There are many versions of the low-carb diet, and your chosen path will likely be tied to your individual health goals and lifestyle.
There’s a lot of buzz surrounding more carb-restrictive diets that promote eating higher levels of fat, like the ketogenic diet, and keto is a lifestyle with many health benefits.
However, eating a lower-fat protocol with higher levels of lean proteins may be a better fit for some—especially athletes or those living an active lifestyle.
The Protein Power Diet
Doctors Michael and Mary Dan Eades have laid significant groundwork in the low-carb, high-protein dietary space and introduced the Power Protein diet more than 20 years ago in their best-selling book, by the same name, which was published in 1996.
The diet’s premise, the remediation of symptoms suffered by those with insulin resistance, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders, as well as offering a sustainable approach to weight management.
The couple’s findings after more than two decades of research and practice have shown promise regarding the therapeutic and weight management benefits of eating a low-fat, high-protein (LCHP) diet, a plan that relies heavily on lean meats and encourages eating a moderate amount of healthy fats.
If you are familiar with lower carb diets, and the body’s ability to synthesize fat for fuel in the absence of carbs, you may be wondering how it’s possible to sustain energy if eating less fat and lower amounts of carbs.
Hang on; we will share below how items like exogenous ketone supplements, preferably BHBs, can provide you with the many benefits of ketosis, while you consume less fat and eat slightly higher carbs than would be permissible on the ketogenic diet.
The various versions of the LCHP diet tend to be more of a paleo, caveman, carnivore-based variety of the low-carb diet.
Those following these plans look to eat ample amounts of lean meat, fish and other seafood while consuming controlled amounts of healthy, whole-food-based fats (e.g., avocado, nuts, and seeds, etc.), while limiting or eliminating vegetable oils and dairy.
While dairy is an integral part of most people’s meal plans on the low-carb, high-fat version of the ketogenic diet—mostly relying on dairy products to boost the fat content in meals—the Protein Power diet, and those like it, advise a more primal approach.
LCHP diets suggest opting for more wild-caught or sourced foods that our bodies can efficiently assimilate.
Thanks to hundreds of years of adaptation we can survive as hunter-gatherers (e.g., freshwater fish like Alaskan salmon, blackberries, wild turkey, etc.).
The avoidance of dairy may feel daunting at first, but there are still many food options outside of the dairy-based items in the market that are more aligned with an LCHP diet.
We’ve got the inside scoop on best practices for this eating protocol, and we’re going to share more about the delicious things you can eat on the plan below.
What You Can Eat
The Protein Power diet, one of the more popular versions of the LCHP protocol, asserts that eating lower carbs and higher levels of protein, along with moderate levels of healthy fat, is beneficial as it helps regulate our fat-storing hormone, insulin.
Also, it’s important to note that the suggested carbohydrate intake on the said LCHP diets, between 30g and 60g per day, is still within a range to support nutritional ketosis for some, just in case that is a personal health goal.
We are fortunate to have access to grass-fed and game meats at just about every local market nowadays; most communities also host local farmers markets throughout the week where you can find fresh and humanely-raised protein sources to fuel your sugar-free lifestyle.
The standard LCHP diet recommends a daily dietary macro composition that’s approximately 25% protein, 50% fat and 25% carbohydrates.
However, although our bodies, especially our brains, require an adequate amount of glucose to keep us alive and functioning, there’s no nutritional reason to keep carbs as high as the limit that this diet allows.
Compose your vegetable intake in a way that maximizes nutrition, with a menu abundant in rich leafy greens and lower-carb vegetables, along with an overall lower carb intake consisting exclusively of lower-glycemic foods.
You’ll be able to eat enough needed carbs, even at the lower end of the noted spectrum without trying too hard, so don’t sweat it.
Here’s a snapshot of some of our favorite, go-to meals:
Regardless of the time of day that you choose to consume your first meal following your daily overnight fast: eggs, a slice of avocado, and nitrate-free turkey bacon would be an excellent meal choice.
Egg salad made with a heart-healthy avocado-based mayonnaise, like that made by Primal Kitchen, stuffed into a low-carb pita, is an easy and fast lunch that’s ideal for meal prep to keep you on track throughout the week.
Source some wild-caught, omega-3-rich salmon for dinner. And maybe pair your juicy, seared filet with a few dollops of faux cauliflower mash; or perhaps even sauté some mushrooms in a pat of grass-fed butter or avocado oil and sprinkle with some coarse, kosher salt and black pepper—just delicious!
Snacks — Enjoy savory and portable snacks like part-skim mozzarella sticks wrapped in salty and delicate slices of prosciutto, another item ideal for meal prep.
You could also enjoy low-glycemic, portable snacks like a cup of low-GI berries coupled with a few ounces of creamy Havarti cheese to round out the semi-sweet-and-savory flavor profile of your menu.
