For some time now, the plant based diet has caused a some hype in the diet and fitness industry. The vegan diet or HCLF (high carb low fat) way of eating, seems to be growing in vast numbers of celebrities, influencers, and brands in choosing to adopt a plant-based way of life.
It is fascinating to witness how times change isn’t it? The vegan lifestyle has encouraged many to throw away their ‘SAD’ (Standard American Diet) which consists of an estimate of 60% of processed foods such as refined and processed carbs, 30% animal products, 11% vegetables, fruits, nuts and beans and lastly, 4% of whole grains.
However, there will always be room for critics. The critics of the vegan diet will always ask where you get your protein from, which is another discussion all itself, but the other critique is the plant based diet is a diet that is rooted in carbs. Why do people fear carbs? As a proud vegan of nearly 2 years, I can assure you carbs won’t make you fat, nor will they make you fat if the vegan diet is done right. I can also assure you that a plant-based diet is nothing like how some people portray it to be. With major companies in the food industry understanding the opportunity to increase revenue, there has been a lot of availability in vegan junk food. There is no problem with junk food, in moderation. However, the real long term health benefits are a vegan diet, that is built upon plant based foods – foods that are high in carbs.
So, let me explain to you why carbs are not the enemy and why you need to cozy up to them:
Why Carbs Won’t Make Me Fat
Always blame it on the carbs right? Carbs come under the three basic macronutrients and have often been demonized because they have perpetrated the crime of expanding people’s waists at a colossal rate. Without a shadow of a doubt, ask anyone about carbs and the first thing they will say is ‘Carbs are bad for you’.
I wish to debunk this myth. Carbs are not evil. However, the kinds of carbs that are mixed in with sugar, animal products and processed foods are detrimental to your health. You know that type of foods that I am referring – donuts, mac and cheese, and the like.
The number one reason why people point the blame on carbs is purely because the carbs we consume today are devoid of organic and unfiltered nutrients. Pure wheat is filtered to result in white flour; pure cane sugar is filtered to produce white sugar, both of which are key ingredients in every other food item sitting on the market’s shelves.
And lest we forget, these very carbs are loaded with sugar, making us fatter by the minute, causing bodily inflammations and a number of health issues which only come to the surface after several years of unhealthy carb consumption.
The main point that I want to stress upon is, knowing the type of carbs you are consuming. To keep it simple, understand that there are two main groups of carbohydrates; simple and complex.
The infographic attached below will give you a deeper insight:
Simple carbohydrates are comprised of sugars such as monosaccharides or disachharides, both of which are utilized to produce energy.These sugars also play a key role in spiking your insulin and blood sugars quite rapidly and are known to produce what is called an insulin crash. This is when high levels of insulin secretion have failed to be absorbed by your pancreas, thus resulting in your excess glucose to remain in your bloodstream, and because it isn’t being used up for energy, it causes a massive energy slump.
Foods which are notorious for causing such energy crashes are foods which have fructose, lactose, glucose, galactose and ribose and are mainly found in candies, fizzy drinks, corn syrups, table sugar, honey, packaged fruit juices, and processed cookies, cakes and crisps.
Complex carbohydrates however, are whole different ball game. They are comprised of three or more sugar structures such oligosaccharides and/or polysaccrides, which are combined to make up a complex chemical structure. Due to their complexity, complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and gradually break down sugar into the bloodstream.
A few good examples of complex carbohydrates are amylose, cellulose, dextrin and celloboise, all of which are found in foods like broccoli, apples, lentils, spinach, beans, unrefined whole
What is needed for vegan fitness is eating foods which are free from additives, preservatives and growth hormones, which are all the leading causes of terminal illnesses such as cancer. In fact, research suggests that an average adult’s daily caloric intake should be made up of 45-65% of carbs, which roughly equals to about 200-300grams of carbs per day. Moreover, a healthy diet should consist of about 30g of fiber per day in order to cut down the risk of cardiovascular diseases, digestive issues and insulin crashes.
The best way to assess how healthy your weight is according to your height is through a BMI calculator. BMI, also known as body mass index will give you a clear understanding as to where you stand in the health category.
A BMI less than 18.5 indicates you are overweight, a BMI anywhere from 18.5 to 24.9 indicates you are in the normal weight category, a BMI ranging from 25 to 29.9 means you are overweight, and lastly, a BMI of 30 or more is a clear indication that you are in the obese category.
