Today on Dana’s Low Carb For Life, we discuss how much fat a low carber should eat, look at some new research, and more. So stick around!
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Hey, Gang – welcome to episode 25 of Dana’s Low Carb For Life, brought to you by CarbSmart.com, your smart choice for a low carb lifestyle.
Today on the show I’m going to be addressing the question of how much fat should be in a low carb diet. I’ll give you an overview of a brand-new study that suggests that all that fat isn’t doing our cardiovascular systems any harm. And in Low Carb Voices I’ve got more summer breakfast ideas, to get you through the rest of the hot weather.
First, though, I’d just like to say that as we put this up, we’ve still got some space for the Low Carb Meet-and-Greet in my back yard this coming Saturday, August 13th, from noon till 4. Low carb food and friends! We’re asking $5 per person to help defray the cost of food and renting a canopy and stuff. If you can make it, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Okay, let’s get to the show. I’ll be reading you great breakfast ideas from your fellow listeners later on, and I’m going to cover some late-breaking low carb research. But first I thought I’d answer a question I got in my email this week that I thought more than a few of you might wonder about. The email said:
I have believed in the low carb approach for several years, but never felt I truly understood it until I read your book. My sister and I are having good results, but she is eating much less fat than I am. How many grams of fat should we have in our daily diet? I know you can't say exactly, but how much is dangerously low and in danger of doing damage? If you can take a minute to e-mail me a quick note I would really appreciate it.
This is a great question, and Linda is right: there isn’t a hard and fast answer. There is a simple rule of thumb, however: The fewer carbs you eat, the higher the percentage of fat in your diet should be. It is important not to try to get most of your calories from lean protein. This is a common mistake, especially since people regularly refer to a low carb diet as a “high protein” diet. It shouldn’t be, however. A diet of mostly lean protein will make you ill – pioneers and frontiersman knew that “rabbit starvation” came from eating nothing but lean game, and would try to find some non-protein food to alleviate it.
I suspect that this one factor explains a fair number of low carb failures – people figure that they’ll combine carb restriction with fat restriction, and get double the benefit. It doesn’t work that way. They end up tired, headachy, hungry, and just plain not feeling right. They decide low carb doesn’t work, or even is unhealthy, and another one bites the dust. Or the Cheerios.
So do not try to eat a low fat, low carb diet.
A good rule of thumb for protein intake is to divide your body weight in pounds in half, and figure that’s the minimum number of grams of protein you should get per day. (For those of you in the civilized world, that’s a half a gram of protein per kilo.) You can get up to double that, no problem. But note that that is not unlimited protein. For example, I weigh – as of this morning – 146. (And yes, that puts me in the red zone. As blog readers know, I gained five pounds while my niece and nephew were visiting last week. Read all about it at holdthetoast.com.) So my minimum protein intake is roughly 75 grams per day. When I keep track, I generally find I’ve gotten 100 – 125 grams in a day, so my protein intake is about right.
But how many calories will you get from that much protein? Not that many, and certainly not enough to fuel your basal metabolic needs, much less your daily activities. Protein has 4 calories per gram, so 100 grams of protein contain just 400 calories, and somewhere between 1600 and 2200 calories per day is about right for most low carbers. So then the question becomes, “Where do the rest of those calories come from?” Unless you’re drinking a whole lot more alcohol than you should, the answer is “from carbohydrate and/or fat.”
So after figuring out your protein requirement, which should take you roughly fifteen seconds of third grade arithmetic, you need to figure out your carbohydrate limit. Notice I said “carbohydrate limit,” rather than “carbohydrate requirement.” That’s because, unlike protein and fat, there is no absolute carbohydrate requirement in the human diet. Given enough protein and fat, you could live quite nicely with no carbohydrate at all. However, while a few people do attempt a zero-carb diet, it’s pretty damned restrictive, ruling out vegetables, nuts and seeds, and even some spices and animal foods. Oysters, for instance, have a little carb in them, in the form of glycogen. And garlic is about 1 gram per clove. Most of us are going to be happier, and very possibly healthier, with some vegetables, a little low sugar fruit, seasonings, and other foods that contain modest amounts of carbohydrate. The question is, how much of these can you eat and still lose weight?
I’m afraid I can’t answer that question for you. The answer is individual, and can only be determined through trial and error. That’s why Dr. Atkins recommended that everybody cut back to just 20 grams a day – a level at which the vast majority of people will, indeed, lose weight – for the first two weeks, and then cautiously add back carb in 5-gram-per-day increments, to determine their own body’s tolerance. This is as good a method as has been devised, I think.
