What to eat on a low-carb high-fat (LCHF) diet

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Transitioning into a low-carb, high-fat way of eating (also known as ‘Banting’) can be challenging: for many of us, carbs make up a substantial portion of our daily intake, and figuring out what to replace them with can be tricky and confusing. That’s why it helps to go into it with a plan – or more specifically, an eating plan – so that your attempts aren’t derailed before you’ve even started.

Here’s a list of things you should be eating on a LCHF diet, as well as some suggestions for each meal.

Eat a lot of: healthy fat. This includes avocados and avocado oil, coconut oil, olive oil, animal fat (choose organic, additive-free cuts of meat including chicken, beef and bacon), oily fish and fish oil.

Eat some: protein. You need to include fat and protein in every meal, but remember that LCHF is a HIGH fat, MEDIUM protein, LOW carb way of eating. Overdoing it on the protein can impede your weight-loss efforts and also result in nausea. Remember to include eggs too.

Eat few: carbs. Even on a low-carb diet, it’s still essential to include some carbs in your daily intake. Choose lower-carb fruits and veggies like leafy greens, salad greens, cauliflower, berries, melons, cherries, oranges, tomatoes and avocados. You want to exclude starchy vegetables (all of those that grow under the soil, as well as peas) and high-carb fruits like bananas, plantains and raisins.

What about dairy? The right kind of dairy is an important part of a LCHF diet. Choose hard cheeses, cream, butter, full-fat yoghurt and so forth. You want to avoid any ‘low-fat’ items, and opt instead for those with greater amounts of fat and fewer carbs/no added sugar. Learn to read food labels.

The food lists at Originaleating.org are extremely useful if you need a little guidance. View them here.

LCHF meal ideas

Breakfast
  • Boiled/scrambled eggs on seed toast
  • Avocado on grain-free bread
  • Bacon and eggs with sliced tomato and fresh basil
  • Poached eggs with ham and asparagus
  • Cheese and mushroom omelette
Lunch
  • Meat or egg salad drizzled with olive oil
  • Chicken breast with cream cheese and side salad
  • Cold meat roll-ups (slices of meat filled with cheddar and tomato and wrapped in lettuce)
  • Bacon, avocado and seed salad
  • Minute steak wraps made with chopped cucumber, tomato and cheese, all wrapped in lettuce
Supper
  • Chicken fried ‘rice’, substituting cauliflower for rice and adding your low-carb veggies of choice
  • Steak, veggies and slices of fresh avocado
  • Roast chicken breasts stuffed with feta and drizzled with olive oil, served with salad or vegetables
  • Pan-fried salmon with asparagus and cauliflower rice
  • Roast lamb chops with cauliflower mash and veggies
  • Shepherd’s pie with cauliflower mash
Snacks
  • Nuts (especially almonds, macadamias and walnuts – avoid peanuts as these aren’t actually nuts, but legumes)
  • Biltong
  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Mini meatballs (make ahead and keep in the fridge/freezer)
  • Leftover chicken breasts (always cook in bulk when you can)

Here are some more great meal ideas and recipes from Authority Nutrition. The list also includes dressings and sauces to spice up your meals.

Don’t start the eating plan without being fully prepared, or you could become frustrated, bored or under-nourished. Know what you’ll be eating and more importantly, where you’ll be buying your food, so that you’ll never be left hungry. Also, keep snacks in your car, handbag/briefcase, etc so that you never find yourself ravenous and resorting to shop-bought carbs to fill the void.

It’s easy once you’re in the swing of things and you’re bound to feel – and notice – a difference.

Pros and cons of a low carb high fat (LCHF) diet

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Tons of people are following a low carb, high fat (LCHF) lifestyle at the moment and raving about it – and I can see why. Having followed the diet myself for several weeks, I can tell you that I’m really happy on it – but, like every eating plan, it’s not for everyone. In my completely non-expert opinion, and in the spirit of experimentation, here are my top pros and cons.

