Last week, I had a realization: the “low-carb” diet plan I’ve followed for over ten years is not, in fact, low-carb at all.
I realized this as I heard two diabetes experts, George King, research director and chief scientific officer at the Joslin Diabetes Center, and Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and founder of Barnard Medical Center, explain diets they routinely recommend for patients. Both plans are about 60-70 percent carbohydrates, which, to my anti-pasta, anti-bread, anti-grain mind, sounded like a lot.
But the more they spoke about their plans – for King, a semi-vegetarian diet, and for Barnard, a vegan diet – I realized that what they were describing sounded a lot like my own diet, which I have often described as low-carb.
Turns out, it’s anything but. My diet, like the ones recommended by King and Barnard, is actually high in complex carbs and low on the glycemic index, mostly vegetables, low in fat, and just what the doctors ordered.
How had I arrived at my diet? Well, first I kissed a ton of frogs: Atkins, Weight Watchers, the oatmeal plan (don’t ask), and the cabbage soup regimen.
But finally, I tossed them aside and decided to eat what I liked. I like Ezekiel cinnamon raisin bread and Greek yogurt, so I made that my breakfast. I like salads with a little goat cheese and a few dried cranberries and roasted veggies, so that became my lunch. And I like a little chicken or tofu in a stir-fry or a piece of fish, so that, along with more non-starchy veggies became my dinner. If I’m dying for something sweet, I reach for a piece of fruit, dried or fresh, or on rare occasions, a sugar free Popsicle. And let’s not forget (because I certainly don’t), a glass or two of wine with dinner.
I eat what I enjoy.
And here’s the kicker: both doctors agree that enjoyment is paramount. Barnard recommends taking a week before you embark on a vegan plan to try out new foods like veggie sausages or tempeh to figure out what you like. Only then, using the foods that passed your taste test, does he suggest embarking on your first three weeks of very low fat vegan eating, basing your meals on what makes you happy and satisfied.
For King, it’s also about picking foods that you gravitate to. After all, if you don’t like the food on your diet, he reasons, you won’t stick with it.
For me, eating a diet high complex carbs has become such second nature that I don’t think about it anymore. When people ask if I miss white bread or white pasta or other simple sugars, I have to say no.
On the medical front, I’m thirteen pounds lighter than when I started and my A1C hovers around 6. But maybe the most important thing is that I’ve found a way of eating that I think I can stick with, for life. Whatever you call it, it works for me.