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Dairy on the 4-Hour Body Diet (aka Slow Carb)

Dairy on the 4-Hour Body Diet (aka Slow Carb)

Tim Ferriss has repeatedly noted in his blogs, his podcasts and his speaking engagements that the 4-hour body diet is intentionally designed with a set of 5 rules that are simple to follow.  Although counting calories and measuring portion sizes is not necessary, one of the rules people resist is to avoid dairy on the 4-Hour Body Diet.  He does give the caveat repeatedly throughout the book that in the end you must experiment with your own body.  

Ferriss has done some of the experimentation for you with regards to dairy and the 4-hour body diet, but bodies are unique and complex.  Tweeking is going to be necessary to achieve a long term, sustainable way of eating that will fit your exercise intensity, your sleep routines and your overall lifestyle.

Full fat cottage cheese for a slow carb diet
Full fat cottage cheese for a slow carb diet

As a coach on a range of low carb diets, the most frequent complaints or confusion I hear around this “way of eating” is focused on:

  • the degree of fat that is allowed,
  • the type of fruit that is allowed, and
  • the type of dairy that is allowed.  

While not the end-all regarding dairy and the 4-hour body diet, here are a few things that I have learned through coaching a range of people of different ages and backgrounds.

Summary of Rules Regarding Dairy on the 4-Hour Body Diet

Before I give you my interpretation of how dairy fits in to a slow-carb (and low-carb) diet, I want to quote the author of the 4-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss.  This quote is from this post on his website:

“Do not eat the following, except for cheat days:

  • Yams,
  • Sweet potatoes,
  • Quinoa,
  • Dairy (this includes cheese and yogurt of all kinds)

 I mention cottage cheese at one point as a last resort. It is low in lactose, which is what you need to avoid. Ghee and cream (for coffee) should contain little or no lactose, hence you can use them. The same goes for effectively lactose-free, unflavored whey protein, etc..

 [Note for the PubMed readers: It’s true that whey is partially (or wholly) responsible for the insulinemic response of most dairy, but avoiding lactose seems to be more directly correlated to faster fat-loss in the diet subjects I’ve tracked. Needless to say, avoiding all dairy is the simplest solution.”

Many nutritionists will tell you that any diet that excludes an entire food group is faulty.  This seems logical and valid if we are talking about a long-term, sustainable diet.  For short-term weight loss, or for kick-starting your entry into a lower carb world, you may need to avoid three food groups for a while: fruit, grains and dairy.  Many people will effectively relegate these food choices to their cheat days.

Now, while simple rules are easy to follow and give you a great boiler-plate for initiating a high-protein-low-carb diet, the devil is in the details after you get going, particularly if you want to make this way of eating a lifestyle change rather than a short-term diet.

The rest of this post is my interpretation of how dairy and the 4-hour body diet works with respect to fat loss.  More on fruits and grains later.

Specific Sources of Dairy on the 4-Hour Body


The bottom line on dairy is you want to avoid lactose, which is also called milk sugar, and acts on insulin in the same way as other sugars.

That said there are some dairy products that are made in a way as to be limited in lactose.  This would include aged hard cheeses, butter, and cream (note that they may be dense in calories even if low in lactose).  There are also some dairy products that are allowed in small amounts, or intermittently, because they are very high in protein even though they contain lactose.  This would be cottage cheese and plain greek yogurt.

Cottage Cheese:

The interesting thing about cottage cheese is that the process it goes through to become cottage cheese results in there being “almost” no lactose present at all. This explains why mysteriously some lactose-intolerant folks can happily eat cottage cheese without a problem. The lack of lactose coupled with the high amount of protein is why Tim Ferriss included it in the ‘grey area’ of slow carb foods.

So is cottage cheese and the 4-hour body diet compliant or not?  Ferriss notes you can have 1/2 cup but not on an every day basis.  The answer comes down to the rest of your diet and experimentation.

Getting protein is a key to success, so if you’re in a tight squeeze or can’t tolerate other high protein foods for breakfast, then it’s better than not getting enough protein.  However, including it into a daily meal routine could mean slowed fat loss.

I personally have used cottage cheese once or twice a week without any weight gain (note that I have already reached my goal weight however, and have been stable for years).  My daughter, who is on SCD, regularly eats cottage cheese with spicy salsa and is continuing to lose weight. Experiment with your own body with respect to cottage cheese.

