Dr. Neal Barnard has come out with a series of books touting a diet that’s (1) vegan and (2) oil-free.
Because I love testing out new diets on my body (and because I’ve recently gained several pounds), I’ve been giving his diet a shot.
Dr. Barnard’s dietary philosophy, if correct, would be revolutionary for me in two ways. First, he doesn’t like fats. Though this sounds typical given our government’s and many doctors’ emphasis these past thirty years on cutting fat from our diets, it goes contrary to my own experiences with weight loss. I lost 20 pounds on Atkins (which advises a nearly all-meat diet consisting very heavily of fats) and kept it off with something resembling the South Beach Diet (which favors fats as well, and similarly shuns most carbohydrates).
A main principle underlying both of these diets (both of which have worked for me) is that fat, paradoxically, makes you skinny. And carbs, particularly refined carbs, make you fat. But Dr. Barnard seems to suggest otherwise.
Second, Dr. Barnard includes agave nectar in many of his recipes. Agave nectar is a natural sweetener, akin to honey or maple syrup, with a lower glycemic index than table sugar (i.e., cane sugar) or high fructose corn syrup. I’ve long been unsure what to think of agave nectar, but never tried it because it’s essentially sugar and in my experience sugar leads rapidly to weight gain.
But if Dr. Barnard is right about agave nectar then this may have implications for the importance of the glycemic index (which measures one’s body’s insulin reaction to different foods). The South Beach Diet centers heavily around the glycemic index, which suggests that no only sugar but bananas and carrots can be dangerous; but after reading Gary Taubes’s Good Calories Bad Calories I’m not so sure it’s an accurate measure of whether food is bad for you or will cause you to gain weight.
So, what results have I seen on Dr. Barnard’s diet? In 11 days of “dieting,” I’ve lost 3.0 pounds. Given that I’m not terribly heavy to begin with, this is encouraging. Even moreso given that I’ve twice broken the diet–once to have multiple servings of French fries and a burger with friends following a wake, once to have salmon, buttery mashed potatoes and a slice of cheesecake after a funeral–after both of which days I gained weight back. Otherwise, I’ve lived exclusively off of Dr. Barnard’s recipes, plus occasional chopped fruits and veggies, wine, lite beer, Bourbon and whiskey.
But 11 days is a short period to test a diet, and weight can fluctuate for reasons other than diet–I suspect that at least a part of my recent pre-diet weight gain had stemmed from the fact that, for the first time in a couple years, I’m lifting weights and no longer running. Both of these factors could have some independent impact on weight, particularly since muscle is denser than fat.
I’ll post some updates on this diet as time goes on, plus some posts looking more closely into some of the health and weight-loss issues this diet raises.