LCHF for Beginners

Do you want to eat real food (as much as you like) and improve your health and weight? It may sound too good to be true, but LCHF (Low Carb, High Fat) is a method that has been used for 150 years. Now, modern science backs it up with proof that it works.

There is no weighing your food, no counting, no bizarre “meal replacements,” no pills. There is just real food and common sense. And all the advice here is 100 percent free.

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Dietary advice  (in 28 languages)
  3. Theory
  4. Tips and recipes
  5. Cookbooks and more
  6. Frequently asked questions

Introduction

A LCHF diet means you eat less carbohydrates and a higher proportion of fat. Most importantly you minimize your intake of sugar and starches. You can eat other delicious foods until you are satisfied – and still lose weight.

A number of recent high-quality scientific studies shows that LCHF makes it easier both to lose weight and to control your blood sugar. And that’s just the beginning.

The basics

  • Eat: Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables growing above ground and natural fats (like butter).
  • Avoid: Sugar and starchy foods (like bread, pasta, rice and potatoes).

Eat when you’re hungry until you are satisfied. It’s that simple. You do not need to count calories or weigh your food. And just forget about industrially produced low fat products.

Real food

There are solid scientific reasons why LCHF works. When you avoid sugar and starches your blood sugar stabilizes and the levels of insulin, the fat storing hormone, drops. This increases your fat burning and makes you feel more satiated.

Note for diabetics

  • Avoiding the carbohydrates that raise your blood sugar decreases your need for medication to lower it. Taking the same pre-low-carb diet dose of insulin might result in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). You need to test your blood sugar frequently when starting this diet and adapt (lower) your medication. This should ideally be done with the assistance of a knowledgeable physician. If you’re healthy or a diabetic treated either by diet alone or just with Metformin there is no risk of hypoglycemia.

Dietary Advice

Eat all you like

  • Meat: Any type, including beef, pork, game meat, chicken, etc. Feel free to eat the fat on the meat as well as the skin on the chicken. If possible try to choose organic or grass fed meat.
  • Fish and Shellfish: All kinds: Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel or herring are great. Avoid breading.
  • Eggs: All kinds: Boiled, fried, omelettes, etc. Preferably choose organic eggs.
  • Natural Fat, High-Fat Sauces: Using butter and cream when you cook can make your food taste better and make you feel more satiated. Try a Béarnaise or Hollandaise sauce, check the ingredients or make it yourself. Coconut oil and olive oil are also good options.
  • Vegetables that Grow Above Ground: All kinds of cabbage, such as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Asparagus, zucchini, eggplant, olives, spinach, mushrooms, cucumber, lettuce, avocado, onions, peppers, tomatoes etc.
  • Dairy products: Always select full-fat options like real butter, cream (40% fat), sour cream, Greek/Turkish yogurt and high-fat cheeses. Be careful with regular milk and skim milk as they contain a lot of milk sugar. Avoid flavored, sugary and low-fat products.
  • Nuts: Good to eat instead of candy in front of the television (preferably in moderation).
  • Berries: Okay in moderation, if you are not a super strict or sensitive. Good with whipped cream.

Basic tip for beginners: Maximum 5 grams of carbohydrate (excluding fiber) per 100 grams of food

Avoid if you can

  • Sugar: The worst. Soft drinks, candy, juice, sports drinks, chocolate, cakes, buns, pastries, ice cream, breakfast cereals. Preferably avoid sweeteners as well.
  • Starch: Bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, French fries, potato chips, porridge, muesli and so on. “Wholegrain products” are just less bad. Moderate amounts of root vegetables may be OK (unless you’re eating extremely low carb).
  • Margarine: Industrially imitated butter with unnaturally high content of omega-6 fat. Has no health benefits, tastes bad. Statistically linked to asthma, allergies and other inflammatory diseases.
  • Beer: Liquid bread. Full of rapidly absorbed carbs, unfortunately.
  • Fruit: Very sweet, lots of sugar. Eat once in a while. Treat fruit as a natural form of candy.

