate vegetables (think cauliflower, lettuce, broccoli, capsicum, cucumber etc) If you don’t have enough fibre in your diet, constipation could very well become a problem.
- You cannot eat as much protein (meat) as you want. Protein intake should be moderate (contributing 15-20% total energy only). If we consume too much protein, the body doesn’t utilise it as it normally would, and actually treats it as if it is extra glucose and will create an insulin response (which is what you are trying to avoid)
- Many New Zealanders have a strong family history of heart disease in their families – you still need to be careful about where your fat source is coming from i.e. choose mono and poly unsaturated fats over saturated fats most of the time.
- You need to be careful of alcohol. Having more than 1-2 glasses of wine may kick you out of ketosis (fat burning state) due to the sugar and alcohol content. It can take a while to get back into ketosis again if that is your aim
- I would not recommend this for children – we don’t have any long term evidence to know if it is completely safe in children when they still have all of their developing and growing to do. We also don’t know the long term effects on our brains when using ketones for fuel.
As a dietitian, I was confident I was fulfilling all of my micronutrient requirements, but for someone who isn’t as aware of food composition, I think this could be a hard diet to follow to ensure you met all of the dietary guidelines. This is an important factor when assessing any diet – not only must it work towards your goals (in this case weight/ fat loss and improved metabolic markers) but also fulfill basic health requirements.
Within the first few days of me starting this diet plan I noticed weight loss. I was down about 1.5Kg, but as mentioned earlier, this is likely just fluid loss. By limiting carb intake, you lose your glycogen stores (glucose stored in the liver – in an adult there is about 90-110g glycogen in the liver). Stored glycogen is also attached to water, so when you lose glycogen you also lose water, which is the weight loss that I would have seen initially on the scales.
I had to up my water intake significantly to combat the extra water I was losing and despite this I still had headaches for the first few days.
I gave you a run down on the types of food I was eating day to day in my previous post. What I didn’t elaborate on, and has often been skipped over in the media is that it is incredibly important to ensure you eat plenty of non starchy vegetables to ensure you are getting all of the vitamins and minerals you need. Another reason for needing to up the vege intake is because by following a low carb diet, we eliminate all of the grain foods plus if you were a big fruit eater, you will need to cut down on that as well. In a general healthy diet, grain foods and fruits are a huge source of fibre which is important to keep things flowing through the digestive tract. You may be able to see where I am going here? If you do not eat enough fibre, you are gonna get blocked up, and that isn’t pleasant for anyone! I was a big fruit eater and having to cut down on my intake was much harder than I thought. Especially as I followed this diet over the summer months and had to avoid most of the beautiful Central Otago stone fruit…
So how did the budget fare?
We actually didn’t notice a huge difference to the amount we were spending on food at the supermarket. In saying that, we aren’t on an overly tight budget and can often spend up to $200 per week for two people. I think the main reason we didn’t notice a massive difference in cost was possibly because we weren’t spending any extra food on meat – and as mentioned earlier, this diet is not about needing to eat a lot more protein. I also cut down on how much money was spent on fruit – I was eating berries and that was it for fruit. We did buy more vegetables and dairy products, but the cost seemed to balance out. When you do shop for a LCHF diet it cuts out a huge proportion of the supermarket, so were we spending equal/ less amounts purely because we weren’t able to purchase some foods?
People often ask me about alcohol. Some types will fit into this diet without kicking you out of ketosis easier than others. For example you might be able to get away with drinking a couple of glasses of dry white wine (which only have a few grams of carbs each) but things like RTDs would be a bad choice with all the extra sugar in them, and even sweeter wines can have too many carbs. A spirit with a diet soda would probably be ok, but there is definitely a limit to how far you can go. Not to mention how hard it can be to go out to have a few drinks with mates with the smell of hot chips to tempt you as your mates tuck in. There is something about alcohol and the need to have carbs with it…
Which leads me onto another related point. What can you eat when you go out???
We often go out for brunch, which is possibly easier to cater for than other mealtimes. Omelettes were my favourite go to, otherwise bacon and eggs is always an easy choice.
