If you announce to your friends, family, or doctor that you’re eating a high carb, low-fat diet, they may look at you like you’ve suddenly sprouted a third eye and laugh when you say you expect to lose weight this way. Because “Everyone knows you can’t eat carbs and lose weight!” Right? Wrong!
So let’s explore some of the basic principles of a high carb, low-fat diet and dispel some common myths.
What does High Carb, Low Fat mean?
There are three essential macro-nutrients that every human needs to survive. They are Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats. These provide the energy (also known as calories) you need to function.
When someone says that they are eating High Carb, Low Fat, the portion of their calories that come from carbohydrates is greater than the portion of their calories that come from fat.
There’s no exact ratio but generally speaking, percentages could fall anywhere between 60%-70% Carbohydrate, 15%-20% Protein, and 10%-15% Fat.
Is This Way of Eating Healthy?
Yes, eating a starch-based diet, as my favorite plant-based doctor, John McDougall, advocates for, is a very healthy way of eating.
Our bodies are designed to run on healthy carbohydrates. They are the primary fuel source for your brain and body.
They also provide fiber, which is crucial for long term health. Fiber promotes good digestion and can lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
There is even new evidence that early humans were cooking plant-based, carbohydrate-rich foods around 170,000 years ago.
Is Eating Low-Fat Unhealthy?
Fat is an essential macronutrient. Dietary fat supports cell growth, produces hormones, and is required to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
The problem with fat arises when we consume far more than we need.
Our body was designed to thrive on a healthy starch-based diet. And on the Standard American Diet (SAD), we are over-consuming unhealthy saturated and trans fats. And not enough of the beneficial unsaturated fatty acids found naturally in plant foods like olives, nuts, and avocados.
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that adults consume 20 to 35 percent of their daily calories from fat. Unfortunately, on average, we are consuming far more than the recommended amount of the wrong kinds.
The benefits of moderate healthy fat intake can help lower inflammation and regulate healthy hormones. But that delicate balance can easily get skewed when we are over-consuming. Too much fat can begin to increase inflammation and throw your hormones out of whack.
And it becomes even easier to overconsume fats when you concentrate them into oil. At 120 calories of fat per tablespoon and no nutrients to speak of, it becomes too easy to overeat oils.
Concentrated fat is not a health food; this is one reason oils are not included in a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet. You can obtain all the healthy dietary fats you need by eating according to a Whole Food Plant-Based High Carb, Low Fat diet.
Aren’t Carbs Bad for Weight Loss?
The most important thing to remember is that not all carbs are equal.
When we say carb, we often think of processed (and unhealthy) carbohydrates like packaged crackers, chips, cakes, and donuts.
If cookies and ice cream are the first things that come to mind when you think of carbs, then you’re right. Those types of simple carbohydrates definitely hinder weight loss rather than help.
But healthy whole foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, broccoli, oats, beans, and apples are all classified as carbohydrates too. And they couldn’t be more nutritionally and calorically different than the list of processed carbs above.
These healthy complex carbohydrates are actually very beneficial when it comes to losing weight because they are relatively low in calories and help fill you up and keep you satisfied for a long time.
Can I Actually Lose Weight Eating This Way?
So now you understand the difference between heavily processed simple carbohydrates and the healthy complex carbohydrate counterparts. But how exactly do healthy carbohydrates help you lose weight?
We know that a calorie deficit is the way to weight loss, and the healthiest way to do that is to follow the principles of calorie density. Calorie density is the measure of the calorie content of a food relative to its weight or volume. See the chart below for a visual representation.
Because whole plant-based foods are lower in calories, the concept of eating more and losing weight is possible. If you’re eating lots and lots of lower calorie healthy whole foods, you fill up faster and can still meet your calorie goals for weight loss.
For example, according to the chart below, to eat 1800 calories, you could eat a pound of crackers or four and a half pounds of potatoes. I don’t know about you, but I’d choose to eat more potatoes. If calories are the currency, you get more bang for your buck, selecting foods from the less calorically dense end of the spectrum.
How Much Weight Can I Expect to Lose on a High Carb, Low Fat Diet?
It can vary anywhere from half a pound to a pound and a half a week.
But everybody is different, and that can vary depending on how much weight you have to lose in the first place.
If you strictly follow the guidelines (sticking to a Whole Food Plant-Based diet with no oil), a pound a week is not unreasonable.
In my own life, following the principles of a High Carb, Low-Fat diet allowed me to lose fifty pounds and keep off the weight since 2019.
Do I Have to Exercise?
No, you don’t have to exercise, but it certainly helps. And if you’re trying to build healthy habits and a healthy lifestyle, you should get some physical movement every day. Nothing fancy, a brisk 30 to 45-minute walk will do the trick.
Weight loss is achieved by eating at a calorie deficit. So eating right is your first step to mastering weight loss. Exercise can help and is vital for your health, but my point is that you don’t have to kill yourself at the gym to see great results from eating this way.
How to Start Eating High Carb, Low Fat
We’re all familiar with the classic stereotype of a cranky (aka hungry) dieter subsisting on celery and iceberg lettuce salads. Yes, you’ll lose weight eating that way, but it’s unsustainable.
To make this way of eating work for weight loss, you want to meet your calorie goals while remaining full and satisfied.
The key to feeling full and satisfied is starch. So you want to get a healthy mix of starchy vegetables to non-starchy vegetables.
To do that, you should focus on filling your plate visually with 50% starch, things like beans, whole grains, rice, potatoes, corn, or squash. And the other 50% of your plate should be non-starchy vegetables, like a salad, broccoli, zucchini, or asparagus.
For example, if you have a starchy lentil-based soup, try adding spinach to the soup and having a side of vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower to keep it calorically dilute.
Or for a more traditional meal, try mashed potatoes and a lentil loaf. That will take care of your starchy portion of the plate. Then add a heaping serving of asparagus or whatever your favorite non-starchy vegetables are, and now you have a healthy and satisfying high carb low-fat meal.
An important thing to remember is that we shouldn’t be vilifying any single macro-nutrient. Neither carbohydrates nor fats are “bad.” They are necessary and essential.
Focus on eating the right kinds and in the right proportions, and you can slim down and still enjoy your food without feeling restricted. There is no need to fear potatoes or rice. On a high carb, low-fat diet, they can be a powerful ally in your quest to lose weight and feel great.
Now I’d love to hear from you: It can be challenging to change our way of thinking after years of ingrained dieting messaging. Are you still having a hard time embracing carbohydrates in your diet? Leave a comment below and let me know!