What You Need to Know Before Trying a Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet

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If we had to name a definitive diet trend of 2019, it would be the low-carb, high-fat diet. Colloquially known as the keto diet, this eating approach nearly eliminates carbohydrates and prioritizes foods high in fat and protein.

More specifically, a standard low-carb, high-fat diet calls for "obtaining less than 50% of your daily calories from carbohydrates," Bethany M. Doerfler, a clinical research dietitian at Northwestern Medicine, told U.S. News & World Report. "Fat intake ranges from between 30% to 40% of daily caloric intake, and protein consumption might land in the 10% to 30% daily range." Compare this to The Institute of Medicine's recommendation, which asks that U.S. adults get 45% to 65% of their daily calories from carbs, 20% to 35% from fat, and 10% to 35% from protein.

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The goal is to replace carbohydrates with satiating healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, and salmon, ideally eliminating the hunger pangs associated with typical dieting. But keep in mind that in stricter iterations of the diet, beans, quinoa, chickpeas, corn, and more are considered high-carb.

Is a Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet Good for You?

Salmon and Green Beans

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Like any of-the-moment diet, the jury's still out as to whether or not a low-carb, high-fat diet is truly healthy, especially in the long-term.

Naysayers argue that any diet that eliminates a food group entirely can't be healthy. It makes for an unsustainable eating approach and can lead to nutritional deficiencies. Studies have also found that low-carb, high-fat diets, which tend to be heavy in meat and naturally fatty foods like avocados and butter, can lead to cholesterol issues and constipation.

Chicken and Asparagus

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On the other side of the coin, research suggests that a low-carb, high-fat diet can offer some health benefits, especially if you consider weight loss a benefit. As Harvard Health reports, "there is some evidence that a low-carbohydrate diet may help people lose weight more quickly than a low-fat diet—and may help them maintain that weight loss." The studies Harvard references pertain specifically to obese men and women.  

Anecdotally speaking, benefits include reduced appetite, loss in harmful abdominal fat, and protection against metabolic syndrome. More research is needed across the board to assess the true health and efficacy of low-carb, high-fat diets.

Foods to Eat

Woman Eating

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First and foremost, you should consult a dietitian or nutritionist before diving headfirst into a low-carb, high-fat diet. A professional will help you formulate an eating plan that provides the nutrients your body needs while helping you meet your health goals. Prior to that discussion, here's a general outline of what to eat on a low-carb, high-fat diet:

"Good" Fats 

Avocado oil, chia seed, olive oil, coconut oil, fish oil, pumpkin seed oil, sesame oil, ghee, grass-fed butter, bacon fat, lard, flaxseeds.

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Animal Protein 

Beef, eggs, chicken, fish, bacon, pork, lamb, venison, sausage, bison, salami, veal. Eat organic, grass-fed, and wild-caught whenever possible.

Berries

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Fruits and Vegetables

Avocado, berries, coconut, lime, lemon, olives, rhubarb, lettuce, arugula, spinach, celery, cucumber, avocado, artichoke, radishes, okra, snow peas, eggplant, onions, asparagus, green beans, brussels sprouts, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, spaghetti squash, scallions, shallots, zucchini, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower.

Dairy

Full-fat cheeses, soft cheeses, heavy cream, full-fat Greek yogurt, sour cream.

 

Nuts and Seeds

Almonds, Brazil nuts, flaxseeds, hazelnuts, hemp seeds, macadamia nuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts. 

Flours 

Almond flour, coconut flour, flax meal.

Drinks and Alcohol

Black tea, green tea, herbal tea, bone broth, coffee, water, red wine, white wine, brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, whiskey.

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Foods to Limit

French Fries

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Generally speaking, you should stick to whole, natural foods and limit processed and packaged foods, artificial sweeteners, refined sugars, fried foods, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, and sugary sodas. This goes for pretty much any healthy, nutritionally sound diet. 

"Bad" Fats

Canola oil, corn oil, grape-seed oil, flaxseed oil, hemp oil, margarine, safflower oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, vegetable oil.

Animal Protein

Canned meats, cured meats, processed deli meats.

Fruits and Vegetables 

Technically, the following fruits and vegetables are considered "high-carb": bananas, apples, grapes, pears, pineapples, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, pumpkin, butternut squash, yams, and peas.

Spaghetti

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Grains and Starches

Barley, beans, bread, breakfast cereals, buckwheat, bulgar wheat, chickpeas, couscous, lentils, legumes, muesli, oats, pasta, quinoa, rice, rye, wheat flour.

Sweets and Snacks

Agave, biscuits, cake, chocolate, cookies, doughnuts, dried fruit, ice cream, pancakes, pastries, puddings, soda, chips.

Drinks and Alcohol

Soda, beer, cider, sweet liqueurs. 

Do Your Research

Want to learn more? Here are a few books that can help.

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