Scientists use the BMI method to analyze and assess their patients who are looking to either gain or lose weight. If a patient falls under the overweight to obese category, a diet is customized to suit their dietary needs. The same goes for a patient who is comes under the underweight category.
Healthy and wholesome carbs won’t make you fat and I can vouch for that. Carbs are a primary source of energy and perform the function of slowly releasing glucose into our bloodstream, allowing our brain and muscles to absorb this glucose to carry out their functions. Cutting our bodies off completely from carbs will produce adverse effects on our system and may cause greater health concerns such as alarmingly low blood sugar levels, and anemia to name a few.
So then why are people gaining weight whilst eating carbs? The answer, as previously discussed, is because of the consumption of artificial and refined carbs that have nothing to offer except health defects.
Here is an at-length video involving plant-based health coaches from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine give their views on the myth surrounding carbs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3JM-QKmRXg
But then you may ask; “I know people who eat healthy carbs and still gain weight”. Yes, this may happen and often happens to vegans who assume that since veganism is all about cutting out animal products entirely, the have the green light to stuff in as many healthy carbs as possible. This too, is a myth.
Eating excessively, be it healthy carbs, healthy fat, healthy proteins, is bound to leave your numbers escalating on the weighing scale. Your body is not a dumpster and so it has its storage capacity. Your liver and muscles can only store a certain capacity of glycogen, anything beyond their capacity and high up goes your glycogen levels.
Too much glycogen running through your bloodstream means it’s not being digested by your pancreas’ enzymes, and due to this, it has been abandoned outside the wall of the pancreas. All lonesome, glycogen forcefully tries to enter your pancreas, but your pancreas resists, hence the term ‘insulin resistance’.
Furthermore, due to your pancreas’ resistance, your glycogen has no other way out and thus, converts into fat. Would this have happened if you kept an eye on your carb intake? Most likely, no.
The point I am trying to make is, anything in excess will backfire even if you eat avocadoes and protein shakes all day. Your body will convert your excess glycogen levels into fat when it sees there is no other way for your glycogen to be absorbed.
The key to successful weight loss and health maintenance is caloric reduction. Individuals who witness weight gain despite their ardent efforts in losing weight have one major problem and that is; consuming way too many healthy calories in the hope that eating healthy warrants them the freedom to eat as much as possible. This is a great reminder that as much as we hate to admit it, calories do count. In short, eating an excessive amount of plant based diet and healthy carbs is the root of the problem, not the healthy carb itself.
To make things easy for those who are confused about what carbs to eat on a plant-based, vegan diet, here is a brief list to help you get started:
- Potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips and beets
- Oats, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, rice, and millet
- Whole-grain pasta, bread (preferably fresh loaves of bread not the industrial kind) and spelt
- Pumpkins, squashes such as zucchini
- Lentils, beans, and peas
These healthy carbs are your gateway to a healthy prosperous life, vegan fitness, free from health-related issues such as type 2 diabetes, elevated blood pressure levels, dementia, cancer and cardiovascular diseases. The bottom line is, carbs are good for you and should be consumed in adequate portions.
So if Carbs won’t make me fat then what does? Calories!! Eating more calories than you burn everyday, calories in vs calories out, has been the only proven dietary factor that drives weight gain, or weight loss. There is a ton of information in the literature to support this, but I rather site an interesting self study someone performed a self imposed calorie restriction diet where intake the subject only ate Hostess Foods – AKA the Twinkie Diet. You can read the whole article on CNN here,: http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/11/08/twinkie.diet.professor/index.html, but i’ve summarized the main points, below
Who done it:
- Professor of Human Nutrition, Mark Haub used himself as a human guinea pig to show the calories is the only thing that matters for weight gain / loss
- Mark weighed 201lbs and had a body mass index of 28.8, which is considered overweight
What did he do:
- Mark only consumed Twinkie’s, and other Hostess junk food, for 10 weeks
- He cut his average daily calories from 2,600/day down to less than 1,800 calories/day.
What were the results:
- Shocking…Mark lost 27lbs and cut his body mass index from 28.8 to 24.9
I would NOT recommend that you try this on yourself. There’s no way that you doing this is good for your long-term health.
- Will carbs make you fat? Uh, no. Actually, a high carb diet focused on plant based foods will help you lose weight and be your healthiest self.
- Should you take my word for it? Definitely not. I’ve only sited a few of the interesting
- Should you go on the Twinkie diet? Yes…kidding. Although it would likely bring back some nostalgic memories, it isn’t a long term healthy option.