What are all those letters, you ask? Why, that is a High Carbohydrate, Low Fat, Whole Food, Plant-Based reference, of course. If you have read my latest book, Shred It!, or my previous articles in this magazine, you know that I follow a primarily high carbohydrate, low protein, low fat, whole food plant-based diet and vegan lifestyle. What this means is that when I consume a variety of whole plant foods, by default my diet will be comprised of a high amount of (real food) carbohydrates, low levels of protein and fat (which is a goal of mine), and will be free of any animal products.
Robert Cheeke is the best-selling author of Shred It! and Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness, 2-time champion bodybuilder, and founder/president of Vegan Bodybuilding & Fitness – www.veganbodybuilding.com
What’s the point of this approach to health and fitness? It’s a good question, one that should be visited often, because the answers might create compelling reasons to keep on track and follow such a diet and lifestyle. For starters, complex carbohydrates generally contribute to our highest consumption of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, nitric oxide, and water, among other things. They also provide us with quick and long-lasting energy. That’s a really good start. As for protein, according to Dr. Garth Davis, the author of the popular new book, Proteinaholic, “we seemingly cannot get enough of protein, and this reality is leading us down a very dangerous road. In fact, ‘eat more protein’ may be the worst advice that ‘experts’ give the public.” In Proteinaholic Dr. Davis also references a survey done by the International Food Information Council Foundation that alarmingly found that 63-percent of Americans are looking for protein foods when deciding what to eat, and 57-percent said they are trying to eat as much protein as possible. This wouldn’t be a problem if more were better, but we’ve learned that more protein isn’t necessarily better for us. An increased protein intake also increases one’s risk of kidney or liver problems, decreased bone density, lethargy, obesity, and a host of other potential health issues. Our collective desire for more protein could be one of our greatest downfalls as humans, at least from a nutrition perspective. A diet focused on high protein consumption also runs the risk of diminishing carbohydrate intake, thereby causing us to miss out on our best sources for many important nutrients, as mentioned above.
When looking at our fat intake, we can realize that the average American consumes one third of all of their calories from fat, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics from 2000. As someone who promotes a 70-per-cent carbohydrate, 15-percent protein, and 15-percent fat macronutrient breakdown, an approach supported and endorsed by many leading nutritional scientists, including Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., it is a bit alarming to see that the average American’s fat intake is so high. Perhaps there is a correlation between this high fat intake and the fact that 62-percent of Americans were classified as overweight, according to the US Department of Agriculture as far back as the year 2000. That includes 27-percent of folks who are considered obese. Of course, it’s not just our high-fat intake that makes us fat. According to a February 5, 2015 article in the Washington Post titled “Where people around the world eat the most sugar and fat,” the US ranks number one in sugar consumption (126.4 grams per day), but only number 16 in average fat intake measured in grams per day (65.5g, well behind the leader, Belgium, at 95g per day). Nevertheless, our consumption of refined sugars (processed foods, sweets, general junk food) combined with our high fat and high protein, and relatively low whole-food carbohydrate intake is a problem that currently impacts hundreds of millions of Americans and hundreds of millions of others around the world.
Regarding our obsession with non-food calorie consumption, exploring an HCLF vegan nutrition program could be a great antidote. Further support of our non-food “nutrition” is highlighted in a March 10, 2016 article in The Atlantic titled, “More Than Half of What Americans Eat Is ‘Ultra-Processed’” – and those foods account for 90-percent of added sugar intake, new research says. The article basically sums up what “ultra-processed” means: formulations of several ingredients…in particular, flavors, colors, sweeteners, emulsifiers, and other additives used to imitate sensorial qualities of unprocessed or minimally processed foods and their culinary preparations or to disguise undesirable qualities of the final product and speculates that as a result of this highly processed food consumption, Americans are “simultaneously overfed and undernourished.”
So, we know we’re likely eating too much protein, too much fat, too many refined foods, and not enough whole food carbohydrates from real foods. What do we do to fix this? We learn to create our own HCLF whole food meal plans. The best way to do that is to have your favorite fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains at home or with you when you travel, so you have easy access to real food. One of the main reasons we’re tempted to eat heavily processed foods that tend to be rich in oil, sugar, salt, and fat is because we’re not prepared with healthier alternatives. If you have ten different fruits in your kitchen, a dozen vegetables, a few different legumes and grains, and a variety of nuts and seeds, you will be well-equipped to prepare healthy whole food meals, or grab a quick, healthy snack to go. In addition to having your favorite foods around, it is also incredibly helpful to have some staple foods on hand that make up the bulk of a meal, such as potatoes, yams, beans, lentils, brown rice, quinoa, and oats, and common accessory foods such as salad greens, avocado, broccoli, almonds, pumpkin seeds, berries, and minimally processed condiments and toppings such as salsa, hummus, ketchup, mustard, olives and peppers.
When you have such a variety of staple foods, accessory foods, snack foods, condiments, toppings, and favorite plant-based whole foods, you will be far less likely to eat processed junk foods. It doesn’t mean that you will follow a HCLF whole-food diet perfectly, nor do I follow it perfectly (I still eat sandwiches, wraps, burritos, etc. – all vegan of course), but this approach will put you in a position to be more likely to consume a high carbohydrate, low protein, and low fat whole food plant-based diet.
As a result, you should have boundless energy for your pursuit of fitness. You will be fueling yourself with high amounts of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, complex carbohydrates and water to support athletic performance and endurance, and you should recover from moderate exercise well enough that you can do it all over again tomorrow.
To get started on a HCLF whole food, plant-based diet to get the most out of your health and fitness endeavors, complete the following:
List three favorite foods from each of these categories (you might find that listing favorite fruits is easier than coming up with favorite grains or seeds):
- Fruits: _______________________
- Vegetables: ____________________
- Legumes: _____________________
- Grains: _______________________
- Nuts: ________________________
- Seeds: _______________________
Staple foods (as referenced in my suggestions):
When you know what to eat, identify what you like, and put HCLF meal plans into action, you will see it reflected in your health and fitness results. Enjoy a big bowl of brown rice, pinto beans, black beans, avocado, lettuce, tomato, olives, peppers and salsa and let me know how your HCLF whole food, plant-based diet goes. Please send photos of your HCLF meals to me via Twitter to @RobertCheeke so I can see the creative meals you come up with. Or tag @veganbodybuildingandfitness on Instagram when you have some HCLF vegan meals to share. Thank you in advance. Enjoy nature’s healthy plant-based, whole-food abundance!