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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.

1/2 cup 4% cottage cheese on a plate
1/2 cup cottage cheese

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

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 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.

13 Comments

  1. Chris Waterguy on July 16, 2019 at 8:32 pm

    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 on July 17, 2019 at 5:44 am

      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!

  2. Ryan on July 12, 2019 at 6:45 pm

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

    • dorothy stainbrook on July 12, 2019 at 7:41 pm

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

  3. Cherry Jeffs on July 12, 2019 at 7:45 am

    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 on July 12, 2019 at 7:55 am

      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!

      • Cherry Jeffs on July 17, 2019 at 11:59 am

        Thanks Dorothy, I’ll check that out!

  4. Michelle on July 8, 2019 at 4:03 pm

    Hi Dorothy,

    I used the SCD per the 4 Hour Body book a few years ago – supplements included – and had great results, losing about 25 lbs in 31 days, even though I didn’t stick to the plan religiously (i.e. regular sugar free candy, dark chocolate, coffee creamer, stevia, and occasional cheese and fruit).

    Since then I had to take Prednisone for about 5 straight years (due to autoimmune disease), and as is typical for long term Prednisone use, I gained a lot of weight from the related body fat increase; over 70 lbs despite exercise and diet changes. Now that I am FINALLY off of the Prednisone, I have been trying to get rid of the excess fat I gained. So I am going back to SCD, but considering my health issues – lung disease caused by Polymyositis/Dermatomyositis (autoimmune disease) and Bile Reflux Gastritis – my specialists do not want me on any supplements 🙁 . Additionally, I need to try to avoid inflammatory foods and some bile gastritis aggravating foods, but that includes SCD foods that were staples when I was previously on the diet.

    The past few months I tried eating anti-inflammatory foods (ex: sweet potatoes, plantain, veggies, lean meats, fish and fruits), quinoa, greek yogurt and almond or pea milk, some exercise such as walking/hiking and yoga, and restricting calories but the weight hasn’t really gone anywhere although I did seem to lose a barely noticeable amount of fat, and I had significantly less joint, muscle and stomach pain/issues.

    So I am trying to figure out how I can go back to SCD with anti-inflammatory food adjustments, without sacrificing fat loss? From what I have been told or read, between the bile gastritis and autoimmunity, I need to try to avoid: nightshade veggies, legumes, eggs, nuts. This really limits me as to what is left to eat on SCD. So is there anything I can use as valid low carb, low glycemic replacements for these foods? My primary goal is fat loss – as long as I can do that, then actual weight doesn’t really concern me (since I would be trading fat for muscle).

    Any ideas or insights would be greatly appreciated!

    • dorothy stainbrook on July 8, 2019 at 4:15 pm

      Michelle I am sorry to hear of your very challenging journey. It is much too complex for me to comment with any confidence on a blog message. There would be a lot of trial and error involved to customize something that would work for you. Since you had success on slow carb before that would be a good place to start tweeking.

  5. 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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