Humans can be afraid of a lot of things, from death to public speaking, but there’s another cause for fright out there and lots of health-conscious people are shivering in their athletic shoes over this one: carbs. Carbohydrate. One of the macronutrients that sustains life – and, in fact, the macronutrient we need the most, quantity-wise, because it’s the fuel that sustains the body and brain. That’s physiology 101, but it can nevertheless be a hard sell to people who’ve been schooled in the high-protein/low-carb point of view from parents, teachers, trainers, doctors, diets (Atkins, South Beach, Paleo), magazines, and more.
Fact: you get plenty of protein from a varied, whole-foods, vegan diet – and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics backs this up. In addition, a carb is not a carb is not a carb: a whole plant food – beans, lentils, brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, sweet potatoes – bears no more resemblance to junk carbs – conventional cookies, cakes, chips – than a savings account does to a Ponzi scheme. The carbohydrate in most processed foods is highly refined – and these snacks and sweets actually get more of their calories from fat than from carbohydrate.
Even so, we all have physiological differences and you may feel that you fare better when your diet is a bit higher in protein and a bit lower in net carbs. Or you may simply believe that you need to be eating more protein and fewer carbs and you’ll have more peace of mind as a vegan knowing that you can do this. The following suggestions, based on the work of David J.A. Jenkins, MD, PhD., at the University of Toronto, show that there’s nothing difficult about creating a plant-exclusive diet that calms the carb fears. Build the diet around:
Beans, especially mung, great Northern, lima, fava
Soy beans and soy products, i.e., tempeh, tofu, miso
Mock meats (Boca, Gardein, Tofurky — may contain gluten)
Nuts & seeds & nutbutters
Yogurt (plain, unsweetened soy or coconut)
Nondairy milks, unsweetened
Oils, avocado, olives
All non-starchy vegetables, including:
- Bok choy
- Radishes, including daikon
- French string beans
Long-grain brown rice
Sweet potatoes (not low-carb, but low glycemic)
Low-sugar fruits — berries, melons, peaches, nectarines, papaya, apples, grapefruit – the botanical fruits we eat as vegetables: cucumbers, pepper, tomatoes, summer squash
To sum up, enjoy lots of greens and other non-starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds, low-sugar fruits, soy and other beans, and well chosen whole grains. Simple. Easy. Healthy. You can do this – anybody can.