The secret of being ill on LIHF? Pile into the carbs!

fluseasonWinter is coming in the northern hemisphere and with it the ubiquitous flu season. Yes, even those on LIHF are not immune to the dreaded flu bug but there is plenty of good news for LIHF practitioners, both in terms of alleviated symptoms and speed of recovery, even if you have to fall back on some extra carbs to do so. 

My Findings

What I am about to tell you here is based entirely on my own personal experience and the anecdotal evidence of others I know of, principally friends and family also on LIHF. I haven’t read or even heard of anything else directly relating to viral infection, in particular the flu virus and its effects when on an LIHF (low inflammation) diet but I feel this is now worth writing about and sharing with others.

The difference between my flu symptoms before and after LIHF are remarkable. Prior to LIHF, influenza almost always entailed a period in bed, covered in extra blankets, shivering, running an elevated temperature and completely unable to function in any other capacity.  Since LIHF however, flu symptoms are markedly reduced. At first I thought this was an anomaly or just my imagination but after 3 years of LIHF and several bouts of influenza, it can no longer be ignored. Make of this what you will but for me the evidence is clear: the effects/ symptoms of the flu virus when on LIHF are SEVERELY reduced, to the point of almost being non-existent!

Symptoms & extra use of Carbohydrates

The obvious question: If the symptoms are so mild these days, how do I know I am actually getting the flu? The answer is because I have a four-year-old daughter in day care who drags home EVERY conceivable virus currently making the rounds. Once she is infected, about a week or so later, I usually get the first symptoms that anyone gets with the flu i.e. tickly/ sore throat and mild shivers, a sure sign that you’ve been infected. However, this is where the similarities between before and after LIHF end. Nowadays on LIHF, rather than a rapid deterioration, this is about as bad as it gets. The only other major difference is that I start to feel lousy due to a lack of energy similar to a blood sugar crash that one experiences on a high carb diet, shortly followed by major cravings for sugary/ sweet things. Never at any other time do I have such strong cravings for sweet things. If I simply ignore it and carry on with my usual low carb diet, whilst I never feel “bed-ridden bad” in any way, neither do I actually feel that I am firing on all cylinders either. I have learned not to fight these feelings because you can’t and the only solution is to go out and get myself a massive “sugar hit” in the form of sweets, pastries or whatever it takes to feel revitalized. As soon as I do this, I feel fine again. If I get a repeat crash, I just do the same again, and so on until I start feeling better again. Recovery is very quick, max one week with extremely mild flu symptoms, if any at all and I am able to function almost as normal throughout.

The Science

So what exactly is going on here? Again, the following explanation is my theory only  but it is entirely consistent with the science of inflammation.  As I explained in this post, inflammation has many causes, one of the major ones being disease. A viral infection will increase levels of inflammation and hence also block ketosis to some extent. For the keto-adapted individual whose diet is primarily based on fat this isn’t good news and blood sugar levels will start to fall in just the same way as someone on a high carb diet who hasn’t eaten for a while, or has expended a lot of energy during exercise. So the only solution to increase blood sugar in this state is to take on some simple carbs until you start to feel better again. There is of course a small penalty in weight gain but I have found that in practice this is negligible, say 1kg max, and soon disappears again once clear of the virus and full ketosis returns. Symptoms remain mild/ reduced because overall levels of inflammation remain low, despite the short term increase in carb intake.

In Practice

This is how I proceed as soon as I get those first flu symptoms:

  • Maintain a normal LIHF diet until you start to feel weak due to low blood sugar.
  • If you get an overwhelming urge to eat sweet and sugary things, don’t fight it! Pile into the carbs until your blood sugar levels stabilize and you start to feel better again. Repeat as often as necessary without necessarily counting your daily carb intake. If it takes 100g/day of carbs or more then so be it!
  • Get plenty of rest but otherwise carry on as normal. Avoid exercise unless you feel like it.
  • Expect some weight gain but also expect to lose it all very quickly again once you’ve fully recovered.
  • You will know when you have recovered because sugar/ sweet cravings will disappear and cravings for fatty food will gradually return.
  • Keep up your daily supplements, in particular zinc which helps to fight disease.

8 thoughts on “The secret of being ill on LIHF? Pile into the carbs!

  1. Very interesting. When I feel ill the last thing I want is carbs because they make me feel worse. Yet dairy is my best friend – none of us have any dairy issues. The only time I cut the dairy is if there is serious congestion.

    • Where in the world do you live? Have you noticed anything different when consuming dairy outside of your home country?

      • South Africa 🙂 When I did travel I didnt have issues either, but my travels were all to first world countries. My favourite dairy is straight from the cow when we are on the farm – no treatment at all!

        • ok. cool. Yes, I also used to get my milk straight from the cow as well but it made no difference to the inflammation I was experiencing and so I dropped it from my diet altogether. To this day I remain completely dairy free and all the better for it.

          I guess we are all different.. 🙂

  2. I know this is an old article but it’s actually quite relevant to the current SARS Cov-2 situation. If anyone is reading through this article and has made it to this comment, I urge that person to recognize the value of this article. Reread it and then expand on it by searching:

    See that sometimes sugar causes inflammation. Sometimes it does the opposite. The severity of CoVid-19 may well be in the misunderstanding of nutrition DURING viral infection. In short, fat and protein intake during viral illness make outcome worse, while restricting diet to only carbohydrates improves outcome. The opposite is true in bacterial infections.

    Interesting how the body responds to the virus by halting ketosis and signals (cravings) for carbs. Pretty cool! Seems obvious why those with diabetes are at higher risk of complications from CoVid. High blood sugar indicates glucose is not adequately going into cells, but rather stays in circulation. Makes for a great place to be a virus.

    Thanks Nick, great write-up. Its more relevant now than ever.

  3. Ooops, it certainly does help if i paste the entire link.

    See also…

    Sugar molecules play such a crucial role in viral infections,but there are so many carbohydrate structures on the surface of cells, and little is known about how viruses bind to them in order to gain entry into the cells.

    For now, through tailored nutrition, one just may be better able to confront the virus by inhibiting viral entry of cell by NOT consuming lipids during infection. Additionally, implementing a hypertonic saline nasal irrigation and gargle regimen may also serve to inhibit complications of the virus spreading from upper respiratory to the lower.

    I’m avoiding this viral pandemic like the plague it is (I’m just an hour drive from New Orleans) by following the CDC guidelines, but still it’s comforting to have an insight into how to face this rascal of a virus if ever put into a position of having no choice but to confront it.

    ….and I hope my observations are of help.

    For what it’s worth, it maybe that those who are well into a ketogenic diet (past induction phase) are in a better position to face this virus although I cant quite figure out why. I mention this because recently some have attempted to enter into ketogenic diet in an effort to fight this virus – obviously that is bad idea since one would be limiting carbs and loading on fat. But still those whose metabolism has adjusted to fat for energy do seem to be in better shape albeit still should switch to glucose for a while until the immune system has adequately produced antibody resistance.

    Thanks for allowing me this rant. Stay well – Stay healthy. ….and remember, everything is better with Tabasco Sauce!

    • Thanks for the info and great insight. Lots to think about!

      More than happy for people to rant, so long as it’s relevant and adds something useful to the mix, which this clearly does.

      If you would like to get even more involved, you can always sign up for the forum here:

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