Low Fat Diets are for the anemic, sick-looking muscleless types, right? Well, some implementations of it could give you that opinion. The most famous versions of low fat diets are those of Ornish, Esselstyn and Pritikin and these all are low protein, high carb, low fat diets. Now I have incredible respect for all of these men – in fact, I have no doubt that their research has probably saved my life – but I’ve never really eaten that kind of Low Fat Diet. The reason? I’m just too interested in muscle building and trying to improve my (Skinny Bastard) physique.
I remember looking at their recommended protein levels (~10% of total calories) and thinking, “Well, no way I’m doing that!” To me it just seemed obvious that one could build upon a standard Low Fat Diet and just substitute some extra protein for all of those carbohydrates. After all, a standard Low Fat Diet relies on a monstrous amount of carbs during maintenance mode, i.e. when you are not gaining or losing weight.
If you run the numbers, an Ornish/Esselstyn type of Low Fat Diet requires a man to consume around 500 grams of carbs per day. To me, that seems like a lot, especially for the typical sedentary, office-working male – yeah, like me! – in modern America. While I do exercise every day and my youngest son keeps me moving, I am pretty sedentary overall. 500 grams seems like an awful lot, unless you can somehow burn it off.
The counterargument is that many of the supercultures are low fat or pretty close and eat a LOT of carbs. And Nathan Pritikin ate this kind of Low Fat Diet almost all of his adult life and did just fine. He stayed thin all of this life as far as I know AND died with perfectly clear arteries. Even so, that many carbs still made me a bit uncomfortable.
Again, my choice was obvious: add in some protein and subtract out an equal amount of carbs. And that is exactly what I did in proportions that I describe below. Before we go into the numbers, I want to point out that I have found this way of low fat eating to produce great stats. I was glad that I had kind of stumbled into this way of eating when I saw that produced these kind of numbers:
- 1. LDL < 75
- 2. Triglycerides < 85
- 3. Total Cholesterol < 130
- 4. Muscle Mass > college
- 5. Body Fat = 14% (est.)
- 6. Simultaneously Muscle Gains and Fat Loss (Sure HRT helps!)
- 7. Zero (Cardiac) Arteriosclerosis (see My Heart Scan Results.)
All of these numbers are desireable in my opinion, but I want to really focus on those top two numbers. The two numbers are two of the most critical to make sure that you arrest or even regress your arteriosclerosis. It’s no guarantee, of course, but it is a very good sign that you will have plaque under control. And I mention it, because so many men on this site and The Peak Testosterone Forum need to clear out some plaque. For example, Dr. Davis has very spartan requirements to regress plaque, which he calls his “Rule of 60,” i.e. LDL < 60, Triglycerides < 60 and HDL > 60. Some other Low Fat Diet gurus have a little less stringent requirements, which I discuss in my page entitled LDL Levels to Reverse Plaque.
NOTE: Both Dr. Davis and Dr. Gould point out that a Low Fat Diet will not regress or even arrest plaque in all men. Sometimes it takes greater inverentions. See their books Track Your Plaque and Heal Your Heart for details.
Here are my reads from two physicals where I still have the records:
LDL = 71 mg/dl; Triclycerides = 83 mg/dl (5/28/2013)
LDL = 95 mg/dl; Triglycerides = 71 mg/dl (12/7/2010)
The latter had a little higher LDL than my normal read, but you get the idea: I have been able to keep both LDL and triglycerides low.
I realize that lowering LDL is controversial right now and that there is a “Cholesterol Doesn’t Matter” theory out there. I’m not going to get into that here, but suppose you are more in my camp and you are concerned about arteriosclerosis and want to maximize arterial blood flow and nitric oxide. If so, you will be wondering how one can make a Low Fat Diet practical. I think the easiest way to do that is to discuss macronutrient ratios, i.e. the percentage of protein, carbohydrates and fat. The typical Ornish/Esselstyn/Pritikin Low Fat Diet ratios are the following
Protein = 10%; Carbs = 80%; Fat = 10%
I have a different starting point however. In my case, I want at least 165 grams of protein in order to follow the 1 gram per pound of body weight heuristic for muscle building and athletics in general. And I actually tweak that up a bit because I consume mostly plant-based proteins to a) save money, b) control IGF-1 (due to a high PSA read) and c) stick to undenatured peptides. So I actually try to eat around 180 grams of protein per day, simply because plant protein (with the exception of quinoa) are a little less bioavailable.
