Modern high-carbohydrate diets are a lot like the traditional diet of our ancestors which relied on whole grains, beans and vegetables. The breakdown is typically 80% carbohydrates, 10-15% protein and 5-10% fat. Foods encouraged include whole, unprocessed grains including brown rice, millet, barley and oats; a variety of vegetables and fruits, and beans, such as black, chickpea, lentils, lima and pinto. Generally these diets tell you to avoid meats, oils, high-fat dairy products, sugar, alcohol and caffeine.
The beginning of the trend back toward high-carbohydrate diets started in 1972 with a book called, Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe. She said that human practices, not natural disasters, cause worldwide hunger. Food scarcity results when grain, rich in nutrients (and able to support vast populations), is fed to livestock to produce meat, which yields only a fraction of those nutrients to many fewer people. Lappe said that traditional cultures stay healthy by mixing vegetable proteins together, such as pairing beans and grains. Her book came out just about the time of the American hippie subculture, and they were shunning fast food and embracing natural foods, macrobiotics, Indian-style vegetarianism and grain-based diets as part of a general ‘back to the land’ movement.
In 1976, Nathan Pritikin, a medical doctor who studied indigenous cultures around the world, saw that they did not have the types of chronic disease suffered by people in developed countries and the reason for that was a low-fat diet with lots of complex carbohydrates. He created the Pritikin Longevity Center and co-authored a best-selling book in which he advocated this type of diet for health.
Another well-known doctor who believed in this kind of diet for health and weight-loss was Dr. Dean Ornish. In 1993 he published the best-selling Eat More, Weigh Less diet book that was well-received by all those who thought you had to starve yourself to lose weight. The idea that you could eat whenever you’re hungry and still lose weight was revolutionary. But, all carbohydrates are not created equal. Fill up on foods that have relatively few calories per pound and you will lose the excess body fat that threatens your health. Choosing foods that are not “calorie dense,” such as apples and oatmeal, promises to give you the freedom to eat until you are full and never limit your portions or be hungry in order to lose weight.
It is the complex carbohydrates that dominate this diet (vegetables and fruits, grains), rather than cake, pie and cookies. And, some experts say that the very low amount of fat called for in some of these diets is too low. We need a certain amount of fat in our diets to be healthy and to help metabolize certain vitamins. However, there is a difference in fats, and Anne Louise Gittleman, Ph.D., former head nutritionist at the Pritikin Center, pointed this out. Saturated fats in dairy products and trans fats in processed foods like potato chips and margarine clog the arteries and contribute to inflammation in the body. On the other hand, olive oil, avocado oil, omega-3, omega-6 and oils from seeds and nuts nourish the body and prevent the accumulation of cholesterol and triglycerides in our arteries.
The bottom line on this type of diet is: Eat healthy complex carbs and protein like fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains (brown rice, whole grain bread, and beans). Eat a variety of these every day. (70-80%) Use spices and seasonings to add flavor and interest to your meals so you don’t get bored with them. Use healthy fats, such as olive oil, avocado oil, omega-3 (fish oil), and oil from seeds and nuts. Limit these to 15-20% of your daily calories as these are calorie dense. Get regular exercise.