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The Vegetarian and Vegan Guide to a Low-Carb Diet

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The Vegetarian and Vegan Guide to a Low-Carb Diet

By Joe Leech

Cutting back on carbs is not very complicated. Just replace the sugars and starches in your diet with vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, nuts and fats.

Conventional low-carb diets rely heavily on meat, which makes them unsuitable for vegetarians. However, this does not need to be the case.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Seems pretty straightforward, unless you don't eat meat. Conventional low-carb diets rely heavily on meat, which makes them unsuitable for vegetarians.

However, this does not need to be the case. Everyone can follow a low-carb diet, even vegetarians and vegans.

Here's how to do it:

Why Low-Carb?

In the past 12 years, at least 23 studies have shown that low-carb diets can help you lose weight (without calorie counting).

One of the main reasons is that these diets can significantly reduce appetite, making you eat fewer calories without having to consciously try to eat less (1, 2).

Low-carb diets also improve health in other ways.

They are very effective at reducing harmful belly fat and tend to reduce triglycerides and raise HDL (the “good") cholesterol significantly. They also tend to lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels (3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

Although low-carb diets are not necessary for everyone, they can have important health benefits for people with obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and certain neurological disorders.

A low-carb vegan diet can be very healthy as well. Studies on eco-atkins (vegan, 26 percent of calories as carbs) have shown that such a diet is much healthier than a regular low-fat diet, as well as a low-fat vegetarian diet (8, 9).

Different Types of Vegetarians

There are several different types of vegetarians. None of them eat meat or fish.

The two most common types are lacto-ovo vegetarians and vegans.

Lacto-ovo vegetarians (or simply “vegetarians") eat dairy products and eggs, but vegans do not eat any animal-derived foods.

Dairy Products and Eggs Are Low in Carbs

Eggs and dairy products, without added sugar, are low in carbs, but high in both protein and fat. For vegetarians (not vegans), they are perfect for a low-carb diet.

  • Eggs: Contain only trace amounts of carbs. Choose pastured, omega-3-enriched or free-range eggs if you can.
  • Yogurt, Greek yogurt and kefir: Choose unsweetened, full-fat versions. Find ones with live cultures for an additional probiotic benefit.
  • Grass-fed butter: Butter from grass-fed cows is healthy, and fine in moderation on a low-carb diet.
  • Cheese: Highly nutrient-dense and tasty, and can be used in all sorts of recipes.

These foods are also rich in vitamin B12, which is not found in plant foods. Vegetarians can get all the B12 they need from these foods, while vegans need to supplement.

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Low-Carb Friendly Plant Foods (For Both Vegetarians and Vegans)

There is actually a massive variety of low-carb foods from plants.

Many of these foods are also high in protein and fat.

  • Vegetables: Many vegetables are low in carbs. This includes tomatoes, onions, cauliflower, eggplant, bell peppers, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
  • Fruits: Berries like strawberries and blueberries can be eaten on a low-carb diet. Depending on how many carbs you want to eat, other fruits may be acceptable as well.
  • Fatty fruits: Avocados and olives are incredibly healthy. They are low in carbs but high in fat.
  • Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are low in carbs, but high in protein and fat. This includes almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts and pumpkin seeds.
  • Soy: Foods like tofu and tempeh are high in protein and fat, but low in carbs. This makes them acceptable on a low-carb vegetarian/vegan diet.
  • Legumes: Some legumes, including green beans, chick peas and others.
  • Healthy fats: Extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil.
  • Chia seeds: Most of the carbs in chia seeds are fiber, so almost all of the usable calories in them come from protein and fat.
  • Dark chocolate: If you choose dark chocolate with a high (70-85 percent or more) cocoa content, then it will be low in carbs but high in fat.

How Many Carbs Should You Eat?

There is no fixed definition of exactly what “low carb" means.

It is important to experiment and figure out a way to match your carb intake to your own goals and preferences.

That being said, these guidelines are reasonable:

  • 100-150 grams per day: This is a decent maintenance range and is good for people who exercise a lot.
  • 50-100 grams per day: This should lead to automatic weight loss and is a good maintenance range for people who don't exercise that much.
  • 20-50 grams per day: With a carb intake this low, you should lose weight quickly without experiencing much hunger. This carb range should put you into ketosis.

Vegetarians could easily go into the lowest range, but such a diet would be impractical for vegans. The 100-150 gram range would be more suitable for vegans.

It is recommended to use a nutrition tracker (like Cron-o-meter) for at least a few days/weeks while you are fine-tuning your carbohydrate intake and making sure to get enough protein and fat.

A Sample Menu For a Low-Carb Vegetarian Diet

This is a one-week sample menu for a vegetarian (not vegan) diet that is low in carbs.

You can adapt this based on your own needs and preferences.

Monday

  • Breakfast: Eggs and vegetables, fried in olive oil.
  • Lunch: Four bean salad with olive oil and a handful of nuts.
  • Dinner: Cheesy cauliflower bake (gratin) with broccoli and potato.

Tuesday

  • Breakfast: Full-fat yogurt and berries.
  • Lunch: Leftover potato bake from the night before.
  • Dinner: Grilled portabello mushrooms, with buttered vegetables and avocado.

Wednesday

  • Breakfast: Smoothie with coconut milk and blueberries.
  • Lunch: Carrot and cucumber sticks with hummus dip and a handful of nuts.
  • Dinner: Tempeh stir fry, with cashew nuts and veggies.

Thursday

  • Breakfast: Omelet with vegetables, fried in olive oil.
  • Lunch: Leftover stir fry from dinner the night before.
  • Dinner: Chilli beans with sour cream, cheese and salsa.

Friday

  • Breakfast: Full-fat yogurt and berries.
  • Lunch: Quinoa salad with some olive oil and a handful of nuts.
  • Dinner: Feta cheese salad with pumpkin seeds and macadamia nuts, drizzled with olive oil.

Saturday

  • Breakfast: Fried eggs with baked beans and avocado.
  • Lunch: Carrot and cucumber sticks with hummus dip and a handful of nuts.
  • Dinner: Eggplant moussaka.

Sunday

  • Breakfast: Strawberry smoothie with full-fat yogurt and nuts.
  • Lunch: Leftover moussaka from the night before.
  • Dinner: Asparagus, spinach and feta quiche (with or without egg).

You can find numerous delicious low-carb vegan recipes on this site.

Plus, there is a massive amount of free recipes available on the internet. Try typing “low carb vegetarian recipes" or “low carb vegan recipes" into Google.

There are also cookbooks on Amazon that are dedicated to low-carb and plant-based eating.

Take Home Message

There are many delicious plant foods that are low in carbs, but high in fat and protein.

Clearly, you don't need to be a meat eater to reap the benefits of low-carb eating.

This article was reposted from our media associate Authority Nutrition.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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