There are no hard-and-fast rules about how to pair your foods, focus on avoiding high-glycemic options and make an effort to source the highest forms of protein and fat available.
What You Can't Eat
The most straightforward answer is sugar or anything that breaks down to sugar resulting in elevated levels of the growth hormone, insulin.
More specifically, foods to limit include cereals, refined sugars, bread, pasta, and large portions of fruit—all of which will spike glucose and impact insulin.
A helpful rule of thumb is to make whole foods the bulk of your diet. Processed foods often contain a lot of sneakily-hidden carbs and sugars that can cause elevated blood sugar levels which can have adverse immediate and long-term health outcomes.
Foods to Avoid
While fruits and carb-heavy vegetables may contain a lot of essential vitamins and nutrients, the trade-off of their costly insulin impact on the body disqualifies them on this dietary plan.
But rest assured, a bit of a mindset shift will help you contrive a well-balanced diet compliant within the LCHP framework, and we'll show you how easy it can be below.
For instance, choose an avocado over a banana to get enough of the vital mineral and electrolyte, potassium. In addition to being an excellent source of healthy fats, folate, and vitamin K, an avocado also provides more potassium than a sweeter fruit like a banana, and it gives 20% (DV) or daily value of recommended intake (1,300mg) without the extra sugar!
In a similar fashion, and as a general rule, go for dark leafy greens to source calcium or vitamin C rather than a high-glycemic orange—furthermore, kale, spinach, and collard greens are all antioxidant-rich sources of calcium that facilitate bone health.
Starting a Low-Fat, High-Protein Diet
All that we’ve covered may sound great and have you eager to get started on a low-carb, high-protein diet, but you may be unsure where or how to begin.
Here are some helpful tips to get you started properly:
Plan and Prepare for Success
Consider meal planning and prepping as you set to begin your new, low-carb lifestyle. Feel free to eat fish, eggs, non-starchy vegetables, nut-based cheeses, and low-glycemic fruits on this plan.
Also, you can even enjoy a daily glass of wine, or two, when following this more Mediterranean-style diet; and who doesn’t love a little heart-healthy vino?
The LCHP diet allows for a more flexible lifestyle and is pretty forgiving; you can easily modify your macros as needed to support your evolving nutritional needs.
Also, keeping a close eye on limiting total carbs, and including exogenous ketones, allows one to eat a more relaxed low-carb diet while enjoying the health benefits of metabolic ketosis (e.g., weight management, and glucose regulation, etc.).
How to Count Carbs
There’s some general debate about the ideal total carb limit to follow when on an LCHP diet, as everyone has different nutritional needs and exerts varying levels of energy in their day-to-day life, so feel free to tweak your macros accordingly.
As a baseline guide, most on an LCHP diet reduce carbohydrate consumption to between 20-50 total grams a day.
How Much Protein Do You Need?
Protein is a vital component of every element of life from proper brain development and function to building lean muscle. Protein, like quality forms of dietary fat, is our friend.
But you may be wondering how much protein you need to meet your individualized nutritional needs.
Here’s a basic guideline to follow to figure out your daily protein needs, particularly if you happen to be interested in achieving and maintaining a state of nutritional ketosis:
- 55% of calories should come from fat
- 40% of calories should come from protein
- 5% of calories should come from carbohydrates
Again, while some popular iterations of the low carb diet like Atkin’s, South Beach, and Protein Power suggest a higher intake of carbohydrates than a stricter ketogenic diet, there’s no nutritional need to mandate a daily carb intake as a guideline that exceeds most people’s dietary requirements.
You can use online calculators and apps to determine your macros and to figure out the ideal caloric intake range and composition required to achieve your desired health goals.
How to Plan Meals Ahead
You may be familiar with the adage that states that if we fail to plan we plan to fail, and that is particularly true when beginning a new dietary lifestyle.
Preparing pre-packaged meals or making large amounts of go-to, low-carb staples (e.g., faux cauliflower mash, steamed asparagus, or baked chicken, etc.) position you to win by taking all the guesswork out of what to eat, throughout the week.
The prepping process can be time-consuming and may seem like it could be a bit tedious at the outset, but we’ll share ten helpful tips that will have you prepping like a pro in no time!
Tip #1: Make a detailed shopping list
Again, planning is the ultimate way to win when starting a new dietary plan. Focus on buying staples like eggs, fish, and lean meats, along with low-glycemic vegetables and fruit, with specific meals in mind before you step foot into the supermarket.
Tip #2: Make your kitchen a meal-prepping station
Just like it’s wise to plan your grocery list ahead of time, considering the manner and order of how you cook said food could significantly increase the efficiency of your process.
