Have you heard or come across the low carb intermittent fasting method? There are numerous intermittent fasting (IF) methods, so you may not have come across low carb IF as it is not the most popular. As the name suggests, this eating pattern involves the interchange between periods of fasting (calorie restriction) and consuming meals that are considered low in carbohydrates within a specific time to accelerate weight loss (8).
While starving implies the voluntary or involuntary lack of food for a long time, which can lead to severe health complications and even worse, fatality, fasting is a voluntary act where people avoid food for spiritual or health enhancement purposes, for various reasons. That said, not everyone should fast. According to WebMD, those who are underweight or have higher caloric needs, are below 18 years old, elderly, diabetic, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and those with chronic illnesses should not try any intermittent fasting diet because they require a daily amount of sufficient calories for proper development (4). Also, those with a history of an eating disorder should not fast.
Understanding Low-Carb Intermittent Fasting
What is intermittent fasting with a low carb diet? Low carb intermittent fasting is any union of two weight loss methods- intermittent fasting and a low carb meal plan, such as the keto diet. Adhering to one enhances the other and vice versa. Intermittent fasting with a low carb diet aims to lower blood sugar and burn fat by reducing carbs (calories) and inducing ketosis (8). Many health-conscious people use a combination of low-carb keto diet and intermittent fasting to drop weight and control other health conditions.
Intermittent Fasting Vs Low-Carb Diets
We always chant 1+1=2, but how did we arrive at 2? You first have to understand the building blocks, i.e., what 1 is. Using the same analogy to better understand the low carb intermittent fasting meal plan, it is important to know the role of individual meal plans.
Intermittent Fasting (IF)
Unlike most diets, intermittent fasting focuses on when you eat and not what you eat (14). There are several types of intermittent fasting, for example, 16/8 fasting and 5:2 approach. The bottom line on how to do intermittent fasting is that you will have to eat only within a specific time window regardless of the approach taken. For instance, eat during the day and fast during the day, eat regularly five days a week, limit yourself to one 500–600 calorie meal on the other two days, or eat for eight hours and fast for 16 (14). Besides eating and fasting, sleep also plays an important role in the IF plan since it prevents you from eating when you are not supposed to, and according to the New York Times, it is considered a fasting phase (23).
Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting
IF might be a realistic, sustainable, safe, and incredibly effective weight loss and diabetes prevention method if you follow the fasting and eating periods of the plan as dictated (12). Its benefits include:
Although weight loss is usually associated with reduced calories, you do not have to worry too much about the number of calories you consume with intermittent fasting. When cells do not use all the carbs that are broken down into sugar for energy, the excess is stored in the fat cells using insulin. When you do not snack during the fasting phase, insulin levels decrease, and the fat cells can then release their stored sugar to be used as energy. Simply put, the body uses your fat reserves for energy during the fasting phase. Therefore, weight loss in IF occurs when insulin levels go down far enough and for long enough that you burn off extra fat (12).
Reduces Insulin Resistance
A review of literature published in the Clinical Diabetes and Endocrinology journal concluded that IF minimizes insulin resistance (11). This means that regular periods of eating and fasting may help protect you against type 2 diabetes, a disorder primarily caused by insulin resistance, specifically in adipose tissue, skeletal muscle, and liver. The research also established that IF effectively decreases weight, leptin levels, fasting glucose, fasting insulin and increases adiponectin levels (11). Intermittent fasting may help burn fat in the liver and reverse insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, but should only be done by diabetic patients while under medical supervision.
WebMD defines inflammation as a process by which the body’s immune system protects you from outside invaders. This process can sometimes malfunction where white blood cells trigger inflammation when there are no invaders to fight off. This may be involved in many chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, and Alzheimer’s disease (5). Studies suggest that intermittent fasting reduces inflammation markers and risk factors for cardiovascular diseases such as homocysteine, CRP, and TC/HDL ratio (6) (9). It was established that during fasting, monocytes, a collection of pro-inflammatory cells, go into sleep mode and are less inflammatory than the cells that had been fed (9).
A 2020 study published in the Journal of The Alzheimer’s Association showed the positive effects of IF in reducing neuroinflammation, meaning that IF may protect the brain from the effects of aging and disease (22). Another 3-year progressive study established that older adults who practiced IF regularly had better cognitive scores and reverted to better cognitive function groups (successful aging and normal aging) (10). Therefore, long-term intermittent fasting may help improve one’s memory, overall cognition, and executive function, although further research is needed.
Intermittent fasting can be good for the heart. Human studies show that IF could positively impact cardiovascular health by minimizing risk factors such as hypertension, obesity, dyslipidemia, and diabetes (7). This eating pattern has also been associated with improved outcomes after a cardiac event, although data is limited (7).
