You may have heard me share this quote from Dr. Mark Hyman many times:
“You may not know this, but the body could survive without carbohydrates. Our bodies require essential amino acids to build proteins and essentially fatty acids to function properly – yet there is no such thing as an “essential” carbohydrate. At the same time, nobody would contest the nutritional value of plant-based carbohydrates. However, if you never ate another carbohydrate again in your life, you would survive!”
Then he turns around and says that half your plate should be carbs, but the bulk of your calories should come from fat. What? Can we have half our plate in carbs and be low carb? The answer is yes! But how can half our plate be carbs but get most of our intake from fat? here’s how…
If we were to create a pie chart of our macronutrients, let’s say 65% fat, 25% protein, 10% carbs, or some version thereof (your macros may differ), it would look like the pie chart in the left side here. But is that what it would really look like on your plate? No. Why? Because fat is energy rich and often dense. Therefore, a pat of butter may give you the same amount, calorically, and energy-wise as an entire plate of non-starchy vegetables. So it is not uncommon to have a generous portion of vegetables while still eating only about 10% of your energy from carbs.
For instance, on half your plate, you could have two full cups of cooked cauliflower (a lot) for only around 10g of carbs (6 of which are fiber). Toss it in one and a half tablespoons of butter, which has about 18g of fat. Or you can have two cups of raw salad veggies for around the same amount of carbs. Toss in some olive or avocado oil based dressing and you will have similar fat content. While it appears that half your plate is covered in carbs, in reality, that half of your plate is predominantly fat. Then we go to the other side of the plate which contains your protein, which comes with its own portion of fat. Now, let’s say you ate a medium sized chicken leg with skin. You will get about 29g of protein and an additional 15g of fat. Tally for the meal 10g carbs, 29g protein, 33g of fat. Calories: 40 from carbs, 116 from protein, 297 from fat. Percentages: about 9% carbs, 25.5% protein, 65.5% fat. (If your fat macros are higher and your protein lower, you can accomplish this by choosing a meat that has a higher fat content. Eggs also have higher fat to protein ratio. If your carb macros are higher, you can choose vegetables that have more carbs, broccoli has almost twice as much as cauliflower ;).
So it is entirely possible to have the macronutrients on the left, look like the plate on the right. Sometimes, it is easier figuring out what to eat when we are not overly obsessive about the exact macronutrients but rather can just visualize what it looks like on a plate.
I haven’t intentionally tracked my macros for a long time. But whenever I used My Fitness Pal to track what I eat, using the 1/2 plant 1/2 animal image above, my macros always end up in a similar range, with only slight variation between fat and protein.
So yes you can have 1/2 a plate in carbs and be low carb.
Happy eating to you!