Good Carbs Bad Carbs

The great ‘low-carb’ con

healthy oat cereal

Healthy oat cereal with blueberries and low-fat plant milk – a perfect complex carbohydrate recipe to start the day!

Low-carb fad diets such as Atkins and Paleo have gained a lot of attention (and sales) from the general public, hungry for solutions to our ever-growing obesity problem. The basic premise is the same – cut right down on carbohydrate foods such as bread, potatoes and pasta, and focus mainly on animal protein and fat, with some vegetables thrown in.

The idea with these diets seems to be that if you fill up on protein-rich foods such as eggs and meat, you won’t crave the foods such as bread, pastries and sweets that supposedly make you fat.

Certainly there are reports of some people losing weight on these diets, and then extolling their virtues. On the flip side, anything to do with grains, legumes and even soybean products have been demonized as causing weight gain, high cholesterol, and intolerances (particularly gluten). This anti-grain anti-legume stance appears to me to be a vague attempt to revert back to a mystical, mythical past where he-men with spears and six-packs hunted down mastodons with Amazonian women applauding from the sidelines. The problem is, it’s all a giant con.

The fact that the vast majority of animals bred and killed for food are genetically mutated, artificially inseminated, and in many cases housed in filthy, cruel and unnatural factory farms (a relatively recent development), doesn’t seem to concern people who are happy to reject established grain crops that have been cultivated and consumed for many thousands of years (long, long before anyone had heard of an ‘obesity epidemic’).

Why low-carb/high animal fat and protein is bad for you

There are two main problems with this dietary approach. First, eating too much meat and animal fat is bad for humans, period. Excessive meat and egg consumption has been linked to a host of health problems, including some cancers, heart disease, high cholesterol, and stroke. For example, a study reported by ABC News in March 2014  showed that consumption of animal-based protein is linked to an increased risk of early death for people in their 50s and early 60s. The study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, found that more than 6,000 American adults between the ages of 50 and 65 with diets high in animal protein were 74 percent more likely to meet an untimely end than those who consumed less animal protein or got their protein from non-animal sources. For deaths due to cancer, the risk was four times higher. Eating plant-based proteins like nuts and beans seemed to reverse the unhealthy trend.

Although most of us are omnivores, our teeth and digestive system are much closer to those of herbivorous animals. Too much meat in our system, along with not enough fibre, clogs up and causes a toxic reaction, which simply does not happen with true carnivores like cats or dogs, with their much shorter digestive tract and strong stomach acid. Saturated fats and cholesterol from animal products further clog our arteries and lead to atherosclerosis, heart disease and stroke.

In contrast, a study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress and reported by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, daily intake of fruit may decrease the risk of heart disease by as much as 40 percent. To quote from the PCRM News site, researchers followed 451,681 participants for seven years and found that in addition to reducing the risk of heart disease, daily fruit consumption reduced the risk of dying from heart disease and stroke by 27 percent and 40 percent, respectively, compared with less than daily fruit consumption.

Secondly, avoiding whole grains and legumes means that you miss out on the fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals they provide.

What are ‘bad carbs’ and ‘good carbs’?

By way of definition, ‘bad carbs’ are made from highly processed ingredients, such as refined white flour and sugar, and in most cases are mixed with a range of animal fats in the form of butter, eggs and milk. Think donuts, muffins, cookies and cakes. It’s unlikely that anyone would promote these types of foods as appropriate for healthy weight loss.

‘Good carbs’, on the other hand, are relatively unrefined or whole foods, foods such beans, chickpeas, quinoa, buckwheat, barley, and oats. This list would also include wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta and brown rice. For good carbs think of foods close to, or within their natural state, and naturally high in fibre, and low in fat and sugar. Good carbs also include vegetables and fruit, as these are carbohydrate foods too.

The truth is that rather than avoid carbs, we should base our diet on healthy, whole-food carbohydrates. These provide a host of health benefits, as well as being a major source of energy. Based on my research, medical advice and experience, I advocate a whole-food plant-based diet, following classic 80-20 principles. By that I mean, basing your diet roughly on 80% good, high-fibre carbohydrates, including fresh vegetables and fruit, whole grains, beans and legumes, and 20% fats and plant protein.