Side Effects Of IF
According to Harvard Health, IF may (1):
- Make you feel sick by experiencing headaches, crankiness, lethargy, and constipation depending on the length of the fasting period.
- Make you overeat because your appetite hormones and hunger center in your brain go into overdrive when you are deprived of food during fasting.
- Cause older adults to lose too much weight.
- Be dangerous if you are on certain medications; therefore, consult your doctor before trying it.
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A low carbohydrate weight loss plan involves the consumption of low carb, high-fat foods. Usually, simple natural, simple refined, complex natural, and complex refined carbs such as grains, fruits, legumes, bread, sweets, pastas and starchy vegetables, and in some cases, nuts and seeds are limited. Still, some diet plans permit small quantities of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables (16). While it is recommended that carbohydrates should constitute 45% to 65% of your total daily calorie intake (between 900 and 1,300 calories if you consume 2,000 calories a day), a low-carb diet involves consuming as little as 0.7 to 2 ounces (20 to 57 grams) of carbohydrates, providing 80 to 240 calories a day (16).
An excellent example of a low carb high-fat intake is the ketogenic diet which starts by reducing your daily carb intake to about 20-50 grams, creating a carbohydrate deficiency that signals the body to start a metabolic process called ketosis (3). During ketosis, your body breaks down fat to form substances known as ketones, forcing the body to rely on fats instead of glucose as its primary energy source.
Benefits Of Low-Carb High-Fat Diet
Low carb diets promote a heavy intake of healthy fats, fewer carbs, and a substantial amount of protein, triggering the body to extract energy from alternative fuel sources (especially fats). The benefits of this include:
Cutting out carbs is one of the most effective ways for weight loss. People on a low-carb diet might lose weight faster than people on a low-fat diet because they will be consuming fewer calories. A low-carb diet may also minimize appetite and calorie intake, and with time, the body adapts to a lower appetite. A randomized controlled trial of a low-carbohydrate diet for weight loss established that satiety (fullness) may be better preserved on a low-carbohydrate diet than a low-fat diet (19). Eating restricted amounts of carbohydrates decreases appetite-stimulating hormones such as insulin and ghrelin and might lower the risks of metabolic syndrome (3).
Reduced Blood Sugar And Insulin Levels
Low carb and keto diets are helpful for people living with diabetes and insulin resistance. According to Diabetes UK, reducing carb intake may help eliminate the spikes and crashes in sugar levels after meals, ease diabetes management, reduce HbA1c levels, minimize the risk of severe hypoglycemia, and prevent diabetes complications (15). Other advantages of such a meal plan include clarity of thought enhancement, improved skin complexion, and reducing tiredness through the day (15).
May Lower Blood Pressure And Improve Heart Health
A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health concluded that low carb diets effectively lower high blood pressure, one of the cardiovascular risks that people with type 2 diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance face (18). By eating a low-carb diet, one makes healthy food choices, including healthy fats that help with cholesterol control, which translates into significant cardiovascular protection (18). A keto diet could also help in lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) (bad cholesterol) and raising high-density lipoprotein (HDL) (good cholesterol) levels (24).
The downsides of this eating plan, according to Mayo Clinic, include (16):
- Sudden and drastic reduction in carbs may cause temporary side effects like constipation, muscle cramps, bad breath, fatigue, and headache.
- Long-term carbs restriction may result in vitamin or mineral deficiencies and gastrointestinal disturbances.
- Eating large amounts of fat and protein from animal sources may put you at higher risk of heart disease or certain cancers. Therefore, you should pay attention to the fats and proteins you consume while on this diet and restrict foods with saturated and trans fats (for example high-fat dairy products and meat) which may increase heart disease risk.
Low-Carb And Intermittent Fasting
Now that you have a clear picture of the individual diets, you are better placed to understand everything there is to know about low carb high fat intermittent fasting.
How To Do The Intermittent Fasting Low-Carb Diet
There are several approaches on how to do intermittent fasting with a low carb diet, but the bottom line is to ensure that you go for regular periods without food and when you eat, consume meals that are low in carbohydrates. For instance, if you follow the 14:10 approach and your calorie cut-off is at 7 p.m, you will fast overnight and resume eating after 14 hours, i.e., 9 a.m, then eat all your meals between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.
If you follow the 16:8 approach and your calorie cut-off is at 6 p.m, you will fast overnight and resume eating after 16 hours, i.e., 10 a.m. and eat all your meals between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. This means that you will always have a regular eating pattern for the period you are on low-carb intermittent fasting. Note that most of your fasting hours will be a night while you are sleeping, which is a window that may help you deal with late-night snacking on hidden carbohydrates.
