Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

Who’s Bad? Vegans, Fat, Carbs and What May Make Us Worse Off July 6, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Oshun 2.0 @ 12:19 am

Though many of us resist observing the fourth day of every July as the United States’ Independence Day,  most of us did enjoy an extended weekend and a little extra time to eat well these last few days.

With extra time off and barbecues abounding, many vegans of color also watched loved ones consume insane amounts of fatty food products this weekend.   VoCs may have sat back in pity, made some side-comments about eating to live or had their day explode with an all-out argument over whose food ideology is the correct one after trying their best to resist watching family members put extra pressure on their already stressed frames and cardiovascular systems.  However, in the wake of this anti-arterial holiday, Dr. Andrew Weil wants us all to reconsider where we might be coming from when it comes to our causal claims about poor health, fat, and our (outspoken) thoughts on what’s really bad for us.

In his recent article entitled “Fats or Carbs: Which is Worse?” , Weil gives us something to chew on.  Overall, I found the piece to be interesting, although I was repeatedly challenged to not to look away after Weil evokes an abusive use of the word “civilization” (someone: please explain to me again how the conventions of sedentary, disease-inducing lifestyles represent the pinnacle of human organization and social sophistication; therefore engendering “civilization” and “modernity”, respectively?  Pardon me but I assumed that optimal health across communities and ways of living that maximize human engagement with environments both built and naturally occurring was the ultimate expression of human social organization.)  Though much about who I am  is in opposition to Weil’s  hegemonic opinions on what constitutes human sophistication (and the implication that o/Others do not experience obesity and Alzheimer’s to the same degree as Americans because they/we lack the structural aspects of civilization),  I still think there is some discussion-worthy content in “Fats or Carbs”.

As a two-year vegan who once struggled tremendously with the over-consumption of grains, breads and pastas, I know I am not the only who benefits from this conversation.  Personal reflection and community engagement has shown me that vegans (especially vegans still exploring what fundamentally works for them) often adopt diets that centralize carbohydrates and animal product-free refined foods.  To that end, I would  to speculate on what  Dr. Weil’s most recent piece may mean for vegandom.

Below Weil outlines his conclusions on the source of obesity and life-style related disease in the global n/North:

  1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, is not a cause of obesity, heart disease or any other chronic disease.
  2. The problem is the carbohydrates in the diet, their effect on insulin secretion, and thus the hormonal regulation of homeostasis — the entire harmonic ensemble of the human body. The more easily digestible and refined the carbohydrates, the greater the effect on our health, weight and well-being.
  3. Sugars — sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup specifically — are particularly harmful, probably because the combination of fructose and glucose simultaneously elevates insulin levels while overloading the liver with carbohydrates.
  4. Through their direct effects on insulin and blood sugar, refined carbohydrates, starches and sugars are the dietary cause of coronary heart disease and diabetes. They are the most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other chronic diseases [of epidemic proportions in the US].

What are your thoughts on this?  Do Weil’s arguments about dietary fat not being the culprit we think it is and carbohydrates being the engine for obesity and disease hold water to you?

I know that we can all clearly conclude that imbalance anywhere is going to do greater harm than good,  but I would like to seriously consider whether the disproportionately high carb intake for many of us may be leading vegans in North America away from optimal fitness and towards refined food-related illness as well.  Would you disagree?

As a conscious  vegan with a demanding life, how do you manage these inclinations towards refined, carb heavy food fixes in order to maximize the tremendous benefits of a plant-based diet?

Looking forward to this brilliant community’s thoughts….


16 Responses to “Who’s Bad? Vegans, Fat, Carbs and What May Make Us Worse Off”

  1. Observationally, it seems to me that fatty foods are very unhealthy in excess, while you can’t have enough fresh fruit carbs. Processed foods are scary – to me they aren’t foods. Obesity pandemic in America arises from its surfeit of [dead processed] fatty and fried foods combined with physical inactivity. My own practice is as a produce-only raw vegan and I don’t play with processed foods. I don’t trust them and I think all people of any diet should as much as possible refrain from eating anything in a box or wrapper that’s been pre-processed. Just get the genuine article from whole foods only and do what you want with it in your own kitchen.

    Plant-based diets ought to be based on plants, in my opinion. There’s plenty of vegan junk-food out there, a whole industry of it. If cat’s who go vegan aren’t spending most of their shopping time in the produce isles or farmer’s markets, I wonder how healthy their diet will be compared to the norm.

    My diet is mostly carbs (mad bananas mangos and oranges) and greens and non-sweet fruits for even more mineral content and protein (though fruits have protein too!). Fats are kept to a minimum – haven’t even gotten my hands on an avocado in a couple months. Seems that so far I’ve not been rendered obese by this.

    I actually think fat (plant-derived, non-rancid, non-fried, and in moderation) is not such a bad thing, either. I think a whole civilization that eats the quality of food ours eats is. In some poor communities of color, where the phrase “food desert” is thrown around, you literally and truly can’t find fresh fruits and vegetables in 80-95% of local markets. Since the cheapest and most convenient foods are only processed food-like metamorphs and derivatives, carcinogenic and toxic yet addictive to the palate, it’s no surprise that immense suffering follows all the time.

