Friday, September 26, 2008

Let's chew the fat...

We need to talk about fat and your metabolism.

When you live low-carb, you inevitably eat more fat. You may doubt me, but you will need to eat more of it when you live low-carb. Think of it this way, the typical American consumes 200-400 grams of carbohydrate a day. That amounts to roughly 800-1600 calories a day from carbohydrate. When you're eating low-carb, you'll probably start by eating around 20-40 grams of carbohydrate a day, roughly 80 - 160 calories. That means you just dropped between 600 and 1500 calories a day from your diet. If you have loads of weight to lose, then this may work for a while, but the likelihood is you may need to replace some or all of those calories depending on how much weight you have to lose.

So you have two other macronutrients from which you can make up those missing calories, fat or protein.

Protein is an essential macronutrient because it is required for cell construction and all kinds of maintenance of structures and functions in the body. It is great for structures, but not so great as a fuel. Your body can convert protein to blood glucose as needed via a process called gluconeogenesis. That's what make carbohydrates metabolically unnecessary. You can eat enough protein to use some as fuel, but your body can only take so much before bad things start to happen. After a few posts about fat, I'll get to talking about protein, how much you need, and where it should come from.

Fat is an energy source just like carbohydrates. Just like carbohydrates, fats provide energy and have metabolic and health effects on the body. Unlike carbohydrates, fats do not require insulin to use the energy they provide. Insulin is a fat regulating hormone, among other things, and I explain the physiology of that process here and here. I'd read them in order.

When your body is metabolizing fat as it's main energy source it uses both free fatty acids from the blood stream and it converts some of the fatty acids in your blood to ketones and uses the ketones as it's energy source.

Now we have a foundation from which to build the discussion on fat. I have several more posts coming regarding fat metabolism, fat's effect on your health, fat fears, big fat myths, cholesterol, and fat facts.

As these posts come out, we need all of you who read them to chime in. I know there are people that are reading this because I've gotten a few comments, but we need more. Diet is an extraordinarily complex, controversial, and, in many cases, emotional subject. It needs to be talked about more. We need to have more open dialogue backed up by facts, anecdotes, and studies. If we can talk about this, maybe we can cut through some of the myths and misconceptions and remove some of the erroneous beliefs that are rooted in speculation.

This post may not be so controversial, but there will some real controversy and some conclusions that challenge convention over some of the upcoming posts.


PS. Don't fear the fat! (You'll need it)


Former Donut Junkie said...

Alex, I guess I'm one of the ones you don't have to convince to eat fat as part of a healthy and efficient low-carb nutritional lifestyle. However, I know all too well just how much dietary fat phobia has been created in many folks just by hearing the myths repeated over and over again by folks who never take the time to check out if they are fact based or not.

I guess I'm one of the fortunate ones who didn't have the fear of eating fat upon discovery of low-carb. I did try low-fat in my younger years and discovered rather quickly that it was a slow way to starve to death. The thing was, here in the South many of us Baby Boomers were raised eating fatty cuts of meat along with other fat filled dishes. So that wasn't a hurdle I had to overcome.

My big challenge was giving up all the super-carbed foods I was so used to, cornbread, biscuits, gravy, dumplings, pies, cakes, pastries, etc, etc. But once I gave them up for a while I found I didn't really miss them all that much. The big thing I found was that my cravings for that stuff was really my body wanting fat to fuel itself, not carbs. Therein lies the problem, adding all those nasty carbs in combination with the fat.

Fact is, once you get switched over to eating low-carb, moderate protein and a higher fat level, those evil cravings disappear and you only eat to satiety and you lose weight. I never thought I'd see a day in my life that cravings weren't a part of the food battle. But it is truly possible. Thanks for discussing this much maligned matter. You are right that more dialogue is needed in order to get the word out.

Alex said...

Hi again FDJ,

Glad you stopped by again and I'm really glad to have you be part of the much needed dialogue on fat.

Like you I don't suffer from the fat-phobia that seems to grip so many others. And just like you I have found that a lot of my cravings were really my body telling me to eat more fat.

In the recent past, I have started eating a bit less protein and a bit more fat and I am feeling more energetic and together than I have for a long time.

Thanks for being a part of this and I really hope that we can get some people we are concerned about fat intake and types of fat so we can all talk about concerns that others feel about fat.


PS. If you fear the fat, tell us about it. Not so I can persuade you otherwise, but so we can talk.

Alex said...

Oops, I meant "who are concerned about fat" not "we are concerned about fat".


Niklas said...

This post made me realize a mistake of mine. I'm not overweight but I want to try low carb for health reasons. I have always felt very tired and devoid of energy on a low carb diet to the point that I abandoned it regularly by eating lot of carbs. Unfortunately I don't metabolize carbs good so even that way I wasn't having much energy.

But I was eating tuna, eggs and chicken breast. Sometimes avocado, using olive oil but clearly I wasn't getting enough fat, I was failing to replace the energy I would get from carbs with energy from fats.

So I made myself some spinach and lot of butter. Shortly after the meal I felt a surge of energy and started feeling very good, very warm, very centered. I was finally experiencing the great sensation of getting enough energy from food, which not even carbs made me feel.

So to have enough energy I have to eat lot of fat and this is good because fat doesn't raise insulin. But since protein raise insulin and I have a faulty insulin/sugar metabolism my question is:

how do I get enough fat without overconsuming proteins while eating low carbs?

Most foods with fats have also lot of proteins and I don't think the solution is drinking melted butter or EVO oil from the bottle.

So what we low-carbers must it to moderate the proteins and get enough fat to have enough energy? What foods can we eat to reach such goal?

Alex said...


I suggest liberally buttering your vegetables, using full fat dairy products like sour cream, strained Greek yogurt, and whipped cream.

Liberally dressing your salads is good too.

Don't forget cheese is fairly high in fat too and many low-carbers tolerate it well.

Another thing I do is ditch some or all of the whites from my eggs which will give you a nice fat bolus in the morning for your body to work on later in the day.

I hope that sheds a little light on the subject for you.

Let me know what works well for you.

Alex said...

Oh I guess I forgot to say that I cook my egg yolks just like a fried egg. Just pan fried in butter. Topped with a little salt & pepper.

So good.