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

Simple Guide to Dairy on the 4-Hour Body Diet (aka Slow Carb)
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Tim Ferriss, in his book “The 4-Hour Body,” recommends avoiding dairy products while following the Slow Carb Diet and lifestyle.

Dairy, including milk and cheese, is generally excluded from the diet due to its lactose (milk sugar) and insulin-spiking properties.

While diet rules and recommendations 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.

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

Jump to: Dairy Recommendations for Slow Carb Diet | Comparison of Dairy Products

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Common Complaints about the Slow Carb Diet

Ferriss has done some experimentation for you concerning dairy and the 4-hour body diet, but remember that our physical bodies are unique and complex.  

Tweaking any diet 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 these three issues:

  1. The degree of fat that is allowed
  2. The type of fruit that is allowed
  3. The type of dairy that is allowed 

Summary of Recommendations on 4-Hour Body Diet

Before I give you my interpretation of how dairy fits into a slow-carb (and low-carb) diet, I want to quote the author of the 4-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss. 

This quote from his website discusses dairy as part of the 4-Hour Body Slow-Carb diet.

“Do not eat the following, except for cheat days:
yams
– sweet potatoes
– quinoa
– diary (this includes cheese and yogurt of all kinds)


__Tim Ferriss

Ferriss goes on to say…

 “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..

__Tim Ferriss

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. 

However, for short-term weight loss, or to kick-start a lower-carb lifestyle, try to avoid three food groups for a while: fruit, grains, and dairy. Save them for 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.

Getting the details right for you is particularly true 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 work for fat loss.

More on low carb fruits and vegetables in these posts:

Comparison of Dairy Sources for Slow Carb Diet

Lactose:

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 some dairy products are made in a way that limits lactose. This would include aged hard cheeses, butter, and cream (note that they may be dense in calories even if low in lactose). 

a Variety of different cheeses arrange vertically
A variety of different cheeses

Some dairy products, such as cottage cheese and plain Greek yogurt, are allowed in small amounts, or intermittently because they are very high in protein even though they contain some lactose. 

Cottage Cheese:

Did you know? The process of making cottage cheese results in “almost” no lactose present at all. This explains why 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 compliant with the 4-hour body diet, or not?  

Ferriss notes you can have 1/2 cup but not on an everyday basis.  The answer comes down to what else you are eating daily, 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 in a daily meal routine could mean slowed fat loss.

I 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 concerning cottage cheese.

Greek Yogurt:

White bowl of plain Greek yogurt.
Plain Greek yogurt

How does Greek yogurt compare to cottage cheese? The chart below is a quick “cheat sheet”.

1/2 CupCarbsCaloriesProteinLactose
Greek Yogurt~4 grams~5010-12 grams~4 grams
Cottage Cheese~4 grams~6011-13 grams~5 grams

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 not allowed on SCD and will up the sugar content quite dramatically.

Bottom Line: From the horse’s mouth (the horse being Tim Ferriss): “In the end, the point of the 4-Hour Body is intelligent and responsible SELF-EXPERIMENTING“.

My Concluding Takeaways: 

  1. Try your cottage cheese or Greek yogurt for a while, but make sure you’re getting 20-30g of protein with your meals.  
  2. Dairy on the 4-hour body diet can work if close attention is paid to the type of dairy (minimal lactose) and the amount of dairy.  
  3. The amount is watched primarily because dairy (like aged hard cheeses) can be very dense in calories.  
  4. If you plateau on the diet, try ditching the dairy for a while.   N=1 is often the best experiment (i.e. experiment with one person – you)!

Want more information? See this post to learn more about the similarities and differences between Low Carb, Slow Carb, and Keto diets.

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Online Diet/Health Coaching:

Although I am not currently taking clients for diet & health coaching, I was 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.

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David

Monday 1st of January 2024

I meant *plain* Greek yogurt

David

Monday 1st of January 2024

Playing Greek yogurt has less carbs per serving than cottage cheese. So if one is allowed the other should be.

Dorothy Stainbrook

Tuesday 2nd of January 2024

Yes, I agree. It’s just that Ferriss didn’t directly address yogurt in his book, whereas he did briefly talk about cottage cheese. I personally think plain greek yogurt is fine.

zuzu

Sunday 6th of June 2021

Hi,

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.

dorothy stainbrook

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.

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!

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