Low Carb High Fat Diet - Worth the hype?

Time for some Q&A

JC asked: "Is a low-carb, high-fat diet the best approach for type 2 diabetes? Or will you end up with high cholesterol and other issues?"

You know I take a non-diet approach to healthy living, but for someone with a medical condition that is largely impacted by diet, such as diabetes, it can be very beneficial to look at what you are eating, and when, with a more critical eye. Sometimes, simple swaps or additions can make a big impact on blood biomarkers, energy, and medication dosage. I wrote this post on diabetes a while back, read that if you need a basic explanation of how diabetes develops.  

I love JC's curiosity. The only way to better ourselves, health or otherwise, is to experiment, ask questions, and try new things. And this discussion isn't just for those with diabetes or pre-diabetes. It is for EVERYONE. Your health in five, ten, twenty, thirty years will be impacted by the choices you make today. So lets explore!

Lchf: Low carb, high fat

In the research, LCHF diet consists of anywhere from <40 grams (example: 2 slices of bread, <1/2 large apple) to 100 grams (2 slices of bread, 1 large apple, 1/2 c rice, 1/2 c dry cereal) of carbohydrates a day, some defined low carb as percentage of calories, such as < 30% of calories from carbohydrates. 

Issue 1: There is not a consensus on what a "low-carb" diet is. It can be hard to compare research when the definition of low-carb varies in each study.

Zoodles make a great desk lunch!! Won't weight you down or cause an afternoon slump.

Zoodles make a great desk lunch!! Won't weight you down or cause an afternoon slump.

I would be here all day if I summarized every piece of research that was out there on low carbohydrate or high fat diets. There is research to support any angle you want to take. Each study will also use different foods to provide the carbohydrates and fats, and they may not always be using the healthy fats. One common theme - LCHF outcomes are often compared to a low fat, high carb (LFHC) diet. 

Issue 2: Is it "low carb" impacting outcomes, or something else (confounding factors)? Maybe a moderate (aka normal) amount of carbs would have the same impact. Or maybe, it's the increase of fat in the diet. 

Physiology & reality

Carbohydrates impact blood sugar levels. Decrease carbohydrate intake, decrease blood sugar (conventional medicine has made this concept overly complicated). Fat increases satiety, satisfaction and fullness and does not raise your blood sugar. When fat is eaten with carbohydrates it slows the blood sugar rise and therefore you are less likely to have a blood sugar spike and crash.

Issue 3: Setting a maximum amount of carbs for the day is  a form of restriction, may cause extreme preoccupation with food, cravings, and ultimately may get too hard to keep up with. 

Issue 4: Low carb restrictions can lead to elimination of nutrient dense and satisfying foods such as dairy and fruit (both have natural sugar). Did you know that dairy can help prevent risk of disease?

Make the lchf concept work irl

Let's call it a LCHF "concept" because "diet" implies rules. We can take some of the concepts behind LCHF and apply them to our usual eating habits. First, consider your fat intake. Are you having a fat source with every meal? Fat is powerful, as noted in my last blog post. Adding a fat to your meal will balance your plate, keep blood sugars in control, and improve your blood lipid panel over time!

Second, include a higher density carbohydrate source (rice, pasta, bread) with your meal, not as the entire meal. Most of us lead sedentary lifestyles. We may make time for a workout several times a week, but majority of our hours are spent sitting. When there is limited movement throughout the day the body does not need as much fuel compared to someone who is on their feet. I wouldn't call having 1 serving of a carbohydrate dense food at each meal a "low carb" approach - some would. But really, this is just eating to meet your needs, which aren't all that high when you've been at a desk all day.  Remember, vegetables have carbohydrates but they are a low carbohydrate density food and have plenty of fiber - include as many as you can in each meal!

you don't need to cut out foods you enjoy, just work towards creating more balance and eating more green

you don't need to cut out foods you enjoy, just work towards creating more balance and eating more green

Third, intentionally add something green and a source of protein to your meals. When you do this there is naturally less room (on your plate and in your stomach) for high density carbohydrates. 

Try it: Start with breakfast. Most of us eat a carbohydrate heavy breakfast - cereal, bagels, toast. We don't need to cut the carbs all together, but a healthful diet is full of variety, so mix it up. Try mashing avocado on one slice of bread and enjoying an egg or two with it. Adding new foods such as eggs (protein and fat), avocado (fat), peanut butter (fat and protein) can improve your energy all day!

The combination of carbohydrate, protein, and fat allows for a steady, manageable influx of sugar into the blood. Simple changes you make to balance out your plate can make a big difference in your blood sugar control!

What is one change you can commit to today? I want to hear about it.