Once in a while

You decide when the time is right. Your weight loss may slow down a bit.

  • Alcohol: Dry wine (regular red or dry white wine), whisky, brandy, vodka and cocktails without sugar.
  • Dark chocolate: Above 70 % cocoa, preferably just a bit.

Drink most days

  • Water
  • Coffee: Try it with full-fat cream
  • Tea

More healthy tips

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Advice on LCHF in other languages

Do you have another translation or a significant improvement of one of the earlier ones? E-mail me (more info).

The Theory Behind LCHF

What are you designed to eat?

Humans evolved over millions of years as hunter-gatherers, without eating large amounts of carbohydrates. We ate the food available to us in nature by hunting, fishing and gathering all the edible foods we could find. These foods did not include pure starch in the form of bread, pasta, rice or potatoes. We have only eaten these starchy foods for 5 – 10 000 years, since the development of agriculture. Just a limited adaptation of our genes takes place in such a relatively short time.

With the Industrial Revolution, 100 – 200 years ago, we got factories that could manufacture large amounts of pure sugar and white flour. Rapidly digested pure carbohydrates. We’ve hardly had time to genetically adapt to these processed foods.

In the 80s, the fear of fat gripped the western world. Low-fat products popped up everywhere. But if you eat less fat you need to eat more carbohydrates to feel satiated. And it’s at this time in history that our disastrous epidemics of obesity and diabetes started. The most fat-phobic country in the world, the USA, was hit the hardest and is now the world’s most obese country.

Today, it’s clear that the fear of real food with natural fat contents has been a big mistake.

The problem with sugar and starch

All digestible carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars in the intestines. The sugar is then absorbed into the blood, raising the blood glucose levels. This increases the production of the hormone insulin, our fat storing hormone.

Insulin is produced in the pancreas (pictured to the right). In large amounts insulin prevents fat burning and stores surplus nutrients in the fat cells. After some time (a few hours or less) this may result in a shortage of nutrients in the blood, creating feelings of hunger and cravings for something sweet. Usually at that point people eat again. This starts the process again: A vicious cycle leading to weight gain.

On the other hand, a low intake of carbs gives you a lower, more stable blood glucose, and lower amounts of insulin. This increases the release of fat from your fat stores and increases the fat burning. This usually leads to fat loss, especially around the belly in abdominally obese individuals.

Weight loss without hunger

A LCHF diet makes it easier for the body to use its fat reserves, as their release is no longer blocked by high insulin levels. This may be one reason why eating fat gives a longer feeling of satiety than carbohydrates. It’s been shown in a number of studies: When people eat all they want on a low carb diet caloric intake typically drops

So, no counting or food weighing is necessary. You can forget about the calories and trust your feelings of hunger and satiety. Most people don’t need to count or weigh their food any more than they need to count their breathing. If you don´t believe it, just try for a couple of weeks and see for yourself.

Health as a bonus

No animals in nature need the assistance of nutritional expertise or calorie charts to eat. And still, as long as they eat the food they are designed to eat they stay at a normal weight and they avoid caries, diabetes and heart disease. Why would humans be an exception? Why would you be an exception?

In scientific studies not only is the weight improved on a low carb diet – the blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol profile (HDL, triglycerides) are also improved. A calm stomach and less cravings for sweet food are also common experiences.

Initial side effects

If you stop eating sugar and starch cold turkey (recommended) you may experience some side effects as your body adjusts. For most people these side effects tend to be mild and last a just few days. There are also ways to minimize them.

Common during the first week:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Irritability

The side effects rapidly subside as your body adapts and your fat burning increases. They can be minimized by drinking some extra fluids and by temporarily increasing your salt intake a bit. A good option is to drink some broth every few hours. Alternatively, drink a few extra glasses of water and put extra salt on your food.

The reason for this is that carbohydrate-rich foods may increase the water retention in your body. When you stop eating high-carb foods you’ll lose excess water through your kidneys. This can result in dehydration and lack of salt during the first week, before the body has adapted.

