How low carb is LCHF?


Tommy Runesson on strict LCHF

How low carb is low-carb?

Eating a low carb high fat diet has been very popular in Sweden since about 2008. But how low carb, and how high fat? There are no generally agreed exact levels.

This is a debate that flares up repeatedly. Some people think that only ultra-strict low-carbers should be allowed to use the term LCHF (people eating below 10 – 20 grams or carbs per day, for example). Others, who eat a more liberal form of LCHF – with a bit more carbohydrates – feel that strict LCHF is too extreme, and that they should use another term.

To me the answer is clear: No one has the exclusive right to decide what the concept LCHF means to others, exactly how many carbohydrates can be included. One has to accept that others choose to eat LCHF in their own way.

Some people need to eat very few carbs for a maximum effect. This includes many people with big weight issues, diabetes (mainly type 2) and food/sugar addiction, for example. One example is Tommy Runesson, pictured above, who lost more than half his body weight when starting on a strict LCHF diet many years ago, and still sticks to a strict variant.

Others – less carb intolerant people – do great on a more liberal LCHF. A third group of healthy, lean, active people may not even need to eat low carb at all, as long as they mainly eat unprocessed slow carbs.

My definition

Here’s my view on different levels of LCHF:

  • Strict LCHF  <20 gram carbs per day
  • Moderate LCHF  20-50 grams per day
  • Liberal LCHF  50-100 grams per day

The above numbers discount the fibre – you can deduct them from your carb counts. But don’t be fooled by the label “net carbs” on processed products. That’s usually just a way to trick you and I’d go so far as to suggest not eating anything with the words “net carbs” printed on it.

In addition, one could possibly add the concept “exercise-liberal LCHF” that Jonas Bergqvist coined. He argues that people who exercise a lot and eat large quantities of calories daily may also eat more than 100 gram carbs per day and still be mostly in fat-burning mode. This too could be called LCHF.

You can of course also eat more carbs than 100 grams and still be inspired by LCHF ideas and LCHF recipes.

Who needs strict or liberal LCHF?

The fewer the carbs, the stronger the impact on weight and health. A stricter diet will generally produce a stronger impact on weight and some health markers, such as blood sugar and blood pressure.

Some people are more sensitive to carbohydrates than others and need to keep a strict LCHF diet for best results. Others – the lucky ones – may eat larger amounts of good carbohydrates and still remain lean and healthy. This is something to be thankful for as it makes life easier.


Tommy Runesson’s English blog

More health and weight success stories

Ate a High-Fat Diet – Lost 200 lbs

LCHF Deadly in the Long Run… or Not?

Great Cholesterol Numbers After 4 Years on an Ultra-Strict LCHF Diet

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  1. Andrés
    Dr. Eenfeldt: I don't dispute 100g to be a good practical recommendation leaning toward the safe side. The problem arises when dealing with research where allowing an arbitrary cut point leaves door open to an arbitrary result. It is there where the non-arbitrary, absolute 150g of carbohydrates should be demanded. Otherwise we have that kind of garbage research denounced by Vicente here, here and here.
  2. estockly
    >>>>There is a hard, non-arbitrary limit of 150g/day to consider some diet LCHF because that is the estimated amount of glucose that spares protein in full parenteral feeding different than fat, that is, the daily glucose need of our body (ingested or generated de novo from proteins and glycerol) when we are out of ketosis. Beyond this point both fat and glucose have the same sparing effect. And no, it is not a relative amount.

    Choosing that 150g/day low carb definition itself is arbitrary in how it's arrived at. This is not a figure that has anything to do with weight loss for the obese or overweight. During active weight loss the body is fueled by fat (and ketones) glucose and protein (via gluconeogenisis). (Some glucose is also metabolized from the glycerol released with the breakdown of TGs. To decide that it's more important to keep glucose high enough to prevent both ketosis and gluconeogenesis based on tube feeding data from a population not losing weight is arbitrary.

    The LCHF moderate protein diet includes sufficient glucose and protein to sufficient glucose for all the body's function that require them, plus provides ketones and FFA as fuel, which are not found at the higher carb intakes.

  3. estockly

    Not sure what point you're making with the link to Vicente's web page, but he's arguing the opposite of your position. He's denouncing the kind of research you're advocating.

  4. Andrés
    @estockly: You said "Choosing that 150g/day low carb definition itself is arbitrary in how it's arrived at." Really? The minimum daily glucose consumption (ingested or not) out of ketosis cannot get any less arbitrary than that.

    You should distinguish between amount of carbs advocated and cut-off point where to expect a metabolism shift. I insist that should be expected to be observable below 150g. You should check those Vicente's posts I have linked. The papers commented upon by Vicente don't use any objective cut-off point. They use a higher value than 150g hence the inanity of their conclusions about low carb.

    Trying to find a cut-off point for ketosis is going to be much more difficult and arbitrary.

  5. estockly
    "You should distinguish between amount of carbs advocated and cut-off point where to expect a metabolism shift. "

    I specified the metabolic parameters. 20g and below almost everyone is in ketosis. 100g and above almost everyone is not in ketosis. The diet I advocate (LCHF Moderate Protein Ketogenic) starts at 20g and as the dieter nears their target weight increases. It would only go above 100 when target weight loss is reached.

    "I insist that should be expected to be observable below 150g."

