One of the most interesting debates within the raw food paradigm (aside from cacao of course) is high carb low fat versus low glycemic. Over the last year I have been experimenting with, and learning about, both. Here are my findings.
The High Carb Low Fat (HCLF) Diet
This way of eating means getting most of your calories from glucose (natural sugars); mostly sweet fruits, some greens and vegetables, small amounts of nuts and seeds. Though there are a few variations, generally speaking HCLF’ers eat large amounts of calories and, more so than other raw vegans, eat a very naturalist diet which I definitely think is a plus. The general consensus behind a high carb/low fat diet is that this is the most natural way for us to eat, and that fats (and proteins) don’t promote optimal health. However, I don’t think promoting a high carb low fat diet as the best way to eat for everyone is justified, and here’s why.
1. Though I am a big fan of looking at our collective past and aiming to get back to a (more) natural diet, we can’t deny our current living environment either. Not all of us are so fortunate as to live in the tropics where an abundance of fresh, organic, tropical, affordable fruit is available in a wide variety. Living in colder climates, the fruit options are either very limited, or they are shipped from all over the world, losing much nutritional value in the process.
2. Speaking of natural, a lot of people don’t realize that nowadays a lot of fruits (and some vegetables) are hardly what they used to be. A lot of fruit species are hybridized to the max. The best example of this is the banana. The definition of a fruit is that it carries its own seed, so that the tree can reproduce. Yet have you ever seen a banana with seeds? Probably not. I have, but only 2 times in my life. Bananas are hybridized to the point where they contain much more sugar yet a lot less minerals than ‘real’ bananas. Bananas are a staple food in high carb diets yet far from a ‘natural’ food!
3. A lot (= not all) HCLF’ers seem to be so focused on their fruit/calorie intake that they undereat valuable sources of essential nutrients, like greens and non-sweet vegetables. There are quite a few nutrients that are difficult to obtain from fruit only, like omega 3, selenium, zinc, iron, calcium, sodium, vitamin E and some B vitamins. Most of these nutrients can be obtained on a low fat high carb diet when enough greens are included (400-500 grams per day). Too bad I see a lot of HCLF’ers undereating greens and even sometimes promoting this. Another problem on the HCLF diet is essential amino acids, the building blocks for proteins. On a high carb diet you are likely to get enough protein, however the diet is high in some amino acids and chronically low in others, which concerns me. This could lead to muscle degeneration and other problems over time.
4. Just like our fruits changed, our lives also aren’t the same as thousands of years ago. Getting most of your calories from glucose (sugar) is a good thing when you have a very physically and/or mentally active lifestyle but guess what? Most of us have very sedentary lifestyles. If you dramatically increase your activity level as you dramatically increase your sugar intake, you’ll most likely be fine and experience an increase in energy and vitality. However, if you keep pouring fuel in your tank without burning it…. you are likely to end up feeling jittery and restless. In my opinion, most people would feel and perform better with some more (natural) sugars in their diet for extra energy and brain fuel. However, either match your diet to your lifestyle (and activity level in particular), or be prepared to match your activity level to your new diet! Which, in all honesty, is a fabulous idea in theory. But only if you actually do it.
5. Another often overlooked fact, that goes hand in hand with point #4, is that an excess of macro nutrients (= fats, protein,s carbohydrates) gets stored as body fat, not just fat from food! Fat in food doesn’t equal body fat, an excess of something, anything, will equal body fat. So if you increase your glucose intake above what you burn off in a day, even if you would eat close to 0 fat, your body would store this as body fat! This is an important one as, as pointed out above, lots of people don’t have the activity level to compliment this diet. I know many ‘successful’ HCLF’ers, yet I also know of plenty who are unable to lose weight and/or gain unnecessary weight with this way of eating. HCLF should therefore be a complete lifestyle, not just a way of eating.
6. Most of us live in urban jungles. In cities we are exposed to more toxins than ever before. A raw foods diet is ideal in reducing the amount of harmful substances we ingest via our foods (so long as they are organic) on a daily basis, and is very cleansing in and of itself. It’s like a gentle yet continuous daily detox. The less fat we eat, the more our bodies are in cleanse mode. Though this might sound like a good thing, it isn’t really. You see, cleansing is one part of the equation, but we also need protection from toxins. Fruits and vegetables are very rich in anti-oxidants which provide some form of protection, but they are not able to give the same kind of protection as fats; insulation. Our nervous system needs fats in the diet to have a barrier of protection against toxins coming in and the more toxins in our environment, the more we need these fats.
