Welcome back. This post in my Vegan Nutrition FAQs series is about whole grains and all the carbs in a plant-based diet. This was a very popular request when I asked you all what you wanted to learn about next on Instagram! One of the pillars that makes up a healthy plant-based diet is whole grains – and yes, grains have, *gasp*, CARBS. So, what’s with all the carbs on a plant-based diet? Plus, I’m sharing what I learned when I was researching this age old question: do you need to ditch the carbs to lose weight? Buckle up ladies. Let’s dive in!
Whole Grains & High Carbs on a Plant-based Diet
Ok- first things first. Let’s set the record straight. Whole grains are good for you. They will keep you balanced & energized. Oftentimes I talk with clients who are giving a plant-based diet a try but they feel like they are lacking energy. I then come to find through our sessions that they are not eating near enough carbs in their diet, no wonder they are tired and lack energy! Think of grains like your personal, perfectly designed fuel.
You probably are used to viewing whole grains as flour that makes up pastas and breads. As The Kind Diet shares, when referring to whole grains, we’re talking about “wheat before it’s ground into flour. And grains of rice before they’re stripped of their hulls to make white rice. By eating the grain in its whole form, you get the full impact of it’s natural oomph and medicinal powers.”
So WTF are whole grains then? Some examples include things like brown rice, quinoa, wild rice, millet, farro, barley, and whole oats (steel cut and even the ones you use for oatmeal!) Also, I know what you’re thinking- “but Danielle, aren’t carbs bad for people trying to lose weight?!” I’m talking about good carbs here. Let’s get back to the basics. Here we go…
All carbs fall into two categories: simple and complex. Simple carbs (white sugar and white flour) break down in the body super quickly. This causes your blood sugar (or glucose, if you want the fancy medical term) to spike and then crash fast. Kind of like when kids get a sugar rush when they eat too much candy and then they could take a nap 10 minutes later after it wears off. On the flip side, complex carbs (like in whole grains, fruit, legumes, and even some starchy vegetables like potatoes) break down slowly. They only gently raise your blood sugar and provide sustainable energy that lasts over a long period of time until you’re ready to eat again (kind of like if you were ever told to eat pasta the night before a track meet in highschool!)
I actually found it so interesting that when comparing popular high protein, low carb diets the research shows you can lose just as much weight eating complex carbs and more importantly, keep it off easily without doing long term damage to the body.
Check out someone like High Carb Hannah, for example, who gained a massive audience after sharing her journey of losing over 70+ pounds on a strictly high carb plant based diet.
See, you can only eat so much animal protein (which doesn’t have any fiber) and then to not eat carbs (that have fiber) clogs up the body and can lead to scary stuff like heart disease, cancer, and basically just overworked internal organs = nasty shit (no pun intended lolz) like constipation, dull skin and wrinkles, bad breath, kidney stones, and the list goes on. Not to mention low energy. So definitely don’t worry about these good carbs! This is just one piece of a whole food plant based plate that makes this lifestyle so enjoyable and sustainable.
I could talk about this all damn day and there is so much research to back up this topic but of course, I am definitely no doctor. This is my opinion from my personal experience and I’m simply sharing what I have researched over the years. Educate yourself too! Check out books like “Foods That Cause You To Lose Weight” by Dr. Neal Barnard. I’ll have to do a follow up post soon getting into the nitty gritty details of high carb diets if you guys want. And just to play devil’s advocate, I will also soon be testing out a plant-based keto diet to see how my body responds.
One thing I wanted to be sure to address: Can you eat grains and live a gluten free lifestyle?
YES! I am currently testing out being gluten-free this year and avoiding anything with wheat (which has gluten). However, I eat lots of brown rice, oats, quinoa, gluten free bread, and more. Would you guys like a post on gluten? Let me know.
So, moral of the story? I agree with those in the medical field who say your body needs whole grains.
They contain vitamins and minerals that help you perform basic betch functions. Stuff like releasing energy from muscles, metabolizing proteins, protecting your heart, and making you go #2! (insert poop emoji here lol). Also, whole grains make you feel happy & relaxed because of all the B vitamins in them, which actually relax your nervous system and also contribute to healthy, glowing skin. Lastly, by adding more whole foods like whole grains into your diet, you’ll naturally start to crowd out highly refined foods that cause mood swings, hormone imbalances, etc. You’ll feel more balanced because your blood sugar will literally be balanced internally. Win, win!
Ok, signing off. What do you want to chat about next? And in case you missed it, be sure to read up on the other posts in this Vegan Nutrition series!
Until next time. XOXO,
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