Paleo vs low-carb, high-fat (LCHF)

I met a couple of people recently who are on low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diets. This diet goes by other names as well, including the ketogenic diet.

Many of us have heard of low-carb diets. They have been popular in recent years and even my rice-loving mum would tell my brother not to eat so much rice if he wants to get rid of his tummy fats. So what is the difference between simple a low-carb diet and the LCHF/ketogenic diet?

People on simple low-carb diets tend to be less concerned about the other macro nutrients (protein and fats) and eat them in any proportion they want. So they may cut out the rice and bread from their meals and eat lean white chicken breast, for example.

The LCHF diet takes this idea one step forward by significantly increasing the fat percentage in one’s diet, which is supposed to force the body to use fat as energy. So instead of eating lean white chicken breast meat, the dieter eats the fattiest part of the chicken, while keeping carbs low at the same time. Jimmy Moore lost 180 pounds on this diet.

ketogenic diet
Typical low-carb high-fat diet

I’ve sold a few loaves of my paleo bread to people on this diet recently and it started me thinking about the difference between the paleo diet and the LCHF diet.

paleo vs low carb high fat


1. Quality of food

In general, both diets focus on good quality food. Processed food is eschewed in favour of home cooked goodness. That being said, I think that the paleo diet is more strict in terms of food quality. In fact, the quality of food is always the number one screening criteria.

For example, artificial sweeteners are generally discouraged in the paleo diet because of potential health risks. But the LCHF diet is more relaxed about this because of the psychological necessity to get some sweetness into meals (fruits are not allowed because of the sugar). A LCHF-type diet like the Atkins diet will recommend the use of canola oil in food. But in the paleo world, canola, which is a genetically engineered hybrid derived from rapeseed, will not be found in our cupboards because it is highly processed.

That being said, I would say that there is about an 80% overlap in this area. So there are more similarities than differences here.

2. Macronutrients

The paleo diet is a lower carb diet as a result of removing processed food. When you exclude grains and sweets from your diet, you tend to eat a lot less carbs than the average person. However, there isn’t a focus on counting macronutrients. In the LCHF diet, carbohydrates tend to be kept under 50 grams in order to get into a state of ketosis – that’s the carbohydrates in 2.5 cups of blueberries, or 4 cups of chopped carrots. The diet also has to be high in fat (around 70% of calorie intake) rather than high in protein because excess protein can be converted into glucose, which will kick you out of ketosis.

My main grumble about the LCHF diet is this – no fruits allowed! I really love my fruits and get very grumpy without durian.

3. Ketosis

And related to the point above is that the motivation for monitoring fat, carb and protein percentages is to get one’s body into a state of ketosis. As mentioned earlier, this entails getting the body to shift from burning glucose to fat. The advantages of this range from weight loss to blood sugar stabilisation to improving sports performance.

The last point is written about quite extensively in Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney’s book, which states that high carbohydrate diet locks a person into a dependence on carbohydrate as the dominant fuel for exercise.  When his carbohydrate tank (at best holding 2000 calories) runs dry – performance goes down in flames.  But when the athlete trains his body to rely on fat instead of carbohydrates, he can then train harder, perform longer, and recover faster.

So should we adopt a low-carb, high-fat diet? I always believe that everyone is different and the only way to find out what works for you and what you thrive on is to experiment on yourself and monitor your well being.

If you are in Singapore and want to join the low-carb high-fat (some are paleo eaters!) community, there is a forum at Hardwarezone here.

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