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
- Olive oil
- MCT oil
- Cocao butter
- Nuts (macadamia, pecans, brazil)
Healthy fats make absorbing fat-soluble vitamins (like A and D) easier for the body.
Eat enough protein:
- Natto (fermented soy)
- Nuts and seeds (chia, flax, pecans, hemp, sesame (tahini) sunflower, pumpkin, cocao nibs)
- Nutritional yeast
Keep up your non-starchy vegetables:
- Leafy Greens
- Bok Choy
- Mushrooms (try a variety)
- Green Sprouts
- Seaweed, kelp
Have in moderation:
- Low-sugar fruits, like blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries
- Higher carbohydrate nuts, like almonds
As on any low-carbohydrate diet, do not eat:
- Grains, wheat, barley, cereal, rice
- Beans and legumes (lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans)
- High-carbohydrate fruits and vegetables like bananas, apples, potatoes, sweet potatoes
- Sugar – honey, agave, maple syrup
- Processed meat and dairy alternatives high in soy
Here are some foods that can help for flavour and texture, as well as extra nutrients:
- Nutritional yeast
- Fresh herbs (parsley, basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano)
- Spices (turmeric, cumin, mustard seeds)
- Nutritional yeast
- Lemon and lime juice/rind
- Shirtaki noodles (konjac noodles)
- Psyllium husk
- Vinegar, pickles
- Fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, ginger)
Some low-carb, vegan meal ideas are:
- 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