Plant-food nutrition expert and guru Dr T. Colin Campbell, in his recent book ‘The Low Carb Fraud’, outlines some of the unsavoury side-effects of a low-carb diet: more headaches, bad breath, constipation, and muscle cramps.

Even more alarming was a report on the low-carb diet and health, referred to by Dr Campbell in his book, which was a summary of 17 studies published in January 2013 involving 272,216 subjects. According to this report a low-carb diet showed a statistically significant increase in total deaths.

By contrast, Dr Campbell summarizes the benefits of the WFPB – Whole Foods Plant Based – diet, which provides “an exceptionally rich bonanza of anti-oxidants, complex carbohydrates, and optimum intakes of fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals; many of which contribute to disease prevention.”

Carbohydrates, available almost exclusively from plants, provide the body with the most efficient form of energy, and is the only source of fuel for the brain. Whole-food carbs include the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet: vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and legumes. Foods that all of us should base our diet on.

Tom Perry

Red Meat and Eggs increase your cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease

Fat, cholesterol and L-carnitine

Fruit and nuts

Fruit and nuts

We already know that the saturated fat and cholesterol in meat (and eggs) can contribute to increased cholesterol levels and blocked arteries. Recent research suggests another reason why red meat can be dangerous in your diet if you have high cholesterol or are at risk of heart disease.

According to a study published in the prestigious journal Nature Medicine, a compound in red meat called L-carnitine is associated with the build up of plaque in arteries that causes heart attacks, strokes and vascular disease.  (Fish, poultry, milk and other dairy products are also good food sources of L-carnitine.)

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found that the compound in meat, L-carnitine, is converted by the liver into a chemical called TMAO, Trimethylamine N-oxide. TMAO is found in abundance in red meat and crustaceans, and as an ingredient in energy drinks, energy pills and some weight-loss products. TMAO is also known to increase heart disease and hardening of the arteries, also called arteriosclerosis which is a known indicator of heart attacks and risk of strokes.

In the study those subjects who ate steak experienced a ‘burst’ of TMAO, whereas the vegan subject did not.

According the leader of the study, Dr Hazen, chronic ingestion of carnitine fundamentally shifts the metabolism of cholesterol. “It’s changing it in a way that will make you more prone to heart disease,” he said. Eating carnitine causes more cholesterol to be deposited onto artery walls, and less to be eliminated from the body.

The researchers found that adults who avoid meat and eat fewer animal products produced much lower concentrations of TMAO in the blood compared with the meat eaters.

As a result of these research findings, doctors are giving warnings about excessive consumption of red meat. In Australia these warnings especially apply to kangaroo meat, which for a long time has been considered to be one of the healthiest meat choices because of its low fat content.

In the recent Melbourne ‘Age’ article, Executive chairman of Obesity Australia and Professor of Medicine at Monash University John Funder said given that kangaroos had more L-carnitine per gram than any other red meat. Professor Funder recommended that consumers be wary of excessive consumption of kangaroo meat.

new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that study volunteers who ate two hard-boiled eggs had increased levels of TMAO in their bloodstream. The researchers believed that this increase in the TMAO levels was linked to the consumption of lecithin, a fat found in egg yolk, but the article not explicitly state whether this also applied to other foods containing lecithin, such as red meat, liver, milk, soy and wheat.

What is known that plant foods such as soy and wheat do not contain other known factors in heart disease, such as high levels of saturated fat, cholesterol or L-carnitine (on the contrary, soy is known to help lower cholesterol).

Why take the extra risk with a high consumption of red meat, or supplements with added carnitine or TMAO when you can get plenty of protein and other nutrients from healthy plant food alternatives?


Tom Perry

Cholesterol-Free Vegan Eating Plan

If you have high cholesterol levels, there are foods that should be an essential part of your low cholesterol plant-based vegan diet.

The good news is that plant-based foods are healthy, low in saturated fat and have NO – yes, that’s zero – cholesterol. Plant foods also contain soluble fibre, which reduces your low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol.

So how do you incorporate these foods into your everyday eating plan?

