8 Benefits of a Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet
Throughout human evolution, we have burned fat as our primary source of energy. Only about 10,000 years ago, when agriculture really took root, did we transition to a predominantly grain-based diet. Unfortunately, this technological progress came at the expense of health. We have evolved over millions of years to prefer hunter-gatherer fare, which is, by comparison, extremely low in carbohydrates. Going back to our roots and eating a primal or paleo (we will talk about the small differences between the two in a future blog post) low-carb, high-fat diet has many benefits. To help you decide if this is the right move for you, take a look at the top 10 reasons people make the shift.
First, a science lesson
Notice that in our cycle of doom we are not specifying a specific type of carbohydrate. While whole grains and other complex carbs burn slower than sugars, they still are converted into glucose in the bloodstream and make an identical contribution to one's total insulin production over time
Now, let's get back to the benefits of LCHF with that in mind
1. More Consistent Energy Levels
We've all heard it before, breakfast is the most important meal of the day; don't skip a meal or else you will be tired and moody (we'll get to that later). This is only the case when eating a high carbohydrate diet. All of that excess insulin produced by eating a lot of carbs inhibits your ability to access stored energy and you are forced to play the blood-sugar-balancing game described above. It's almost like an addiction! When you move to a low carb, high-fat diet though you allow your body to tap into those vast stores of energy giving you a more consistent and generally high energy level throughout the day, even if you miss a meal.
2. Less Sympathetic Overdrive
Okay, let's take a step back. What is sympathetic overdrive? Well, you might have heard of the "fight or flight" response. It's our body's natural response to a stressful situation and is mediated by the sympathetic nervous system. Although it is highly important in situations where we want to optimize performance or stay alert, such as when we are trying to outrun a predator, your body cannot stay in this state all the time. Think about it, if your heart was always racing like a lion was chasing you, you wouldn't be a happy camper. Now on a high-carb and therefore high-insulin diet, although you have significant energy stores, these are inaccessible to your cells and they feel starved of energy. This is perceived as a life-threatening situation, triggering that fight or flight response. By switching to a LCHF diet you can stop that chronic, destructive stimulation of the fight or flight response. Trust us, your body will thank you.
3. Weight Loss
We just talked about how high carbohydrate diets lead to high insulin levels which prevents your body from tapping into internal energy stores. You know the biggest source of energy in your body? Fat! By eating a high carb diet you are inhibiting fat breakdown. Contrary to conventional wisdom, but consistent with good ol' science, eating a low-carb, high-fat diet will actually help you drop pounds because your body will rely on its own internal energy stores instead of only using external sources and you also will no longer be storing all of that excess glucose as additional fat.
4. Better Relationship with Food
When you are eating a high-carb diet, you are depending on a fragile external source for the fulfillment of your primal desire to sustain energy and satisfy hunger. This naturally leads to a constant low level of anxiety and stress that you might not even be conscious of. With a high-carb diet, you are also stuck in this highly regimented eating pattern that creates a serious disconnect between your internal energy stores, your natural appetite, and your desire for food. In other words, although your internal energy stores may be high and your natural appetite low, your desire for food is intense. In these instances, you may also find that meals and food trigger or help soothe certain emotions creating this psychologically unhealthy relationship with food. By helping you tap into those more reliable internal energy stores and fixing that disconnect between your body and mind, a low-carb, high-fat diet can help reverse the patterns of cravings and dysfunctional relationships you may have with food.
5. Decreased Inflammation and Free Radical Damage
This one is so important we are making it two. Chronically high levels of glucose in the bloodstream from a high carbohydrate diet promote the production of reactive oxygen species (or free radicals). What do these free radicals do? Well, they do what any good group of radicals does - wreak havoc. We won't bore you with the details but in essence all of these free radicals damage organ tissues. Where this damage is particularly problematic is in tissues that are infrequently replaced (in other words have a long lifespan). This includes the cardiovascular system, kidneys, eyes, elastin that keeps your skin from sagging, among many others. By eating a LCHF diet, you will stop relying on glucose as a primary energy source and you will improve your health by decreasing free radical production and the inflammation and organ damage that results.
6. Less "Hangriness"
Yes, we have all been there - so hungry that we turn on our compatriots. Again this fate is forced onto us by that high-carb diet. When we eat a high-carb diet, two hormones are chronically affected: leptin which is suppressed leading to decreased satiety and fat breakdown and ghrelin which is elevated stimulating hunger. A high-fat diet with lower carb intake up-regulates genes involved in burning stored and ingested fat, normalizing appetite and hunger patterns. So next time your co-worker starts getting a bit sassy, tell them to stop eating so many carbs and start eating some avocado.
7. Better Nutrient Absorption and Digestive & Immune System Functioning
This one is another twofer. Grains include several anti-nutrients including lectins, gluten, and phytates. "Anti-nutrient" is a catch-all term for anything that compromises nutritional health as opposed to supporting it. Not only do these anti-nutrients contribute to the inflammatory reactions we have already mentioned but they also affect the lining of your digestive tract, your ability to absorb nutrients, and can stimulate auto-immune responses. The degree to which these anti-nutrients affect people depends on many factors. You may have heard for example of Celiac Disease which is a more severe form of gluten intolerance. Even if you are not diagnosed with a specific disease related to these anti-nutrients, you still may (and likely do) have mild intolerances to these anti-nutrients that affect your health - leading to symptoms such as bloating, constipation, mild inflammatory conditions throughout the body, fatigue, joint or muscle aches, allergies, depression, cognitive programs, obesity, headaches, heartburn, equilibrium problems, and more.
8. You Spend Less Money on Food
Many have criticized the Paleo/Primal diet for being expensive compared to the Standard American Diet. Typically though this is completely unfounded. You may be spending more on certain products but you will likely be spending less overall. First of all, when switching to a LCHF diet, you are becoming more efficient at using the calories you eat because you are burning fat, which is more energetically dense than carbohydrates. Secondly, instead of purchasing the high carbohydate processed foods and beverages that are high cost and of low nutritional value, you are switching to high quality basics such as farm-fresh eggs. Just think of the comparative cost of a bag of chips vs a head of broccoli. They may cost about the same but with the bag of chips not only are you getting less nutritional value per dollar but you are going to be hungry again in just a little bit and so you will likely eat more over the course of the day than if you had just had some broccoli with a bit of butter (see our handy-dandy wheel of carbohydrate doom above).
Have we convinced you that a Primal/Paleo LCHF diet is the way to go?
We would love to help you overhaul your diet so you can start experiencing all of these benefits. Click here to schedule your free, no-obligation initial consult to learn more about how we can help you!