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How to low-carb and still be vegan
By The Low Carb Clinic, 15 October 2019 - 365 words (4 minutes)
Are you a vegan?
Compared to a high-carbohydrate vegan diet, people following low-carb vegan diets have reduced the risk for chronic disease – especially insulin resistance and diabetes.
A low-carb, vegan diet takes a little more planning to ensure you’re taking in as much nutrition as possible, at every meal.
There are some nutrients simply don’t exist outside of animal products – so on a vegan diet (whether low-carb or not), you’ll need to include fortified foods or supplements to prevent deficiencies. In general, nutrients from animal products are also far easier for the body to absorb – something to be mindful of when planning your diet.
A diet based mostly on vegetables means a very high intake of plant compounds called ‘anti-nutrients’ (including lectins, phytates, and oxalates). In the gut, anti-nutrients prevent the absorption of other nutrients – including zinc, magnesium, iron, and calcium. This can really add up over time, especially on a vegan diet, which is already relatively low in these nutrients.
It is recommended that you do research on what you’re eating and monitor your vitamin and mineral intake – and, as always, prioritise whole foods. Processed food is still processed food: just because it is vegan, doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
Nutrients to keep your eye on when eating a vegan or vegetarian diet include:
B12: found only in animal foods
Omega 3 and omega 6: while it’s true that many vegan foods (like walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds) contain fatty acids, our body is very inefficient at converting these plant fats - (called ‘ALA’s) into ‘DHA’ and ‘EPA’ – the form that the human body can use. So, it might benefit you to take a pre-formed DHA or EPA supplement, from algae.
Iron exists in two forms – haem and non-haem iron: haem iron is far easier to absorb, and this is the form found in animal foods. The absorption of iron can be further depleted from the intake of coffee, tea, and calcium, supplemental fibre, or a lack of vitamin C.
Zinc tends to be less well absorbed on a vegan or vegetarian diet
Vitamin A and D, which are found in the highest amounts in animal foods
Choline (found in eggs)
Some amino acids (proteins), like taurine (found in meat and fish) and glycine (found in skin, bones, and collagen)
On a vegan, low-carb diet you should increase your healthy fat intake by including:
Avocado and avocado oil
Coconut oil and coconut flakes
Nuts (macadamia, pecans, brazil)
Healthy fats make absorbing fat-soluble vitamins (like A and D) easier for the body.
Add pan toasted low-carb nuts and seeds to salads with olive oil and fresh herbs
Make creamy coconut soups
Make ‘hash browns’ with riced cauliflower, herbs and psyllium, fried in coconut oil
Experiment with salads: coleslaws, parsley, thyme, cooked kale or cherry tomatoes, roasted pumpkin, coconut flakes, toasted cumin, sesame
Make an eggplant or zucchini lasagne with macadamia ‘cheese’ and nutritional yeast
Portobello mushrooms simmered in coconut cream or stuffed with a nut/vegetable mixture
Vegan low-carbohydrate cooking will keep you experimenting!
Remember to focus on whole foods - avoiding processed and packaged foods is one of the cornerstones of any healthy diet. Remember there are certain nutrients you can only get and properly absorb from animal foods – so invest a little effort into your diet, to keep you healthy.
Jenkins, D., Wong, J., Kendall, C., Esfahani, A., Ng, V., Leong, T., . . . Singer, W. (2014). Effect of a 6-month vegan low-carbohydrate ('Eco-Atkins') diet on cardiovascular risk factors and body weight in hyperlipidaemic adults: a randomised controlled trial. BJM Open, 4. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-003505