NOTE: There are lots of Low Fat animal proteins out there and I discuss meat options in my page on Low Fat Meats. A Low Fat Diet does NOT has to have a lot of plants, but it definitely does not have to be strictly vegetarian: both Pritikin and Gould encourage the consumption of animal protein for example.
Another deviation for me since I am 53: I only need about 2,300 calories per day. In my younger days, I had a nearly infinit metabolism. However, that has definitely ramped down and I just can’t pack it away like I used to. Furthermore, I also like to eat a few nuts and/or dark chocolate every day. This allows me to bump up my % Total Fat to 15%. I am not talking about much in the way of nuts here: a couple small squares of dark chocolate or just a few walnuts or almonds and that’s it. But bumping this up to 15% still fits the research definition of a “very low fat diet,” and allows me to displace a few more carbohydrates.
When all is said and done, here are my targeted macronutrient ratios:
Protein = 31%; Carbs = 54%; Fat = 15%
You’ll notice that my protein / carbohydrate ratio is 1.71, which is respectable according to the theories of Dr. Barry Sears regarding inflammation. But the key thing is that, if you run the numbers out, I only need a little over 1,200 calories from carbs or 309 grams per day. This is a much more manageable amount of carbs, even for a middle-aged guy like myself.
Something else that I think really helps me is that I am a Grazer. Right now eating lots of small meals is out of vogue and you have strategies such as intermitent fasting rising in popularity. But I just feel fantastic eating a bunch of small meals throughout the day. Eating a big meal, which can hammer testosterone as I document in my page on Testosterone and Meal Size page, often leaves me tired and groggy.
With small meals, I have excellent energy. I have even made this work in my career by eating a small amount of quinoa or fruit or some granola bars along with some protein powder as a pre and post workout meal. (I usually go to the gym over lunch.) Doing it this way, I never have to worry about beta cell killing post-meal blood glucose spikes and I feel alert all day and evening. I cannot imagine eating any other way, but we all have our preferences I realize. The disadvantage is that at lunch and dinner, I also eat small meals. Fortunately, my wife is understanding and knows that I will keep my portions down. When we go out to eat, we usually share a meal and that works out perfectly.
In my case, I actually eat about 7 of these small meals per day. I’ll eat first thing in the morning, 3-4 times at work and 2-3 times when I get home. What this means is that my typical “meal” averages out to about this many grams of each macronutrient:
Protein = 26 grams; Carbohydrates = 44 grams; Fat = 5.5 grams
Notice that this is the perfect protein level for muscle building. Most protein powders have a 20-25 gram serving size and the studies show that around 20 grams is the right “dose” for hypertrophy. Eating these small meals insures that I get a nice steady supply of protein throughout the day as well.
Now there is a theory out there that our cells need rest in order to get rid of waste and replenish/recuperate themselves. Obviously, I do not follow that theory. I can only say that I have eaten that way for 5+ years and feel very good.
Do I have any cautions though? My only warning is: don’t cheat! What do I mean by that? Well, I have talked to many men who have stated, “I tried low fat and I just didn’t feel good.” Then I chat with them and find out that they they are consuming almost entirely for carbs one of the following: wheat and oatmeal, both of which can really spike blood sugar in some men, and fruit juices, which can be high in fructose. Obviously, you’re not going to feel good unless you stick to low glycemic, whole food carbs.
So it’s very important that you eat good, low glycemic carbohydrates, or you could hurt yourself on a Low Fat Diet. Dr. Bernard’s work showed that, if you eat a low glycemic, Low Fat Diet, you can actually reverse diabetes and very significantly lower your A1C. For more information, I discuss this in my page on Low Fat Diets and Diabetes.
I get my carbohydrates primarily from vegetable/fruit smoothies and quinoa, millet and legumes that Iprepare in a rice cooker. I will also sometimes have raisins and granola bars, but I always keep the amount small. And I religiously get at least 10 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. If there is one thing you are going to do for your health, this is probably the most important, something I discuss in my page on The Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables.
One last comment is that I feel that a Low Fat Diet is the perfect complement to HRT. With HRT, you get a nice boost to your hormones and, therefore, neurotransmitters, and, with a Low Fat Diet, you get arterial protection and a boost in blood flow and nitric oxide. In other words, you get the brain, gonads and arteries all supercharged. These can combine nicely and really help a middle-aged or senior guy’s sex life. Been there!
CAUTION: There is some evidence that eating a lot of protein may not be a good anti-aging strategy. I still do it any way, due to the benefits to my physique and the excellent cardiovascular parameters it provides me. But “eyes wide open” and I recommend reading my page on The Potential Dangers of Protein for more details.