You should eat more healthy fats – and cut down on your carb intake. And don’t overdo the proteins, too.
This is according to Caryn Zinn, 43, a registered dietician and a senior lecturer at the Auckland University of Technology, in New Zealand. She had stumbled upon this “diet” about five years ago. Zinn is also now the official nutritionist for Coached, a boutique fitness company in Singapore. This was founded by Ben Pulham – a former professional New Zealand triathlete.
Healthy fats can be found in many natural foods such as avocado, assorted nuts, olive oil and full-fat dairy products such as cheese, milk and yoghurt.
Said Zinn, “We had heard about this method of eating before that, but I never used to believe in it. But having a detailed look at the research into the rationale behind it, I then decided to try it myself and I found that the outcomes were amazing. I discovered plenty of benefits such as having more energy, weight loss, being able to sleep better, faster recovery rates and so on.”
Emphasises on natural foods
This way of eating also emphasises a lot on natural foods, which sets it apart from the more well known Atkins Diet. Said Zinn, “It is quite similar to Atkins but the main difference is that Atkins were pushing proteins and they also have a whole range of bars and shakes which they encourage. For this diet we are all about whole foods, that means, any food that does not come in packages. In some way it is similar but it is also much healthier.”
In fact prior to having stumbled on the benefits of a high fat and low carb diet, research, Zinn had used to advocate a high carb and low fat diet, much like most of the traditional dieticians and nutritionists. She said, “Before, I would advocate a high carb diet. For some clients, I would reduce the carbs slightly but never pick up on the fat like I have done now. Fats also keep you fuller for longer than carbs.”
Added Zinn, “In fact I used to work with Ben and give him advice as a triathlete; I gave him the old advice and now I want to help people see the light and give them advice on what is actually good for them, to help them reach their potential in their health and performance.”
Benefits can improve the lifestyle of endurance athletes
Many of the benefits can also improve the lifestyles of endurance athletes, such as marathon runners and triathletes. Says Zinn, “The research shows us that this way of eating may not necessarily improve athletic performance but it does not reduce it. Also athletes can be healthier while doing this; some people have found that if they live with a high fat low carb diet in the long term, then their athletic performances increase. Some have also found that it is easy to drop body fat when eating this way. And if you are lighter as an athlete, then you will run quicker and do better because of that.”
She continued, “Most people can actually get away with not using energy bars or gels in training – to make sure that your body is adapting to becoming a fat burner. Athletes can focus on taking water and salt and only take carbs if they are exercising for longer than two to three hours. Athletes have too much gels and sports drinks and it may be true that someone who is fat adapted may still need carbs during exercise, but they will only need a fraction of it; so this is way of eating is basically about reducing the body’s dependence on carbs and not cutting out carbs completely..”
Zinn pointed out that for long distance triathlons such as the Ironman, athletes are out exercising for about 9 – 12 hours, or even as much as 17 hours for those at the back of the pack. Says Zinn, “For such races you definitely do need carbs and at the same time you will need some proteins from actual foods too. In fact it is common practice for ultra runners to eat actual foods when they are running.”
Experimenting what foods the body can digest
But then again regarding types of foods, Zinn added that it is about experimenting what sort of foods the body can cope with and what it is not able to digest in the middle of a run or a triathlon. This is because some foods may upset the stomach of athletes if they are eaten during a sports event. She says, “Sometimes athletes cannot eat foods at all; but if he or she is okay with digesting drinks, then you can look at taking isotonic drinks as these give you sugar that you will need when racing.” Coconut water is also a great alternative to such sports drinks according to Zinn.
As for shorter race distances though Zinn points out that carbs are a necessity. She said, “For shorter races the intensity is quite high. Though you can use fats as fuel for most of the race you will need carbs for those high intensity bursts of energy when you are sprinting to the finish.”
Fasted runs, which means that you are running before eating anything in the mornings, also help in terms of fat burning and fat adapting, according to Zinn. She said, “Fasted runs during training sessions are a good idea in terms of fat adaptation. However that said, I would not recommend being fasted during race day; you will need calories to perform your best. So have something in the morning such as a fruit smoothie or a high fat – low carb breakfast such as boiled eggs or omelette with cheese.”
No side effects
Zinn also explained that there are generally no side effects of a high fat – low carb diet, as some may believe. Says Zinn, “There usually isn’t headaches or dizziness though some may believe there is, unless you are on a high carb diet and suddenly you go very low on carbs then headaches might result. But this can be easily solved by adding salt; longer term there are no side effects – people are better and more engaged but it takes time for the metabolism to adapt and change.”
For the average person, Zinn says that they can feel better in a week. She explained, “The general person can follow this way of eating and start feeling benefits within a week. But then again, it really depends on how addicted to sugar you are; someone who is used to a high carb diet with plenty of sugar may take two weeks to feel the effects. But for full adaptation this can take anything from six to eight weeks.”
However she pointed out that with most things, it is not advisable to do this to the extreme. She says, “If you do this in an extreme way, like cutting down from lots of carbs to zero carbs then your body will have a shock and that is not something that I will recommend if you want to get fat adapted quickly.”
