Thinking about cutting carbs to improve your health and lose weight? You may want to think again. Whole food plant-based nutrition experts suggest 75-80% of your diet come from carbs.
Now I know what you’re thinking — this must be a mistake! Carbs, according to your keto friend at the gym (not to mention a lot of advertising and media messaging), are the enemy! They make you fat, they give you diabetes!
But here’s the thing; whole carbs do neither of those things. Despite the low carb craze we’ve been bombarded with on every morning talk show over these last 15 years, if you want to decrease your risk of chronic disease and obesity, you’re actually going to want a carb-heavy plate.
Does that mean it’s time to load up on pizza and white pasta? No, not at all. I’m talking about whole (unrefined) complex carbohydrates found in plant-based foods like whole grains, starchy vegetables, and fruit.
Whole carbs vs. refined carbs
Not all grains are created equal.
Snacking on chips, doughnuts, and pizza? Then yes, chances are you’ll gain weight and see no health improvements — in fact, you’ll most likely see your health decline. Not only are these foods smothered with oil, butter, sugar, and cheese (all very high calorie, high fat, low nutrient foods), they’re all made with refined carbs.
Refined carbs — the ones used for processed and packaged foods like white pasta, crackers, white rice, cakes, cookies. — have been stripped of their fiber and nutrients. They enter the blood stream quickly and cause blood sugar spikes and drops.
A plant-based diet rich in whole carbs can actually reduce risk of type 2 diabetes
We’re often told carbs increase our chances of developing type 2 diabetes. And yes, refined carbs, like the one mentioned above, are not helpful to anyone trying to regulate their blood sugar.
But studies show that insulin resistance, a characteristic of type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes, is caused by (brace yourself) too much saturated fat in the diet. That’s right — fat, not carbs!
Carbs get blamed because when folks already have insulin resistance (due to high fat diets), carb-heavy foods, even natural ones like fruit and potatoes, can cause blood sugar to spike as the natural sugars can’t enter the blood stream properly.
Type 2 diabetics are still producing insulin but thanks to a buildup of fat in the muscle cells, the insulin can’t let the glucose into the muscles and regulate our blood sugar. Instead, the glucose just sits in our blood stream, rising our sugar levels higher and higher.
So how to you prevent this from happening? Study after study shows a decreased risk of diabetes among folks eating a mostly plant-based diet, when compared to their Standard American Diet counterparts. A 34% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, to be exact.
What about if you’re already living with diabetes or pre-diabetes? A low-fat plant-based diet has been shown not only to prevent type 2 diabetes, but reverse it, too. And here’s the kicker: whole grain consumption, in particular, is associated with this lower type 2 diabetes risk. (That said, if you're diabetic or pre-diabetic, definitely speak with your doctor about any plans to change your diet so they can monitor your blood work and adjust your treatment as necessary).
Whole carbs don’t make you fat
Think if you cut carbs you’ll drop some pounds? You’re right if you’re talking about refined carbs. Refined carbs, as we already discussed, don’t have fiber or nutrients in tact so they rush though our blood stream and do not leave us feeling satiated, which can lead many of us to overeat.
The oldest living populations in the world eat mostly (whole) carbs
What if you could live to 100 (and beyond) — and stay healthy the whole time? The Blue Zones suggest we can.
The Blue Zones are 5 regions in the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Asia where the largest concentration of centenarians are found. And they’re not just living longer in these areas; they have fewer cases of chronic disease, like heart disease, obesity, cancer, and diabetes.
Why are these populations living longer, relatively disease-free lives? Researchers found while these places are geographically and culturally different, all five Blue Zones have the following in common:
Social support and community involvement
Strong family ties
High carb whole food plant-based diets
Staples of Blue Zones diets vary from region to region but all include high amounts of whole carbohydrates like brown rice, sweet potato, potatoes, beans, legumes, and fruit.
We’re bombarded with conflicting health messages today and it can be confusing and overwhelming. But if you think it’s crazy to add all these whole carbs to your diet, please take a minute and ask yourself this:
Which sounds crazier to you….
Trying to lose weight and get healthy by avoiding fruit and quinoa -- and adding butter to your coffee?
Trying to lose weight and get healthy by adding more whole plant-based and fiber-rich foods like brown rice, sweet potatoes, beans, and apples to your day?