    But that insistence is not based on any evidence and is contrary to what you've already said. The threshold for nutritional ketosis is much lower, and LCHF diet starts at a very low level because nearly everyone will be in ketosis at that level. Intake is increased to find the level for each individual.

    "The papers commented upon by Vicente don't use any objective cut-off point. They use a higher value than 150g hence the inanity of their conclusions about low carb."

    Right. But the cutoff should be lower to be considered LCHF. But there's no shortage of studies that meet that criterial.

    Here's a few studies on the DietDoctor's page that do:

    Science and Low Carb / Paleo -

    Weight Loss with a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or Low-Fat Diet — NEJM

    A Randomized Trial Comparing a Very Low Carbohydrate Diet and a Calorie-Restricted Low Fat Diet on Body Weight and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Healthy Women: The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism: Vol 88, No 4

    A Low-Carbohydrate as Compared with a Low-Fat Diet in Severe Obesity — NEJM

    JAMA Network | JAMA Internal Medicine | The National Cholesterol Education Program Diet vs a Diet Lower in Carbohydrates and Higher in Protein and Monounsaturated Fat:  A Randomized Trial

    Nutrition & Metabolism | Full text | Comparison of energy-restricted very low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets on weight loss and body composition in overweight men and women

    A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-fat diet to treat obesity and hyperlipidemia: a randomized, controlled trial. - PubMed - NCBI

    A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-fat diet to treat obesity and hyperlipidemia: a randomized, controlled trial. - PubMed - NCBI

    Efficacy and Safety of a High Protein, Low Carbohydrate Diet for Weight Loss in Severely Obese Adolescents - The Journal of Pediatrics

    Low- and high-carbohydrate weight-loss diets have similar effects on mood but not cognitive performance

    A low-carbohydrate diet is more effective in reducing body weight than healthy eating in both diabetic and non-diabetic subjects. - PubMed - NCBI

    Carbohydrate Restriction has a More Favorable Impact on the Metabolic Syndrome than a Low Fat Diet - Springer

    Metabolic impact of a ketogenic diet compared to a hypocaloric diet in obese children and adolescents : Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism

    Nutrition & Metabolism | Full text | The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus

    Effects of a low-carbohydrate diet on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factor in overweight adolescents - The Journal of Pediatrics

  6. Gillian
    reply to Nancy (33), I don't see much fibre in your diet, don't you eat vegetables? I think that vitamins and minerals are also needed on this diet to get the metabolism going, also vegetables help to raise body fluids, if not enough liquid is being ingested then the body will hang onto whatever you do drink and keep you bloated. My ankles swell when I don't drink enough water/liquids. Fibre will also keep your intestines working properly.
  7. Marigold
    If I was eating 50 total carbs per day as I don't want to have to do additional calculation for NET carb: wouldn't I necessarily be eating lLESS than 50 NET carbs? Since the whole is always greater than the net?? And wouldn't that be considered LC ?
  8. Tom
    Marigold, Yes it's technically LC, but probably not as low as you think. Net carbs can vary widely from food to food. For example, many sugar free chocolates use sugar alcohols that don't count at net carbs, but they do affect blood sugar levels in me (and most people), just not as much, and not as fast. To me, the only TRUE carbs you can take out of net carbs is fiber. If you're eating fruits and vegetables, some of the carbs may be fiber. Other than that you have to read the label. At 50 carbs, you're still likely getting 40-45 net carbs, which is not enough to stay in ketosis for most people. However it is much much lower than most people eat in a day, and probably is enough to help you lose weight, but more slowly. The bottom line is, do you feel good, and are you maintaining your weight or losing a little? If you're meeting your goals, the rest doesn't matter.
  9. 1 comment removed
  10. Alan Hooi
    It is great to see so much interest in LCHF diet in Sweden. I am wondering if there are restriction on protein intake? I was reading Dr. Ron Rosedale (just google search) and he says it is important to have adequate protein for one's metabolic disorder. He recommend as low as 0.6g/lean body mass if one has metabolic dysfunctions such as obesity, diabetic, hi-blood pressure, heart diseases, osteoporosis, etc, namely, low carb; adequate protein and high fat. In medical term it means low insulin; low leptin; and low mTOR. B'happy :)
  11. Nino Morales Fitness - Nino
    I eat 150 carbs a day at 7% body fat, I reversed diabetes at a reduced carb diet, started with 50g and increased my exercise, I raised it to 100g as my exercise and activity increased as performanced sucked at 50g, today I'm at 150g and leaner than ever...I think a well balanced meal plan along with exercise and a healthy carb range is more sustainable for a person willing and able to put some time working out and being active. Undisciplined carb eating and inactivity are the true enemy here not carbs. Of course everything is always better in moderation and as a diabetic recovered I would not go any higher than 500 to 600 calories from carbs. I went from a tremendous case of an unhealthy person as a 44 years old diabetic with a 12 A1C to 4.9 A1C and in the best shape of my life...
  12. David
    Through trial and error and guidance from Dr. Jason Fung, I lost 122 pounds and my A1c went from 12 down to 5.2~5.4 now. I haven't taken any Type 2 meds in almost a year. I still ingest about 50 carbs/day and had to do a little experimentation to get the fat/carb balance right for me.
    All of this debate on these comments is funny to me.
    Relax folks. Once size doesn't fit all...
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