With so many low carbohydrate diet approaches popping up it can be daunting to not only understand the difference, but to find information that doesn’t have a judgemental approach about the decision you make. We all know our own bodies and we should be trusted to follow what feels good for us. Often, we make changes to our diet or lifestyle because we feel that a change is needed, so we want to give you some information to empower your decisions. We investigated numerous popular diets within the realm of LCHF (low-carb/high-fat). We hope this article answers some of your curly questions.
But wait, what is LCHF? And what is a ketogenic diet?
Keto is a kind of LCHF diet where followers reduce their carbohydrate intake and increase their fats. It has risen in popularity because it is a way of eating that not only makes you feel full and satisfied, but helps with weight management, good energy, and clear focus. Keto arose out of the Atkins Diet, and when done well, offers a balanced and highly nutritious approach to eating. There are lots of different ways of making this diet work for you.
1: Standard Keto
‘Keto’ refers to a diet that can aid the body to enter a state of nutritional ketosis, where fat is burned for fuel instead of glucose. Typically, the diet is high in healthy fats (often from animal proteins, cheese and plant oils) and very low in carbohydrates (excluding food like bread, pasta, rice and sugar) with protein amounts varying depending on your physical activity, or the way your body runs. If you need a refresher, or want to understand more about the basics of keto, check out this article. In order to track your macronutrient needs more closely, we suggest measuring blood with a ketone blood meter.
A standard ketogenic diet contains roughly 20 gm – 50gms (5 – 10% caloric intake) of carbohydrates per day. Fat becomes 55 – 60% and protein 30 – 35%. The food list generally includes:
- Fat: Coconut oil, butter, cream, avocados, meat, lard, cheese.
- Protein: Meat – red, bacon, organs, poultry. Eggs, cheese, low carb nuts, seeds, protein powder, low-carb soy meat alternatives.
- Carbohydrates: Leafy greens, low starch vegetables, low carb berries.
- Foods to avoid: Grains, legumes, starchy vegetables like potatoes, high sugar fruit, sugar (honey, syrups, etc), ‘low-fat’ dairy.
2: Clean keto
The focus here is maintaining nutritional ketosis while eating whole foods that contain a vast array of vitamins and minerals. Meat is minimally processed, with preference to grass-fed beef (luckily in New Zealand, our cows get a lot of grass), free-range eggs, bacon, chicken and wild-caught fish. Someone approaching Keto with a clean diet wouldn’t for example, get a takeout bunless burger from a local burger bar, or drink zero calorie fizzy drink. The diet is high in fresh, wholesome foods with a focus on keeping carbohydrates and processed foods low. Clean keto carbohydrate choices would be limited in quantity and would likely come from vegetables.
Recipe to try: Black Sesame Keto Cookies
3: Dirty keto
The focus for dirty keto is more on the ratio of your macros (carbs/fats/proteins) and less on the quality of the food. Where whole, minimally processed foods would be front of mind for those taking a Clean Keto approach, Dirty Keto allows processed foods like salami wrapped in cheese slices, frying cheese and turning it into a ‘wrap’ for other food (OMG I have to try that!), fried chicken, zero-sugar fizzy drink, etc. Dirty keto carbohydrate intake is still low (20 – 50 gm) and could come from any kind of sugar source.
While it might be fun to try for an occasional change of food (“Sunday Funday” or “Friday Fryday”), eating this way isn’t sustainable to long term health as it increases the amount of foods that trigger inflammation and reduces vitamin and mineral intake.
4: Mediterranean keto
The Mediterranean Diet is one of the most researched and famous diets in the world and has been shown to support a healthy heart, a healthy prostate, and overall health. Taking a ketogenic approach to this diet means olive oil (and all its benefits) is a prime source of fat, along with avocados. Fish, eggs, chicken and seafood is prioritised for protein intake over red meat. Snacks can include nuts (low carb), seeds, and hard cheese. Carbohydrates are generally from green and colourful vegetables and salads. With a Mediterranean approach to keto, total carbs should be below 35gm per day (but measuring your blood ketones will tell you what your carbohydrate intake should be).
