A Dietitian’s View of High Carb Vegan Diets

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If you spend much time looking at food posts on Facebook or Instagram, chances are that you’ve seen the hashtag #highcarbvegan. Some people seem to be following this as a specific diet (or anti-diet), which contradicts the low carb diets that most up-to-date nutrition experts recommend for health and weight loss these days. So we had to dig into this to see what it was all about.

Although there doesn’t seem to be a consensus of what are the specific instructions for a high carb vegan diet, the common centerpiece revolves around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Other common aspects we’ve seen include:

  • No animal products (obviously)
  • Eat raw until last meal of the day (dinner)
  • Grains or pasta at dinner are ok
  • No oils and low sodium (under 1,000 mgs daily).
  • Low fat: 5-10% of daily calories from fat (vs. 20-30% in the “normal” recommended diet)
  • 5+ liters of water per day
  • No calorie restricting, i.e. unlimited quantity of food
  • Very little sugar. Sweets in small amounts are ok before but not after a meal.
  • Whole, unprocessed foods

Although the benefits of a plant-based diet are more well-known (see my previous blogpost on this), you may be wondering what the benefits of eating high carb are. According to proponents of a high carb vegan diet, “glucose (from fruit and starch) is the natural fuel for the body’s cells and fat is unhealthy”. Some also argue that glucose is necessary for brain function.

While it’s true that a certain level of glucose is necessary for the body and brain to function, you can get what you need while following a moderate low carb diet as well. Also, fat is necessary for health—particularly healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocados and coconuts.

Here are some more pro’s and con’s, in my view, of following a high carb vegan diet.

PROS:

  • Vegan diets are good for the environment and require less animal factory farms
  • Vegan diets can be healthy if planned properly
  • Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.
  • The idea of “volumetrics” – eating as much as you want of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, without calorie restrictions. This removes the stress that often comes with the idea of dieting
  • Eating less vegetable oil (which can be high in Omega-6 fats), less sodium and no processed foods, all of which are always healthy.

CONS:

  • Eating so many carbs creates a blood sugar spike right after a meal then a sugar crash sometime later. You can lessen this by including some healthy fats like nuts and avocado with your meal but many people have metabolisms that can never tolerate this amount of carbohydrates
  • 5-10% of calories coming from fat is very low and difficult to maintain. Also, your body needs fats, especially healthy fats from nuts and avocados
  • If you have pre-existing digestive issues, this diet may be tough on your digestive system due to the high level of fiber and fructo-oligosaccharides (hard-to-digest fibers found in many fruits, veggies and grains)
  • If you drastically increase fruits and vegetables from your normal diet, you can experience gas, bloating and discomfort. To help combat this, you can slowly increase the volume over time rather than doing it all at once.
  • There are some nutrients you will not get with a vegan diet, Omega 3 EPA, Iron, Vitamin D and Vitamin B12, without supplementation.
  • This is a highly restrictive diet and hard to follow for most of us.
  • Overeating calories is generally not healthy.
  • There is no research that proves that this diet is healthy.

In my view, to attain optimal health one does not need to be vegan, eat massive amounts of fruits and vegetables or eat only raw foods. Moderation and balance are key and can lead to a more filling and satisfying eating experience without overdoing the quantity of food you’re consuming, which can be difficult on your digestive system.

–Lea

What are your thoughts? Have you tried a high carb vegan diet? Does it work for you?

 

 

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