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

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.  No counting calories or measuring is necessary.  He also notes repeatedly throughout the book that in the end you must experiment with your own body.  He 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.

As a coach of a range of low carb diets, the most frequent complaints or confusion I hear is around 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.

Dairy and the 4-hour body

1/2 cup cottage cheese

Summary of Rules Regarding Dairy and 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.”

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.

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.

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.

Cottage Cheese and Yogurt on Slow Carb and Low Carb Diets:

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 dairy and the 4-hour body diet compliant or not?  Ferriss notes you can have 1/2 cup and not every day.  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, as the lactose is a milk sugar, and one key to SCD success is controlling glycemic load, and essentially reaching a point where fat is being used for energy rather than carbohydrates.

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.

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 and 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.


  1. Joanne Goldberg on May 4, 2016 at 8:15 am

    What about a little 1/2 & 1/2 in your coffee?

    • dorothy stainbrook on May 5, 2016 at 11:55 am

      1/2 and 1/2 has sugar (in the form of lactose). It’s not as much as skim milk and the others, but it is still sugar. Heavy whipping cream is the way to go. Not only does it avoid the sugar/insulin issue but it keeps you satiated much longer and it doesn’t take very much for a rich cup of coffee. Similar to what the bulletproof coffee people do by adding butter or coconut oil to their coffee.

      You do need to be careful not to overdo however. 2 Tablespoons heavy cream a day is recommendation.

      • Heather on May 22, 2019 at 9:18 pm

        What about lactose free 10% cream, is that ok ? It is only 20 calories and 1.5 gram of fat

        • dorothy stainbrook on May 23, 2019 at 10:21 am

          The thing you want to look at on the nutritional analysis of the label is the sugar content. Compare your dairy based on sugar. In general low-fat dairy has more sugar. High fat dairy without the sugar won’t cause an insulin response that results in storing fat. Yes, it is more dense in calories, but if you use it sparingly you will stay full and productive longer without spiking blood sugar. High fat dairy is the way to go if you are keto. If you are watching calories, just use less, but the best thing to do is read and compare labels for sugar content.

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