A common question asked by keto newbies (though not ONLY by keto newbies) is: What’s the difference between keto and lchf (low-carb, high-fat)? The simple answer is: There is no difference. But that’s not always the right answer. See, people like to change definitions to suit what they like, sometimes. So someone might call their way of eating “keto,” but it might not really be keto at all. Someone might call their way of eating “lchf,” but it might not really be lchf at all.
So, for the sake of this article, I’m going to define these two things as follows:
Keto: Short for ketogenic, consisting of high-fat (75%-80% of total dietary intake as fat), moderate protein (as a general guideline…not as gospel…that would be 50g-75g per day for females and 100g-120g per day for males), and very low-carb (less than 20g/day). That’s what I mean when I say keto.
LCHF: I have no idea. No, seriously. There are so many variations and permutations, that it has almost lost all sense of meaning. At this point, I have seen people slap the “lchf” label on so many, obviously, NOT lchf stuff that I just shake my head (and sip my Ballistic Coffee).
Because there are so many variations, I thought I’d attempt to shed some light on some things, in an attempt to clarify some things that you should know about high-fat diets.
- It’s about percentage, not grams
- High-fat doesn’t necessarily mean low-carb
- High-fat doesn’t necessarily mean high or low protein
- High-fat can hurt you (if you do it wrong)
This is pretty much the most important point about all of this. And it’s one that requires a good amount of attention and explanation.
A high-fat diet isn’t, necessarily, high-fat because you’re shoveling large quantities of fat into your face hole. It’s high-fat, because the percentage of total dietary energy from fat is HIGH. What’s high? Well…that’s where things get goofy for lots of people.
Low-fat advocates would consider 30% or more of your dietary energy from fat as “high-fat.” But I wouldn’t call that high-fat. As I said, because I advocate keto, I’m all about getting 75%-80% of dietary energy from fat.
It’s the percentage of fat that makes your way of eating high-fat. It’s not the grams.
Let me explain.
Let’s say your hypothetical daily requirement is 1700 calories per day (just for the sake of argument). If you eat 100g fat, 100g protein, and 100g carbs you’ll end up with 1700 calories. For reference, 100g of fat is almost 7 tablespoons. So you’re eating almost 7 tablespoons of fat every day. That’s a lot of fat. But is it high-fat?
If you’re measuring grams, it might look like it. But your fat percentage in the above example would only be 52%, which is not, in my opinion, high-fat.
If you want to make the 1700 calories/day high-fat, you’d have to adjust the macros. You need to change your fat grams to 142 grams. You could keep the protein the same. And you’d need to adjust the carbs to 10 grams. That would give you a 75% fat intake, 23% protein, and the rest (roughly 2%) is carbs.
So the percentages of the macros is how you should determine whether something is high-fat or not.
This might be confusing for you. If it is…congratulations, you’re a thinker. The term “lchf” includes two parts: low-carb and high-fat. So a high-fat diet, one might surmise, is also low-carb. But, no. If the average Western dieter consumes 300g-400g per day of carbs, then cutting that down to 120g/day might be considered low-carb by some. But I’d disagree. If you’re eating 120g/day of carbs, you’re still eating a TON of carbs (and still burning sugar for fuel). I’ll talk a little more about this later, but suffice it to say that a high-fat diet should also be low-carb based upon keto numbers, not based upon the standard Western diet that’s been responsible for overweight, obesity, diabetes, and all the other metabolic disorders of the past 50 or so years.
The forgotten macro, a lot of times, is protein. If high-fat should be accompanied by low-carb, then what happens to protein. Well, as I said earlier, it’s about moderation. The thing about protein is that you MUST have a minimum amount (or you’ll break down your own soft tissue) and you SHOULDN’T have too much (or it’ll convert to sugar).
[SIDENOTE: I have been accused of being “afraid” of protein, by others. I would like to make sure you understand that that is not the case. I eat meat. Lots of it. I have noticed that I am not negatively affected by high levels of protein (I don’t put on body fat when I eat a bunch of protein). But I’m not attempting to inform myself when I write articles. I’m trying to make sure YOU know what is the best advice to follow (from the docs, nutritionists, dietitians, and scientists I’ve talked to). So just because I can tolerate a higher level of protein does not mean I’m going to tell you that you can, too. You need to figure out your own thresholds.]
As a general rule, females should look to have between 50g – 75g per day of protein. Males should have between 100g – 120g per day of protein. However, if you don’t like those numbers, you can always experiment and figure out what works for you. Protein is something dependent upon lots of factors: body composition, activity level, stress level, age, and more. So there is no one-size-fits-all for everyone. You have a minimum and a maximum requirement. You gotta figure out what is your range and stay with it.
[SIDENOTE: Another way to calculate your daily protein requirement is to multiply your IDEAL body weight (in kilograms) by 1.0 (for females) or 1.2 (for males). You can use these formulas:
Males: Ideal body weight = 50 kg + 2.3 kg for each inch over 5 feet.
Females: Ideal body weight = 45.5 kg + 2.3 kg for each inch over 5 feet.
You’ll notice that these numbers might be significantly different than the guidelines I shared earlier. That’s okay. It’s about finding what works for you, so if using this formula helps you, then use it.]
Remember a second ago when I mentioned that high-fat should also be low-carb? Well, there’s a really important reason for that. Eating high-fat will cause fundamental changes to your body’s metabolism. But those changes require the absence of carbs. High levels of fat WITH high levels of carbs is a recipe for disaster. It’ll lead to obesity, metabolic problems, cardiovascular disease, clogged arteries, and a host of other problems. High-fat and high-carb is a recipe for disaster. If you’re eating high-fat, but you’ve not removed the carbs, you’re going to ruin your health.
Okay, so there you go. Let me just finish by saying this: Keto isn’t difficult to figure out. Keep the fat high, the carbs low, and find that protein sweet spot.