Let’s say you determine that your own personal carb limit – the number of grams of carb you can eat each day and still lose weight, suppress appetite, and eliminate any insulin-related health problems – is fifty grams per day. That fifty grams will have just 200 calories. (This, of course, is why the calories in/calories out theory predicted – wrongly – that basing the diet on carbohydrate would cause weight loss – carbs are low calorie.) Add that to your 400 calories worth of protein, and you’ve got just 600 calories per day, and no way should you try to live on that.
So the rest of your calories are going to come from fat. In this theoretical case – 100 grams of protein and 50 grams of carb per day – you’ll need one hundred and fifty five grams of fat per day to get up to 2000 calories, a pretty reasonable level. Yes, I said a hundred and fifty five grams of fat per day. At 9 calories per gram, that’s 1395 calories worth.
What if you need a somewhat lower caloric intake? Say, 1700 per day? You’ll still need 122 grams of fat to get up to that level.
By the way, in our first example, you’d be getting 69% of your calories from fat; in the second, 67%.
Do you have to chow down on sticks of butter? No, though melting a pat on your eggs or your steak is a fine idea. But remember, most animal protein naturally comes combined with fat. In the context of a low carbohydrate diet, you’re better off choosing the chicken with the skin, the rib eye steak instead of the super-lean round, the pork shoulder instead of the loin. And for the love of all that’s holy, eat your egg yolks! That’s where all the vitamins and antioxidants in an egg will be found.
On the other hand, if you find you can handle a few more carbs – some people do well on as much as 100 grams per day, so long they stick to fruits and vegetables, stuff like that – you’ll need proportionally less fat. My sister has done quite well on a diet of lean proteins, with quite a lot of fruits and vegetables, a little olive oil, a few – very few – whole grains, and some red wine thrown in. I’m not arguing with success. But you’ll notice the principle holds, here – the fat and carb shift inversely. And she’s very definitely not eating a super low fat diet – she doesn’t hesitate to eat avocados, olives and the like — nor one that’s based on carbs. Baseline, I sure wouldn’t go below 50% of your calories from fat. And please, get that fat from animal foods, nuts and seeds, avocados and olives, butter, coconut oil, olive oil, and pastured, unrefined lard, if you can get it. The point is, stay away from the highly processed vegetable oils – soy oil, safflower oil, canola oil, and the like – that have been pushed at us as healthier alternatives than traditional fats. They are not.
One clarification: I’ve been talking about calories only to demonstrate proportions. The truth is, most of you will not need to keep track of calories. If you’re eating the right foods – and for me, that’s fatty animal proteins, some low carb veggies, a few nuts and seeds, a little dry red wine, a couple of squares of sugar-free chocolate or a sugar-free Reese’s or two, and NO grains at all – you should be able to trust your appetite to tell you how much food you need. Truly, in the long run, it’s about figuring out the right fuel mix. If you’re not losing, don’t cut calories, cut carbs.
Okay, moving right along! It’s time for Low Carb In The News!
Speaking of how much fat we should eat, I have in front of me an article that Alert Reader Brian George kindly posted to my facebook fan page (that’s Dana Carpender’s Hold The Toast Press, BTW.) From the Johns Hopkins University Press, the headline reads: Low-carb, high-fat diets add no arterial health risks to obese. Well, that sounds encouraging, doesn’t it? Let’s look at what the article actually says.
An exercise physiologist named Kerry Stewart, a professor of medicine and director of Clinical and Research Exercise Physiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and its Heart and Vascular Institute, is the lead investigator and spokesman. Unlike so many studies we see published, this is not simply a cohort or observational study – one where they just ask people what they ate, and how often, and then looked for correlations. Observational studies never prove anything, though people like to think they do, and the media certainly talks as though they do. They only provide interesting avenues for more conclusive research.
But this study actually put people on specific diets. Right there, it’s more meaningful than any observational study. Specifically, they took 23 men and 23 women, with an average weight of 218 pounds, and put them on one of two diets for three months. One program they called a low carb/high fat diet, and one they called a low fat diet.
But what do those terms mean? I started to wonder when the article referred to not only Atkins, but also South Beach and The Zone as “high fat diets.” There’s little comparison between the fat content of Atkins, properly done, and either South Beach or the Zone! And I was right: The low carb/high fat diet was no more than 30% carbohydrate – by comparison, I generally get fewer than 5% of my calories from carbohydrate – and got 40% of its calories from fat. The sources of fat are listed as meat, dairy products and nuts, which is all to the good, though I hope they included eggs as well. The low fat diet got no more than 30% of calories from fat, and 55% of calories from carbohydrate.
As you can see, that’s not a hugely dramatic difference, nor were they using a low carb diet as most of us would define it. Too, serious low fat types often go way below 30% of calories from fat.
Still, turns out it’s enough of a difference to influence results. Even on that not-very-low-carb diet, the low carb group dropped an average of 10 pounds each in 45 days. The low fat group took 70 days to lose that much.