Before we chose a place to go, I would see if I could check out their menu online to ensure there was something we could eat. Sometimes choosing a more ‘fine dining’ type of restaurant was easier to get something that fitted the LCHF criteria, as you can choose your main (protein based) and then often add vegetables as your side – when choosing the side you could make sure that you chose a low carb option. The other thing that is pretty standard on menus that tend to fit the requirements is a salad….but that is pretty boring and you still have to be careful with dressings, did you know how much sugar they put in some of those delicious dressings??!
My ability to perform high intensity training at the gym decreased significantly both in terms of cardio based exercise and strength exercises – my body just did not seem to like trying to use fat for exercise, despite feeling great on a day to day basis. Maybe I didn’t allow enough time to become fully fat adapted? But when I looked into the research in this area most people seemed to be able to utilise fat for fuel relatively quickly. Things were suffering so considerably that I wasn’t willing to keep the diet going for another 1-2 months just to see if I would get better. In saying that – I never attempted a long run or any other real endurance based exercise which is where there is some really promising research in terms of improving performance and LCHF.
|Total cholesterol||6.1||8.0||< 5.0|
|HDL Cholesterol||2.07||2.52||> 2.0|
|LDL Cholesterol||3.6||5.2||< 3.4|
|Chol/HDL ratio||3.0||3.2||< 4.5|
|Body fat Percentage||17.9 %||17.4 %|
I could spend a lot of time discussing these, but the basics as I see them –
Weight did not change (I went down to 48.5 kg initially, but it came back up to my start weight over time)
Blood pressure did improve on a one off reading. Was I more relaxed??? As previous readings had been done at work or the Drs
Total cholesterol sky rocketed!!! However, looking at this measure by itself is old fashioned and doesn’t tell us much.
Triglycerides (the bad stuff) decreased, however I was already within a good range to start.
HDL (good cholesterol that improves with exercise etc) improved. Again I had good starting levels.
LDL ‘bad cholesterol’ increased significantly. So this is bad right? Well it isn’t as easy as that. We have two types of LDL cholesterol that we can’t distinguish between in the standard laboratory test. One type is large and buoyant and typically seen in a profile with high HDL and low Triglycerides (me) and is harmless. A second is a small dense type which gets stuck into the blood vessels and is seen in profiles that have low HDL and high Triglycerides and is harmful. Well, there is no way of me knowing which I have, but hopefully I have a majority of the large buoyant type!
In terms of my body fat percent change, it wasn’t significant.
So what does this mean?? Maybe I saw no real change in weight and body fat because I didn’t have a lot to lose to begin with? And maybe other people see weight loss because they are so restricted as to what they can eat on this diet that it just cuts out the junk they were previously eating? Plus the extra fat in the diet does make you feel more satiated. And maybe I saw improvements in my blood pressure because this diet is beneficial for that and I had a large room for improvement? Or in cutting down some processed foods (including bread) I cut down my sodium consumption? The cholesterol results are a little harder to interpret as I discussed above.
So would I recommend this diet for others to follow?
I think if you are metabolically disregulated (i.e your body doesn’t deal with carbohydrate foods as well as it should and your insulin response is all out of tune) then this could be a successful diet approach for you. I do think we generally eat too many carb foods, and we could all cut down. I have also increased my overall fat intake from things like full fat dairy – I don’t buy low fat yoghurts anymore.
I don’t think I would attempt this diet again unless my circumstances had changed greatly from how they are now. If I had weight to lose, then I might attempt it again, but the detrimental affects it had on my exercise is possibly the biggest inhibitor I would have from starting again. I also found it time consuming and unsocial at times. Especially when it didn’t really affect my body fat percentage or seem to benefit me greatly. The other thing I found was that I was becoming obsessed with food. What could I eat? How many carbs were in it? I almost self diagnosed myself with disordered eating – I was at the point where I was wondering if my carrot had too many carbs in it – and that was not healthy.
So, those are my thoughts on LCHF. And you have to remember that whilst I have a dietetic qualification (and therefore should know something about what I am talking about) this was all based on personal experience. I know a few other people who have given this a try and like it a lot. So, it just goes to show you that one diet approach does not suit everyone and never will!