Article written by Paul Magnuson, our Banting Buddies coach in Pretoria.
It all depends on where you are in your Banting journey. Too little fat at the beginning could delay quick and effective fat-adaptation (leaving you feeling tired, hungry, irritable and still craving carbs), and too much once fat-adapted could stall weight loss. Continue reading for a more detailed explanation and strategy for getting the fat in your diet just right. This information might help you lose those last few kilos, or get off that frustrating plateau.
Being “in ketosis” and “keto-adapted”: Are they the same thing?
There are two important thresholds to cross on the journey to losing weight effectively on a low-carbohydrate diet.
- First is the point where you are able to reduce insulin levels sufficiently, and begin to release significant amounts of stored fat to be burned as fuel. Since much of this fat is converted to ketone bodies, achieving this is often called “being in ketosis”.
- The second is when those tissues that are capable of burning ketone bodies are enabled to do this effectively, and begin to burn ketone bodies rather than glucose for energy. This is called “being fully keto-adapted”.
If all goes to plan, you should go into ketosis within days, and should be fully fat-adapted a few weeks after that. Between these two points you may be releasing stored fat, but you may not be able to burn it effectively.
It is possible to check fairly accurately whether or not you are in ketosis. There are self-administered tests for ketone bodies in blood, urine and even your breath. You will probably also notice a metallic taste in your mouth, and smell on your breath from excess acetone being excreted through your lungs.
Unfortunately, it is not as easy to confirm objectively whether you are keto-adapted. Subjectively, when you are keto-adapted you seem never to run out of energy, whether or not you have eaten. You can also go for a number of hours quite comfortably without the need to eat.
Adjusting fat intake for optimum results
Before being in ketosis, you need more fat in your diet to replace the energy you are no longer getting from carbs. Not replacing this energy is a very bad idea because your body will be starving most of the time; you will feel hungry and miserable; you run the risk of depressing your metabolic rate, which will make weight loss much harder. But because fat is so energy-rich, you need very little fat to replace this energy – less than half the mass of the carbohydrates you are replacing. Because energy from carbs will be very low, you will probably find that well over 50% of your energy will come from fats without you adding extraordinary amounts of oil or fat to your diet. This is why such diets are called “low-carbohydrate, high-fat” diets – it’s about which of carbohydrate or fat provides the most energy, not the volume of fat eaten.
Between ketosis and keto-adaptation, a strong case can be made for a bit more fat in the diet because you are transitioning between burning carbohydrates and fats as the preferred fuel for most body tissues.
However, once you are keto-adapted, you will be able to release and burn at least as much energy from fat stores as you are likely to get from food. From this point, eating food is predominantly about nutrients, not just energy. So fat in your food ensures effective absorption of vitamins (A, D, E and K). Reducing dietary fat at this stage is therefore safe, and will accelerate weight loss. You will even find that fasting is a non-event, as your body is fully capable of fuelling itself for even several days at a stretch. By experimenting with fasting after becoming keto-adapted, you will probably be amazed to discover that what you previously considered to be hunger was in fact habit, social norms and even a need to be rewarded or comforted. If you are following a low-carbohydrate diet to manage excess weight, rest assured that you have many weeks of reserve fuel in the tank. This is exactly why we store fat in the first place.
Bob Briggs describes the role of fat (at least in the first few weeks) as a “hack” to fool your body into believing it is in fasting mode rather than feeding mode so that it can release energy stores rather than adding to them. This “hack” is achieved by increasing the amount of fat in the bloodstream and decreasing the glucose, simulating what happens during fasting. This creates the conditions for fat release even while you eat to satisfy these very real habitual, social and emotional needs: http://www.buttermakesyourpantsfalloff.com/why-hungry/
I therefore believe that we are well advised to eat a little more fat than normal for a few weeks when you first adopt an LCHF diet, but only enough to keep us from being hungry. This can and should be reduced as our bodies become better at burning our stored body fat for energy. Eating too much fat could just get in the way of effective fat burning and weight loss. Each person needs to find out for themselves the right amount of fat to be eating to help them lose the weight they want to lose, without feeling hungry or depriving their bodies of good fats so essential to health.