Can Plant-Based Diets Ever Really Be Low Carb?

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As scientists begin to further understand the role that food plays in the healthy functioning of our bodies, there has been a growing interest in macronutrients. Macronutrients are what most people understand as ‘food groups’; protein, fat and carbohydrate.

One diet that has gained popularity recently is a vegan or plant-based diet. Many people swear by it for improved health and often weight loss. Certainly a whole foods plant based (WFPB) diet is scientifically proven to promote good health.

Many people choose to follow a vegan diet that they claim to be high carb, high protein or high fat. But can you actually eat a vegan diet that is anything but high carb?

WFPB diets are reliant on unprocessed, natural foods that have not come from animals. Largely this will involve grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seed, fruits and vegetables.

In order to obtain healthy fats, a WFPB diet someone might include high fat fruits like avocado or coconut, or eat nuts and seeds. In comparison to fish, that is considered a healthy animal based fat source, these options are high in carbohyrdates. Fish has no carbs whatsoever whereas 100g of avocado contains 8.5g of carbs and 100g of peanuts contains 16.1g of carbs.

Similary, when comparing two popular sources of protein, the WFPB option comes with a hefty dose of carbs. Chicken, a popular source of animal protein, like fish, contains no carbs, but lentils have 60.1g of carbs per 100g!

Fruit is incredibly high in carbohydrates due to the fructose content. Some people are concerned about sugar in fruit but it’s actually been proven that people who include more fruit in their diet were less likely to develop diabetes.

Being vegan doesn’t have to include these types of food, there are plenty of junk food options. Junk or processed food has usually been through a refining process and can contain a lot of oil. Oil doesn’t have any carbohydrates in because it is just the fat that has been extracted from a plant.

Regularly consuming junk food, whether it’s vegan or not, is not recommended to promote good health. So if you’re taking on a plant-based diet to lose weight, it will most likely be WFPB.

But if this diet is high carb can it really promote good health?

Science suggests that the effect of carbohydrates on the body seems largely positive. It has even become widely accepted amongst health organisations that fat, and not sugar, causes diabetes.

Carbohydrates are essentially your body’s fuel. After you have eaten, your body will use the glucose it needs to fuel the processes happening your body, it will then store some in the liver for release between meal times and if there is any left it will be stored as subcutaneous fat. This is the fat that most people are hoping to lose and a lot of it sits on your tummy. This will only happen if you are eating a diet higher in calories than you are burning off.

If you follow a whole foods plant based diet, then it is unlikely you will consume an excess of calories. This is due to the high fibre content in your diet. Fibre helps you to release energy slowly after a meal, meaning that you are likely to stay full for longer. Due to the refining processes junk food has been through, there will be less fibre in vegan junk food and you will find that you are hungrier much quicker. This could lead to consuming an excess of calories in an attempt to keep the hangry at bay!

Ultimately a plant-based diet, particularly a WFPB diet, is high in carbs but it’s not going to cause problems. It’s actually going to give your body the macronutrients and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) it needs!

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