Greek Yogurt:

Greek yogurt supplies less than 6.8 grams of lactose (the milk sugar) per 6-ounce serving,  compared to cottage cheese at 3 grams of lactose per half cup.  They’re both rich in lean protein, with cottage cheese having slightly more;  27 grams per cup cottage cheese versus 20 grams per cup for greek yogurt, and only 12 grams for plain yogurt .

The carb count of cottage cheese (4%) and greek yogurt is a wash, with greek yogurt coming in with fewer calories (98 calories per 100 grams cottage cheese vs. 59 calories per 100 grams greek yogurt). 

Greek yogurt also has a slight edge over cottage cheese in terms of calcium, it has less sodium, and it contains probiotics.  You do need to avoid flavored yogurts and many people add fruit to greek yogurt, which is definitely not allowed on SCD and will up the sugar content quite dramatically.

BOTTOM LINE:  From the horse’s mouth (horse being Tim Ferriss):  ” In the end, the point of 4HB is intelligent and responsible SELF-EXPERIMENTATION.

MY TAKEAWAY:  Try your cottage cheese or greek yogurt for a while, but make sure you’re getting 20-30g of protein with your meals.   Dairy on the 4-hour body diet can work together if close attention is paid to the type of dairy (minimal lactose) and the amount of dairy.  

The amount is watched primarily because dairy (like hard aged cheeses) can be very dense in calories.  If you plateau on the diet, try ditching the dairy for a while.   N=1 is often the best experiment.

Online Coaching Available:

I have followed the slow carb diet for 3 years and the keto diet for 2 years now, and I have put my “been there done that” knowledge to work helping people figure it out.  I am currently an online diet coach (info can be found here if you’re interested), and have just hit the 250-client mark.  Come and visit me and see if online coaching might be for you!

If not for diet, there are other coaches on the site that coach anything from writing a blog, to getting up early, to getting rid of that pesky procrastination.  Explore the site while you are there.  There are some wonderful coaches and the testimonials will tell you what you need to know.  Click here to get to my profile and then explore others from there.

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Michael Zelbel

Tuesday 14th of April 2020

Thanks a lot! I love cottage cheese and I can eat it as a side dish with almost everything. What makes it though for me to follow Ferriss' slow carb diet is that legumes are mandatory. My stomach does not like large amounts of legumes.

dorothy stainbrook

Tuesday 14th of April 2020

Michael, I wouldn’t look at it that legumes are mandatory, but rather that a certain amount of protein is mandatory. He got a lot of his protein from legumes and 1 cup of beans per day is recommended from the Blue Zones study, but it is more important that you get 20-30 grams protein per meal and that it is surrounded by vegetables with a wide range of micronutrients. He recommends a glass of wine per day also, but admits that is just because he likes wine and it won’t hurt. I would look at legumes the same way. In the end Ferriss always recommends that you test things on your own body and design around that.

Dmytro Voytko

Tuesday 14th of April 2020

Very useful details, thank you Dorothy! It's my 8th week of slow carb diet ?

dorothy stainbrook

Tuesday 14th of April 2020

Way to go Dmytro!! It’s definitely my favorite diet in terms of fat loss and sustainability!

Chris Waterguy

Tuesday 16th of July 2019

My goals aren't weight loss, but having more energy, fewer cravings and putting on some muscle. Having some SCD meals has been good for energy and cravings.

I'm far from strict about it and I do eat dairy. I don't eat much meat or eggs, which restricts my protein options a lot.

It sounds like dairy probably isn't a big problem for me, as long as we don't go too hard on the hard cheeses. Good to know, thanks!

dorothy stainbrook

Wednesday 17th of July 2019

Chris, the biggest “rule” of all is to experiment on your own body and find the mix that is sustainable, healthy and leads to permanent lifestyle change. Sounds like you have found that!


Friday 12th of July 2019

As a lover of all things dairy this diet always intimidated me but this information makes it much more accessible thank you!

dorothy stainbrook

Friday 12th of July 2019

Well that’s great to hear Ryan! It’s really important to customize this diet stuff so that it can be a sustainable lifestyle.

Cherry Jeffs

Friday 12th of July 2019

That's really useful info, Dorothy! As a non-meat eater with an intolerance to nuts and seeds, I really struggle with reducing carbs in my diet but I love greek yoghurt and I'm happy to eat cottage cheese so that's something I can feel a bit more positive about :)

dorothy stainbrook

Friday 12th of July 2019

Yes, it is a little more challenging for non-meat eaters to get in high protein foods. There is a really good book out right now on keto for non-meat eaters. It is primarily around a plant-based diet but does include fish and eggs. It’s called Ketotarian, by Dr. Will Cole. Highly recommended!

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