Some people prefer to decrease their intake of carbohydrates slowly, over a few weeks, to minimize the side effects. But the “Nike way” (Just Do It) is probably the best choice for most people. Removing most sugar and starch often results in several pounds lost on the scale within a few days. It may be mostly fluids but it’s great for the motivation.

How low to go?

The less carbohydrate you eat the more pronounced the effect on your weight and blood sugar will be. I recommend following the dietary advice as strict as you can. When you’re happy with your weight and health you may gradually try eating more liberally (if you want to).

The Food Revolution

This presentation I gave at the Ancestral Health Symposium 2011 summarizes the history and science behind the ongoing LCHF revolution.

More theory and practice

Here four of the world’s biggest experts on the subject explain the theory and practice of carb restriction:

 

Tips and recipes

Breakfast suggestions

  • Eggs and bacon
  • Omelet
  • Leftovers from last night’s dinner
  • Coffee with cream
  • A can of mackerel and boiled eggs
  • Boiled egg with mayonnaise or butter
  • Avocado, salmon and crème fraiche
  • Sandwich on Oopsie-bread
  • Cheese with butter on it
  • Boiled eggs mashed with butter, chopped chives, salt and pepper
  • A piece of brie cheese and some ham or salami
  • High-fat yoghurt with nuts and seeds (and maybe berries)

Lunch and dinner

  • Meat, fish or chicken dishes with vegetables and a rich full-fat sauce. There are many alternatives to potatoes, such as mashed cauliflower.
  • Stews, soups or casseroles with low-carb ingredients.
  • You can  use most recipes in cookbooks if you avoid the carbohydrate-rich ingredients. It’s often a good idea to add fat (e.g. butter, cream) to the recipe.
  • Drink water with your meal or (occasionally) a glass of wine.

Snacks

When you eat a low-carbohydrate diet with more fat and a bit more protein you will probably not need to eat as often. Don’t be surprised if you no longer need to snack. Many people do well on two or three meals per day. If you need a snack:

  • Rolled-up cheese or ham with a vegetable (some people even spread butter on cheese)
  • Olives
  • Nuts
  • A piece of cheese
  • A boiled egg from the refrigerator
  • Canned mackerel in tomato sauce

Olives and nuts can replace potato chips in front of the TV. If you always get hungry between meals you’re probably not eating enough fat. Don’t fear fat. Eat more fat until you feel satisfied.

Dining out or meals with friends

  • Restaurants: Usually not a big problem. You can ask to have potatoes/fries switched for a salad. With meat dishes, ask for extra butter.
  • Fast food: Kebab can be a decent option (preferably avoid the bread). In hamburger chains the hamburgers are usually the least bad option. Avoid soft drinks and fries, obviously. Drink water. Pizza toppings are usually OK, and the stricter you are the less of the pizza crust you will eat.
  • If you eat strictly everyday it’s less of a problem to make a few exceptions when you are invited out. If you’re not sure what will be served you can eat something at home before you leave.
  • Nuts or cheese is good “emergency food” when there are no other adequate options to be found.

Shopping list for beginners

Print this list and bring it to the store:

  • Butter
  • Heavy cream (40% fat)
  • Sour cream (34% fat)
  • Eggs
  • Bacon
  • Meat (minced, steaks, stew pieces, fillets, etc.)
  • Fish (preferably fatty fish like salmon or mackerel)
  • Cheese (preferably high-fat)
  • Turkish yoghurt (10% fat)
  • Cabbage (cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, etc.)
  • Other vegetables that grow above ground
  • Frozen vegetables (broccoli, wok vegetables, etc.)
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Olive oil
  • Nuts

Clean out your pantry

Want to maximize your chances of success? Especially if you have difficulty with cravings / sugar addiction, it is smart to throw out (or give away) sugary and starchy foods, “light” products, etc. These include:

  • Candy
  • Potato chips
  • Soft drinks and juices
  • Margarine
  • Sugar in all forms
  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Potatoes
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Everything that says “low fat” or “no fat”
  • Ice cream
  • Cookies

Why not do it now?

