Interview Series, Part 1: Nutrition and the low-carb, high-fat diet

Published date: 24-04-2022

With Dr. T. Moses

What encompasses a healthy diet and what is the low-carb, high-fat diet?

Adopting a healthy diet is about being healthy for as long as possible. The three things that define the parameters of a healthy diet for an average person are avoiding diabetes, high blood pressure, and staying at optimal weight or body mass index (BMI). The long-term aim is to prevent chronic diseases.

There are many surrogate markers to measure health, but BMI is one the easiest, non-invasive methodology of measurement. Then you have blood cell indices, such as cholesterol indices, blood sugar indices, and inflammatory markers. This is where you use a blood test to understand your health status a little further.

The low-carb, high-fat, as the name connotes, is about eating foods low in carbs and high in fats. When you look at the three main food components in a diet – fats, proteins, and carbohydrates – you would ideally want the proportion of calories coming from fats and proteins and minimal from carbs.

This is the basis of a low-carb, high-fat diet, or at times termed, ketogenic eating.

Fat is conventionally thought of as taboo. Can you take us through some of the misconceptions about this diet?

Generally speaking, fats have been labeled as good and bad. Monounsaturated fats from olive oil, avocados, and nuts are considered good fats, while saturated fats and trans fats are considered bad. But according to recent understanding, while trans fats are still bad, it is okay, healthy even, to consume saturated fats such as tallow from mutton and beef, lard from pork, cheese, butter, ghee, and coconut oil.

The biggest misconception is high fat consumption will cause a person to end up with high blood cholesterol that will lead up to chronic illnesses. In actuality, sugar consumption should be more of a concern. Any time anybody, not just the sick or old, consumes sugars – mainly those easily absorbed into the blood system such as refined sugars – the body responds by producing high levels of insulin.

It is this insulin response that triggers the inflammation in the arteries and vessels that could potentially cause a heart attack or stroke in the long term, rather than anything else. The high sugar level causes increased insulin production and thus, indirectly increasing the tendency of inflammation. The whole idea of consuming this low-carb, high-fat diet is to keep your body’s insulin levels low by keeping your blood sugar levels low.

Is it possible to completely avoid chronic diseases with this diet?

It is important to remember that chronic diseases are functions of age. The older you get, the more likely you're going to end up with a heart attack or a stroke. There is no guarantee that this diet will completely do away of these issues.

But if you stick to this low-carb, high-fat diet, you will have the three parameters most likely assured: as low a blood sugar as possible, a blood pressure that is not hypertensive, and a BMI that is near optimum levels. In the case you are diabetic or have high blood pressure, the amount of medications you will require will be very minimal.

Having addressed that, there is no doubting that when you take in that many fat calories in your diet, there will be a group of people who will have high levels of cholesterol in their blood. These are called “hyper responders.”

Therefore, it's the call of the individual in conjunction with his or her consultant (preferably one who is aware of low carb high fat diet) to decide on their health status over the three or four years of trying this diet. If they truly have long-term concerns of chronic diseases and the ensuing complications then they could consider taking some kind of medication to mitigate the cholesterol levels in their system.

Who should consider picking up this diet?

People who would like to optimize their body weight are the main ones who should consider this diet. Those struggling with diabetes or high blood pressure would also do well with this diet.

All in all, it’s for anyone interested in a long-term adventure. This is not going to be a short-term thing where you try it for a few weeks and then go back to your normal self. It could be three months or six months before you see some results.

After which you should be encouraged to adhere to this kind of eating for the rest of your life.

Are there case studies of individuals who have been successful on this diet? Could you also share your personal experience?

There is an increasing amount of research done on this topic. But there are no definitive case studies or the exact number of people who have tried this diet just yet. I think when something is so controversial like consuming fat in large quantities, and really reducing carbohydrates, which is one of the main components of this diet, it can be a challenge to convince the masses.

The best route is to try it for oneself on an individual level. I have personally taken up this low-carb, high-fat diet for the past ten years. In doing so, I've stayed on the healthy side of the margins based on the health parameters mentioned above.

I think if one person can be successful, others also can try and see whether they too can fit into the same spectrum of health. But again, one has to take responsibility for oneself. Whenever you embark on this, you should have a fair degree of understanding of what your baseline blood indices are before the onset of the diet. Then it is advisable to carry out a blood test every six months to see whether your parameters are within the healthy range.

Instead of looking at this diet as a fad, once we have spent a decent amount of time on this journey, we can consider it for the long term without blindly accepting and adhering to anything that is thrown at us.

DISCLAIMER: This article is not meant to be a diagnosis for any one condition. For further advice and inquiries, contact us for a consultation.