 Pros

  • Quick initial weight loss. Within one week of starting the diet, I dropped 2kgs, with what felt like very little effort.
  • Never/seldom hungry. I’ve never lost weight this effectively without feeling ravenous all the time. I hardly ever feel hungry and I certainly don’t feel like I’m on diet.
  • You don’t eat ‘diet foods’. If you love meat, nuts, seeds, eggs and dairy, LCHF is perfect for you. No rice cakes or diet shakes or grapefruit.
  • It helps manage my IBD symptoms. It took a few weeks for my BMs to regulate, but from the start I had almost no digestive discomfort, and very little bloating. My belly seems to love LCHF.
  • No sugar cravings. Possibly one of the biggest benefits for me, a self-confessed sugar addict, is the fact that including more fat in my diet seems to have combatted my sugar cravings, and even reduced my taste for the stuff.
  • Feeling better. When I eat sugary and gluten-based foods, I often wake up the next day feeling groggy, ‘stuffy’ and just generally under the weather. Sometimes, if I really overindulge in these foods, I get terrible cramps and my body even feels sore to the touch. I always feel good and healthy when eating LCHF.
  • Easier food prep. Steak and salad is quicker and simpler to prepare than, say, a curry. Grabbing a handful of almonds is an easier snack than whipping up a smoothie. But this depends on what you like to cook and eat.

Cons

  • Expense. LCHF foods aren’t necessarily ‘cheap’ foods, especially now that this style of eating is so trendy. The price of meat, nuts and cheese all adds up – to a lot. You may find it balances out if you were previously buying lots of packaged or processed food, but then again, it might not.
  • Less butternut and banana. I had to cut out two of my staples, which made me sad. But pumpkin is fine, and once I combatted my sugar cravings (which only took a day or two), I didn’t miss bananas at all.
  • Limited choices. Particularly when it comes to snacking, it can be hard to find LCHF foods that aren’t pricy (nuts), unrealistic to eat on their own (a piece of meat or a block of cheese) or simply difficult to get on the run (have you ever tried to find a ready-to-eat, ripe avo at your local corner shop? Yup, exactly).
  • Very rich foods. High-fat foods can be very rich, and about three weeks into the diet, I became quite nauseated – a feeling that lasted a number of days. I’m not sure if it was too much fat or protein, or just being completely and utterly sick of eating eggs, but it wasn’t pleasant. Nothing really helped – I just had to wait for it to subside (which it did).
  • Lactose intolerance. If you’re lactose intolerant, like me, your options are even more limited. I have been including a bit of cheese in my diet as a test, and it seems mostly fine.
  • Snacking is HARD. I know I’ve covered this already, but it bears repeating. Every snack is supposed to include some fat and protein – this means that you shouldn’t really be snacking on fruit or yoghurt, especially if you’re trying to avoid fruit. I graze on biltong, nuts, grain-free toast and cheese, but again, these are not cheap snacks and they’re not easy to grab on the run.
  • Weight loss can plateau quickly. If you’re following the diet for weight-loss purposes, you might find your weight loss comes to an abrupt halt. This could be due to eating too much fat and protein – after all, it’s not a free-for-all. Nuts, butter, cream, etc are calorie bombs and even if they’re allowed on the diet, they’ll hinder your weight-loss efforts if you overindulge. Remember that it’s HIGH fat, MEDIUM protein and LOW carb.

So as you can see, there are benefits and drawbacks to LCHF eating – as there are to any other kind of diet. The only way to find out whether or not it’ll work for you is to try it. And if you have, please share your thoughts and experiences – I’d love to hear your feedback 🙂

My experience on a low carb, high fat (LCHF) diet so far

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Anyone else been struggling to find a diet that works for them?

Since being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis about a year ago, I’ve embarked on various diets to try to ease my symptoms and heal my body (hence this blog). In fact, I started this blog to document my experiences on the SCD diet (see a summary here), which has helped many, many people to heal after the ravaging effects of inflammatory bowel disease.

But it’s been really tough to find a diet that stuck.

SCD wasn’t the answer for me, so I moved on to autoimmune paleo after consulting a nutritionalist. I followed it mostly strictly for a month or two (AIP is not a long-term diet), and then switched to paleo. By this time, my various diets had exhausted me psychologically, and subconsciously I think I felt imprisoned by them. I was either restricting or bingeing, and I constantly felt guilty about my slip-ups. How could I care so little about my health that I couldn’t find the willpower to avoid gluten or dairy or all the other things that were so bad for me? Restrict, binge. Restrict, binge. Guilt guilt guilt. I was trapped.