The Serpent in Paradise

Be very skeptical of special “low-carb” products such as pasta or chocolate. Unfortunately these products usually stink. They have prevented the weight loss for loads of people. They’re usually full of carbs once you see through their creative marketing.

For example, Dreamfields’ “low carb pasta” is almost pure starch that’s absorbed more or less like any pasta:

How about low carb bread? Be careful: if it’s baked with grains it’s certainly not low carb. But some companies still try to sell it to you as a low-carb option. Here’s an example:

Low-carb chocolate is usually full of sugar alcohols, which the manufacturer does not count as carbs. But roughly half of these carbs may be absorbed, raising the blood sugar and insulin. The rest of the carbs ends up in the large intestine, potentially causing gas and diarrhea. Furthermore any sweeteners can maintain sugar cravings.

If you want to be healthy and slim, eat real food instead.

RECIPES

Easy ways to cook eggs

  1. Place the eggs in cold water and boil 4 minutes for soft-boiled or 8 minutes for hard-boiled. Eat them with mayo if you like.
  2. Fry eggs in butter on one or both sides. Add salt and pepper.
  3. Melt some butter in the frying pan and add 2 eggs and 2-3 tablespoons of cream per serving. Add salt and pepper. Stir until done. Add some chives and grated cheese on top. Serve with fried bacon.
  4. Make an omelet batter with 3 eggs and 3 tablespoons of cream. Add salt and spices. Melt butter in the frying pan and pour in the batter. When the omelet solidifies on top you can fill it with something tasty. For example one or several kinds of cheese, fried bacon, fried mushrooms, good sausage (read the ingredients) or left-overs from last night’s dinner. Fold the omelet in half and serve with a crispy salad.

Instead of bread

Will you have a hard time living without bread? Ooopsies are a good option. It’s a “bread” without carbs and can be eaten in a variety of ways.

Oopsies
6–8 depending on size.

3 eggs
100 grams (3.5 ounces) of cream cheese
a pinch of salt
½ tablespoon fiberhusk / psyllium seed husks (can be excluded)
½ teaspoon baking powder (can be excluded)

  • Separate the eggs, with the egg whites in one bowl and the egg yolks in another.
  • Whip the egg whites together with the salt until very stiff. You should be able to turn the bowl over without the egg whites moving.
  • Mix the egg yolks and the cream cheese well. If you choose, add the psyllium seed husk and baking powder (this makes the Oopsie more bread-like).
  • Gently fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mix – try to keep the air in the egg whites.
  • Put 6 large or 8 smaller oopsies on a baking tray.
  • Bake in the middle of the oven at 150° C (300° F) for about 25 minutes – until they turn golden.
  • You can eat Oopsies as bread or use them as a bun for a hotdog or hamburger. You can also put different kinds of seeds on them before baking them, for instance poppy, sesame or sunflower seeds. One big Oopsie can be used for a swiss roll: Add a generous layer of whipped cream and some berries. Enjoy.

Instead of potatoes, rice, pasta

  • Mashed cauliflower: Divide the cauliflower into smaller pieces and boil them with a pinch of salt until soft. Remove the water. Add cream and butter and mash.
  • Salads made from above-ground vegetables, perhaps with some kind of cheese. Try out different kinds.
  • Boiled broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts.
  • Vegetables au gratin: Fry squash, aubergine and fennel (or other vegetables you like) in butter. Add salt and pepper. Put in baking dish and add grated cheese. Heat at 225° C (450° F) until the cheese melts and turns golden.
  • Vegetables stewed in cream, e.g. cabbage or spinach.
  • Cauliflower rice: Grate cauliflower, boil for a minute or two. Great substitute for rice.
  • Avocado

Snacks and dessert

  • Mixed nuts
  • Sausage: Cut it in pieces, add a piece of cheese and stick a toothpick through them.
  • Vegetables with dip, Try cucumber sticks, red, yellow or green peppers, cauliflower, etc.
  • Cream cheese rolls: Roll some cream cheese in a piece of salami, air-dried ham or a long slice of cucumber.
  • Olives
  • LCHF chips: On a baking tray, form small piles of grated Parmesan cheese. Heat in oven at 225° C (450° F). Let them melt and get a nice color (be careful – they burn easily). Serve as chips, perhaps with some dip.

