A few days ago a friend of mine, who is trying out LCHF, sent me a message asking for some ideas to help her with her first steps. I gave her a few bits of advice, so I thought I would share them with you in case you are, like my friend, “…just struggling with ideas and a bit scared of all the fat!”
Don’t fear the fat
So, for whatever reason (to lose weight, to prevent type II diabetes, to be rebellious), you’ve decided to kick that carb habit. There’s no question, you have to replace them with something, otherwise you will be chewing off your own arm before the first week is done. The answer: fat is your new best friend.
“Hang on,” you say, “isn’t fat bad for my heart?”
Well, apparently not so much. According to a 2010 research review, the link between saturated fat and cardio-vascular disease is tenuous at best, and the benefits of replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates (as a traditional low-fat diet is wont to do) are pretty much unsupported. But don’t just take my word for it, have a look for yourself, although be wary of any research that is funded by sugar/grain companies (=carbs are good), or by dairy/meat companies (=fat is good).
So, if you find that you’re feeling hungry all of the time after having drastically cut your carb intake, you’re not eating enough fat. You need to welcome it into your life with open arms. Only small amounts will fill you up and help you with those carb cravings.
My favourite way of upping the fat is by cooking with butter…and using the butter as a sauce (none of this skimming off the fat rubbish). I challenge you to name a single vegetable that is not enlivened by good knob of butter.
If, like me, you are a bit of a carnivore, choose the fattier bits of meat. They will not only be tastier but they will fill you up (and they tend to be cheaper too). Go for streaky bacon instead of back bacon, skin-on chicken instead of breast fillets (and eat the skin!!), pork belly instead of pork loin, lamb shoulder instead of lamb shank, rib-eye instead of sirloin steak. If you’re cooking a roast dinner at the weekend, use the rendered fat from your meat joint for stir-frying your vegetables. Go on, be brave!
Vegetables are great
If you’re struggling with what to have with your steak instead of mashed potato or chips, you need to reintroduce yourself to vegetables. Think about why you want those potatoes. Do they actually taste of anything?
There is a lot out there that isn’t a potato. Be adventurous, try things you haven’t tried before – you might like them! If in doubt, don’t over-cook it and have it with lots of butter and bacon. We were brave and had sprouts (or as my father-in-law calls them, “Belgian fart bombs”) the other day, purely because they were in season over here and they were really cheap. I pretty much poached them in butter with a load of bacon. Success. If it works with sprouts, it will work with anything. The blue table above gives the serving size for 16g carbs (if you’re going for about 50g of carbs per day spread over three meals). 20g of rice is not going to get you anywhere, but try eating 444g spinach (especially if it is cooked in butter and covered with cream). You only need to count the carbs if you’re having something from the carby half of the table.
It’s not just about the taste either, it’s about texture. You need to think about texture when you’re putting a meal together. Turning a cauliflower into “rice” (yes this is possible, just whizz up a raw cauliflower and steam it for a few minutes) is all well and good, but having it with a really saucy mince-based stir-fry will not rock your world. Slush + slush = vomit induction. You have to mix it up a bit and have a variety of textures on your plate. Crunchy stir-fried green beans or the like would be a much better option in this case.
I suppose the first thing you might do when cutting sugar out of your diet would be to replace it with artificial sweeteners. I really don’t think this will help you. You need to give this diet a proper go for the first couple of weeks. If you avoid anything sweet your palate will change. Eventually you will find that everything will seem to taste a little bit sweeter (things like broccoli).
Just two weeks. It won’t kill you. Man the f**k up.
So what about fruit? If you’re being really strict with carbs, then fruit is technically a no-no. However, the sugar in fruit is a mixture of glucose and fructose, so it shouldn’t give you too much of an insulin spike as fructose is almost solely metabolised by the liver (although this has other problems, but Dr. Robert Lustig has a lot more to say on that topic, if you’re interested). Plus, if you eat the whole fruit (and nothing but the fruit, sorry couldn’t help it), instead of just the juice, you are getting the benefits of the fibre content. Personally, I never really ate fruit so it was easy for me to cut it out completely for the first two weeks. As always, however, not all fruit is equal, so here is another colourful table with some fruit serving size suggestions. Try berries instead of bananas and apples.
You’re going to be eating more real food on this diet, which means you’re going to have to do quite a bit of cooking from scratch.
You need to plan ahead.
If you’re up and out of the house early in the morning, have your breakfast ready the night before. Eggs take no time at all to scramble or fry, but having a pan ready, along with having your ingredients together, will save you time in the morning (my husband goes to the extent of cracking the eggs into a cup the night before). Or, have a lovely creamy breakfast smoothie ready to eat straight out of the fridge!
If you don’t really get much time to cook during the week, make a couple of big meals at the weekend and freeze them in single portions for dinners or lunches. (As if by magic, this post by a fellow blogger popped up on my reader as I was writing this section – he gets the idea).
When you buy salad leaves, wash it all in one go and then it is ready to use whenever you want and you won’t have to bother washing it when you’re pressed for time. A green salad with lots of parmesan cheese, a creamy dressing and some bits of leftover bacon from your breakfast at the weekend will take minutes to throw together for a quick lunch on the go.
If you’re eating enough fat at mealtimes you shouldn’t need to snack – I rarely need to eat lunch because I’m loving the fried breakfasts at the moment. However, for those of you who don’t just sit around in an office all day, you may need some LCHF-friendly snacks:
- Two words: mini babybel. They’re not just for children.
- Even better, mini babybel wrapped in a slice of chorizo. Nom.
- Mixed nuts (although not too many).
- Celery/cucumber sticks and a creamy/cheesy dip.
- Luncheon meats.
- Lots of double cream in your coffee.
- A hard-boiled egg (although perhaps save this for when you’re walking around outside to avoid making a smell in your office – my colleagues learnt this the hard way, sorry guys).
If you’re not enjoying this diet then you’re either doing something wrong, or it’s just not for you. But before you give up…are you completely sure you’re embracing the fat?
Fat=flavour. Chefs know this. So should you.
I used to think of cooking dinner as a bit of a chore, but now I look forward it. You will too, just give it a chance.