Eating healthy and low-carb, without fish and meat.. Is that possible?

Starting your day with bacon and eggs, a tuna salad for lunch, and courgetti with ground beef for dinner.. You may have noticed this, but most low-carb meals contain either meat or fish.

Most types of meat and fish are great sources of protein, and most kinds, like beef, pork, and fatty fish, are also a perfect source of healthy fats. In addition, meat and fish don’t contain any carbohydrates, which makes it a perfect and easy low-carb choice to meet your protein and fat needs for the day.

Are you a vegetarian, or do you eat little to no meat and fish, and do you want to know what you need to be aware of to make the best choices? In this blog we’ll explain how you can eat a healthy low-carb vegetarian diet.

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As a vegetarian you need more protein

To be completely honest with you: as a vegetarian, it’s more challenging to eat low-carb. A vegetarian needs 1.2 times as much protein as a non-vegetarian (1). The reasoning behind this is that the composition of plant-based protein is not as ideal as the composition of animal-based proteins, which makes the absorption and conversion of plant-based protein in your body less effective. Because of that you need to eat more protein as a vegetarian to meet your daily needs.

But there are plenty of meat substitutes on the shelves, so what’s the problem? The tricky thing is that a lot of meat substitutes are relatively high in carbs, and low in protein..

Luckily there are also plenty of vegetarian – low-carb proof – options, such as eggs, dairy, cheese, , whey protein powder, tofu, tempeh, seitan and vegetarian minced meat (2,3).

Great vegetarian protein sources, that are low-carb proof

In the table below you see an overview of vegetarian low-carb protein sources, and the amount of protein these sources contain per 100 grams (2).

Vegetarian protein source

Amount of protein per 100 g

Tofu

13 g

Tempeh

12 g

Seitan

17 g

Vegetarian minced meat

20 g

Egg

13 g (7 g per egg)

Mozzarella

18.7 g

Goat cheese

13.4 g

Cottage cheese

11.2 g

Full-fat milk

3.3 g

Full-fat yoghurt

8.2 g

Protein powder

78 g (22 g per portie)

We’d advise you to eat at least 30 grams of protein with every meal (2-3 eggs or 150 grams of tempeh/vegetarian minced meat/seitan/tofu + 1 egg), to make sure you’re satiated and meet your daily protein needs. And we want to remind you that there is no need to track your meals in an app. However, as a vegetarian on low-carb,  it can be useful to do this for a short period of time – 3 days maximum, to make sure you eat enough protein, and that the protein sources you eat, don’t secretly contain a lot of carbs.

Choose unprocessed meat alternatives

The least processed types of meat substitutes are tofu, tempeh and seitan. Tofu and tempeh contain no extra additives, are low in carbohydrates and are a source of (soy) protein. As for tofu and tempeh it’s important to take the natural one, without any flavour or marinade as this is often packed with sugar and nasty oils.

Seitan is not a soy product; the base of seitan is made out of wheat or spelt processed with water into a dough. The starch and bran are then washed away until only the proteins (gluten) remain (3).

Vegetarian minced meat is also a healthy high-protein choice, that doesn’t contain a lot of  additives (4). However, most meat substitutes, like falafel, vegetarian schnitzels, cheese burgers and vegetable burgers are relatively high in carbs and low in protein. Other meat substitutes, like vegetarian bratwurst, vegetarian chicken pieces and vegetarian smoked sausage are low in carbohydrates, but contain added vegetable oils, like sunflower and rapeseed oil (2).

Is there something wrong with those oils? Absolutely!  The problem with vegetable oils, like sunflower or rapeseed oil, is that they contain a lot of omega-6 fats. An imbalance in omega-6 and omega-3 fats is a trigger for inflammation, which makes it difficult to maintain a healthy weight.  For this reason, it’s important to avoid these meat substitutes, and vegetable oils in general, as much as possible.

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Must know advice for vegetarians

We’ve discussed the importance of limiting your omega-6 intake briefly and that it’s important to be aware of your intake. So let’s talk about the counterpart of omega-6, omega-3! It’s really important for your health to consume enough omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have a protective function when it comes to cardiovascular disease, neuro-development, Alzheimer’s, dementia, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer (5,6). 

But that’s not all, when your intake of omega-3 fatty acids is too low, this can cause inflammation, leading to an unhealthy cholesterol profile , increases the risk of depression and anxiety disorders, and can lead to poor fat burning capacity, making losing weight very difficult (1,7,8,9).

As a vegetarian, it is wise to take a DHA-EPA supplement. This DHA-EPA supplement from ekopura is a vegetarian source of omega-3, and with the discount code “thenourishingstate” you get a 10% discount. Win-win!

Iron and B12 are also points of attention..