Baby steps are crucial on how to start the keto low carb intermittent fasting. It will be safer if you begin by consuming low-carb foods before going to the ones that are very low in carbs since a ketogenic diet is a high-fat, very-low-carb way of eating. Intermittent fasting may be appropriate for those struggling to reach ketosis while on a keto diet, as it can help jumpstart the process. Note that you may experience adverse reactions like fatigue, irritability, or overeating on the non-fasting days when you follow keto low carb intermittent fasting.
What Counts As Low-Carb During Intermittent Fasting
Before taking on a low carb intermittent fasting plan, you need to understand what counts as low carb during intermittent fasting, to avoid eating too much or too little. Low carb foods include:
- Meat – Beef, pork, lamb, game, poultry.
- Fish and seafood- for example, mackerel, salmon, sardines, and herring.
- Natural fats, high-fat, and dairy sauces- for example, butter, cream, Greek/Turkish yogurt, high-fat cheeses, nuts, coconut fat, and olive oil.
- Vegetables growing above ground- for example, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, eggplant, spinach, leafy greens, cucumber, asparagus, peppers, zucchini, olives, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, and lettuce.
- Fruits- such as avocado, berries (17).
- Healthy beverages – for example, water, tea, and coffee without milk or sweeteners
When following low carb intermittent fasting for weight loss meal plan, avoid foods high in carbs such as:
- Sugar- for example, in soft drinks, juice, candy, chocolate (you can take dark chocolate occasionally), pastries, ice cream, and breakfast cereals.
- Starch- Found in flour, wheat products, refined cereal grains, potatoes, beans, and lentils.
- Beer and candy or the higher-sugar fruits.
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Benefits Of Low-Carb Diet Plus Intermittent Fasting
Should you combine low carb diets and intermittent fasting? Yes, you can, after consulting your doctor and nutritionist. Intermittent fasting and low carb diets have similar goals and overall outcomes; for example, they both work to lower blood sugar and insulin and induce ketosis to help burn fat in your body. Taking low-carb high-fat meals after fasting for a specific period regularly increases and accentuates the benefits of both practices. In summary, it contributes to:
- Weight loss: Low-carb diets and intermittent fasting are both excellent weight loss methods. You can expect great results by pursuing one of them and reap the most out of them.
- Lowering blood sugar: One study found that diabetes patients reduced their 24 hour glucose levels by 35% with low carb diets and 49% with fasting (2). Perhaps a combined diet of the two may be more effective in lowering blood sugar.
- Managing insulin resistance and diabetes: As mentioned earlier, the combo may reduce glucose and insulin levels in the body, causing the number of fats stored in the body to decrease since insulin works as a fat-storing hormone (8).
- Creates a shorter path to ketosis: Intermittent fasting and a low-carb diet may help your body reach ketosis faster, therefore it could be perfect if you are struggling to reach ketosis while on a keto diet.
The success of the low carb intermittent fasting diet will mostly be aided by what you eat and when you eat. Therefore, aim for a meal plan with less than 20g net carbs per day, and choose a timeframe that works best for you.
Technically, following a low-carb diet may work better when you fast, and intermittent fasting may work better when you go low carb i.e., they are synergistic. Therefore, low carb intermittent fasting may be your best shot at losing weight and preventing health issues. Although safe and effective for many people, pregnant and lactating women, people with underlying conditions and eating disorders should avoid fasting. Even if you are very healthy, it is important to consult your doctor and nutritionist before trying low carb intermittent fasting so that they can customize the appropriate meal plan just for you!
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 4 intermittent fasting side effects to watch out for (2020, health.harvard.edu)
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- Diet Review: Ketogenic Diet for Weight Loss (n.d, hsph.harvard.edu)
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- Inflammation (2020, webmd.com)
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- Intermittent Fasting: A Heart Healthy Dietary Pattern (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Intermittent Fasting and Low Carb Diet: Everything You Need to Know (2019, capitalfm.co.ke)
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- Intermittent Fasting Enhanced the Cognitive Function in Older Adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment by Inducing Biochemical and Metabolic changes: A 3-Year Progressive Study (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- IF: is there a role in the treatment of diabetes? A review of the literature and guide for primary care physicians (2021, clindiabetesendo.biomedcentral.com)
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- The Effects of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet on Appetite: A Randomized Controlled Trial
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- The effects of a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet and a low-fat diet on mood, hunger, and other self-reported symptoms (2007, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The role of intermittent fasting in brain health (2020,alz-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- What Is Intermittent Fasting and Does It Really Work? (2019, nytimes.com)
- Why is the keto diet good for you? (2020,medicalnewstoday.com)