The big concern of this study, though, was the effect of increased fat on the vascular system. Two different measures of vascular health were used, one a measure of how easily the lining of the blood vessels could relax, and the other a measure of arterial stiffness. The low carb group showed no harmful changes in either of these measures of vascular health.
This lead Stewart to say: Our study should help allay the concerns that many people who need to lose weight have about choosing a low-carb diet instead of a low-fat one, and provide reassurance that both types of diet are effective at weight loss and that a low-carb approach does not seem to pose any immediate risk to vascular health. More people should be considering a low-carb diet as a good option.”
All of this is good news for us, of course, but I have one objection: that statement about how both types of diet are effective at weight loss. Even this not-very-low-carb version was better for weight loss than the low fat diet. I very much wish they’d added a genuinely low carb/high fat arm to this study, because I’m betting it would have been far more effective for weight loss, and still not damaged blood vessels. Perhaps that’s the next study Mr. Stewart can do.
The article mentions a second study, looking at the effects of a single high-fat McDonald’s meal on immediate vascular health. It found no immediate deleterious changes from a meal with 50 grams of fat. However, that meal – consisting of two English muffin sandwiches, one with egg and one with sausage, plus hash browns and a cup of decaf coffee – was so high in carbohydrate that it can’t be considered to demonstrate anything about fat in the context of carb restriction. (Anyway, they think this is high fat? Hah. I did the math. This meal gets just over half its calories from fat. I shoot for 75% of my calories from fat.)
Mr. Stewart points out that neither of these studies indicates anything about the long term effects of a low carb diet. Still, this has to be seen as at least a modest win for us.
Now if they’d just test a real low carb/high fat diet.
Okay, it’s time for Low Carb Voices! Today it’s all write-ins, with summer breakfast and treat ideas. Great stuff!
Carol Petter writes
Just wanted to share with you my most recent favorite breakfast.
Simple. Basically it’s full fat cottage cheese with blueberries. But then, add some whipping cream plus some toppings like nuts and coconut and cinnamon. This makes it delicious. It’s low carb cereal!
I love your show. Thank you, Dana, for producing it so faithfully.
Excellent, Carol! That would be great with sliced strawberries, too; I’m going to try that. I especially like the extra whipping cream. I mean, what isn’t better with a little extra whipping cream? And it adds vitamin A, too.
Susan Winkler is another cottage cheese fan; she writes
Thanks for a great podcast!
Summer breakfast idea-cottage cheese with Truvi and cinnamon topped with slivered almonds.
Non food treat…pedicure
Oh, gosh, do I need a pedicure. Don’t remind me. If you come to the meet-and-greet, don’t make fun of my toes, okay?
Danna Vessell, spelled D-A-N-N-A, sends her favorite smoothie recipe:
Hi from another Danna – even though it is with two n’s! I wanted to share my morning smoothie recipe.
1 C plain full fat greek yogurt (I love the greek gods kind too!)
1/2 C mixed frozen berries
2 tbsp. whey protein powder
1/2 C Soy Slender – vanilla or cappucino. It is soymilk sweetened with splenda and averages about a carb a serving.
1 tbsp. Truvia – stevia blend.
Blend and drink! This plus a fiber cracker with peanut butter will keep me going all morning long and it is nice and cool.
You can substitute your own preferences for each of these of course. Love the show and listen to it while walking my dogs. Keep up the good work!
Excellent! And isn’t the Greek Gods yogurt – well, forgive the pun, but divine? For those of you avoiding soy, unsweetened almond milk is about 1 gram of carb per cup, too, though you’d need to add extra sweetener and vanilla or coffee.
And I love dogs better than anything. Pet ‘em for me.
Since we’re coming up on the end of summer vacation – I know, I shouldn’t remind you – and the kids will be going back to school, how about sharing your great low carb lunch box ideas? Those of you who try to keep down the carb load in your kids lunches, let us know what you’re packing. If you have any great ideas for low carb, healthy treats the kids won’t swap in the lunch room, tell us! You can share more summer breakfasts and treat ideas to, or really, anything else pertaining to low carb living! Call (412) 385-DANA, that’s (412) 385-3262, and let us know!
If you have any friends you think might like the show, please steer ‘em to the show page at Dana’s Low Carb For Life, and if you like it, how about leaving a review at Itunes? We’d love it.
Don’t forget to check out the blog at Hold the toast.com, and join my facebook fan page at Dana Carpender’s Hold the Toast Press – lots of great folks there; it’s a fun ongoing conversation.
And of course, 300 15 Minute Low Carb Recipes is now available at Amazon.com, or order through CarbSmart.com along with your other stuff. If you’ve already got it and you like it, go review it!
That’s it! Remember, till next week, stay low carb for life!