If you've been looking into the best way to lose weight, you’ve probably seen a lot about low carb or low calorie weight-loss diets. However, a diet that seemingly contradicts the most up-to-date health recommendations has been making an appearance on social media with the hashtag #highcarbvegan, accompanied by photos full of potatoes or other starchy veg, granola, fruit bowls, and such. So … can you lose weight on a high carb vegan diet? Let’s dig in.
What is a high carb vegan diet?
There are many varieties, but the common centerpiece revolves around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Other common aspects include:
- No animal products
- Eat raw until dinner
- Eat whole grains or pasta at dinner
- No oils and low sodium (under 1,000 mgs daily).
- 5 to 10% of daily calories from fat (versus 20 to 30% in a “normal” recommended diet)
- 2.5 or more liters of water per day
- No calorie restricting, i.e. unlimited quantity of food
- Very little sugar, sweets in small amounts before, not after a meal.
- Whole, unprocessed foods
Although there doesn’t seem to be a consensus of specific instructions for a high carb vegan diet, the benefits of a plant-based diet are well-known. Followers of the high carb vegan diet say that additional benefits of adding the “high carb” are based on the ideas that:
- Glucose (from fruit and starch) is the natural fuel for the body’s cells and the brain
- Fat is unhealthy
- It's easier to digest vegetable products than animal products
- A large volume of plant foods usually results in lower calories than animal products
Here are my thoughts on each of these:
1. True to some extent
I agree that glucose is necessary for the body and brain to function, but one can get adequate glucose from a “moderate carb” vegan diet in which you’re consuming 90 to 180 grams of carbs per day (assuming a 1200 to 1500 calorie diet). For comparison, most low carb diets recommend 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day.
The latest research shows that some fat is necessary for health, particularly healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, and coconuts. In fact, studies show that low carb diets may be more effective for weight loss than low fat diets.
3. True to some extent
Most fruits, veggies, and grains contain high levels of fiber and fructo-oligosaccharides (hard-to-digest fibers). If you have digestive issues, this may be problematic for you.
It depends on quantity. If you’re following a high carb vegan diet that calls for unlimited amounts of food, then you’d need a lot of fruits, vegetable, and grains to fill up. However, if you’re filling up with fruits and grains instead of non-starchy veggies, then your overall calorie count will be too high to lose weight. The calories pile up quickly when you’re talking about high carb foods. In contrast, a diet that includes high protein but low carb foods is likely to fill you up faster, so that you won’t need to eat as much to feel satiated.
That being said, many of high carb vegan diets advocate eating raw fruits and vegetables until dinner, and eating raw foods takes longer to eat. Plus, you can really only eat so much raw food in one sitting.
A healthy diet does not need to be vegan, does not need to include massive amounts of fruits and vegetables, or be raw. Also, if you have a problem with blood sugar metabolism you may experience sugar crashes when you eat large amounts of fruits. And, as with any vegan diet, you need to supplement your diet with nutrients like omega-3 EPA, iron, and vitamins D and B12.
All in all, my view is that it’s unlikely that you can lose weight on a high carb vegan diet, unless you restrict your calories to 1200 to 1800 per day, depending on your size. That’s 12 to 18 bananas. (Some of the high carb vegan diets advocate eating a dozen bananas for breakfast!) You can read stories about how people are losing weight on this diet, but weight loss depends on so many factors—how much you are exercising, the proportion of fruits to veggies, your individual metabolism, genetic predisposition, and ultimately, how many calories you eat and burn daily.
What to do instead
If you want to lose weight in a healthy way and keep it off, I recommend doing it slowly, eating a balance of all nutrients with a focus on healthy sources of carbs, fats and proteins. In addition, some of the elements of a high carb vegan diet can also help to keep you healthy and lean. Eating whole foods over processed foods (including sugars, breads, and other ground flour products) is always a great approach to healthy diet. Also drinking tons of water may just decrease the amount of food you can eat. Eating foods high in fiber will help you feel full and keep you satiated, as will foods high in protein and fat.