Cravings, weight gain and other un-fun things

Compounding all of these negative feelings towards myself and my diet was the fact that my clothes were getting tighter and the number on the scale was steadily rising. Having faced some weight demons for many, many years, this just made everything so much worse. I was constantly going back onto my restrictive diets simply to lose weight, even though I said it was because of my IBD. They didn’t work, so I’d binge some more.

Perhaps most ironic of all was that, apart from one or two isolated incidents, my UC symptoms were completely under control and, thanks to my Asacol, I was never aware of any issues.

Coming round to ‘high fat’ way of thinking

Several weeks ago, spurred on by yet another attempt to trim down, I decided to give the high-fat, low-carb diet a bash (also known as a ketogenic diet). Although I’ve been hearing about it for months, it’s taken me ages to come around to the idea. Eat fat? No, surely not. I’d spent the past decade avoiding anything with fat, oil or even a single additional calorie. And fat has the most calories of all! Plus, everyone was doing the diet (especially here in SA, where Tim Noakes has become something of a ketogenic legend), and that made me not want to do it even more. Ugh, fads.

But I was also desperate to kick my sugar habit (which by this point I had labelled an ‘addiction’ – read about my binges and attempts to overcome them here), and I thought that severely limiting carbs, at least at first, might help.

I read up about the Atkins diet, which is essentially a ketogenic diet (at least in the early phases), and thanks to the guidelines provided, I figured I’d be able to give it a shot.

That was several weeks ago, and I hate to say it (because it still feels like such a fad), but it is actually working.

How I feel on a high fat diet

This is the first eating plan I’ve followed where I haven’t felt hungry, haven’t had many cravings (I’ve had perhaps two or three bad sugar cravings in total, as opposed to several every day) and have actually felt completely satisfied at all times. Plus… the weight has started to melt off. I can’t understand it because I’ve been eating fat – and a lot of it (for me). I eat handfuls of almonds every day, I add oil to my food (olive or coconut) and I’m consuming plenty of avocado. I eat several eggs each day (my nutritionalist has assured me that four a day is fine, but I usually consume about three), and lean red meat a few times a week.

Making the switch: a bit of a mind-fudge

What has been strange for me, as someone who grew up in a household that was 50% vegetarian, has been cutting down on the amount of fruit and veggies I eat. Fruit I can understand – it’s healthy, but not in the quantities I was consuming it. I could eat 10 bananas in a day, or five pears in the space of several hours. Unnecessary, and probably feeding my sugar addiction. I decided to cut out fruit altogether for the first few weeks, to break the sugar cycle, as well as starchy veg, just as the Atkins diet advises. Eating less veg has been weird for me (I never realised how many carbs there are in vegetables, especially when you’re trying to limit your carb intake to 20g per day!).

That said, the way that ketogenic and Banting diets work is by getting your body to stop using carbs as your primary energy source, and to use fat instead. It takes a few days to ‘switch over’ to this way of burning calories, and – for me anyway – it seems that once it kicks in, it’s EFFECTIVE!

What I eat each day

For breakfast, I either have a boiled egg or avocado on grain-free seed toast. For lunch I’ll have two boiled eggs with salad, and as a late afternoon snack, I’ll have almonds. Supper is usually lean steak or chicken, or if I don’t feel like cooking, biltong. I serve it with cauli-rice or a portion or two of other low-carb veg (broccoli, zucchini, etc) and avocado. In between, when I’m hungry, I snack on raw almonds or biltong.

In fact, the one area where I slip up is when it comes to snacking. I’m a notoriously big snacker, but on this diet, I don’t really get hungry between meals, and sometimes I’m not even hungry at meal times (I always eat though). Not being hungry has never been a reason for me to not eat – but I simply am not craving food the way I used to. This means I don’t have a mid-morning snack, but I do tend to have something small in the late afternoon/early evening in the hours before dinner.

Dairy and high-fat diets when you’re lactose intolerant

On a high fat diet, one of the primary building blocks is full-fat dairy, and being lactose intolerant, the majority of dairy is off-limits to me. I can have small amounts of hard cheese (ie, parmesan), but soft cheese does weird things to my belly… and I can’t even look at cream! However, this might also be why I’m losing more weight: Some people have complained that they haven’t lost the amount of weight they were expecting on the ‘Tim Noakes diet’, which the professor attributes to too much dairy. After all, while butter and cream contain healthy fat, they’re also LOADED with calories.

