One of the most common mistakes people make when transitioning to this lifestyle is not including enough fat to meet our nutritional needs. If you are following a low carbohydrate diet and are experiencing one or more of the signs listed below, you most likely need to up your intake.
1. You are always hungry
Carbohydrate stimulates hunger whereas fat curbs hunger and regulates appetite. Low-fat diets are notorious for leaving us starving, making them unappealing and unsustainable. When lowering carb intake it is important to throw in a good mix of fats, from a variety of sources (in particular, saturated fat, think animal fat, coconut oil, dairy) to curb hunger and keep you on track.
2. Your physical performance is lagging
It is easy to blame lack of carbohydrate when physical performance is waning and, depending on the nature of exercise, this might be warranted. However consider that fat, particularly saturated fat is a precursor to steroid hormones like testosterone. Testosterone is essential for muscle growth, repair and regeneration. Not enough of this hormone and both recovery and overall performance will be negatively impacted.
3. You are experiencing mental dullness or lack of focus
Experiencing some vagueness or lack of concentration when transitioning to a low carb diet is completely normal and is often referred to as the ‘low carb flu’. However, these symptoms should not hang around for very long. Once adapted, our brains thrive on using ketones as an energy source. Ongoing mental dullness is a sure sign that your fat intake needs to be topped up. Adding fats that increase ketone availability, such as MCT oil or coconut oil, can assist in boosting ketone levels quickly and help lift the brain fog.
4. Your joints ache
No matter what the cause of your aching joints, i.e. poor mobility, an injury, arthritis or poor mechanics, it is inflammation that is always underlying. By reducing inflammation, symptoms and comfort levels can improve. Omega-3 fats are well known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Adding fatty fish or even fish oil tablets to your diet is an excellent way to boost these levels.
5. Your energy levels are inconsistent and low
When we rely on carbohydrate for fuel, our energy levels are like a rollercoaster – up and down all day long. When following a low carb diet, we begin to rely on fat as our main fuel source. Fat is a more reliable and consistent source of energy, however, we need to be sure we are having enough. With the word ‘fat’ still conjuring up so many negative images for a lot of people, it may be difficult to continually convince yourself that eating more fat is actually going to benefit you… but it certainly will. Don’t be afraid of loading up on a little more.
6. You have dry, flaky skin
Think of fat in our bodies as our own natural moisturiser. If you are actively losing fat, it may be difficult for your body to continue to produce adequate levels of this ‘moisturiser’. Increasing your fat intake and thereby treating your body from the inside out (rather than the other way around by simply lathering yourself in store-bought moisturiser) is the way to go.
Vicky Kuriel is Low Carb High Fat Dietitian and Founder of Eat Play Thrive.