A quick search on YouTube for “high carb vegan diet” will yield an insane amount of videos all claiming miraculous transformations eating essentially just fruit, all day every day for months to years on end. No matter what the protocol (general raw veganism, Raw Til 4, 80-10-10), the same rhetoric is repeated with startling vehemence, and the diet is defended unequivocally. Very few channels go into detail about one aspect of a high carb vegan lifestyle: high carb vegan diets don’t work… for everyone.
Before I start talking about how high carb vegan diets don’t work for everyone, I want to point out that I’m actually in no way against vegan diets. I myself was vegan for years, and totally respect a way of eating that aims to promote sustainability and cruelty-free living.
Why High Carb Vegan Diets Don’t Work For Everyone
Carbs CAN make you fat
So, the reason high carb vegan diets don’t work for everyone has little to do with the vegan aspect of things, and is more about the high carb part.
For clarification, many of these diet plans actually promote eating up to, or over, 1000g of carbohydrates a day, mostly from fruit. Some high carbers even add coconut sugar to fruit smoothies for more carbs. Really. The theory is that “carbs don’t make you fat,” because the metabolism of carbs makes it difficult to store as fat. This part is true, except for the insane amounts recommended.
In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Medicine in 1988 (so, it’s had some time to make the rounds), participants were fed a low carb diet and made to exercise for a few days to deplete glycogen stores, and then fed a high carb, crazy high calorie diet for a week. And guess what? They gained fat. This study demonstrated that eventually, the body hits a point where there’s just too my sugar, and it begins to turn carbohydrates into fat through a process called de novo lipogenesis.
This same model of overfeeding is similar to the 5-10k calorie per day diets promoted by many individuals in the high carb vegan community. Now, these people all tend to be very fit and lean, due in part to the excessive amount of exercise they engage in daily. And exercise will certainly help to mitigate fat gain from carb consumption, but for those who do not spend hours a day doing cardio, fat gain is likely.
I’m not saying that a high carb vegan diet will make you fat, I’m just saying that given the right conditions, it is possible.
Feeling Good Isn’t Just About Weight Loss
So, we’ve established that you can actually see fat gain from eating carbohydrates, but for some individuals, that’s not event the issue. A high carb diet doesn’t work for everyone hormonally. We’ve talked about endometriosis and PCOS, as well as low testosterone before. A common factor in these conditions seemed to be overconsumption of carbohydrates causing hormone imbalances.
Candida or other gut imbalances could also play a role. Consuming nothing but carbs will certainly feed a yeast imbalance, and any “bad” bacteria that’s lurking in your digestive system.
Individuals who are prone to these types of conditions may find that a high carb vegan diet actually exacerbates their symptoms. Others may experience the opposite effect – as I’ve mentioned a bunch before, we are all individuals with our own biological makeup. What works for me, might not work for you.
I’ve also seen a lot of accounts of individuals just feeling crappy on a high carb vegan diet. I know that while I didn’t gain weight on this lifestyle, I was constantly cold and shakey, and irritable and starving. I had loads of brain fog, and just felt miserable over all.
Why Don’t High Carb Vegan Diets Work For Everyone?
I touched on this a bit, but it basically comes down to biological individuality. In my discussion about how many carbs you should eat in a day, I mention the AMY-1 gene, which regulates sugar digestion through amylase production. People naturally have between 2-16 copies of this gene, which is a pretty large variation. Someone with far fewer copies of this gene probably won’t do well on a diet composed of predominantly carbs, while someone with the full number of copies might thrive.
And this is just one little factor. Truly, there are many reasons why a high carb vegan diet might not work for you, so if you find yourself struggling to eat just one more banana and date smoothie, don’t feel obligated to continue a lifestyle that doesn’t work for you.
There Are Alternatives to High Carb Vegan Diets
“Vegan” doesn’t automatically mean “high carb.” You can certainly continue living in an ethically minded and sustainable way, without consuming a lot of fruit. When I first went low carb in 2012, I was vegan and actually really enjoyed a vegan ketogenic diet. In fact, I still post vegan ketogenic recipes on my recipe blog.
You might find far more success as a low carb vegan, or as a vegan who doesn’t count macros at all. I feel like there aren’t enough loud voices in the raw vegan community, supporting bio-individuality, and not enough support for those who aren’t succeeding on the mainstream 80-10-10 way of life. The defensive stance is unnecessary and harmful. Just because high fat vegan diets don’t work for everyone, it doesn’t mean they are any less effective for those that DO thrive on that lifestyle.
So, you may not be doing great on a high carb vegan diet (I certainly wasn’t!), but don’t think that means you’re not doing it right. You could still follow the plan to the letter and feel terrible. It just means that way of eating isn’t for you. :)