Start dishes that take longer to prepare first and use multiple cooking methods to maximize your prepping efforts (e.g., pressure cooker, oven, stovetop cooking, etc.).
With a little practice, you’ll be able to make enough food for four to five days in the same respective amount of hours.
Be patient during the initial learning curve as you refine your prepping process; you’ll become faster with practice, over time.
Tip #3: Stock up on staples
Items like salmon, eggs, and broccoli are foods commonly eaten on an LCHP diet, and there’s nothing worse than getting yourself into the mood to prep for the week and then realizing that you’re missing some key ingredients.
Make sure you always have your go-to ingredients on hand, so you are ready to prep your meals for the week without annoying setbacks.
Tip #4: Leverage your free time on the weekend
As well-intentioned as you may be when you head out to work with the commitment to execute a proper meal prep session that evening, life happens.
Tackle meal prep on a calmer day, maybe over the weekend, when you’re fresh and most energetic, so you’re up to the task.
Tip #5: Learn to multitask
Figure out ways to maximize the use of your time in the kitchen during meal prep.
Cook a savory and succulent beef stew in your pressure cooker while you bake two different style casseroles in the oven and add a final roast to a pan of low-glycemic vegetables, simultaneously, in the broiler.
Look for ways to eliminate inefficiencies in your prepping process as you go along to leverage your efforts and get more done in less time.
Tip #6: Utilize semi-homemade hacks to save time
Buying pre-made staple food items, like a store-bought rotisserie chicken or portions of low-glycemic side dishes to pair with your preferred protein, is an excellent time-saver and can come in handy throughout the week—an option to consider.
Tip #7: Make the process fun
You’re much more likely to enjoy and stick to the meal prepping process for the long-haul if you create a positive mood and mental association around the experience.
Make a punchy playlist to blast while you prep or situate yourself to binge on a new, juicy, episodic series while you cook—frame the experience in whatever way you need to so the routine is sustainable for you.
Tip #8: Shake things up with ‘freestyle’ meal prep
The prospect of eating the same pre-set meals at the same scheduled times each day is a cause of apprehension for some, but don’t worry, there is an alternative.
Instead, you might want to prepare trays of meal components (e.g., proteins, fats, and sides, etc.) without dishing them out into set meal configurations, so you can create new culinary combinations throughout the week to keep mealtime exciting and satisfying.
Tip #9: Pretty up your plate
If we’re anything alike, you eat with your eyes first. Let’s face it, if the food looks well-prepared, and is visually appealing, it adds to the entire culinary experience.
Take time to ‘pretty up’ your plate and each meal will feel like a special occasion.
Tip #10: Invest in quality food storage containers
Make sure to use BPA-free, airtight containers when you meal prep to ensure a healthy environment to preserve, store and reheat your food.
Also, be sure to choose a container that’s microwave-safe for multiple reheating options at mealtime.
How to Use Exogenous Ketones
The body produces ketone bodies, endogenous ketones, to use as fuel in the absence of glucose (sugar), through the biological process of ketogenesis—whereby the body synthesizes fatty acids and ketogenic amino acids to produce ketones to fuel and optimize all functions of the body.
Although we all produce a certain amount of endogenous ketones every day, the supplementation of exogenous, or made-made ketones, offers an added benefit, especially if you are unable or unwilling to go into ketosis.
Using exogenous ketones makes it easier to achieve and maintain elevated ketone bodies and enables us to reap many of the associated cognitive and neuroprotective benefits of ketosis, even while eating slightly higher levels of carbohydrates.
Ketones come in three forms: acetoacetate (AcAc), or the first of the occurring ketones; β-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) which is the form that is subsequently derived from acetoacetate; and acetone, a bi-product of acetoacetate.
BHB is the ketone body most commonly used in exogenous ketone supplements. Adding a BHB-based component to a low-carb diet, even if not ketogenic, is shown to help subscribers benefit from the power of elevated ketones with a bit more dietary freedom.
As we've alluded: whether a low-carb, high protein, diet is best for you as opposed to a more carb-restrictive plan like that often followed on a ketogenic diet will depend on some personal factors as well as your ultimate health goals.
Maybe most hopeful is that regardless of the version of the low-carb diet you choose, we have at least a century worth of research and case studies that show the health benefits of eating a significantly carb-restricted dietary program.
Furthermore, the broader array of dietary options available on a low-carb, high protein plan is exciting regarding the diet's long-term sustainability.
Thanks mainly to the nutritional support we glean from a dazzling cast of nutritional components encouraged on an LCHP diet—especially top-shelf, grass-fed proteins, healthy fats and a moderate amount of low-glycemic carbohydrates—this low-carb eating style appears to be one that’s as nutritious, as it is possible to maintain.