Low cholesterol breakfast

Healthy Plant Food

A range of fibre-rich plant foods are great for your health

Choose a high-fibre, low-fat, low-sugar, low-salt cereal for breakfast, such as oat bran flakes. An excellent choice is cooked oatmeal. You can sweeten this naturally with banana. For example, one and a half cups of cooked oatmeal porridge with banana provides about 10 grams of soluble fibre, which decreases your total and LDL cholesterol.

Another good breakfast choice is baked beans on wholegrain toast. Baked beans provide a convenient, tasty source of protein and fibre. Spread the toast with toppings like salsa, bean dip or hummus.

Low cholesterol lunches

Enjoy a multi-grain bread sandwich spread with a small amount of avocado or tahini (sesame seed paste) instead of margarine. Avocados are a great source of natural heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, but eat them sparingly as they are high in calories.

Include green salad vegetables and a meat substitute made from soy protein. Alternatively, you could try a salad or steamed vegetables with baked potato.

Low cholesterol dinners

Spinach and Tofu pie with salad

Spinach and Tofu Pie with side salad

Try a stir-fry with plenty of green vegetables, tofu (soy protein) and brown rice. You can cook your stir-fry in some water or stock with your favourite herbs and spices for a low-fat or no-fat dinner. For some extra crunch, throw in a few walnuts or almondsWalnuts have plenty of polyunsaturated fatty acids that also help keep blood vessels healthy.

Hearty soups loaded with vegetables, and extras such as chickpeas and split peas, are a healthy dinner meal, ideal for colder days. Multigrain bread rolls are perfect to mop up the soup with.

Instead of a pizza loaded with meat, cheese and saturated fat, why not try a healthy wholemeal pita pizza? The pita bread can be spread with minced garlic and tomato paste (recent research has found that garlic helps stop artery-clogging plaque at its earliest stage, and keeps individual cholesterol particles from sticking to artery walls).

Then also add some capsicum, low fat vegetables, and olives. Spread a little low-fat hummus or soy cheese for a healthy pizza taste.

What’s your favourite healthy low-cholesterol meal alternative? If you have a recipe, please submit this to us online.

Tom Perry

Top 12 low cholesterol vegan food swaps

Swap high-cholesterol with low or no-cholesterol foods

Healthy plant food

Always have health plant foods in your pantry

When it comes to including and excluding certain foods to maintain a no-cholesterol vegan plant-based diet, you don’t have to re-invent your whole diet. Simply substitute or swap your high cholesterol foods for low or no-cholesterol foods. Naturally, plant foods are the perfect way to do this.

Here are my top 12 easy low/no cholesterol food swap ideas:

  1. Cow’s milk – swap with soy milkrice milkalmond milk or oat milk (I love pouring oat milk on my porridge in the morning, and it tastes great!)
  2. Cheese – swap with low-fat ricotta or cottage cheese, or try soy cheese varieties instead
  3. Eggs – swap with scrambled tofu on wholegrain toast, or use egg replacer, or baking soda when baking cakes
  4. Meat, sausages, minced beef, burgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets – swap with meat-free varieties made from soy and vegetable protein (try SanitariumFry’s, or Quorn), soy protein foods such as tofu or tempeh, high-protein quinoa, or beans and legumes such as kidney beans, baked beans, peanuts or lentils
  5. Potato chips and salty, fatty snacks – swap with rice cakes, multi-grain crackers, and a small handful of unsalted, raw nuts, such as walnuts and almonds, or vegetable sticks with home-made dips such as hummus, bean dip or guacamole
  6. Caesar salad – swap with fresh green and red vegetable salad with additions like avocado, sunflower seeds, and fat-free dressing such as apple cider or balsamic vinegar
  7. Ice-cream and yoghurt – swap with soy ice-cream (Sanitarium or Tofutti), or even better, fruit sorbet or fruit ices, and soy yoghurt
  8. Chocolate – swap milk and rich-centred chocolates with plain dark chocolate with a high cacao content (eat sparingly)
  9. Beer and wine – swap with non-alcoholic cider or non-alcoholic wines , or better yet, mineral water
  10. Sugary cereals with full-fat milk – swap with oatmeal porridge with oat milk, a whole-grain low-sugar cereal like Weetbix with low-fat/no-fat soy milk, or muesli with almond milk – with no added sugar, except for a little dried fruit
  11. White bread – swap with multi-grain bread and rolls
  12. Butter and margarine and oils – cook in water and stock instead of butter or oils; use small amounts avocado, tahini, or peanut butter on bread instead of butter or margarine – or better yet, use low-fat spreads like chutney, salsa, or bean-dip.