Cookbooks

There are a million cookbooks with low-carb recipes. Just avoid books that are unnecessarily scared of fat. Remember: If you avoid carbs you have to eat more fat or you’ll be hungry. Don’t fear fat. Fat is your friend. Add fat until you feel satisfied.

Here is a good example:

Good luck with your new LCHF life!

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Further reading

Do you have more questions about LCHF? See my page with common questions and answers.

Do you want to lose weight as effectively as possible? See How to Lose Weight.

Improve this page

Do you have suggestions to improve this page? Have you spotted any mistakes in my grammar or spelling? Please let me know in the comments below!

3,856 Comments

  1. Desley from Australia
    Hi Rosie,

    I'm new to this lifestyle, so I'm very unsure of what to eat.
    A typical days Menu for me ATM is;

    Mostly I'm been having eggs for breakfast.
    Either boiled with some mayo & lettuce or an omelette with either mushrooms or capsicum.

    For a morning snack I have one of these. Some Cheese or small Meatballs. or Celery sticks with Creamed Cheese.

    For lunch I have either 100grams of Chicken - Salmon or Roast Beef with a Green Salad.
    & For Dinner I have the same with a different meat.
    I'm drinking only water all day.

    It would be very helpful if someone like you who has been successful with LCHF, diet would share a typical days Menu with a Newbie like me.

    Thank you in advance

  2. Zepp
    Her you get som tips!

    http://lowcarbdiets.about.com/od/lowcarbmenus1/

    Try some new recepies!

  3. Rosie
    Desley,
    Good Luck...do not limit the amount of food you are eating though. If you are eating the proper foods, you dont need to worry about getting just 100grams or measuring anything. Eat more if you are still hungry. A wonderful thing I have found with this diet is that if you eat the right stuff, you will not be as hungry after a while. For me, I eat until satisfied. Also, steamed califlower has been my friend. I have found many recipies to spice it up, mash it up, or just it eat plain.

    Zepp...thanks to you as well!!!! I have learned a lot from reading here and appreciate your help.

  4. RikaF
    Hi I am new here to this forum and was just reading that you can get heart palpitations as a side effect on a LCHF diet. I have the genetic heart condition FHCM (Familial Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy) which can cause heart palpitations in itself.
    I have been thinking about starting a LCHF diet for some time, have been doing a little research into it but have been a little hesitant to start due to my health. I am on various meds that control my condition but would like to know if anyone out there with a heart condition like mine can shed some light on whether they have had success on this diet. Also if they had any associated problems with regard to their condition whilst on a LCHF diet, what they were and did they have to change anything.
    My cardiologist is good and thorough but is an advocate of the common beliefs out there about cholesterol and saturated fat as many doctors and specialists are "lower your cholesterol and cut out fat". A certain amount of exercise can also be important but with my condition exercise especially the type that will aid in weight loss, can be dangerous. Therefore I have to look at diet alone.
    Cheers
    Reply: #3855
  5. Smithy
    Hi Rika

    I have permanent Atrial Fibrillation and was naturally concerned with adding to my existing heart palpitations. All I can say is I haven't looked back. I did speak to my doctors about starting this diet and they took the opinion that essentially I was asking if it would be ok to lower my bad cholesterol and triglycerides whilst removing processed food and sugar from my diet. When you think about it logically we're sort of just eating healthier.

