Tim Ferriss has repeatedly noted that the 4-hour body diet is intentionally designed with a set of 5 rules that are simple to follow. One of these rules is to limit most dairy. While diet rules should always be nuanced to include individual chemistry and lifestyle, here are a few important things that I learned about dairy while coaching a large range of people on the slow carb diet.
Jump to: Complaints of SCD | Diet Rules Around Dairy | Comparison of Dairy Sources
Common Complaints about the Slow Carb Diet
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.
As a previous coach on a range of low carb diets, the most frequent complaints or confusion I heard around this “way of eating” was focused on:
- the degree of fat that is allowed,
- the type of fruit that is allowed, and
- the type of dairy that is allowed.
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
- Sweet potatoes,
- 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.
Comparison of Dairy Sources for Slow Carb Diet
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.
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 what else you are eating on a daily basis, as well as individual experimentation.
Getting plenty of protein is one of the major keys to success, so if you’re in a tight squeeze or can’t tolerate other high protein foods for breakfast, then cottage cheese is a better choice than limiting 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 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 having more calcium, less sodium, and the addition of 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 Diet/Health Coaching:
Although I am not currently taking clients for diet & health coaching, I have been a coach for many years with the online service called coach.me. It is a great platform for all kinds of coaching – anything from specific diets, writing a blog, getting up early, or getting rid of that pesky procrastination.
There are some wonderful coaches and the testimonials will tell you what you need to know. Contact me at [email protected] to get a referral to some of the tested, experienced online coaches on Coach.me
If you’d like to start with a plan for a low carb or keto lifestyle, check out this detailed guide in ebook form. It may be all you need to lose weight on this lifestyle. Or it may be used as a supplement to one-to-one coaching.
Sunday 6th of June 2021
This has been really useful. I have been following 4hb for some time now, but it seems whenever i get to a certain mark, it just becomes really difficult. The longer i am on it, without seeing results, the more discouraged i get. I still love the diet, because i think it is more sustainable, for me in the long term. I just wished i could lose the weight, and get on maintenance mode. For reference, whenever i am at 68-69 kgs, it just stalls. I have done this diet twice; once after my first pregnancy, and this second time, after my second pregnancy (and my second kid is almost 2!).
The thing about whipping cream vs lactose free milk. I checked my whipping cream and it has 6.8 gms of sugar in it per serving, compared to 2.9 gms of sugar per serving for the lactose free milk. I am gonna give the lactose free milk a try here.
Monday 7th of June 2021
Hi there, you are correct about the whipping cream having sugar/carbs. It does vary quite a bit by brand, but most of them are some percentage of “whole cream”. The one I get is 40% and that is the highest I have found. So, to be totally 100% compliant you would not use heavy whipping cream.
That said, I have found that it is more sustainable for many people to be 90% compliant rather than 100% as long as you do some serious tracking. Tracking is really the only way to truly know how your body is responding (I use myfitnesspal). In the end, if you are not losing weight and you are being 90-100% compliant, you will probably have to look at lowering your calorie count some (or increasing your exercise program a lot). Calories do matter on this diet and on the keto diet.
Another way to help weight loss if you are not losing and you are being 90% compliant is to stretch out your cheat days to once every 2 weeks rather than once a week. This can be effective also.
Best of luck to you. Just remember that every “body” is different and the absolute best way to troubleshoot how your body is responding to any diet is to track the variables. It doesn’t have to be forever, but if you can track things for 6 weeks you will learn quite a bit about where the diet is failing you.
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.
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.
Tuesday 14th of April 2020
Very useful details, thank you Dorothy! It's my 8th week of slow carb diet ?
Tuesday 14th of April 2020
Way to go Dmytro!! It’s definitely my favorite diet in terms of fat loss and sustainability!
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!
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!
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.