    So to me, without a scientific and nutritional breakdown, one of our biggest dietary threats is the toxicity and artifice of a diet of mostly processed, chemicalized, boxed, lifeless foods. These combine with practices like frying which damage the human body like combat. Access to fresh whole foods is among the most pressing consumer justice issues of our times.

    As MF Doom once said, “stop feeding babies colored sugar-coated large squares!”

  2. Esta Says:

    Here’s what Dr. John McDougall says about Andrew Weil’s article:

    If you’ve ever seen Dr. McDougall and Andrew Weil in person, you’d instantly know who looks healthier and what Dr. Weil’s unconscious agenda might be for making his claims.

    • Joselle Says:

      Can we criticize Dr. Weil’s ideas without criticizing his weight? You don’t know his health status AT ALL. I am overweight and fit. I watch what I eat like no one’s business (although I admittedly sometimes watch myself put cookies in my mouth, along with kale, which is why I’m overweight!) and I workout regularly and sometimes pretty intensely (running, manic bootcamp sessions, crazy yoga). I have the cholesterol, blood pressure and resting heart rate levels of an elite athlete, thank you very much.

      Dr. Weil used to be a pretty “healthy carbs are good” guy and lately he’s been toeing this other line because, well, trends come in and out in nutrition like hemlines in fashion. It is my understanding as a longtime dieter, health nut and pre-nursing student taking introductory nutrition that weight gain and its attendant health issues (IF they happen, and as is the case with me, don’t happen to everyone and can still happen to thin people), are cases of excess. Excess fat turns into fat. Excess PROTEIN also turns into fat. Excess carbs turns into fat. What we’re really looking at is good old calories in and out. Ah, Weight Watchers, so sane and simple yet so hard to execute forever!

      There’s also a ton we don’t know about nutrition and how humans absorb various nutrients. It’s a relatively young science compared to a field like anatomy and physiology. I’d take every news report with a serious shaker of salt. Just eat a lot of produce and don’t fall victim to any sweeping health claims. You’ll die of something eventually!

  3. Mark Says:

    I think I’ll go with the advice of those only people to have reversed heart disease AND have the peer-reviewed research, in two studies going on for 20 years, by a low-fat vegan diet: Drs. Esselstyn, Ornish, and Barnard (reversed diabetes).

    Until Dr. Weil accomplishes the same breakthrough (or any conventional doctor does), I’ll have to take the rare issue with his advice.

    Added oil is not a real food, and it is the fuel for plaque formation, which causes strokes.

    Dr. Weil, imho, does a mis-service in suggesting that dietary fat is not a health issue.

    FYI, Mark

  4. i admit nowadays my consumption of carbs in based on income. when things are good, i use more produce. when they’re bad, i stretch the produce with carbs (right now it’s more grains). i think movement that matches the energy we put in may balance it all. more movement will do it for me.

  5. Barb Says:

    I feel great eating a lot of veggies and unprocessed plant fats, plus a moderate amount of carbs from whole grains/fruits/veg/beans. The evidence is starting to come out that not all fats are so bad, as had been previously thought. The low-fat vegan studies are not the final word on this; there are as many people who have eliminated their diseases on low-carb. High fat may not work for all, but it works for some quite well.

  6. Claire Says:

    It looks like Dr. Weil is making no distinction between grain carbohydrates and fruit/vegetable carbohydrates.

    There is evidence that grains aren’t the greatest for us, that’s true. But the human body runs on carbs – particularly those present in fruit and vegetables. So while he may promote eating those foods, he’s confusing people by saying “don’t eat carbs! eat (carb-based) fruits and vegetables!”

    I do think dietary fat is of bigger concern, though. We NEED fat – but not at the proportion most people eat in countries where the diet is similar to the Standard American Diet. That level of dietary fat can really screw you up.

    If you read “The 80/10/10 Diet,” which is admittedly geared towards raw food, the author says that at least 80% of our calories should come from carbs, and the other 20% divided between fat and protein. But he points out that those carbs should mainly be sweet fruit. Unfortunately, a lot of vegans do rely on grains for the vast majority of their calories – but then, we’ve been taught, in the US, that we should have 6-11 servings of grains a day, so it’s not surprising.

  7. Robert Says:

    I’m always amazed at the ability of media doctors to confuse an issue.

    Carbs from whole foods and fresh fruits are great for you. Fats from whole foods and fresh fruits are great for you. Protein from whole foods and fresh fruits are great for you. All whole foods possess all three things in some measure. If in doubt, take a daily vitamin supplement. And exercise more often than you used to.

    It really is that simple. I’m pretty sure Dr. Weil has a product to sell, so I remain skeptical of his claims.

