What is LCHF nutrition?
LCHF means lowering your carb intake to a minimum and increasing the fat intake to maximum. Protein intake stays in the range that fits individual’s physiological needs.
Contrary to dietary guidelines, LCHF nutrition promotes low carb intake and combines it with high fat intake. It is based on scientific rationale and is not a fad diet. It has been used as therapeutic approach in clinical settings for decades.
Eating very low carb and high fat mimics the physiology of starvation (without the damaging effect of stress of chronic lack of food and without the malnutrition) and is thus considered an evolutionary adaptation – this kind of mimicking not only is not harmful, it is actually beneficial. This adaptation helped our forefathers to survive periods when the food was scarce, without compromising the brain function.
LCHF does not mean senseless binging on fat foods. It is a form of healthy lifestyle. In the past years it has often been promoted as one of the possible healthy eating patterns by scientists and medical professionals.
When is a type of daily plan considered a LCHF?
It is a consensus that LCHF nutrition can be labelled as such when fats represent at least 60% of all daily energy intake and the carbs represent the smaller part of the rest.
One of the things that often gets misinterpreted is the difference between diets called »low carb« and LCHF nutrition. The only thing these two have in common is the fact that they are both low carb. However, when someone is eating »low carb« they usually also eat high protein. With LCHF, both is important: cutting carbs and replacing them with fats and not with too much protein.
Is LCHF nutrition for me?
Although any person can benefit from eating LCHF, some people will benefit more than the others. This group includes: people with obesity issues, people who have trouble controlling their food intake, people with any type of metabolic insulin-glucose axis (metabolic syndrome, diabetes, some forms of dementia …), high blood pressure and dyslipidaemias (high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol …)
As a LCHF coach I get this question a lot. It’s one of the hardest questions: scientific data shows so many benefits of going high fat, yet, sometimes there are individuals that are just OK and healthy the way they are.
Usually, though, there is a few common characteristics of these people. They all get approximately same amount of energy from eating both carbs and fat, but they also rarely binge on food, intermitting fasting comes naturally to them, they never have problem of uncontrollable appetite and they never have visceral fat. It also turns out that they spontaneously eat slightly less than their maintenance energy expenditure – so called »calorie restriction« is the natural norm for them.
Despite the fact that LCHF nutrition can bring many benefits to these kind of people as well, sometimes unneeded change can be more disruptive than beneficial. Still, LCHF nutrition can bring many benefits even to people who do not have even the slightest existing medical indication or don’t need to lose weight!
However, people like these are usually not seeking advice or changes of their lifestyle. A lot of people do show symptoms that can be decreased by choosing to go LCHF. These traits are:
- obesity, especially visceral obesity
- glucose/insulin metabolism disorder (prediabetes, insulin resistance, diabetes …)
- diabesity (obesity and diabetes, interconnected)
- high blood pressure
- dyslipidaemias (especially low HDL cholesterol and high triglycerides)
- polycystic ovary syndrome
If you are suffering from one of these, you might want to consider changing your dietary patterns in the way of LCHF. If still not sure, take the informative test to see how beneficial LCHF might be for you.
Is there a difference between LCHF and ketogenic diet?
There is some confusion about the distinction between LCHF and ketogenic diet – both mean eating low carb & high fat. It’s a matter of technical terms, which there is no firm consensus about in the LCHF/keto community. However, it is safe to think that LCHF is a broader term and ketogenic is usually understood as the extreme version of LCHF, i.e. very LCHF.
Technical terms with this particular way of eating are indeed confusing and many individuals in the LCHF/keto community have tried to systematically explain why LCHF and keto are just sides of the same coin.
So anyone can understand what LCHF is – it’s self explanatory abbreviation, meaning low carb high fat. Where does ketogenic come in? Eating low carb high fat induces physiological response in the body: the body reacts by establishing ketogenic environment, where a lot of ketone bodies are produced. That’s where the word comes from.
However there is a spectrum of eating LCHF. It depends on how much you cut your carbs and how much fat you eat to replace the carbs. This brings us to »macronutrient macros«, another LCHF technical term.
LCHF / keto macros
Macronutrient macros or ratios as they are sometimes called, are simply just ratios of how much energy we daily get from carbs : protein : fat. Dietary guidelines macro is usually 55:20:25 (C:P:F), whereas LCHF macros range from 15:25:60 to 5:15:80 and anything in between.
Macronutrient macros are the main tool we use to properly plan our LCHF daily meal plan (but not the only one). Different ratios work for different people and not so rarely people on LCHF will vary their macros from one day to another, but still maintaining the LCHF spectrum: maybe on weekdays it will be quite easy to maintain 5:15:80 ratio, but then due to a family dinner over weekend, you would eat some protein and maybe even a slice of something with carbs and you would go with 15:25:60.
There is no guarantee that 60% is the norm to be able to get the benefits of LCHF. People who are more inclined towards insulin resistance might not get their kick out of this loose macro and would have adhere to stricter forms, while others will thrive on looser ratios. More on choosing the right macro for you.
Standard ketogenic diet
While the word fasting can give you a scare, once your body adapts to LCHF nutrition, fasting will come naturally. Specifically – intermittent fasting: you will find yourself in a position where you will not feel the need to eat and it will usually last somewhere from 10 to 15 hours.
While doing longer bouts of fasting can be a part of LCHF lifestyle, it’s up to individual wishes and capabilities to do a proper, days-long fasting. However, one of the very common »side effects« of eating LCHF is spontaneous intermittent fasting. It usually means that you will not feel like eating a breakfast, and will postpone your first meal of the day to a later time: noon or later. For most, this comes naturally in time. Others have a cup of coffee with butter (so called bulletproof coffee). Our whole lives we learnt how skipping breakfast is a bad thing to do: it’s true maybe for people, whose energy supply depends on glucose. People who eat a lot of fat, do not depend on steady intake of glucose, but rely on their own fat reserves, so skipping breakfast is usually exactly what the body wants to do.