Nuts and Dairy: Fat Creep on Low Carb

Nuts and dairy are very popular foods on a low carb or ketogenic diet — they are nutritious, low in carbs and contain healthy fats and protein. The problem? They are also very energy-dense and hyperpalatable which makes them very easy to overeat.

If raw and unsalted, you’re less likely to overconsume them, but when roasted and salted, nuts (often cooked in poor quality vegetable or seed oils) are especially palatable. Flavored nuts and seeds may also contain hidden sugars like maltodextrin. All of this contributes to overconsumption: salt, sugar, and other spices added to any food will often override your body’s natural turn-off switch until you’ve finished off quite a bit more than you intended. You will consume more nuts roasted in seed oils then you will if they are just roasted and salted, and you will easily eat 2-3 times more if they contain sugar, salt, and spices. When that happens the fat and carbs you’ve eaten can quickly add up to a not-so-healthy choice.

Dairy is also very easy to overeat — like nuts it is very palatable and most people can consume quite a lot before being satiated. While low carb friendly, heavy whipping cream, butter, cheese, full fat yogurt, cream cheese, and sour cream contain a lot of energy and fat. If you add a little bit of sweetener or low-carb fruit to these, they become especially easy to overdo! We often ask clients to measure out the heavy cream they are using in their morning coffee because most are completely unaware of how much they are consuming in the morning when their eyes are barely open!

One other thing many on a low carb diet don’t think about is the added fat from cooking food in large amounts of butter. Chances are low that you would sit down and eat big chunks of butter on its own, but add it to eggs, vegetables, meat or combine with a little almond flour and sweetener into a low-carb cookie, and you’ve got a hyperpalatable food that is low carb, and very easy to overdo. Once you start adding sweetener and other flavors, consumption of these foods can escalate quickly. Cheese is often the base of many low-carb meals like pizza, taco meat and desserts, but even on its own, it tastes great and while a good low carb option, we usually need to eat quite a bit to have any sort of lasting satiety.

So how do we avoid over consuming these foods? Over the years we have found that consuming 2-3 oz. or less of nuts and dairy works best. Control this by getting single-serving packs (the most economical place to find these are in warehouse clubs or online). You can also buy snack-size bags on Amazon or make your own: buy a large bag and immediately break them down in to smaller size, individual servings. Many of us have been fooled in to thinking we can control ourselves with a large bag of nuts — but then reach in to grab a handful over and over until the big bag is finished. Dividing up a large bag will make you more aware of exactly how much you’re consuming. Cheese and other dairy are a little more difficult to moderate, but we usually advise to try and not keep large amounts around, and measure quantity to start to become aware.

When we are first coming off of a high carb Standard American Diet, nuts and cheese can be very useful to help us bridge the divide to low carb living, but as you settle in to your new low carb diet they can easily stall progress. Becoming aware of these foods and using them with discretion is the first step to figuring out their proper place in your diet.


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Dr. Tro’s Medical Weight Loss and Primary Care provides nationwide medical weight loss, primary and metabolic care through an individualized approach that reverses and prevents disease. 

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