Q&A with Bill Harris, M.D.
Q. I was so happy when i found the vegan pyramid because I am sure I do not get the right minerals or nutrients to be healthy. I am a pasta and potato vegan! I do have a few questions though. I have been a vegan for about a year and a vegetarian for 6 years. I have not lost any weight!!! I do not understand why.
A. I think you already spotted the problem: "I am a pasta and potato vegan*!"
"Over the summer I worked out everyday for about 40-50 minutes on the sationary bike. I did lose a little bit of weght but for the 3 months I only lost a fraction of what I wanted to lose. Unfortunatly now I have found myself at square one again my BMI=26.8 and my food score was 4312., I have low energy levels and always sleep, I currently weigh 151 lbs and am 64 inches and 20 years old way to fat for my age and height. I am trying to get to 120 lbs. and be able to keep the weight off. Can you please give me some advise on my problem.
Congratulations on the exercise program; that's half the battle. If the high food score of 4312 was derived from my diet questionaire then you must be getting a lot of exercise because the foods you describe probably wouldn't do it. See:
Diet and Exercise Questionnaire
The bottom line on weight loss is simple. If you burn more Calories in your daily activities than you absorb from your food, you will lose weight. Period! All the world's famines, concentration camps, and long intentional fasts are proof.
However, a good deal of present day veg*n nutritional advice advocates a high consumption of "complex carbohydrate" which generally means starches and grains e.g " pasta and potatoes". While this is an improvement on the Standard American Diet, I don't think it's optimal advice for two reasons.
First there is the problem of glycemic index (GI), the ability of a food to raise serum glucose levels. Although the GI tables are woefully incomplete it appears that baked potato has a GI of ~ 85 relative to 100 for pure glucose and durum spaghetti comes in at 55. By contrast, peas and cherries come in at about 22. For reasons unfathomable, workers in the field have apparently not thought to test the GI of the unprocessed foods that people should be eating, fresh leafy vegetables, but I suspect they would generally have the lowest GI of all. The evidence suggests that high GI foods raise serum insulin and triglyceride levels and since a secondary function of insulin is to store fat, these foods may inhibit weight loss in some people.
More importantly, the high GI starches and grains have much lower nutrient values than most vegetables, particularly leafy greens. See:
"Less Grains, More Greens"
Related material suggests that the vegetables and fruits that can be eaten raw have much higher nutrient values than the starches and grains that generally have to be cooked to make them palatable and digestible. See:
Raw vs Cooked
In summary, I think you would achieve your weight loss goals on a raw vegan diet. If that's too much then a vegan diet centered on vegetables and fruit will also work. The reason is simply that your stomach will be filled and your nutrient needs satisfied before your Caloric needs are reached so your body will mobilize fat stores to get at the Calories. Whole food vegans must eat ~ 1/3 more food by weight and volume to match the Calorie intake of omnivores and that's why vegans are generally slender. There's a bit more on this at:
Nutrient analysis of the recipes.
On any type of vegan diet vitamin B12 should be supplemented. As for ways to make those leafy greens more palatable there are many different strategies. My favorite is by our VSH meeting planner, Karl Seff, Ph.D. the chairman of the University of Hawaii chemistry department. Karl comes home from work and starts cooking vegetable dishes. While the water boils he munches on raw vegetables, onions, cucumbers, and mustard for flavor. By the time the cooked food is ready he's not hungry anymore.
-William Harris, M.D.