A question that gets asked a lot is ‘can you live Low Carb and be Vegetarian?’ It’s a valid question when you consider how heavily skewed many low carbers are towards animal products.
A low-carb diet is pretty straightforward; you replace the sugars and starches in your diet with nutrient-dense foods such as meat, fish, eggs, nuts, vegetables, low sugar fruits and healthy fats.
Low-carb people rely heavily on meats as their source of protein and some essential vitamins, but what are you supposed to do when you don’t eat meat? While it is a lot easier to eat low carb when you eat meat, you don’t need to be a carnivore to be low carb. There are many plant-based options available for you.
Going low-carb if you’re a vegetarian just takes a little bit of strategy to make sure you’re still getting as many nutrients as possible.
However, you need to be aware that there are several essential nutrients vital to our health that you cannot get from plants. These include Vitamin B12, Vitamin A, D3, K2, Heme Iron, and EPA and DHA fatty acids.
Different Types of Vegetarian
There are several different kinds of vegetarianism. These are the most common ones.
Traditionally, being a vegetarian means you don’t eat meat, poultry fish, or shellfish but may eat products naturally produced from animals such as eggs.
They will eat fish and fish products but not land animals. They may or may not eat dairy and eggs. This is often a starting point for people wanting to go Vegetarian.
There are also lacto-ovo vegetarians, who eat dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt as well as eggs.
Most people are familiar with veganism, this style of eating is purely plant-based with no animal products or by-products whatsoever (such as gelatin and honey).
Let’s assume, for this discussion, we are talking about, the most common type of vegetarianism – lacto-ovo vegetarians.
It’s very easy for a vegetarian’s diet to end up being heavy in carbs, from grains, bread, legumes, starchy vegetables. These foods are used as plate fillers. However, going low-carb is possible if you make the right adjustments!
Let’s look at some options.
What Should You be Eating?
A major concern for Vegetarians who reduce their carb intake is where do I get my protein from? Usual plant-based protein sources are high carb such as legumes like chickpeas and beans.
There are many dairy products and a large variety of plant-based foods that are rich in protein and healthy fat while being low in carbs. Here are some food options that are perfect for your vegetarian low carb diet:
Many vegetables are low in carbs. Some of these include cauliflower, broccoli, eggplant, capsicum, tomatoes, asparagus, cucumber, zucchini, cabbage, and brussels sprouts.
Also include green leafy vegetables like lettuce, spinach and kale in your diet. These veggies contain essential vitamins and are high in fibre, so they keep you full in between meals.
The easiest way to remember which veg are low carb
is by knowing which ones grow above ground.
Anything growing below ground (root vegetables) will be higher in carbs. Think potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, onions, beetroot etc.
When picking yoghurt, you should choose plain, unsweetened and full-fat versions. Not only are they rich in protein and calcium, but they also contain probiotics that aid in digestion.
It’s highly nutrient-dense, has a plenty of calcium, and is really tasty! Cheese is also extremely versatile, and there’s plenty of variety and flavors for you to choose from, which means it can be used in a multitude of ways.
Eggs are a great source of protein and can be eaten freely. In fact, they are a complete source of protein that includes all the essential amino acids. Eggs also contain healthy fats.
Pro-tip: Eggs are easy to prepare and you can cook them many different ways. If you can, choose eggs from free-range or organically raised chickens.
It’s high in nutrients while also being high in calories and saturated fat, which means it should be enjoyed in moderation.
Your fruit options depend on the amount of carbs you want to consume. Many fruits are high in fibre, vitamins and antioxidants, which are all beneficial for your body. However, some fruits are high in sugar, such as tropical fruits like pineapple and bananas. Opt for berries such as strawberries, raspberries and blueberries which are lower in carbs.
You should also add fatty fruits to your diet like avocados and olives, which are incredibly healthy. They are low in carbs while being rich in healthy fats.
Nuts and Seeds:
Nuts and seeds are important additions to your diet because they’re high in protein and fats while being low in carbs. Some of the nuts you should be eating are pecans, almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts.
Pumpkin seeds and chia seeds are excellent sources of fibre. You can use them as topping in your salads, vegetable smoothies, and yogurt. Chia seeds are high carbs but low in net carbs due to their high fibre content.
Quinoa is technically a seed, though it does get classified as a grain. Many people choose to include quinoa in their diet in place of other grains, because it’s an excellent source of protein and fibre. Be aware though, it is still quite high in carbs for a low carb diet, coming in at 26g carbs per 100g.
Peanut butter is the most popular of all the nut butters, and while it is versatile, there are a host of other nut butters to choose from. Nut butters made from cashews, almonds, macadamia nuts, are readily available in stores and farmer’s markets.
The specific nutrients in nut butter vary depending on the type of nut, but all nuts are good sources of healthy fats.
A word of caution with nut butters: check the label and keep an eye out for added sugar and salt. Manufacturers often add these ingredients to keep the oil from separating during storage. This can be solved simply by stirring the nut butter before using it.
Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil are all healthy fats. Coconut oil and avocado oil can be used for cooking as they have a high smoke point, olive oil is better used cold as a dressing or in recipes.
Three Easy Steps:
Starting your low-carb journey as a vegetarian may be daunting if you’ve never tried low-carb before. That’s why I’ve come up with three easy steps for you to follow.
1. Every meal should have high-quality proteins:
Usually, the protein that comes from animal products contains all nine essential amino acids in the amounts your body needs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get those amino acids while being vegetarian.
If you combine low-carb plant proteins, such as nuts and seeds, with protein sources like dairy, you can significantly improve your vegetarian diet’s protein quality.
2. Healthy oils are the way to go:
Natural fats improve your food’s texture and can help you stay full and satisfied between meals. These fats are also necessary for proper absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Since fats contribute most of your calories on a low-carb diet, it’s essential to choose healthy, natural low-carb fats such as butter, ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado oil.
3. Focus on these vegetables:
There are plenty of delicious low-carb-friendly veggies that provide you with a nice dose of fibre and help you meet your daily micronutrient needs.
Spinach: This leafy vegetable is low in calories and rich in iron, potassium, and magnesium, plus they contain important vitamins like C, A, and K.
Avocado: (It’s technically a fruit) They contain healthy fats rich with monounsaturated fatty acids and important nutrients, including folate, vitamins C and K, potassium, and magnesium. They are also excellent sources of fibre.
Cauliflower: It’s a great source of vitamin C and fibre and the perfect low-carb friendly substitute for mashed potatoes and rice.
Zucchini: It’s a good source of vitamin B6, vitamin C, and potassium. It’s also a fantastic noodle substitute which is great for a guilt-free saucy pasta dish.
A quick note on vegetarian foods to avoid on a low-carb diet:
Keep in mind that many foods considered ‘vegetarian-friendly’ are often high in carbs. Look out for foods like gluten-free pasta, tomato sauce (which is high in added sugars), tofu, whole-wheat bread, dried fruit snacks, fruit smoothies, protein shakes, and protein bars. Packaged foods like protein bars are often high in carbohydrates and sugar. Here’s some tips that will help you.