Either way, you do need certain vitamins and minerals that come from dairy. If you don’t eat the stuff, make sure you’re taking supplements or getting what you need from other food, which you should continue to include in your diet.

How’s my belly?

As always, it comes down to this, as it should. My belly has been fine, and I haven’t noticed any major differences in its activity since starting this diet. But that’s probably also because Asacol does a powerful job of keeping everything under control. Plus, the right kind of fat is extremely healing: avocado and coconut oil especially are very beneficial to the gut and should always be included in a healing diet.

I do have to be careful with almonds, because if I eat too many, they can give me cramps. And I also have to be sure that I include my five portions of fruit/veg in my diet every day – something I never used to struggle with, but which I now have to actually make a concerted effort to do. My stomach is perhaps not as active as usual (normally I have daily BMs, but sometimes now I skip a day). That said, I haven’t experienced any bloating, constipation or discomfort, so I’m not concerned about it.

In summary

Overall, I’m loving how I’m feeling on this diet. I LOVE not having cravings, I LOVE that I never feel too hungry, and I’m enjoying the actual food itself (steak, avocado, nuts, caul-rice – what’s not to relish?!). I’m aware of the potential pitfalls (too much fat, too little veggies/fruit), and I’m being careful to avoid them. So far, so good, and out of all the diets I’ve tried in the past year (SCD, paleo, autoimmune paleo), this has been the most enjoyable, the easiest to follow, and the one that has made me feel the best.

Have you tried a high fat, low carb diet/banting? Would love to hear your feedback 🙂

Day 93: Meat vs veg – my lightbulb moment

These days, you tell people that you eat meat and you may as well have said that you skin kittens in your spare time. In a world of vegan hipsters, meat is murder and using animal products is about the worst thing you can do after using plastic or not having a beard. Don’t get me wrong: I grew up in a house that was 50% vegetarian – neither my mom nor sister eat meat – and I have the utmost respect for the fact that they don’t eat meat – as they do for the fact that my dad and I do.

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Anyway, the point is that SCD had shown me that my body tolerates protein far better than it does simple carbs/veg, and while I could live on veg quite happily… Well I realise that I actually can’t.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll have seen me post photos of my food. Most of my meals consist of a little protein and A LOT of veg. Some meals often don’t contain any protein. And now, having tested my food and my reactions for three months, I know one thing for sure: veg is knocking me for a six, and I need to completely change how I’m eating. It’s a huge mental shift because for so many years, I’ve built my meals around vegetables, and eaten much less meat. It’s not that I don’t like it… it’s just that I preferred veg. But I realise that, if I want to avoid excessive bloating, loose stools, cramps and gas, can’t keep loading up on veg and adding a dash of protein as an afterthought.

I’m not going to radically change anything while I’m still on SCD. I’m going to finish off this last week properly, and then as I mentioned last week, I’m going to transition to paleo, and to a more high-protein, low carb way of eating. It irritates me that this is a ‘fad’ now (have you heard of banting?) – just as it annoys me that it’s a fad to be ‘gluten intolerant’, making all our foods so much more expensive! But at least it might make my belly happier, which is the ultimate goal.

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Parties, booze and little steps forward

The past four days have been interesting in terms of diet. I’ve eaten lots of meat and much less veg, and I feel far less bloated. I’ve also been eating almonds (blanched and slivered this time) and that seems to be a little more tolerable. That said, I know I need to take it easy with them.

Last night, after a long day of celebrating birthdays and family visits (read: drinking), I dove into a packet of vegetable chips at home. They didn’t contain any illegal additives BUT they did contain veg that I shouldn’t have eaten, like sweet potato, so again, I’ve proven to myself (not that I didn’t know this already – doh!) that after hours of champers, I need to be kept away from temptation. That said, I didn’t eat ANYTHING bad or illegal at any of the dinners or parties we went to, which made me so proud of myself. Like several times before, while on this diet, I showed myself that i can have a great time despite not stuffing my face. It’s really been a revelation for me.

NOT yesterday's selfie

NOT yesterday’s selfie

I’m entering my last week of my personal SCD challenge and I’m so excited that I’ve finally had my lightbulb moment (I can’t believe it took me this long). It’s going to be quite a challenge to switch up my diet so radically (for me), but I think after SCD, I can handle anything 🙂