  6. Super Food
    Is this Houmous ok to eat on LCHF Diet (its from LIDL)....

    Per 100g:

    Fat 30g
    Carbs 9.1g
    Sugars 0.6g
    Fibre 5.7g

    Although the carbs are high (more than 5g per 100g) the Fibre can be taken off so producing Nett Carbs of 3.4g

    This is correct thinking isnt it ?

  7. Hellios
    Hello!
    I have followed this excellent site and the comments page for a couple of years now. I have always been overweight and always struggled with food. Long story short - my husband and I tried for three years to get pregnant (he is quite a skinny dude) without luck. We were both investigated - nothing wrong with him but I had (undiagnosed) suspected PCOS and the doctor referred me to a fertility expert. She took one look at me and told me my weight was the problem (as I am otherwise healthy). She told me to cut out all or most carbs but keep it low fat too. She said to concentrate on proteins and veg. Well, I did that, and managed to lose 20kg in one year. I also got pregnant and had a very healthy pregnancy and baby. :)

    While I was pregnant I started doing research on low carb diets and I came across this site (I was happy to learn it is a Swedish site - I'm a Swede living in London since 1997). The 20kg lost took one year but looking back, I never felt satisfied. I realise now that the reason was that I did a protein-based diet - I should of course have eaten the fat too, and reduced the protein intake.

    Since my son was born two years ago I have again struggled with my weight and although I have embarked upon the LCHF way of eating, I have always been thrown off course for one reason or another. I'm still trying to see what works for me but when I'm on it, I feel very good with absolutely no bloating (which was the case before, and with lots of wind!).

    I have a general question - directed to Zepp but of course to anyone who might have an answer.

    How do you know if you've got metabolic syndrome? My problem has always been emotional eating - and always going in the bread/pasta/sugar/sweet direction. There is diabetes in my family but my readings have always been acceptable, even when my diet has been terrible. I would just like to find out really....thanks.

    Many thanks for a great site!

  8. Maria
    what is FH??
  9. Maria
    What is FH?
  10. Dr. Lessmann
    I'm a small-town doctor in Mississippi and I use this information often with my diabetic patients. Unfortunately, it doesn't print well anymore since this update. If you would reformat it for printing, or give a printing option, I would greatly appreciate it. Dr. Lessmann
  11. Robin
    Hi I am just starting this diet and I have some questions. First I have been trying to eat paleo for a while but seem to be stuck at my current weight so I would like to try this. I am nervous about eating all of the fat but after reading all of the info I would like to give it a try. I tend to eat a lot of meat so do I need to cut some of that out? Also I love diet coke and have reduced down to one a day from 5-6. It is my one treat I allow myself. Is that ok? Also I love almonds but wondering how much is too much? Thank you!
  12. Jo
    I'm a type 2 diabetic on Metformin and insulin. My aim is to control my diabetes by diet. I will be starting the LCHF Diet shortly. Please could any diabetic's, on LCHF Diet, post an examples of their diets or meals , throughout the day. Do I still take my insulin? This is just to give me an idea, where to start. I'm keen to get started. Thanking you all, in advance.
  13. Mona
    I read that people don't get enough vitamin D and that they should take their weight and multiply it by 25 and that is how many IUs of vitamin D a person should take daily. It was in the magazine called "First for Women". Has anyone else ever heard of this?
  14. Desi
    Mona, The answers to your questions about Vitamin D (Cholecalciferol) can be found at worldhealth.net
  15. Desi
    Zepp,
    Thank you again for your help.
    Unfortunately every time I tried to look the about.com website it freezes.
    So I barely get to read one paragraph. But I will keep trying it's very important to me.
  16. Marsha
    I started LCHF 01/02. I was not able to tolerate 20 grams or less of carbs daily. I have averaged about 50 grams daily. I have ensured the carb sources were within the guidelines of what is allowed. Started at 210lbs on 01/2015. 203lbs last week. This week 205lbs. Feeling like I am doing something wrong. I admit water intake is lacking. Is that it? Also 1 hour of cardio 5-6x per week.
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