Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past few years, you’re aware that dietary fat is good for you. You may have even adopted a high-fat, low-carb (HFLC) diet due to the many benefits of this way of eating:
· Reduced body fat
· Better insulin health & less diabetes risk
· Improved brain function
· Better mood & lower depression
· Less Inflammation & lower risk of heart disease
Despite the myriad benefits, it’s easy to make mistakes with high-fat, low-carb eating programs. Low-carb diets gone wrong can hinder fat loss, cause hormone imbalances, produce chronic inflammation, or trigger other ill effects that lead to higher disease risk and make you feel terrible.
This article will discuss some of the most common issues of high-fat, low-carb diets and provide suggestions for troubleshooting. It should be noted that for best results with a high-fat, low-carb nutrition program, you want to work with an experienced health professional who can monitor blood work and body composition.
#1: Too Many Carbs
A common mistake many people make once they realize that dietary fat is healthy is to start eating more of it without cutting back on carbs. Unfortunately, context is everything.
A high fat, high-carb intake is pretty much the epitome of the western diet that is causing so much trouble for people health- and body composition-wise.
Even if you’re eating whole foods instead of the typical ultra processed crap that comprises the standard American diet, the high-fat, high-carb combination is likely to cause problems unless you are a hard charging athlete burning through thousands of calories a day.
For most people who want to try a high-fat, low-carb diet, carb intake should be below 50 gams a day because this will restore insulin sensitivity and trigger ketosis so that the body is running on fat instead of glucose. Active people may benefit from a higher carb intake or from cycling carbs once they go through the initial process to get their body’s fat burning machinery up to par.
#2: Poor Gut Health
When people cut back on carbs, fiber intake often plummets. This can be a huge problem for the gut because animal protein, which is often consumed in larger amounts when you go HFLC, has been found to increase inflammatory gut bacteria. This is one reason that eating meat is often linked with greater disease risk.
One example of the dangerous effect of having inflammatory gut bacteria is that these bacteria release a compound called TMAO after you eat animal protein, which increases plaque buildup in the arteries, elevating inflammation.
Protect your gut by eating plenty of leafy green and low-carb vegetables. You should be able to eat 1 to 2 cups of low-carb vegetables per meal and still stay well within your 50 g carbs per day limit. Another trick for improving gut health is to consume raw unmodified potato starch because it stimulates the production of anti-inflammatory bacteria in the gut.
#3: Chronic Inflammation
When people go HFLC, they often miss out on phytonutrients in vegetables and fruits, which leads to a poor blood antioxidant capacity. Antioxidants are compounds in fruits and vegetables (especially colorful purple, red, yellow, blue, and orange plants) that help neutralize free radicals and counter inflammation.
To get an idea of the degree of deficiency in people when eating a very low-carb, high-fat diet, one self-reported survey found that subjects averaged 2 to 7 grams of fiber a day, which is a terribly low fruit and vegetable intake.
For those on very low-carb diets, the following veggies are packed with nutrients but are lower in carbs: broccoli, rainbow and Swiss chard, collards, dandelion and mustard greens, arugula, Brussels sprouts, avocado, berries, and peppers. If inflammation is a concern, it may be worth it to have a higher carb intake to get a greater array of antioxidant-rich plants in your diet: Sweet potatoes, summer squash, kiwi, plums, and grapes are some examples.
#4: Overconsumption of Certain Fats
Humans tend to believe that “if some is good, more is better.” For example, you’ve probably got friends who regularly drink coffee with butter and coconut oil stirred in, or you may have heard the erroneous recommendation to mega-dose fish oil.
Unfortunately, mainlining saturated fat may not be a good idea for people who experience elevated blood lipids. If your apolipoprotein B and LDL particle numbers are up, this is a valid indicator that you may have higher levels of cardiovascular inflammation. Moderating your saturated fat intake and balancing it with fat from monounsaturated sources (nuts, avocado, olives, olive oil) might be a good idea.
Regarding fish oil, the goal is to balance out your intake of omega-3 (fish oil) to omega-6 fat (from seeds and oils). The average American has a very high intake of omega-6 fat from soybean, corn, and other vegetable oils that are added to processed foods but a very low intake of omega-3 fat.
To balance out this ratio, some people recommended upping your fish oil to equal omega-6 intake. The problem with this approach is that the omega fats are polyunsaturated, which means they are easily oxidized or damaged. The more polyunsaturated fat you consume, the greater risk it will be oxidized, which damages cells and DNA. Therefore, you want to minimize your overall intake.
The solution is to radically cut back on omega-6 containing foods. Avoiding processed foods and using olive oil or coconut oil for cooking is a first step. Work towards a balanced omega-6 to -3 ratio by eating fish a few times a week and supplementing with fish oil when necessary.