How to Adopt a Vegan Low-Carb Diet

Reducing Carbs in a Healthy Plant-Based Diet

Fried Tofu with Greens
Fried Tofu with Greens. ohn Lund/Tom Penpark/Getty Images

What does a low-carb vegan eat? Terri enjoys an organic vegan diet featuring food that is as local and fresh as possible. Grains in her diet are always whole grains, and she eats very little processed food or refined sugar. In short, she eats in a way which many nutritionists would hold up as the ideal.

Terri's experience shows that you don't have to eat animal products to eat a low-carb diet. She adjusted her diet to the changing needs at midlife, a time when you may do better with more protein and/or less carbohydrate and calories in your diet.

Why Adopt a Vegan Diet?

Terri decided to become vegan after reading "Diet for a New America" by John Robbins. She was already a vegetarian but decided that eggs and dairy cannot be assured to come from animals who are well-treated. The production of eggs and dairy also have a large environmental impact. "By being vegan, I not only get the satisfaction of knowing that I’m eating a healthy, organic, plant-based diet which makes me feel better and more energetic, but also of knowing that I’m doing my best to 'walk softly' on the earth."

Vegan Diet Before Reducing Carbs

Her diet was fresh, local, organic vegetables and fruits, whole grains and whole grain products, legumes, nuts, and soy products. She had at least one leafy green vegetable and two fruits daily. Protein sources included soy milk, soy yogurt, tofu, tempeh or legumes, nuts, or nut butter. Her sweet treat was high-quality dairy-free dark chocolate made with organic natural and unrefined sweeteners.

Reducing Carbs

Past age 40, Terri began to have problems with osteoarthritis and swollen feet. Her weight would fluctuate a couple of pounds overnight. She associated bloating and an increased heart rate with the times she ate more carbs. After eliminating wheat and eating more soy protein, she lost weight and had less swelling.

Further reducing legumes and potatoes, she lost weight and had less arthritis pain.

Low-Carb Vegan Diet

Her diet now has some of the features as before reducing carbs. She eats fresh, local, organic vegetables and fruits, some whole grains and whole grain products, some legumes, nuts, and soy products. But she has very few servings of grain, no toast, and no sandwiches. She loves a huge salad for lunch. She has a little brown rice or pasta to go with vegetables and small amounts of potato or sweet potato.

She eats three servings of fruit every day, but no more than that. She is careful to eat more protein than she used to. She minimizes sweet baked goods, eating them only when they’re really special. Her treat is 100 calories of really dark chocolate twice every day. She now has less tolerance for sweet things.

Protein

Terri has no problem getting protein without animal products. She has soy milk and nuts for breakfast, tofu or tempeh for lunch and/or dinner, and soy yogurt for a snack. She also eats a small amount of legumes several times a week.

Oils and Fats

She uses olive, canola, sesame, or peanut oil for cooking, and non-hydrogenated margarine or canola oil for baking. Having more oil or fat hasn't affected her weight loss.

She no longer substitutes applesauce for oil in muffins, for example.

Nutritional Concerns of a Restricted Diet

She takes daily multiple vitamins that include B-12, which is present only in animal products. With her wide variety of vegetables, fruit, nuts, rice, oats, millet, and legumes she is getting nutrition as recommended by health experts, from food itself.

Terri's Menu

Here is a typical menu for Terri, which changes seasonally. This is mostly a winter menu, with one fruit changed to a summer fruit which would have less carbohydrate than most winter fruits. She finds it helpful to plan menus one week at a time.

She also likes to make a huge salad on the weekend and use it during the week.

Breakfast:

  • 1 cup plain organic enriched soy milk
  • 1/2 cup uncooked organic rolled oats, added to the soy milk and allowed to soak
  • 4 walnut halves (about 2 tablespoons), chopped up and added to the cereal
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons dehydrated raspberries, added to the cereal
  • 1 orange

Lunch:

  • 6 cups (approximately) salad, including lettuce, red cabbage, carrot shavings, tomato, celery, cucumber, red or yellow bell pepper, snow or snap peas (when available for a reasonable price)
  • 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 ounces marinated baked tofu
  • 2 tablespoons low-carb oil and vinegar dressing
  • 0.6 to 0.7 ounces dark chocolate (70 percent to 88 percent cocoa)

Snack:

  • 2/3 cup plain unsweetened soy yogurt
  • 1 peach, cut up and mixed with the yogurt

Dinner:

  • 1/2 cup cooked organic short-grain brown rice
  • 2 to 3 cups of the entrée, depending on what's in it, but all vegetables, including a leafy green (kale, collards, bok choy, chard, beet greens, etc.), and a brassica (cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc) and almost always carrots. The entree usually includes about 1.5 teaspoons of olive oil

Dessert:

  • 1 apple
  • 0.6 to 0.7 ounces dark chocolate (70 percent to 88 percent cocoa)

Drinks: 

  • 6 pints of water spaced out over the day
  • 1 to 2 cups herbal tea, usually in the evening

Exercise30 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of strength training five days a week.

You may want to try Terri's tofu scramble, a common Sunday breakfast for her family.

Diet Analysis and Commentary

Terri's sample menu has about 130 grams of effective carbohydrate, plus 46 grams of fiber, 63 grams of protein, and 1500 calories. Almost half of her daily calories come from fat, about a third of it saturated. A little over a third of her calories are from carbohydrate, and 17 percent are from protein. It meets or exceeds (usually far exceeds) essentially all the minimum daily requirements of vitamins and minerals, except for vitamin B12, niacin, and selenium. Interestingly, it contains almost 1200 mg of calcium.

Terri's diet has about the amount of protein usually recommended by nutritionists (though less than most low-carb diet writers). It has much less carbohydrate and much more fat than traditional nutritionists would recommend but is consistent with most reduced-carb plans.

Although many would find this diet restrictive, note that Terri has found a way to work in her beloved chocolate twice a day. This shows that even on a restricted diet, it's possible to eat well while eating low-carb.

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