Life on a typical Western diet:
- On a typical Western diet, the largest food group consumed is carbohydrate
- Carbohydrate, both as refined starch and sugar increases blood sugar levels
- When blood sugar levels increase, insulin levels rise. When this process is ‘overdone’ it can lead to mild insulin resistance or more severe (diabetes)
- When insulin and blood sugar levels are HIGH then a process called LIPOLYSIS is not possible. LIPOLYSIS = the breakdown of fat
- In addition, when blood glucose is high due to a high dietary intake of carbohydrate, the body will choose to use these stores for energy as opposed to breaking down fat for energy (which is the desired result in fat loss). Excess carbohydrate is stored as fat also.
- When carbohydrate is restricted in the diet, carbohydrate is less available as an energy source. Therefore, the body is directed to fat stores to break these down for energy. FAT loss occurs
- In cases of insulin resistance, the stress on the pancreas (which secretes insulin), liver (which processes blood sugar and insulin) and kidneys (filters waste products) is also significantly reduced
- The overall inflammatory load in the body is lowered significantly
- Protein and healthy fats are NOT addictive. Carbohydrates are. In this way, people are less likely to over eat on a lower carbohydrate diet as proteins and fats provide more satiety and do not trip the appetite centres in the brain.
- Furthermore, limiting carbohydrates limits other common culprit foods including gluten and wheat. Intolerance to these foods is important to consider in the case of a range of conditions, particularly autoimmune disease and thyroid conditions.
- A LCHF diet is generally accepted to be below 100g of carbohydrate per day. For weight loss, restricting carbohydrate to under 50g per day is generally recommended. No other calorie counting is required nor recommended.
- A VLCD may result in the production of ketone bodies. These are a by-product of fat metabolism and may be detected in the urine / on the breath. This is generally only achieved if carbohydrate is restricted to under 25g per day. Fact: you do not have to be ‘in ketosis’ to be burning fat effectively.
- Saturated fats: the jury is out on whether they are as harmful as once thought (check out Professor Grant Schofield’s work). However, this may depend largely on genetics. Consider your heritage / background and your family history.
Who do they benefit?
- People with weight loss goals
- People with addictive eating patterns (i.e. sugar addiction)
- Diabetics (ketosis not recommended without assistance)
- People with a sedentary lifestyle
- Possibly those with digestive problems
- Those with autoimmune conditions coupled with being overweight (reduce the inflammatory load)
What can you eat?
- REAL FOOD
- Protein: eggs, meat, good quality protein powders, nuts, seeds, full fat natural yoghurt, unsweetened coconut products, full fat dairy (cream etc. provided no intolerances), fish, cottage cheese, cheese, healthy oils – olive, coconut, avocado, walnut, macadamia etc.
- Fats: good fats include quality meat sources (palm sized portions), full fat dairy as already stated, quality oils, butter, fatty fish (salmon, trout etc.) Sources to avoid / limit: processed meats containing nitrates, trans fats in margarine, unhealthy oils (vegetable oils), cheap sausages.
- Vegetables: all leafy green varieties, zucchini, squash, asparagus, capsicum, mushrooms, eggplant etc. Limit / caution: varieties that grow below ground – potatoes / sweet potato / pumpkin / carrots / corn.
- Fruits: berries / use others prior to higher intensity exercise
- No starch! i.e. no breads, pastas, wholegrains, oats.
How long is ‘safe’?
- Varies from individual to individual
- If weight loss goals are reached, consider reintroducing small amounts of unrefined carbohydrate – these are wholegrain varieties such as oats, brown rice etc. wholemeal, quality bread, legumes etc.
- Consider cycling a very low carbohydrate approach with a higher carb approach i.e. 1 week on / 1 week off.
- If coupling with high intensity exercise, 1-2 per week (HIIT) and consider a carbohydrate source immediately beforehand. Additional exercise can be lower heart rate / fat burning based.
- Active children x Athletes x People who don’t feel good x Those recovering from fatigue related conditions (chronic fatigue / adrenal fatigue / fibromyalgia) x
Resources for further reading / recipes:
- Diet Doctor (Swedish revolutionary)
- Dr Rangan Chatterjee (British GP)
- Professor Tim Noakes (currently on trial in SA)
- Professor Grant Schofield and Mikki Williden (NZ dietitian)
This article was written by Katie King, The Balanced Nutritionist – our nutritionist in residence.