If you are looking to lose weight and gain fitness, then there always seems to be a new fad diet out there for you to try. Something you probably have heard something about, diet which flies in the face of most current advice, is the high carb, low fat diet.
Sometimes known as the HCLF vegan diet, this is basically where you cut back on fats and proteins, and instead focus on good quality carbohydrates instead.
The problem with this type of diet is that it has bad press in the past. We are told that carbohydrates are bad for us, that they spike blood sugars, and convert to body fat really quickly.
Although this is partially the truth, the reality is that not all carbohydrates are created equally. That’s why the high carb vegan diet is growing in popularity.
So let’s take a look at this high carb diet, and see if there’s any truth in the claims that you can eat tons of carbohydrates, and actually lose some pounds and gain energy.
What is The High Carb, Low Fat Diet?
As with all types of special, nutritionally limited diets, what is actually in it varies between website, book and individual. This is because there are so many different types of food, and also many different types of approach, that it’s impossible to nail down a “one true way”.
But generally, we are talking about a vegan diet that is high in carbohydrates, and that cuts out most proteins and fats, and obviously animal-based products. So in terms of explaining what the high carb, low-fat diet is, it’s best summed up in these general terms:
- No animal products
- Eat only raw food until evening
- Evening meal of pasta and/or wholegrains
- No oil, very little salt
- 5% or less calories derived from fat
- Drinking at least 2 L of water each day
- No calorie restriction, only food type restriction
- No processed foods
Socially, this high carb, low-fat vegan diet is becoming more popular also because of its environmental benefits.
The HCLF diet minimizes your individual carbon footprint because it doesn’t involve eating animal products. This has benefits for farmland and CO2 levels.
In addition, it can have potential benefits for the health care of the nation, because it can lower cholesterol, due to the animal proteins and saturated fat being removed, both of which are mainly linked to cancer and heart disease.
So on the surface, people eating this high carb vegan diet, can be benefiting in many ways. But what’s the truth when we get down into the reality and details?
Why DO we Need Carbs in Our Diets
The first detail is around addressing the problem with modern diets. Many modern diets aim to almost completely cut out carbohydrates.
This is confirmed in the amount of diets out there which forbid people eating things like pasta, rice and potatoes.
Quite rightly, carbohydrates have been linked to problems with obesity. But this is all about the type of carbohydrates you eat, the amount, and the lifestyle you lead on top of that.
Things like white pasta and bread, contain very little nutrients. You eat them, then they take a lot of energy to digest, which creates the need for more calories. On top of that, they create an insulin spike to digest them, which again requires calories to deal with.
But the high carb low fat diet is not about just stuffing down carbohydrates, it’s about making sensible food choices, and also understanding which foods contain good carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates bring many benefits around energy without fat consumption. Used wisely, carbohydrates can promote weight loss, without any of the negatives of diets high in fat or protein. So let’s look at that in more detail.
The Three Building Blocks of Food Explained
People are confused by the claim that high carb diets can work, when they are currently being bombarded with claims and evidence that its high protein, and even high-fat diets that are better.
To explain why the high carb, low fat diet can really work, and be more healthy, let’s go back to the basic building blocks of every type of food.
No matter what you eat, it will contain one or more of the following:
Let’s look at carbohydrates first. Glucose is a key body food that is mostly derived from carbohydrates. In terms of the brain, it’s the only energy source it uses to function.
That’s why international health organizations put carbohydrate consumption at the top of recommended diets. They are cheap, low in dangerous things like saturated fat, and widely available at a reasonable price.
If we don’t eat enough carbohydrates, we can get tired and hungry. The only other way to stop this hunger is protein rich foods, as proteins takes more time to digest. However, proteins far more resource intensive, and can damage the kidneys in extremes.
The problem with carbohydrates is when they are empty calories, like white pasta, or are accompanied by other substances, like cheese, fatty meats, oils, or other calorie intense things which can make it incredibly difficult to digestive without requiring more energy.
In terms of protein, you can eat as much of it as you want. This is because the body can only digest a certain amount, the rest passes out as waste.
The World Health Organization states that only about 10% of daily calories should be protein. This flies in the face of some modern diets which advocate up to 70% protein, mainly derived from meat products.
Protein can be great, but unfortunately it usually comes with fat and cholesterol, which can gain you weight, and also puts pressure on your kidneys.
Thirdly, we come to fat. You only meant to eat about 20% of your daily calories in fat, unfortunately in the Western world this is far higher. Fat can have detrimental effects on the human body if it is digested in high quantities.