7. Last but most certainly not least, we must take into account different metabolic types (or Ayurvedic constitutions which are similar – yet not exactly the same). Some people are fast oxidizers. Some are slow oxidizers. Some are mixed. What and how we eat should be tailored towards our metabolic type/constitution. This is one of the topics you will learn all about in my new program to be released May 1st!
The (Raw) Low Glycemic Diet
A low glycemic diet is a diet with a minimum amount of sugar, even natural ones. The glycemic index refers to how fast certain foods make your blood sugar rise (and then drop). A famous low GI diet is Dr. Gabriel Cousens ‘rainbow’ diet, especially designed for diabetics. It has 4 phases, with phase 1 for healing, and phase 4 for maintenance. In phase 4, people are ‘allowed’ to eat a little more natural sugars but most concentrated sources of glucose are still not recommended (like bananas, dates, honey, etc). Phase 1 would be exclusively greens, non-sweet vegetables (so no beets, carrots, pumpkin, potato, etc), non-sweet fruits (avocado, tomato, cucumber, etc), nuts, seeds, sprouts. Dr Gabriel Cousens is an advocate of a low sugar diet, not only for diabetics but as a general guideline. He states glucose messes with our blood sugar, and thus insulin and hormones.
I think low GI diets are not a natural way to eat long term. Like I explained above, our main source of fuel is glucose. All of our cells need glucose to function properly, especially our brain. This is a great hint as to what our main source of food should be. Some parts of fats can be converted in the body to sugar, however this is not an ideal situation for the body.
Low sugar diets are great for certain periods of our life when we need them, for example for healing or spiritual purposes. People suffering from candida (yeast) overgrowth would benefit tremendously from eating this way for 3-12 months, to starve the candida. Diabetics would also do really well with this type of diet (however some preliminary studies have also shown low fat (high (natural) sugar) diets have been successful with diabetics in lowering blood sugar). Cancer sufferers might be able to slow down the progression or even reverse cancer cell growth with a low sugar diet (as cancer cells thrive on sugar). But diabetes, cancer and candida overgrowth are not normal states of health. A low GI diet comes in when health has already been compromised. It is a great way of eating in certain healing crises, but as with a very detoxifying diet (like the low fat diet), it is not an ideal long term diet.
Diet and Spirituality
Lately I have become more and more interested in the link between diet and spirituality. It’s just another one of those things to consider when forming your diet. What I have noticed for myself, and others, is that eating a high carb, low fat diet is not ideal for spiritual pursuits. On HCLF diets we tend to become very active and ‘buzzed’, very activated, alert, sharp. High carb diets are great for creative mental efforts, as our brain gets tons of fuel (glucose). However, with so much fuel to burn and so much mental stimulation, there is less inclination for rest, peace, reflection. What I have noticed in myself and others when eating high carb, it’s always go time. Honestly, I enjoy this effect, however long term it doesn’t provide enough depth for me. There is more to life than running around (literally) and I feel on high carb diets the focus shifts towards outwards. It creates more of a masculine energy.
Low sugar diets on the other hand seem to have the exact opposite effect. They create a very calm, mellow, more feminine energy. This type of energy is great for getting more grounded and connected and thus great for spiritual purposes. Meditation is likely to get easier on this type of diet because the mind isn’t overly stimulated by sugars. However, long term low sugar diets tend to create an effect of ‘spaciness’, likely because there is too little sugar in the system for clear and concise thinking. The mind becomes more mellow, less sharp. It’s kind of like living life in the slow lane. Some people will like this effect. I myself don’t.
The Best Diet – The Secret Revealed…
In the end, there is no ‘one diet fits all’, not even within the raw food paradigm. Yes, to a certain extend our bodies are the same and so will need the same nutrients. We all need protein. Fats and carbs. Everyone needs iron in their diet, and Vitamin C, to give some examples. However, we each have different genetic make-up, different body types, lifestyles, environments, climates, different goals. I do believe there are certain general guidelines that apply to every body when it comes to diet; eat only whole foods. Raw foods are the most natural foods. Most of our calories should come from natural sugars. Eat enough fiber. These guidelines make that we all ‘should’ be consuming roughly the same type of foods, however after that there is lots of room for variation.
The best diet for you is the one that agrees with your body and your goals, whether that be spiritual, athletic or other.