  8. prof susurro Says:

    I do eat a lot of complex carbs (beans) & simple carbs (fruit). Like The Precision African above, I tend to think that the fresher the better (ie avoid pre-packaged anything if you can). If you eat proper portions and get a modicum of exercise (simple things like getting off the bus a stop early or parking near the middle or back of the lot, using the stairs not the elevator, going to the park w/ your kids or taking the dog for a walk, etc. it doesn’t have to be a gym membership or a gym based class) then genetics aside you should have an overall healthy body no matter what size it is. Most long term research studies agree with this and so I think often people with new books are trying to distinguish themselves and make a mark[eting] in the field by going against the grain in ways that bump up one piece of the puzzle without really upsetting the overall image.

    That said, a lifetime ago I used to eat no fat – no butter, oil, soybeans, corn, coconut, etc. & my doctors actually said that was bad for me & that I needed to add a few simple fats back in, like light vinaigrette on my salad or a little butter in my prepared dishes as well as corn and soybeans. So I’ve added those back in and I do think having a fully balanced diet has led to me having more energy, better success managing my chronic conditions, etc.

  9. Jezebel Says:

    Interestingly enough, we’re having this kind of debate about agriculture, civilization, meat consumption and carbs on a French vegetarian forum. Seems like these kind of issues are kinda universal for vegans.
    I’ve just discovered your blog and it does look great!

  10. cavall de quer Says:

    For an interesting article about Dr.Weil’s ideas:

    he doesn’t sound too reliable to me, I must say.

  11. Hey there! We at Nature’s Express were founded by an Oncologist named Dr. Carl MEyers adn he is at our restaurant on Solano tonight. After reading your post we thought maybe he might be a good tool for answering your questions. Feel free to stop on in- he’s a pretty chill guy who really knows a lot about how to balance a vegan diet.

  12. Anazette Says:

    I find this to be a very interesting. After reading Heal Thyself by Queen Afua in addition to her book Sacred Woman, I have definitely limited the amount of carbs I eat and my craving for them has really declined. Most of the food I’m eating nowadays is raw fruits and veggies. Within the vegan sphere, I’ve come to realize over the years that vegans are not monolithic in their diet. Unfortunately, I’ve met many junk/devitalized food vegans who think it’s okay to eat chips, cookies, and other types of foods that, although they classify as vegan, aren’t necessarily very healthy. Ocassionally, I’ll try a vegan cookie or slice of cake, but not very often.

  13. Jessica L Says:

    I also agree that there are too many carbs in the vegan diet. Particularly if you look at certain “vegetarian starter kits” -which are really promoting veganism, but that ‘bait and switch’ is another issue, if you will-, they generally promote processed animal-free foods (fake meat, fake cheese, etc.) and especially pasta and bread as replacements for animal products, irrespective of their strange chemical and artificial ingredients. I would venture to call some or most of these items “food-like substances.”

    If I were writing these guides I would center on the possibilities of meals made with beans, vegetables and fruits, but I realize that these publications are trying to “frame” veganism as “easy”…to a public that eats mostly processed foods…the huge irony is that they point to all these processed foods in an attempt to make the vegan diet seem “healthier” as well. (OK, I’m mainly talking about PETA…they are just a mess. )

    I don’t know if they are steering vegans toward diet-related illness. From what I have read it seems that eating fresh, whole foods and exercising regularly are undisputed ways to _prevent_ illness. Everyone should be doing these (if they are able-bodied). What to _avoid_, is of course, always in contention.

    Finally, I’d like to mention the debate that goes on in some circles about whether or not human bodies are suited to consume grains that have not been properly soaked or fermented to help them break down in our bodies. This traditional method of food preparation should really have a stronger foothold in vegan communitites.

  14. bellim Says:

    In terms of science, Weil is most accurately seen as a quack who uses his theories as a platform to support the sales of his supplements.

    I tend not to worry about eating the most healthy diet ever, because I enjoy sweets and some junk food, but I do take counsel from the findings of the China Study, which provided a scientific basis for a plant(carb)-based, low-fat diet.

  15. slithers Says:

    One of the earlier replies refers to Dr. McDougall’s response to this study, which includes this bit:

    “In highly-controlled experiments, in order to show a rise in triglycerides, the experimental design has to be based on feeding the subjects large amounts of refined sugars and flours, and/or the subjects in the experiments are required to eat more food than they can comfortably consume; in other words, they are forced to overeat. ”

    I don’t think the eating more than is comfortable of primarily flour and sugar products is all that unusual in American culture (contrary to his implication), so the Weill study may have some valid points, even if it was funded by the dairy industry. Overall, I agree with McDougall (excess of dietary fats is more negative than neutral and does contribute to some disease), but excess of certain kinds of carbohydrates (e.g., refined flours and sugars) are also more negative than neutral.

    Also, one point about nutrition that has thus far been left out of this discussion is that everyone is different – there is no “hard line” for nutrition that applies equally to all different human body types & genetic makeups. Some people no doubt handle fats better than carbs and some are the reverse (thought probably more in this latter camp, as McDougall points out, more of human civilization/history points to this). In general, “excess” is not healthful, but where “excess” is defined for each individual may vary.

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