Fat is highly associated with diabetes and heart disease. Cholesterol is entwined with fat, meaning if you are eating fat, you are eating cholesterol. This can lead to high blood pressure as well.
Is There Any Evidence to Back-Up The HCLF Vegan Diet?
The main bit of evidence is that you will not find any official scientific, or government body in any country recommending the majority of your diet is made up of fat or protein. But every single one of these do recommend that carbohydrates form the majority of the human diet.
That on its own should be enough to conclude that our diet should be made up a proportion of high quality carbohydrates.
Part of the ignorance around the high carbohydrate, low fat diet is that people perceive carbohydrates as unhealthy, due to the predominance of white carbohydrates in pasta and bread.
But that’s not the whole story, and it’s important to understand that carbohydrates are present in a far wider range of foods than most people realize
High Carb Vegan Diet: What to Eat
In terms of the high carb, low fat vegan diet, some people take it to extremes, which can put people off.
For example, there is a lot more carbohydrate, alongside fiber, in fruit, than most people realize Fruit is associated sugar, which is not perceived as good.
You will read online about people having a high carbohydrate diet, that consist of eating 50 bananas a day, for example. But that is an extreme, just as a high protein diet can be extreme as well.
It’s all about educating yourself about types of high carb foods that you can eat, that are also healthy for you.
So let’s be specific and clear here. Foods you should be avoiding if you want to follow a high carb, low fat diet are:
- Meat, fish and poultry
- Dairy products like eggs and mayonnaise
- Milk products and cheese
- Margarine, oils and most nuts
- Fried potatoes
All the above, along with other animal products, are high in protein, or high in fat. Generally, carbohydrate rich foods that should be a core part of a high carb, low-fat vegan diet are:
- Buckwheat, millet, barley, quinoa, rice, oats
- Wholegrain pasta and bread
- Pumpkin and squash
- Sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips and some potatoes
- Lots of beans, lentils and peas
In addition to the core list of foods rich in carbohydrates above, you should also supplement these with other types of food which can help, which will add water, fiber and minerals to your diet:
- Fruit such as bananas and apples
- Lettuce, cabbage, kale, spinach
- Broccoli, sprouts, carrots, asparagus
- Green peppers, tomatoes
- Corn, cauliflower, mushrooms, onions
There are other food you can eat in moderation using the HCLF vegan diet, such as nuts, seeds, olives, tofu-based products, and avocados. But these should not make up more than 15% of your total dietary intake.
HCLF Meal Examples
To take things a bit further, in terms of the food you would usually eat, let’s take a look at some examples of high calorie, low-fat diet meals you can use.
There are so many ingredients in the lists, that you can always be sure of creating something convenient, delicious and attractive. With the range of foods that contain good quality carbohydrates, you’ll have plenty of options for all three meals of the day.
You don’t have to keep to raw foods during the day, only having a cooked evening meal, that’s an extreme some people advocate, but it’s not necessary.
There are literally thousands of recipes you can try, but broadly, there are huge groups of foods you can put together using this high calorie diet:
- Rice and bean meals
- Potatoes and salad meals
- Vegetable pizzas
- All fruit on its own, and in meals
- Ice cream
- Smoothies and fruit juices
- Oatmeal based foods
To address the fruit part of the high carb, low fat vegan diet specifically, you don’t have to always eat lots of it.
For a start, eating lots of good quality fruit, that is ripe and always available, is not cheap nowadays. Eating 10 bananas a day, apples, pineapple, stuff like that, is not practical every single day.
However, you can get around this by creating smoothies, where you include the main fiber and carb rich fruits, and then bolster them using other ingredients, such as lettuce for example, to create rich fruit and green smoothies.
The thing to remember in terms of preparing high carb, low fat diet foods and meals, is that the more you cut out, the less healthy it will be. What is important, is to keep your focus on what has got the biggest benefits. So proven health beneficial foods like wholegrains are the obvious things to try and include in most meals.
High Carb, Low Fat Vegan: Foods to Avoid
One of the foods around which there is most confusion, in terms of diet generally, is the humble potato.
In terms of what we are speaking about in this article, a high carb vegan diet, that is also low in fats and protein, it’s not avoiding potatoes that important. It’s about avoiding potatoes forms that contain fat.
So by all means have mashed potato. Just don’t load it up with butter, which is full of fat and salt.
In terms of chips, try to avoid them. But if you have to have them, use a special fryer which uses the absolute bare minimum fat.
In terms of roast potatoes, you don’t need to use any fat at all. Simply line a tray with baking paper, which. The potatoes from sticking. Then simply turn them regularly, to create and even cook.
