For the last 60 plus years, dietary fat has been demonized by the scientific community. In the 1950’s, researchers were mislead to believe that dietary cholesterol increases levels of blood cholesterol, therefore leading to clogged arteries and heart attacks (“lipid hypothesis”-A.Keys). As a result countless millions of people were wrongfully told to eat a diet rich in carbohydrates. Numerous studies have since proved that hypothesis wrong and I am here to tell you about how a low-carb high fat diet is the most effective way to trim down and achieve optimal body composition.
As I have already described in Paleo Diet Basics, insulin regulation is key to great health. We eliminate grains and processed sugars from the diet in order to maintain healthy levels of insulin but what is it and how does it work?
Insulin is a double-edged sword. It shuttles nutrients(food) to the muscles but it can also promote fat gain. How can this be? Insulin and glucagon are hormones that counterbalance each other. After meals, you release insulin to lower the blood sugar spike from food. During empty stomach time, glucagon keeps blood sugar levels steady. When we eat carbohydrate rich foods, they convert into glycogen which must be used by the body as energy. What is not used is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen. The problem with this process is that our glycogen storage is extremely limited (in comparison to fat) to around 1,800 calories. Once we reach our limit, the insulin can no longer continue shuttling glucose away and then it ultimately ends in the fat cells to be stored there. This cycle continues if the high-carb diet continues and even worsens as we get more and more insulin resistant. A truly vicious cycle which has plagued this country, especially with crippling obesity. Insulin levels need to be maintained using diet and not drugs – a person can actually reverse their diabetes!
This leads us to a logical conclusion: to prevent insulin resistance and ultimately fat gain, we must consume a diet low in carbohydrates in order to maintain healthy levels of insulin. Think of it as a car that runs best on low-carb fuel and you are clogging the engine with excess carbohydrates. After systematically abusing the car, it will break down!
When we come off high amounts of carbohydrates, we empty the glycogen tanks in our muscles, lower the glucose and become insulin-sensitive again. It just takes work.
So, how low in carbohydrates is this “low cab” diet? Well everyone’s body is different so you will find the optimal amount yourself. Using 30 grams or less of carbohydrates with NO restrictions of fat intake, these research studies not only saw a 10% baseline weight-loss in 9 out of 64 subjects as well as a decrease in triglycerides and a SIGNIFICANT improvement in insulin sensitivity. This is all while not restricting fat intake which means the caloric intake was probably similar as before because the subjects weren’t fed a custom monitored diet. The improvement in insulin sensitivity is the most important key here. It was obtained by ordinary people without a nutritionist, by simply adding more fruit and vegetables, and keeping carbs at 30g or so. Another study used a 12% Carb, 59% Fat and 28% Protein to achieve an even greater reduction in glucose, insulin concentration and body fat. Insulin sensitivity was also observed to have a 55% difference from the low-fat high-carb group. Basically, you can use the 30-50g of carbs-a-day approach or do more calculations to not take in more than 12% of your calories through carbs. This is also something you will figure out as you continue this diet – how many carbs does your body need and what is extra?
Since we do have full control of what we eat, we can do even better than the test subjects and replace carbohydrate-rich foods with healthy sources of fat like: avocado, cold-pressed olive oil, cold-pressed coconut oil, range free/pasture raised eggs, grass-fed beef, nuts, and grass-fed butter. Keep fruit and vegetables as your carbohydrate sources because their fiber prevents them from significantly spiking your blood sugar. Like I said earlier, you can refer to Paleo Basics to see what to add and what to eliminate. Still want more scientific proof that your family doctor has been WRONG this whole time? This article conveniently summarized 23 (!!!) studies that show significant health improvements. Plenty of ammo for the Thanksgiving dinner where you try to explain to relatives why you have a giant plate of turkey with a lot less of starchy side dishes than everyone else!
The last thing that I would like to add is for the athletes who use low carbohydrate diets to maintain good weight and body composition. You can increase your starchy carbohydrate intake (oatmeal and potatoes) if you are consistently draining your muscle glycogen levels through intense exercise. This is sometimes required to fuel long training sessions.