LCHF for Beginners
– the Low Carb, High Fat Diet
An LCHF diet means you eat fewer 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.
- Eat: Meat, fish, eggs, vegetables growing above ground and natural fats (like butter).
- Avoid: Sugar and starchy foods (like bread, pasta, rice, beans and potatoes).
You do not need to count calories or weigh your food. And just forget about industrially produced low fat products.
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, drop. This increases fat burning and makes you feel more satiated.
Note for diabetics
If you’re healthy or a diabetic treated either by diet alone or just with Metformin there is no risk of hypoglycemia. Learn more
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3. What to Eat
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 organic eggs.
- Natural fat, high-fat sauces: Using butter and cream for cooking 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: Great for a TV treat instead of candy (ideally in moderation).
- Berries: Okay in moderation, if you are not a super strict or sensitive. Great with whipped cream.
Read the nutrition label in the grocery store.
No more than 5% of carbohydrates for a food is a good rule of thumb.
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. Legumes, such as beans and lentils, are high in carbs. 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 on most days
- Coffee: Try it with full-fat cream
Advice on LCHF in other languages
Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, Bulgarian, (pdf) (another version), Chinese, Chinese (Taiwan), Croatian, Czech, Danish (Word), Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian (pdf), Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Macedonian, Norwegian, Polish (pdf), Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Serbian, Slovak, Spanish (Word), Swahili, Swedish, Turkish, Ukrainian
5. How LCHF Works
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. Only 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. In large amounts it prevents fat burning and stores surplus nutrients in fat cells. After some time (a few hours or less) this may result in a perceived 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
An 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 produces a feeling of longer-lasting 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 side effects in the first week:
- Heart palpitations
The side effects rapidly subside as your body adapts and your fat burning increases. They can be minimized by drinking more 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 a 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.
The most common problems on low carb
How low to go?
The less carbohydrate you eat the bigger the effects on 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).
More details: How low carb is LCHF?
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:
6. Tips and recipes
Choose a topic below for a thorough guide (on another page) or keep reading for a shortened version of all the guides.
- Eggs and bacon
- 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 sour cream
- Sandwich on Oopsie-bread
- Cheese with butter
- 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. Or get an LCHF cookbook.
- Drink water with your meal or (occasionally) a glass of wine.
On 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)
- A piece of cheese
- A boiled egg from the refrigerator
- Canned mackerel in tomato sauce
- Babybel cheese
Olives and nuts may replace potato chips as great TV snacks. 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. Ask for extra butter.
- Fast food: Kebab can be a decent option (avoid the bread). At 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 are 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 grocery store:
- Heavy cream (40% fat)
- Sour cream (full fat)
- Meat (minced, steaks, stew pieces, fillets, etc.)
- Fish (ideally 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.)
- Olive oil
Clean out your pantry
Want to maximize your chances of success? Especially if you have difficult cravings / sugar addiction, it is smart to throw out (or give away) sugary and starchy foods, low-fat products, etc. These include:
- Potato chips
- Soft drinks and juices
- Sugar in all forms
- Wheat flour
- Breakfast cereals
- Everything that says “low fat” or “no fat”
- Ice cream
The Serpent in Paradise
Be very skeptical of special “low-carb” products, such as pasta or chocolate. Unfortunately these products usually work poorly. They have prevented weight loss for loads of people. They’re commonly full of carbs once you see through the creative marketing.
- The Dreamfields Pasta Fraud
- The Dreamfields Pasta Fraud Finally Results in an 8 Million Dollar Fine!
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 blood sugar and insulin. The rest of the carbs ends up in the colon, potentially causing gas and diarrhea. Furthermore, any sweeteners can maintain sugar cravings.
If you want to be healthy and slim, eat real food instead.
Easy ways to cook eggs
- Place the eggs in cold water and boil for 4 minutes for soft-boiled or 8 minutes for hard-boiled. Enjoy them with mayo if you like.
- Fry eggs in butter on one or both sides. Add salt and pepper.
- Melt butter in a frying pan and add 2 eggs and 2-3 tablespoons of heavy cream per serving. Add salt and pepper. Stir until done. Add some chives and grated cheese on top. Serve with fried bacon.
- 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 upper surface turns solid 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.