People suggest you should limit your fruit intake because of the high sugar content. However, the high sugar content is actually a bit of an urban myth.
The benefits of bananas, in terms of fiber and good quality carbohydrates, far outweigh the sugar content. And on top of that, the sugar content of fruit is natural, and as long as you are not topping it up with other sugar-rich foods, then you will be fine.
The other thing to avoid is dairy foods. Now obviously if you are vegan then you will be eating them anyway, but people wishing to follow the HCLF vegan diet to see if it’s for them, should be aware of the fact that dairy is not ideal.
Dairy contains fats and cholesterol for a start. On top of that, because they are derived from animals, they are inherently more risky foods. If you can’t cut them out, cut them down to a minimum, but the goal should be to follow the vegan ideal, which is both physically and environmentally friendly.
Raw or Cooked HCLF Foods?
Some hard-core high carb, low-fat vegan diet advocates, claim you should only eat raw foods on this type of diet.
However, as we’ve already discussed, eating raw foods like fruit constantly, can you not only be expensive, but it also does mean you will have a high sugar intake. Although it’s natural sugar, it means you will have to exercise, and will have lots of energy, that will need to be expended, to avoid putting on weight.
The compromise appears to be to have a partially raw diet.
There are several benefits this. Firstly, you are less likely to get bored to tears and give up.
Secondly, cooked food is actually easier to digest. So your body does need some respite from endless raw food.
In real terms, this compromise often looks like a fruit and grain breakfast, sometimes a cooked, but sometimes the raw lunch, and then a combination of cooked lunch and evening meals.
If you are serious about the benefits of a high carb vegan diet, then it’s going to be vital that you adopt as much as possible, and embrace it as a lifestyle. However, this will be easier if you ease your way into it gently, rather than suddenly radically changing your diet to only contain basically raw foods, and cutting out huge food groups.
Exercise is Vital
Carbohydrates contain a lot of energy. On top of that, if you are eating lots of sugars, then you are going to have a lot of energy from the sugars as well.
If those sugars are not burned off in exercise, then they will convert to fat, creating a problem of their own.
Another issue is that people on high carb diets tend to eat more than the recommended daily calories. Initially, people on a high carb diet may find they put on weight, and then as their body adjusts, and they do exercise, they tend to then lose weight permanently and healthily.
The real killer in this respect, is that people often fall into the trap of drinking lots of fruit juice, things like smoothies, refined variations on the dietary theme, which pack an incredible amount of calories in.
So apart from being educated in terms of what you’re eating, it’s important to also do exercise. It’s no coincidence that a lot of people you will see running and biking tend to be high carb eaters. Even if they are not conscious of that fact, it’s this rush of calories which creates the energy that forces them into the mindset of needing to burn energy off.
It’s not unusual for people on high carb diets do daily exercise, or at least every other day. So if you are considering doing the high carb vegan diet seriously, you will need to make sure you firstly watch what you drink in terms of concentrated calories, and secondly, that you listen to your body and get rid of that excess energy, rather than letting it be stored as fat.
If you’re serious about trying the high carb, low-fat diet, then you can take it to the extreme if you want to. However, you should always make sure that you follow good dietary advice, and not push your body in ways that are unhealthy.
The bottom line, is that you can make the HCLF vegan diet as hard, or as easy as you want to. Adapting, thinking, and changing how you do it, to making a success of it. Try new food, try new variations, and keep researching.
If you are new to the idea, but you want to give it a try, it’s always better to start with too little, rather than too much.
In the beginning, just gently start swapping towards the goals outlined in this article. Change one thing at a time, do it over several weeks, and you will suffer less of a shock.
Once you have the principles embedded, you will start to see the results that this type of diet will deliver for you, and then you can decide how far down that road you want to go.
The key is to understand the principles, and go down that road gently in each area:
- Regular exercise
- Cutting out protein and fat until you get down to 10-20%
- Increasing good quality carbohydrate intake
However, you can adopt the principles of the high carb, low-fat vegan diet, without going 100% vegan. If you go 100% vegan, you are undertaking a complete food lifestyle change, which may not be for you if you don’t passionately believe in the ethos behind it.
But by following the principles of the vegan diet, by minimizing animal products and fats, you can derive at least some of the benefits. At the core of this change is to look at carbohydrates in a different way. We have been programmed in recent years to look on proteins as a way to lose weight, and cut out carbohydrates in order to achieve this. However, this is not actually the case.
In summary, the high carb, low-fat diet really can work as a long-term solution to healthy weight. But it must be backed up with common sense, research, exercise, and restraint in the beginning.