The cognoscenti (my regular readers, who are “in-the-know”) know that the answer to this question is high-fat. But I squirm in my seat when I hear someone who appears to be informed on the subject of low-carb dieting say, “it is high-protein.”
That happened again last night while I was watching – reveling really – in a discussion on one of my favorite TV shows in which the subject of an entire segment was the recent Wall Street Journal “Saturday Essay,” titled, “The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease.” This person accurately blamed the obesity epidemic on the American (or Western) diet which is very high in carbs and processed foods; but then he proceeded instead to advocate for a diet high in protein! That is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!
Of course, I shouldn’t complain about the “back side” of the message being garbled. The “front side” was right: diets that are very high in carbohydrates and processed foods ARE the reason we as a civilization for 50 years have been getting fatter and fatter. And the Wall Street Journal article got it right. Had the person who “appears to be informed” done his homework (read the WSJ article), he would have known that. If you haven’t you should read the Journal piece now. They also correctly noted that the beginning of this very large, population-wide, public health “experiment” in eating “low-fat” can be attributed to Ancel Keys. Gary Taubes (#5 here) brought him to my attention, and I first wrote about Keys here (#3).
Keys was an American physiologist whose “Six Nation” and later “Seven Country Study” was just bad science and, incredibly, became dietary dogma when it was first published. Keys made the cover of Time Magazine in 1961 and joined the board of the American Heart Association. This was just a few years after President Eisenhower had had his heart attack and went on the Pritikin diet. Keys’s studies, which were later revealed to be “cherry picked,” focused on the Mediterranean Diet. He reported the use of very little red meat (there isn’t much red meat to eat there anyway) but the sampling was done during Lent in a Catholic country!
Anyway, a low-carb diet, which is the antidote to the fattening low-fat diet (you read that right), is high fat and not high-protein. Let’s talk numbers (percentages) for a few minutes. Diets can be classified in what are called Macronutrient Ratios:
The Low Fat Diet: The Standard American Diet (SAD, for short!) is high carb, moderate fat and low protein. The FDA’s Nutrition Panel on processed foods, based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet, is comprised of 60% calories from carbs, 30% fat and 10% protein. The dietary Dictocrats have moved slightly away from that formulation in recent years, advocating as low as 40% to 50% carbs, but steadfastly maintaining at the same time a target of less than 30% fat. That can only mean an increase in protein. To the extent carbs are reduced (from 60%) and fats do not exceed 30% (and a lower percentage is advocated by the FDA), only protein can rise. Remember, there are only three macronutrients: carbs, fat and protein. Something’s gotta give.
Another thing: To the extent that the Vegan lobby has stealthily exercised its stranglehold on the government‘s dietary bureaucracy, a plant-based diet is increasingly being advocated. Plants are carbohydrates. Most protein (not all, there are some proteins in legumes and nuts) is animal-based. So, the struggle to maintain a high-carb, low-protein macronutrient ratio goes on within the establishment. It will be interesting to see the 2015 Nutritional Guidelines for Americans.
The Low Carb Diet: The macronutrient ratios for a low-carb diet are all over the place. This is okay with me since making a transition from 60% carb to 40 to 50% to say 20% is a very good thing – but it takes time and a lot of effort. Besides, there is no “official” percentage for a low-carb diet. So, let’s say for our purposes that a standard low-carb diet is 20% carb, 20% protein and 60% fat. That’s really scary to some people, especially when there is so much confusion about “good” fats. That’s why the WSJ article caused such a stir. (Google “the nutrition debate good fats” for some of my columns on fat.) But there is another mitigating factor: All these percentages are in calories, and since fat has more than twice as many calories per gram as both protein and carbohydrates (9 vs. 4), you really are eating less than half as much fat as you think.
Very Low Carb: When I first started low carb dieting, it was on Atkins Induction, which is actually Very Low Carb: My ratios (not Atkins’s) were 10% carb, 30% protein and 60% fat. I later tweaked that to 7% carb, 25% protein and 68% fat. Today, I aspire to eat 5% carb, 20% protein and 75% fat (by calorie, remember). Of course, you don’t eat percentages of food; you eat grams, which are actually a measure of weight of the macronutrient content of a particular food, not the weight of the food itself. These quantities are determined by software that some of the compulsive among us (including me) have used.
So, low-carb is really moderate protein and high fat. The lower the carb percentage, the higher the fat. Some call it LCHF. Google The Diet Doctor (Andreas, Eenfeldt, MD) if you want to learn more about LCHF.
What does your eating plan look like?