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Low Carb means High Fat, not High Protein

by Fred Hahn on October 1, 2011

Why so many nutritionists and registered dietitians don’t know this is a mystery. And the removal of most carbohydrates from our diets would come as close to a cure for virtually all symptoms of what’s called the metabolic syndrome as you can get.

There is an idea floating around that a low carb diet is a high protein diet. I have clients say this to me all the time. But as far as I know, no low carb guru has ever said such a thing. As I see it, many newbie low-carbers think this because of their fear of fat. They cut the carbs but simultaneously cut out as much fat as possible assuming it’s healthier to eat that way. They’ll buy lean meats, fat free cottage cheese, yogurt, etc.

Big mistake.

I find it surprisingly easy to persuade people to cut down on their sugar and starch intake to lose fat and get healthier, but impossibly difficult if not virtually impossible to persuade people to replace the calories with fat – even the good fats.

Virtually every client I talk to is completely brainwashed about the subject. The “fat-is-evil” torch was lit by Dr. Ancel Keys and is being kept aflame by Dr. Oz, Ornish, McDougall, Esselstyn and a host of others who mistakenly lump fat in with processed carbs. They’ll shun a fatty cheeseburger blaming the fat in the meat and cheese rather than the bun that encompasses it – or even the combination of all of it. Researchers make this blunder all the time (emphasis mine):

Study design
Subjects were asked to avoid alcohol, caffeine, and strenuous exercise for 24 h and antioxidants and vitamins for 1 wk before the studies. Subjects presented at 0800 h after a 12 h fast on two occasions, separated by at least 4 d. Subjects were provided with a high-fat meal or water control (50 ml/h of room temperature water) in random order. The meal consisted of a bacon and egg muffin, two hash browns, and caramel-flavored milk drink [4136 kJ: 57.5 g fat (19.8% saturated), 35 g protein, and 83 g carbohydrate].

See what I mean? Why call this a high fat meal? If the outcome of a study feeding people this fare is good or bad, you can’t pin it on the fat now, can ya?

Here is what Dr. McDougall suggests you eat. These are his products. Yes doctor, we should all be eating your wonderful, processed food products:

Yummy real foods from nature!

Yummy real foods from nature!

But we should steer clear of these nasty foods made from actual living things:

Real food

Real food

OK that was a little snarky.

Anyway, too little fat in your diet is bad for many reasons. You need fats to help absorb vitamins and minerals. You need fats for proper hormone production. There is even some evidence that too little saturated fatty acid levels can lead to Alzheimer’s.

And then there’s nasty old protein poisoning. This condition, also known as Rabbit Starvation, occurs not from too much protein, but too much lean protein (and perhaps other conditions as well). You can read about this here.

From the Wiki page:

Vilhjalmur Stefansson wrote as follows:
The groups that depend on the blubber animals are the most fortunate in the hunting way of life, for they never suffer from fat-hunger. This trouble is worst, so far as North America is concerned, among those forest Indians who depend at times on rabbits, the leanest animal in the North, and who develop the extreme fat-hunger known as rabbit-starvation. Rabbit eaters, if they have no fat from another source—beaver, moose, fish—will develop diarrhoea in about a week, with headache, lassitude and vague discomfort. If there are enough rabbits, the people eat till their stomachs are distended; but no matter how much they eat they feel unsatisfied. Some think a man will die sooner if he eats continually of fat-free meat than if he eats nothing, but this is a belief on which sufficient evidence for a decision has not been gathered in the North. Deaths from rabbit-starvation, or from the eating of other skinny meat, are rare; for everyone understands the principle, and any possible preventive steps are naturally taken.

Fat in your protein is essential in other words. I think this is one reason why many who adopt a low carb diet find themselves feeling a little funky.

Before I move on, take a look at these low carb myths from the Nutrition and Metabolism Society (which everyone who reads this blog should join if you really want folks like the ADA and the AHA to either vanish or start getting with the scientific program).

Did you learn anything useful reading this page? I sure do hope so. I did in re-reading it, that’s for sure.

So when adopting a low carb diet for health and fat loss, make sure to make your protein choices fatty and adequate. If you do, satiety will be high. Think about it – how many eggs can one really eat in one sitting? I’m 5’10” and 160 pounds and at best I can eat 4 eggs at one time.

Now sing a long with me: “A spoon full of butter helps the medicine go down, the medicine go dow-own, medicine go down. Just a spoonful of butter helps the medicine go down, in the most delightful way…”

Sounds better, right?

I've been involved in exercise ever since I became a member of The Charles Atlas Club when I was 10 years old. In 1998, I founded and established Serious Strength on the Upper West Side of NYC. My clients include kids, seniors (and everyone in between), top CEOs, celebrities, bestselling authors, journalists and TV personalities.
my book. my Gym.

in Health/Fitness,Nutrition,weight loss/diet · 14 comments

{ 14 comments }

gharkness October 1, 2011 at 9:53 AM

Wow, what great timing. I have some extra-fatty bacon calling to me in the fridge…and I haven’t had breakfast yet! Now, I know what I’m going to have!

