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.
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.
Here's how to do it:
In the past 12 years, at least 23 studies have shown that low-carb diets can help you lose weight (without calorie counting).
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).
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.
- 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.
- Breakfast: Full-fat yogurt and berries.
- Lunch: Leftover potato bake from the night before.
- Dinner: Grilled portabello mushrooms, with buttered vegetables and avocado.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Breakfast: Fried eggs with baked beans and avocado.
- Lunch: Carrot and cucumber sticks with hummus dip and a handful of nuts.
- Dinner: Eggplant moussaka.
- 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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