Studies over the past few years suggest that a low-carb intake is a significant factor in weight loss, and that combined with a high-protein and high-fat approach, can help improve levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and lower triglycerides (fat), and thus reduce the risk of heart disease.
But what if you’re a vegetarian? If you rely on carbohydrates as a significant diet component, how do you do low-carb?
The type of carbohydrate to avoid is key — we know not all carbs are created equal. Those made with flour or sugar hit the top of the don’t-eat list.
However, nutrient-dense or complex carbohydrates, such as broccoli, kale and collard greens, are menu musts, says Colette Heimowitz, VP of Nutrition and Education for Atkins, the low-carb diet which seemed to have the most independent-study success.
“People are only familiar with the initial two-week induction plan, which is designed to induce fat-burning in the body rather than carbohydrate-burning,” Heimowitz says in answer to surprise that Atkins is vegetarian friendly. For non meat-eaters, the program’s protein, fibre, healthy fats and essential amino acids come from tofu, eggs, nuts, seeds and cheese, she explains. Also acceptable are cottage cheese, yogurt and vegetable oils.
Important to note is that a low-carb veggie diet can’t stand on one legume.
“You need a broad variety of amino acids from a variety of plant sources,” stresses naturopathic doctor Alan C. Logan, who researches and consults for Genuine Health. For example, on paper, peas appear to provide all the necessary amino acids. But if you eat only peas, “you’ll get some amino acids, but lack a few, including methionine, which is important for reducing joint inflammation, and tryptophan, which the body needs to manufacture serotonin, which regulates mood,” he explains. “You need an ‘orchestra’ of sources for everything you need.”
Logan suggests making space in the low-carb allotment for small amounts of brown rice, which “provides a tremendous amount of antioxidants and fibre.” He also advises adding hemp, which serves up twice the lysine that tofu does for anti-viral and immune-system support, double the methionine of egg whites, and eight times the tryptophan available from milk.