You can only find B12 in animal-based products, like meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. As a vegetarian, it’s therefore important to consume enough dairy products and eggs. So, eggs all day, everyday! Hmm alright, maybe not all day long, but 2 eggs a day certainly won’t hurt to get just a bit more B12 in! Are you a vegetarian, and are you not the biggest fan of eggs, or are you intolerant to dairy? Then we recommend you to take a B12 supplement. 

Unlike B12, iron is also found in plant-based products, for example in nuts and spinach. But same as with protein, the absorption of iron from plant-based products (non-heme iron) is less ideal than the absorption of iron from animal-based products (heme iron), like beef. This means that as a vegetarian you have to eat more iron to make sure you meet your daily needs (10)

Have you been eating vegetarian for a while, and have you been suffering from extreme fatigue? Then it’s good to get your iron and B12 levels (based on your homocysteine level) tested. This way you know if you have any deficiency and if you need to supplement. 

To conclude,you can certainly eat low carb as a vegetarian! However, it is important to pay extra attention to your protein, omega-3, iron and B12 intake (1).

What I eat in a day: Low-Carb and Vegetarian full-day of eating

In the table below you’ll see what a low-carb day of eating can look like as a vegetarian.

Breakfast

Low-carb cottage cheese, and and cheese fritters
You can add guacamole on the side to make this breakfast extra special.

Are you more of a sweet breakfast person?

In that case this smoothie bowl is a great choice. Add this protein granola as an extra topping, to make sure your breakfast contains enough protein to keep you satiated till lunch.

Lunch

Lunch-time means… build your own salad! 

For example: lettuce: Salat leaves, tomato, mozzarella, 100-150 gram tempeh (tofu or seitan), hemp seeds or pumpkin seeds, and olive oil with pesto as a dressing. 

You can have 1-2 low-carb crackers with that if you like, topped with for example goat cheese and/or avocado-cottage cheese spread

Snack
 Oat milk cappuccino with a low-carb brownie – Boy oh boy these brownies are SO good!

Do you notice that you are really hungry and that a brownie is simply not enough? 
In that case, this chia pudding is a great option ! Add a scoop of protein powder and some strawberries.

Dinner
 A quiche is never a bad idea, but this Low-carb spinach goat cheese pie is next level ;)!

Hopefully we’ve given you an even better idea of what a low-carb diet can look like when vegetarian. Please take this table with a pinch of salt (quite literally ;)), and note that you don’t have to follow this to a T. Everyone is different and has different needs, so to your body. Because you know your body best!

Do you want to be certain that your diet is fully fledged, that you take good care of your body and have no hidden deficiencies? Then 1:1 coaching might be something for you!

With our 1:1 support, we help you find a lifestyle that suits your body, personal needs, preferences and goals. This way you know exactly which actions you need to take to become the best, healthiest and happiest you. So, are you ready to thrive and to finally feel comfortable in your skin again? Click here to book your free intro-call with Marie-Lyne!

References

  1. García-Maldonado E, Gallego-Narbón A, Vaquero M. Are vegetarian diets nutritionally adequate? A revision of the scientific evidence. Nutricion Hospitalaria. 2019; [Are vegetarian diets nutritionally adequate? A revision of the scientific evidence] – PubMed (nih.gov)
  2. Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu. Nederlands Voedingsstoffenbestand. 2019; NEVO (rivm.nl)
  3. Albert Heijn. Albert Heijn: boodschappen doen bij de grootste supermarkt (ah.nl)
  4. Vivera Kruimgehakt. Albert Heijn. Vivera Kruimgehakt bestellen | ah.nl
  5. Simopoulos A. P. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy. 2002; The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids – PubMed (nih.gov)
  6. Recente studie geeft inzicht in effect EPA/DHA op omega 3-index. Orthokennis. 2020; https://www.orthokennis.nl/nieuws/recente-studie-effect-EPA-DHA-op-omega-3-indexRecente studie geeft inzicht in effect EPA/DHA op omega 3-index | Stichting OrthoKennis
  7. Rutting S, Xenaki D, Lau E, Horvat J, Wood L. G, Hansbro P. M, Oliver B. G. Dietary omega-6, but not omega-3, polyunsaturated or saturated fatty acids increase inflammation in primary lung mesenchymal cells. American Journal of Physiology – Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology. 2018; Dietary omega-6, but not omega-3, polyunsaturated or saturated fatty acids increase inflammation in primary lung mesenchymal cells – PubMed (nih.gov)
  8. Simopoulos A. P. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy. 2002; The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids – PubMed (nih.gov)
  9. Simopoulos A. P. An increase in the Omega-6/Omega-3 fatty acid ratio increases the risk for obesity. Nutrients. 2016; An Increase in the Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio Increases the Risk for Obesity – PubMed (nih.gov)
  10. IJzer. Voedingscentrum. IJzer | Voedingscentrum

Eating low-carb as a vegetarian – is that possible?