“Low carb” diet advice from a doctor who lived to 97

Dr Wolfgang Lutz
Dr Wolfgang Lutz
I‘ve always been skeptical about low-carbohydrate diets, particularly more extreme versions such as keto and carnivore. So, when I first came across Dr Wolfgang Lutz’s book “My Life Without Bread”, I dismissed it without even looking inside.

I thought it was just another fad diet promoting the gluten-free, “grains are not designed for human consumption” theory. But I kept stumbling across Dr Lutz’s book and eventually became curious enough to read it. The fact he wrote the book at the age of 90, and lived to 97 years old (he died in 2010), gives it a certain amount of credibility.

Around the age of 45, Dr Lutz’s health was deteriorating badly – he had chronic fatigue, migraines, arthritis in both hips, and couldn’t concentrate on his work. As he looked for answers, he wondered whether his fondness for sweet, starchy foods might be the reason behind his poor health.

He felt intuitively, without knowing the scientific reasons, that excessive eating of quickly metabolized carbohydrates – sugar and starch – is incompatible with the extreme physical inactivity of modern man. Surplus carbohydrates, combined with minimal physical activity can throw the finely-tuned endocrine system off balance.

Dr Lutz started experimenting with a low carbohydrate diet. (This was back in the 1950’s, well before the Atkins diet, so he was a pioneer in this regard.) He cut out bread completely and just ate potatoes, vegetables and small amounts of fruit. He did continue to drink one or two glasses of beer a day. Being Austrian, drinking beer or wine with meals was such an integral part of his culture, it didn’t occur to him to quit alcohol as well. He also kept drinking coffee.

Within a few months, Dr Lutz experienced an astonishing improvement in his health. His energy improved, the pain in his hips disappeared and his migraines reduced. He eventually realized his migraines were triggered by drinking too much coffee. So he cut back to just one cup per day (in the morning, with cream added) and his migraines disappeared permanently.

Don’t cut back on carbs too quickly

Dr Lutz began treating his patients with a low carbohydrate diet and saw equally amazing results. But he discovered many people can’t cope with cutting back on carbohydrates too quickly, particularly if they have a lifetime of eating too much sweet and starchy food.

So, he recommends a gradual reduction in carbohydrate over a period over months, while listening to your body’s reaction. For people who don’t do a lot of physical exercise, he recommends the goal is to reduce to 72 grams of carbohydrate per day.

Rather than counting carbs (which can become an obsessive fad), he recommends using “bread units” i.e. the amount of carbohydrate in a medium slice of bread, which is 12 grams. So, 72 grams of carbohydrate is equivalent to six slices of bread.

If you don’t eat bread, you can substitute a medium potato for a slice of bread, or an apple or other piece of fruit. He gives a list in his book of the “bread units” of various foods.

Dr Lutz doesn’t recommend most people go straight to eating six “bread units” a day. It’s better to start with, say, 10 bread units and see how you feel. That’s still pretty low-carb compared with the modern Western diet. For some people, he believes 10 bread units might be all they need to reduce to, to experience perfect health. But others, particularly those with diabetes, need to be more vigilant about carbohydrate restriction.

It’s worth noting, Dr Lutz was mainly treating middle-aged or older patients with chronic degenerative diseases. He found these people, particularly, did well on a low-carb diet. But young, physically active people who play sports and exercise a lot, obviously need more carbohydrate. Don’t ignore common sense in this regard.

Sample diet plans recommended by Dr Lutz

Here are two examples of low-carb diets with six “bread units” a day. The first contains bread, the second has no bread.

Breakfast:
Eggs and/or cheese
1 slice of bread with butter

Lunch:
Lamb chops
Potatoes
Green vegetables

Dinner:
Roast chicken
Salad with tomato, olives & French dressing
2 slices of bread with butter
An apple


Breakfast:
Grapefruit
Bacon and eggs

Lunch:
Fish
French fries
Salad

Dinner:
Any type of meat
Salad or cooked vegetables
Small serving of rice
Fruit and cream
Glass of wine

As with all diet plans, these are intended as guidelines only – not to be followed religiously. We all enjoy different foods and have certain foods that don’t agree with us. So, the diets plans are intended to show general principles. You can also add a bit more carbohydrate to these meals, if your goal is 10 bread units instead of six.

Why I almost didn’t write this post

I was reluctant to write this post because I don’t want it to be misunderstood. I have never advocated low-carb diets of the type that are common today, such as keto, paleo and various other extreme, faddish carb-restricted diets. I also recommend moderation and balance. Any type of extreme diet is not going to serve you well in the long term.

But I do believe Dr Lutz’s approach, which is tempered with common sense when it comes to restricting carbs, does have some merit. Particularly today, when most people do little physical activity, combined with excessive consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates, it’s no wonder there is so much chronic disease.

Without needing to measure grams of carbohydrate (or anything else) it is wise to cut back on carbs and (if you are currently following any kind of “low fat” diet) increase the amount of healthy fats such as butter and olive oil. Many people who contact me for advice are following low-fat diets. This means they are pretty much guaranteed to be eating too many carbohydrates.

It’s a matter of adjusting the balance. Slightly less carbs and slightly more fat. This can make an amazing difference to balancing your blood sugar and overcoming all kinds of chronic health conditions if you stick with it long term

Dr Lutz’s book “My Life Without Bread” is available from Amazon.

He also wrote several other books in German, some of which have been translated into English. For example this one.

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