Eric Schmitz October 1, 2011 at 11:16 AM

Four eggs in one sitting, but FIVE lobster tails! (Come on! How could I NOT mention that???)

mrfreddy October 1, 2011 at 12:18 PM

At just under six feet and 190 pounds, I can easily eat six or seven eggs, especially if I make egg salad… but when I’ve done that I usually ended up regretting it a few hours later… if you know what I mean….

johnny October 1, 2011 at 1:01 PM

Hey Fred, assuming a person eats a 2,000 diet, what would be the ideal percentage of fats, proteins and carbs?

Vartan October 1, 2011 at 8:34 PM

I think it’s a good point, especially since there is one legitimate inherent danger to eating too much protein, although it isn’t one that’s ever brought up by the mainstream media. That is, if you eat a majority of your calories from protein you train your body to use it primarily as fuel, which is a last ditch effort and has terrible consequences on muscle breakdown and your mood. I’ve even heard some bodybuilders have done this while cutting carbs AND fat, feeling like crap and having their body burn muscle for fuel.

I think a good strategy is to set your daily protein intake and then just fill in the rest of your calories with fat, generally if you don’t worry about carbs and eat Paleo, it’s very hard not to be within a general 30-80g range, meaning you don’t have to obsesses about ketosis or worry about fat gain.

Fred Hahn October 2, 2011 at 11:51 AM

Johnny – I don’t think there is an ideal percentage per se. For muscle building most experts say ~1 grams of protein (fatty now!) per pound of lean body weight. So if I ate ~150-200 grams of fatty protein, the rest of my food would come from vegetables and fruit and maybe a smidge of rice or yam.

Fred Hahn October 2, 2011 at 11:53 AM

“I think it’s a good point, especially since there is one legitimate inherent danger to eating too much protein, although it isn’t one that’s ever brought up by the mainstream media. That is, if you eat a majority of your calories from protein you train your body to use it primarily as fuel, which is a last ditch effort and has terrible consequences on muscle breakdown and your mood.”

Only of the protein is lean and most body builders have bought the fat is bad for you BS hook line and sinker.

“I’ve even heard some bodybuilders have done this while cutting carbs AND fat, feeling like crap and having their body burn muscle for fuel.”

Like I said above.

“I think a good strategy is to set your daily protein intake and then just fill in the rest of your calories with fat, generally if you don’t worry about carbs and eat Paleo, it’s very hard not to be within a general 30-80g range, meaning you don’t have to obsesses about ketosis or worry about fat gain.”

Agreed. And ketosis is a perfectly healthy state to be in.

Audley October 7, 2011 at 7:44 AM

A buddy of mine who used to be a competing bodybuilder did well in a show eating low fat/high protein/low carb, mostly chicken breast.
The next year he went “off the wagon” and was eating hot dogs, bacon and other fatty meats. He looked fuller and felt better going into the show than the previous year, won his class and nearly won the overall! It was amazing to see the difference the diet made.

Adam October 8, 2011 at 9:26 AM

4 eggs? Bah!

I’m 5ft 8″ and 155lbs and I can easily eat 12 eggs at one go, or 70oz of beef, or a whole roasted duck…

Haha…

Thanks for all you do Fred. I’ve learnt much from you…

Fred Hahn October 8, 2011 at 9:32 AM

Adam – 12 eggs?? A whole duck??

Don’t believe ya! 😉

And thanks for the kind words.

Ramona G October 12, 2011 at 12:19 PM

This whole fat thing has been a revelation! I love it!

Funny thing… Due to following your advice I’m now 5’7 and 116 pounds, but heavier people I talk to at work still disregard what I say and tell me about Weight Watchers and Nutri System. At least at my previous job they SAW me lose weight, so they believed what I said, even if they didn’t follow it. It’s so frustrating!

Anyway, thanks, Fred, for unlocking the secret for me! I like eating all I want (of the correct things), working out twice a week (instead of 6 days a week), and finally achieving the elusive goal of middle aged (ack!) fitness. I’m in wayyyyyyy better shape now than I was in my twenties, even!

Fred Hahn October 12, 2011 at 12:43 PM

You bet RG! I know how frustrating it can be – trust me on that one!!

steve werner November 8, 2011 at 9:10 AM

Boy, are you on to something.

I am 52 yrs old. Been eating low fat low carb for yrs.

Recently changed my diet to high protein and good fats.
losing body fat and gaining muscle like crazy!!

Only took 35 yrs to figure it out.

sw

Fred Hahn November 8, 2011 at 9:26 AM

Well at least you figured it out!

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