5: Vegan keto
Although it might seem like a vegan approach to keto might be limiting, there are plenty of plant-based fats and proteins to consume to attain a state of nutritional ketosis – coconuts and coconut oil, avocado, nuts (including macadamia, pine, almonds, walnuts, peanuts), seeds, tofu, tempeh, coconut yoghurt (sugar free), vegan cheeses, can all form a strong foundation to being vegan and keto. With lots of low carb vegetables like capsicum, broccoli, mushrooms, courgette, leafy greens like spinach, kale, mesclun and lettuce, cauliflower, cucumbers, cabbage, and celery, there are many meal options that will excite the palate and support a healthy body.
6: The Carnivore Diet
This is the next step up from keto where people eliminate or strongly restrict plants from the diet and predominantly rely on meat and animal sourced foods. A zero-carb approach. Eggs, seafood, and some dairy are fine to include (unless allergies are present), as are spices for seasonings, but alcohol is ideally excluded. It is a simplistic approach of eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full. There is no advice around including fasting or counting macro nutrients. While existing on steaks and brisket might seem like the opposite of everything that’s ever been told about a healthy diet, some people are having a positive experience of healthy weight, clear mind, and easier digestion.
This diet approach does mirror some isolated cultures who rely heavily on animal food in their diet because that is all that is available. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re curious to try it, having a variety of animal meats is important, as well as eggs and fattier types of fish like salmon and sardines.
A hunter-gatherer approach to eating that is based on what people would have eaten before farming animals and plants became commonplace. Paleo isn’t focused on macronutrients, so you don’t need to count grams of protein or carbohydrate and is focussed on whole, natural, wild where possible food sources that are highly nutritious. It acknowledges that our diet may change through the season as the growing cycle of plants peaks at different times. The daily diet consists of grass-fed meat, fish, seafood, eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and selected oils like olive, walnut, flaxseed, and coconut. It’s advised to avoid cereals and grains, legumes, sugar, dairy, and processed foods.
How does fasting fit in?
Fasting is receiving increasing attention for the benefits it offers people. The theory behind fasting is that digestion takes a huge amount of energy by the body and so when the body is in a fasting state, that energy can be redirected to other areas including reduced inflammation, good metabolism, healthy aging, and cell health. You don’t just have to stop eating for a number of days to get the benefits of fasting. There are easier ways!
Also referred to as a “Reduced Feeding Time”, this type of fasting can range from 12 - 18 hours of not eating and then having unrestricted access to food for the rest of the time. Intermittent fasting has been shown to support healthy weight loss, balanced blood sugars. With this approach, snacking is discouraged and eating nutritionally dense meals is encouraged. With taking a high-fat, low-carb approach to mealtimes, you often feel fuller for longer, and very satisfied.
Intermittent fasting doesn’t have to be done 7 days per week, although you can. You can start with a day a week and see how you feel. ‘How might this work?’ I hear you wondering? On a 12:12 fast, there would be 12 hours of eating and 12 hours of fasting. 16:8 fast, you would have your first meal around 10am and your last meal around 6pm. The other 16 hours you are in a fasting state (except water). With no snacking and a limited time window, making the most of the opportunity to eat well is important to get your vitamin and mineral intake. If you find you are naturally ravenous in the morning but not hungry at night, flipping the timing to eat at 7am and finish eating by 3pm on a 16:8 is fine too. Find the rhythm that works for you.
With any diet that restricts a whole category of foods, it’s essential to eat from a variety of sources to ensure you are getting enough of the right vitamins and minerals. Take note of whether you have positive or negative changes to mood, energy, digestion, joint health, sleep, and pain in the body. Assess how the new way of eating is working for your individual situation and health status and seek health from an experienced health practitioner to deepen your understanding of your body and make sure it is the best approach to take.
If you need some more inspiration, want to top up your nutrients or if you’re looking for yummy alternatives to high carbohydrate foods shop our Keto category. If you have a favourite keto product that we don’t stock, tell us about it here.