Notes on Low Carb Diets and Vegetarian Eating
With a low budget vegetarian way of eating, how do you deal with the current emphasis on low carb diets?
There's a short answer and a long answer.
Short answer - I think it's an unrealistic diet fad that will change in a few years to find another food enemy to avoid.
Long answer...Diet fads go in cycles, and change every 5 to 10 years. I am 52, and the first diet fad I noticed was back in the sixties, the steak and grapefruit diet, which was high protein, low carb, and low fat. Sound familiar?
After that came low protein, low fat, low animal food and high carb.
After that came no carb, high protein and high fat.
After that came high protein, low carb and low fat.
The success rate of dieting to lose weight is uniformly dismal, something like a 96% failure rate long-term.
Aside from the weight-loss issue, I think we need to consider whether a diet is sustainable over time, and its effect on how we feel.
How low carb diets affect the body.
As I understand it, a high-protein and low-carb diet loses weight short-term because is stressful on the body. It takes the body more energy to break down and eliminate the protein waste products than it gets from calories from it, so it burns body fat, hence weight loss. If you are interested in the chemistry of it, google on 'ketosis'. I just tried that, and one site had a medical encyclopedia that described ketosis as an unbalanced and toxic state; a weight-loss site described ketosis as a 'metabolic advantage' for weight loss.
I'm not comfortable with putting my body in a toxic state for weight loss.
That information matches my own experience with food, and how I feel eating different kinds and balances of food. I find that a diet grounded in good quality grains, beans and vegetables leaves me feeling calm, balanced, centered, energetic, clean inside. Being used to that, having a meal that is heavy animal protein and low carb throws me way off-balance mentally and physically. I just don't feel as good.
In a vegetable-based diet, your primary source of protein is a combination of grains and beans, and both are high carb. The only way I know of to do a low-carb vegetarian diet is to use a large amount of artificially processed low-carb substitute foods. My experience has been that the further away I get from natural, unprocessed foods, the less satisfying and fulfilling a diet feels.
Simple and complex carbohydrates & their effect.
The low-carb diet is not a permanently sustainable way of eating; it is a diet to be used while losing weight only. Switch off the low-carb diet and the weight usually comes rushing right back.
Of the various diets I have seen, people who follow the macrobiotic diet are consistently the thinnest people I know. The macrobiotic diet is somewhere between 40% and 60% whole brown rice, so it is very high carb.
Also, not all carbs are created equal. There is a big difference between complex carbohydrates - found in whole and minimally processed foods like rice, bulghur, good quality pasta, unprocessed cereals - and simple carbohyrdrates, also known as sugar.
Eating complex carbs gives a smooth, long-lasting, sustainable source of energy, so you eat less and need less.
Simple carbs, like candy bars and sweets, give a quick spike of energy followed by an equally drastic drop, so you crave more food for a pick-up after a short time.
Go for a sane, sustainable diet.
For me, the sanest vegetarian diet to keep weight under control is high in natural foods and very low in sweets and processed foods. With a diet that leaves me feeling calm and balanced, I am less likely to want to overeat. Avoiding excess of stimulants like coffee seems to make a difference, because they can cause spikes and valleys in energy level. Keeping levels of fat and oil moderate also seems to help, so I try to be careful with nuts. Also,I find it important not to overdo dairy products,because they are usually high fat and high calorie.
Most people seem to have 'binge foods' - foods that, once they start eating, it is hard to stop. (Mine is cheese.) It is important to be aware of your binge foods, and indulge in them only occasionally, in moderate amounts.
Wrapping up here - if you are convinced you want to try a low-carb diet, I think it makes a lot more sense to go with good quality lean poultry and fish, rather than trying to go vegetarian and use artificially processed 'low-carb' foods. Also, be sure to drink a LOT of water, to help your body deal with the toxic by-products of the diet.
I want to close here with a few words of sanity on the whole issue of weight and weight loss.
"Fighting fat is a waste of time and energy. Diets don't work.
The minute you stop, the weight goes back up. Loving and approving of yourself,
trusting in the process of life and feeling safe because you know the power
of your own mind make up the best diet I know of. Go on a diet from negative
thoughts, and your weight will take care of itself."
- Louise L. Hay, 'You Can Heal Your Life'