She added “But if you are able to do this gradually then it will be easier and this will reduce the shock created when your metabolic system is trying to make the change from being a carb burner to a fat burner.”
Bad reputation of fats is unfounded
Though there may be a bad reputation about fats, and about going onto a high fat – low carb diet, Zinn feels that all of this is unfounded. Explained Zinn, “Fat has a bad reputation because it is the most calorie dense of the nutrients out there; carbs has 4 calories/g and proteins also has 4 calories/g but fats have 9 calories/g so the old way of thinking was there we need to eat less fat as it is high in calories. But now we think that this way of thinking has become too simplistic; the interaction between nutrients and hormones have shown to be more important. Previously saturated fat was also thought to cause heart disease but now research has shown there is little link between saturated fats and heart disease; the new link is that sugar causes heart disease.”
She added, “People also used to think that carbs were necessary as a fuel source, and my answer to that is that well yes you do need carbs, but also fat is a really good fuel source that we have underestimated for years. The important thing to note about this way of eating is that you are not cutting out carbs completely; you are cutting down on carbs and eating healthy fats to become fat adapted – that means that you are metabolically flexible and can break down either carbs or fats when you need it.”
Doing your own cooking from scratch
Zinn however, points out that you will have to do most of your own cooking from scratch though. She says, “Our current way of eating is geared up to be very convenient; they put things into packages and you just buy off the shelf and heat up and eat within minutes. As a result, no matter what country we are in, we have issues such as diabetes and obesity and chronic heart disease. As such this way of eating requires you to be organised; that is my biggest piece of advice, to do some shopping, meal preparation and menu planning so that you don’t need to think about what to cook when you are busy.”
Added Zinn “It is all about having your meals under control and knowing exactly what you are going to eat; this is important for athletes who are holding down full time jobs or are students and who thus tend to be quite busy. This will make things easier and you will be more likely to stick to this way of eating for the long term.”
For example this means that if you want your ice cream or chocolate, then go ahead and eat it. Says Zinn, “With this way of eating it is okay to have ice cream or chocolate, as long as you do not have too much of it. You should have your treats too; acknowledge that if you have had something different that does not conform with this way of eating, then don’t think that you have ruined the week. It is okay to reward yourself with food. And instead just go and get back onto the diet at the next meal.”
She also points out that this way of eating is not about you having a different meal to your family. Says Zinn, “everyone in the household can follow this method of eating and benefit from it. For people who are sceptics, such as the husband or the wife, well if they give it a try then they will feel good and drop weight and that will immediately convince them otherwise.”
To cut down on carb intake, Zinn also shared that substitutions can be made, in terms of swapping rice and noodles – classic Asian staples – with vegetable alternatives. She explained, “There are two things that we can do with veggies. One is cauliflower rice. You put the cauliflower in the blender and after cooking it, it will develop a rice-like consistency. The other is substituting noodles with zucchini or courgettes; you can buy these quite cheaply from the supermarket and create your own noodles but having something healthier at the same time.
Though fruit is high in sugar, Zinn recommends fruit. She says, “I recommend some fruits; just not too much because they will give you a big sugar hit. Look at the amount of carbs in each fruit and decide for yourself which you want. Some of the lowest sugar fruits are berries, it is all about each food having its correct place in your daily food intake.”
Zinn generally recommends for the average person, to have half the plate of veggies and a palm to hand sized portion of proteins and healthy fats on the plate. Veggies containing carbs can also be added for a balanced meal. She says, “You can have foods such as potatoes, pumpkins, beetroots, sweet potatoes and a little bit of rice but of course not too much of it.”
Good food choices when eating out
Making good choices for food also applies to eating out. Says Zinn, “Actually eating out this way is much easier than when you are trying to watch everything you eat; chefs like to cook with fats because it makes food taste nice. So the main thing is to know your foods and nutrients and make choices that are good for you. For example it is is quite well accepted at restaurants to replace the noodles with veggies or hold off the bread.”
She added, “For me, a lot of my friends eat this way; it is not about doing so for a short period of time; rather it is a lifestyle. The more people surrounding you who eat like this, the easier it is. But that said, I am a big fan of the 80 – 20 rule. This means to control what you eat 80 per cent of the week, but the other 20 per cent, eat what you want. So if your friends order rice, noodles and bread, just eat it with them and get back to your diet in the next meal.”
At Singapore’s hawker centres, the meals tend to be very carb heavy. Says Zinn, “If you know your nutrients you can choose food with lots of protein and veggies. For example instead of having chicken on rice, you can replace some rice with veggies; for example have a half portion of rice – you don’t need to cut out the rice completely. Or if you already have carbs from other sources for the day, you can just take the proteins and veggies without the rice.”
For more information, Caryn Zinn has a website at www.carynzinn.com.
She is also the co-author of a book, “What The Fat?’ which details more about the High Fat – Low Carb way of living – and which you can purchase online via her website.