The good news is that these low-fat vegan food swaps are often lower in fat and calories, have plenty of vital nutrients and are great for weight loss. Let us know what your favourite healthy food-swaps are.

Tom Perry

Lower your cholesterol in 10 easy steps

How to lower your cholesterol using simple but effective lifestyle changes

So your latest blood test results show some bad news – you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol levels. You’re wondering what this means, and how to lower cholesterol.

High cholesterol is one of the main causes of heart disease and stroke. In Australia, for example, 32% of adults have high blood cholesterol – that’s 3.2 million adults. In the U.S, 33.5% or 71 million people have high LDL, or “bad” cholesterol.

Tofu Loaf

Tofu loaf – a healthy protein-rich food to help lower your cholesterol

Never fear, though, because aside from receiving any doctor-prescribed medication, there are many diet and lifestyle changes you can make to help lower your cholesterol levels.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a type of white, waxy fat-like substance found in the blood and produced by the liver. It is also found in animal products, but not plant foods.

Do we need cholesterol?

Yes. Cholesterol is part of cell walls and the building block of vitamin D, sex hormones, and bile acids that help digest fats. Cholesterol is an essential part of life, but the body makes enough for its needs. We do not need any cholesterol in our diet to be healthy.

What is high cholesterol and ‘bad’ cholesterol?

As a general guide, here are some blood cholesterol levels (mmol/litre) and their implication for heart attack risk:

  • Less than 4.2 – low risk
  • 4.2 – 5.4 – average risk
  • 5.5 – 6.5 – high risk
  • 6.5 and above – very high risk
Fruit, nuts and vegetables

Fresh fruit, nuts and vegetables for a heart-healthy diet

You should know your cholesterol level, especially if there are heart attacks or strokes in your family. The recommended cholesterol level for the general public is below 5.5mmol/L. If your cholesterol level is 6.5 mmol/L or greater your risk of heart disease is about 4 times greater than that of a person with a cholesterol level of 4 mmol/L.

There are 2 types of cholesterol, and only one is bad for you.

  • HDL, or ‘high density lipoprotein’ cholesterol is known as ‘good cholesterol,’ because it helps remove excess cholesterol from arteries and transport it back to the liver where it’s metabolised.
  • LDL, or ‘low density lipoprotein’ cholesterol is known as ‘bad cholesterol,’ because too much LDL in our bloodstream leads to fatty deposits in the arteries. A build up of fatty deposits can cause the vessels to narrow and potentially become blocked. This can lead to heart disease and stroke.

Lower your cholesterol in 10 easy steps

Here are my top 10 tips to lower cholesterol if you have high cholesterol levels:

1. Avoid foods high in cholesterol, saturated fat or trans-fat, including fatty meats and processed meats, deep-fried foods, cakes, biscuits and pastries, full fat dairy products, eggs, as these can raise LDL cholesterol levels.
2. Replace foods high in saturated or trans-fats; butter, lard, margarine and oils, with a low-fat, high-fibre plant-based diet.
3. Lose weight if overweight.
4. Exercise for 30 minutes per day most (or all) days
5. Increase your intake of fruit and vegetables
6. Avoid or minimize alcohol consumption
7. Quit smoking
8. Eat more legumes. Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, beans and peas are good for people with high cholesterol levels. They are low in fat and rich in nutrients such as B vitamins, iron and unsaturated fats. They are also a rich source of soluble fibre, which helps to lower cholesterol levels.
9. Eat more garlic. Studies show that, as part of a low-fat diet, it can help reduce cholesterol levels – lowering levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and raising “good” HDL cholesterol.
10. Have oatmeal porridge for breakfast. Whole oats are packed with heart-healthy dietary fibre and nutrients such as B vitamins, vitamin E and iron. Oats are an excellent source of soluble fibre, which lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease. Choose fibre-rich whole oats instead of quick oats.

Remember, if you suspect you have high cholesterol levels or high blood pressure, or if you have a family history of heart attack or stroke, please see your doctor for advice and testing.

 Tom Perry
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