Nutrition hacking means optimizing the way we eat to improve our health, fitness and well-being.
It’s a big umbrella that covers many different diets!
But if we had to pick one underlying principle, it would be this: reduce the amount of junk foods and carbohydrates in your diet.
This single step will bring immediate health improvements. Some of us choose to take it further and eliminate these foods completely.
Let’s have a look at the spectrum of nutrition hacker diets, and pros/cons of each.
How “low” is low-carb?
There is actually no specific definition of a “low-carb diet”. Technically, anything lower than the official government guidelines for daily consumption of carbohydrates could be deemed “low-carb”.
In most countries, this guideline amount is around 200-300g of carbs a day.
These recommendations are based on outdated research that’s many decades old.
Latest studies demonstrate the dangers of excessive carb consumption – especially highly refined carbs like sugar and white flour – while dietary fat is now proven innocent.
Some countries, for example Sweden, are updating their official nutritional guidance accordingly. Hopefully we will soon see the same shift across the world.
Approximate carb level: around 100-150g of carbs a day
The simplest way to lower your carbs is to ditch just two foods – sugar and processed grains. So anything sweet or anything made from flour will be out. Beware the many fancy names of sugar – it tries to hide on labels.
These two groups of ingredients are the nastiest nutritional villains. All they provide is basically empty calories. But they mess with your health in many ways and are also highly addictive.
The debate regarding optimal human diet continues, but pretty much all doctors and nutritionists agree regarding these two food groups.
This one step will cut a significant portion of low-quality carbs from your diet. You can still have natural high-carb foods like fruit, tubers and whole grains.
This is a great start and would definitely be good for your long-term health. You are likely to see other benefits like better digestion and more energy.
However, weight loss is not guaranteed at this level. Your carb levels would probably be still too high to make any real difference to fat burning.
Approximate carb level: around 60-120g of carbs a day
Further down the spectrum, we have a nutritional approach that can be referred to as ancestral eating. Paleo is a well-known example, and the hunter-gatherer diet is very similar.
This approach eliminates all processed foods and plants over-cultivated by agriculture. So it cuts out all grains, all legumes and white potatoes. You can still have fruit, berries and most other vegetables.
Some variations of the diet follow the seasons, only allowing plants that are currently in season and locally grown.
Paleo does not specifically aim to be low-carb. But it gets there anyway due to cutting out most high-carb foods.
This type of diet is liberal enough to include a wide variety of foods, so you won’t get bored. But carbs are lowered to the point where you may see some weight loss.
Carb level: 20-40g of carbs a day
Keto sits on the lowest end of the low-carb spectrum.
On Keto, you lower your carbs to about 20g a day (30-40g for larger people and athletes). Your body enters a metabolic state called “ketosis”. It switches to burning fat as the primary source of fuel instead of carbs.
This lifestyle is very different from standard diets. You would have to ditch sugar, all grains and all fruit completely. Your diet would be based on animal proteins, healthy fats, full-fat dairy and a small amount of salad vegetables.
Keto requires more focus and discipline than the more liberal low-carb diet plans. It’s more restrictive and you will actually have to count the carbs.
The initial adaptation period can be tough! The infamous Keto flu might strike, although there are ways to deal with it.
But once your body adjusts, ketosis feels amazing – lots of energy, no hunger and fast weight loss.
It can take up to a month to get fully Keto-adapted. Most people report significant well-being benefits like mental clarity, better moods and better digestion.
Carnivore / Zero-carb
Carb level: virtually 0 carbs
Carnivore represents the most radical end of the low-carb spectrum. Carnivore means literally nothing plant-based.
People who follow this lifestyle live on animal proteins alone: meat, eggs and dairy. Some animal-based foods have a small amount of carbs, for example eggs, shellfish and liver. But apart from that, the diet is virtually zero-carb.
Carnivore challenges the accepted wisdom on nutrition. We are told over and over again about the importance of fibre and getting your five-a-day portions of fruit and veg.
Traditional nutritionists were appalled by the concept when it started to get traction. Their collective pearl-clutching promised all sorts of problems to anyone who’d dare try this unorthodox way of eating.
But it turns out that Carnivore is not only sustainable, it actually brings significant health benefits. It seems to be especially helpful for people with auto-immune disorders and digestive disorders like IBS. It’s fantastic for weight loss and brings the same benefits as Keto like mental clarity and more energy.
The scientific community has a lot of catching up to do. But there is a thriving community of people and plenty of anecdotal evidence that Carnivore can be a healthy and rewarding lifestyle.
Another popular nutrition hacking method is fasting. People who follow the diets listed above boost them further with periods of fasting.
Intermittent Fasting means abstaining from food for a certain period of time within a day. For example, a common IF protocol of 18/6 means you eat during a window of 6 hours, and fast for the remaining 18 hours.
Extended Fasting means cutting out all food for a period of 2 days or longer. You’d drink plenty of water and supplement with electrolytes. There is a thriving fasting community online and many people doing long fasts of one or more weeks. 14-day and 21-day fasts are common.
Extended Fasting is a great way to lose weight rapidly and recalibrate your metabolism. It brings a host of health benefits due to the process called autophagy.
Interestingly, fasting is actually easier than people think! For example, hunger is not really a problem as it usually goes away completely after a day or two.
Ready to try out nutrition hacking?
Whether you are completely new to nutrition hacking, or whether you already tried some of these diets, our community can help you with your goals!
If you are looking for more in-depth support, consider getting one-to-one coaching from one of our qualified Nutrition Hackers coaches.