A low carbohydrate diet sounds great, especially when you are on a calorie restricted diet trying to reduce weight or a diabetic person trying to have a meal with low glycemic index.
We all love to have breads and pastas but they need to be in a quantity that balances our daily calorie output, because the excess leads to gaining weight or problems for those who have raised blood sugar levels.
A low-carb diet can practically be a good measure to keep our health in check by reducing the blood glucose levels and body fat stores. Low-carb diet can help lose weight. Including more of protein actually helps in keeping you full for a longer duration since protein meal needs more time to get digested and hence reduces appetite making you eat fewer calories without even trying to consciously eat less. This diet is also effective in reducing belly fat, reducing the level of triglycerides and raising the HDL (good) cholesterol level.
Since we are talking of carbohydrates we need to know a bit more about it.
Carbohydrates are the macro-nutrients that provides energy to our body to carry out its functioning be it our brain or blood cells or energy required for carrying out external activity but when the amount of carbs exceed the daily limit the body stores it in the form of fat.
Do remember that carbohydrates serve some very important roles in our body which cannot be fulfilled by any replacements so we cannot completely cut them down. However we need to choose the source of carbs carefully.
The healthy preference is whole grains over refined cereals and watching the portion size as well. The total amount of carbs consumed should be distributed evenly and consistently over the course of the day to promote better blood glucose control. And it is also important to pay closer attention to the protein intake when you are restricting your carb intake.
For those who are not into exercising much and want weight loss, an amount of 100 gms carbs daily will do and for those who are physical active and need a weight maintenance will do good with a 150 gms carbs daily.
A low carb diet does not essentially indicate a high protein diet but towards a careful selection of the choice of protein sources and consuming the balanced amount of it without exceeding the daily limit. It is not very complicated to plan a low carb diet when you eat anything and everything under the sun. You can fill up the protein and healthy fats from vegetables, meat fish, milk, eggs, nuts and fats to get the energy and essential nutrients along with a little of carbs that are high in fibre. But the challenge begins for those who do not consume fish and meat.
If you eat meat and fish there is no problem at all and if you include dairy and eggs in your diet that is also good. But those who are strictly vegan, need to be very careful about getting enough proteins from legumes, pulses and nuts.
Vegetarians can be typically categorised in two groups that is ovo-lacto vegetarians who eat egg and dairy products and vegans who don’t eat any animal derived foods. Conventional low-carb diets rely heavily on animal protein especially meat, fish and egg which makes them unsuitable for vegans.
Our bodies need a variety of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) to sustain our lean body mass and more so when we are on a low – carb diet. Most plant based proteins are low in one or more of the amino acids that our body needs. In addition to this, proteins from plant foods are not easily digested and absorbed which is often referred by the terms biological value, net protein utilization and bio-availability.
It means that the amount of protein in the food may not be the amount your body is actually getting. This is one of the prime reasons to not to rely on one plant protein source completely but to get it from different combination of foods.
Now in case you are thinking for the options to be included in a low-carb vegan diet, then here are some healthy choices:
Eggs are excellent source of protein in a vegetarian diet. They are rich in protein with a composition of amino acids considered ideal for human body. One large egg has about 6 gms of protein and less than a gram of carbohydrate. They also are good source for healthy fats with only trace amount of carbohydrate. Eggs also provide other valuable nutrients like vitamin A, D, B 12, and choline. Interesting fact about egg is that it is easy to prepare and adds variety to our meal. You may skip eating the yolk on a daily basis if you’re watching the cholesterol level.
Products like milk, yogurt, cottage cheese and processed cheese provide a lot of protein, calcium and riboflavin along with good quality fat. Additionally yogurt provides probiotic benefit that is good for our gut health. If you need to cut down on fat then you may choose low fat or no- fat unsweetened versions. Yogurt and cottage cheese along with fruits, veggies and nuts can give a variety to your diet and cut down monotony. Yogurt fruit blend smoothie and cottage cheese sandwiches can be a healthy breakfast options to kick start your day. While 1 cup of milk provides around 8 gms of protein, cottage cheese and yogurt can provide up to 10-15 gms.
The prime source of plant based protein is legumes and pulses and among these the star is soybean. Soybean can help you getting enough protein. Soybean products like tofu and tempeh are also high in protein and fat but low in carbohydrate. Soybeans are high in protein, fibre, Vitamin K, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese and riboflavin, along with several phytonutrients. 1 cup of cooked soybean provides around 30 gms of protein and only 7 gms of carbohydrate.
Among the products, the best known are the soy milk, tofu (soy milk cheese) and tempeh (tofu in cake form). While purchasing it from the super market, do read the label for the contents. It is best to choose the un-sweetened options for maximum health benefits and avoid the hidden carbs. Tofu is a great source of protein for vegans and it versatility makes it usable in variety of dishes. It is made by coagulating soy milk and pressing the water out. It has a mild flavour of its own and it easily takes up the flavour you add to it. Tempeh is another good option for non-meat eaters. It is made from whole soybeans that are cooked, fermented and pressed into cakes. It is denser than tofu and does not take in external flavour much.
It is also a good source of protein for the vegans. But they do contain high amount of carbohydrate along with fibre. Half a cup of chickpea provides around 27 gms of protein.
Nuts and seeds are low in carbs and high in protein, heart healthy fat and fibre. They are good option for snacking but mind it to choose the non-fried unsalted versions. The healthy options include almond, walnut, peanuts, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds. It is also important to mind the portion size as you may consume too much unknowingly. ¼ cup of nuts will provide 7-8 gms of protein. Chia seeds in this category are very high in fibre and so most calories come from its protein and omega-3 fat content. Chia seeds can be used as toppings in salad, smoothies, yogurt, etc.
Though the vegetables are not much of a protein stuff with some exceptions like peas, beans, cauliflower, bell peppers, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, vegetables are traditionally low in carbs but high in fibre making it a suitable choice in low-carb vegan diet. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and other vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant provides a lot of fibre along with bunch of other essential nutrients like iron, folate, potassium, Vitamins C and K. Hence along with adding variety to the meal, they keep us feeling full for a longer time.
Fruits though are high in fructose (a carbohydrate) but the latter is less absorbed in human body making it consumable in low-carb diet. Also they provide fibre, antioxidants, necessary vitamins and minerals. Fruits like strawberries and blueberries can be included. Avocado is another good example of fruit that can added to this diet since they contain heart-healthy fat and are high in fibre that helps regulate the blood glucose level. Avocadoes can be eaten as such or in the form of spreads or dips.
The options included are nut butter, olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil. Nut butter is high in protein too. Olive oil is rich in mono-unsaturated fats which help reduce inflammation and protect against heart diseases. While nut butter can be used as spread, olive oil can serve as a salad dressing.
An egg-white poach or omelette with veggies and cheese or a cheese veg bake with a crispy whole grain toast along with fruit yogurt smoothie.
A veggie stew with cottage cheese dumplings or tofu with plain steamed rice or even better a big bowl of salad with spinach, lettuce, broccoli, beans, tomatoes, tofu, mushrooms, and avocado with some parmesan cheese tossed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Flavoured soymilk, vegetable soups, unsalted almond or fruit salad with sprinkled cottage cheese can be healthy options.
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