100 grams (3.5 ounces) of cream cheese
a pinch of salt
½ tablespoon fiberhusk / psyllium seed husks (optional)
½ teaspoon baking powder (optional)
- Separate the eggs, with the egg whites in one bowl and the egg yolks in another.
- Whip egg whites together with 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 want, 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 have an Oopsie as a sandwich or use it 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 to make a swiss roll: Add a generous layer of whipped cream and some berries. Enjoy.
Instead of potatoes, rice and 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. Bake 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.
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.
- 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.
More healthy tips
7. Recommended 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.
Another bonus is if the cookbook is not full of artificial sweeteners, “treats” and desserts. Too much of these things can easily derail any weight-loss attempt, even if they’re labeled “low carb”.
Here are two recommended cookbooks.
Good luck with your new LCHF life!
8. Learn More
Low Carb is Fantastic for Reversing Type 2 Diabetes and Normalizing Blood Sugar
Do you have type 2 diabetes? If not you most likely know someone who does. And low carb is fantastic for treating type 2 diabetes.
Better blood sugar from day 1. Less need for medication. And weight loss as a bonus. Low carb is a fantastic treatment for type 2 diabetes.
PS: People with type 1 diabetes can also benefit from a low-carb diet. Learn More
Losing Weight Effortlessly
on Low Carb
Some people lose weight fantastically well on low carb, immediately on the first try. Perhaps the weight even stays off forever.
For others it can be a more of a challenge. Do you want to lose more weight or lose weight faster? There are many things you can do to improve your chances.
Normalizing Blood Pressure on Low Carb
An elevated blood pressure reliably drops on low carb. This can be clearly seen in scientific trials, and it’s a very common experience for people trying it.
In fact, this effect can be so marked that people on blood pressure medication may end up feeling dizzy and tired from too low blood pressure. They’ve basically become too healthy for their medication!
If this happens you’ll have to reduce the dose of your blood pressure medication, or stop taking it completely, with guidance from your doctor.
Avoiding Side Effects on Low Carb
Do you struggle when starting low carb? Do you get a headache, leg cramps, constipation or any of the 6 most common side effects? It’s usually possible to avoid them – and feel great while losing weight.
The main solution to most common problems when starting low carb is to increase the intake of water and salt. It’s even better to do it preventatively during the first week. If you do you’ll most likely not experience any of these problems, or they’ll only be minor.
1984 Fear of Fat →
2014 “Eat Butter”
Chances are you’ve heard that a low-carb diet will kill you. This as a low-carb diet normally means we eat a higher proportion of fat instead.
This old idea is based on the belief that natural fat is not good for us. Even though humans have always been eating fat, somehow it was supposed to mess up our bodies, raising our cholesterol and giving us a heart attack.
The good news is we now know this idea was simply wrong. Check out these two covers of TIME magazine. The first one is from 1984 – the start of the intense fear of fat. Instead of natural food we got lots of low-fat products, loaded with added sugar and starch. This, not so coincidentally, marked the start of the modern obesity epidemic.
The second cover is more current, from 2014. It says “Eat butter” and the story is about how scientists are now realizing they were wrong to fear fat. What a difference 30 years make!
Just about everybody already knows that low-carb works for weight loss (and some other things). The good news is we now also know it’s safe… and likely even a very healthy way to eat.
Learn more about the obsolete fear of fat
The unnecessary fear of fat and cholesterol started the epidemics of obesity and diabetes. Modern science shows what the mistake was.
We thought that all cholesterol was harmful. That a low cholesterol was always good, and that a high cholesterol was always bad. This was wrong. The truth is – as usual – more complicated.
More important than having a low cholesterol is to have a good cholesterol profile. To have a lot of the good protecting HDL-cholesterol, for example. And how do you get that? Well, the easiest way is to avoid sugar and flour, and instead eat enough fat to feel satisfied.
Avoiding fat and instead eating a lot of easily digestible carbohydrates often causes a dangerous cholesterol profile: small, nasty, dense LDL particles and a shortage of protective HDL-cholesterol. This is probably why low-fat foods seem to cause more heart disease.
The Answers to Your Questions
Do you have questions about anything low-carb related? We have ready answers to all common questions – and more.
Keep reading about What to Eat on a Low-Carb Diet
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