by Peter Foley.

I have been following a low carb lifestyle for several years now, so when Diabetes Digital Media asked me to go vegan for a week, I was keen to embrace the challenge. The challenge involved following my usual low carb diet but adapting it to include only vegan friendly foods for one week.

What I expected

I like to think that I have an open mind and that I can approach scenarios and new challenges with critical judgement and come to my own conclusion. The vegan challenge was no different for me. Catch up with part 1 of my challenge here.

Rather than being fanatical over any particular diet or approach to food, I feel that I remain open minded to the many dietary approaches that can benefit patients on their own individual health journey. After all, the best ‘diet’ is the one which a person can consistently stick to and enjoy, whilst continuing to develop a healthy relationship with food. It just so happens that a lot of my recent patient successes have been with a traditional low carb diet. Patients find that their energy levels, mental clarity and abdominal circumference tend to significantly improve on this diet, which can ultimately become a new way of living for some.

With that, I approached the week-long vegan challenge with enthusiasm and with an open mind. I was not concerned about meeting the objective of keeping my carbohydrate intake under 130g per day as this is something I have consistently been doing for several years now. What was going to be a challenge for me was the lack of animal produce. The team at DDM supplied me with a vegan meal plan for the week, for which I was very grateful, particularly as the week went on.

Things to bear in mind

There are several things to bear in mind when following a low carb vegan diet. It is important to be aware that some nutrients are more difficult to obtain from the diet when following a low carb lifestyle as a vegan. These mainly include some essential fatty acids, protein and some vitamins and minerals. In some cases, these can be found in vegan low carb foods, but some vegans may want to consider supplementing if they need to. It is always advisable to speak to your healthcare professional before taking supplements.

Protein: Getting enough protein is a common concern for people cutting out meat and dairy from their diet. Including a range of soy foods, nuts, seeds, beans and green vegetables can be a good way of making sure vegans get enough protein and essential amino acids.

Vitamin B12: This vitamin is found in animal products and fortified foods such as bread and cereals. For low carb vegans, there is an increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, so a supplement is often recommended [1,2].

Iodine: The main sources of iodine in the UK are fish and dairy. Some vegans may want to consider taking an iodine supplement, but make sure to check with your medical professional before taking iodine supplements if you have any thyroid issues [3].

Calcium and vitamin D: There are several sources of calcium and vitamin D which are suitable for vegans following a low carb lifestyle. These include soy foods, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables. Also, many dairy-free milk and dairy alternatives are fortified with calcium.

Omega-3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA are two types of omega-3 fatty acids needed by the body which can be insufficient in a vegan diet. Although the body can produce these from certain plant-based foods, this is limited. Taking a supplement of algae oil has been suggested as a workaround for this [4].

“There are plenty of misconceptions about following a low carb lifestyle. One of them being that it is impossible to follow if you are vegan or vegetarian. Many of my patients choose to eliminate or reduce animal products for ethical or religious reasons which I respect.

Some vegan foods are highly processed and should be avoided. Plenty of nuts, seeds, avocado, and [unsweetened] fortified dairy alternatives can be consumed when following a low carb lifestyle. Depending on your individual preferences you may need to monitor the amount of pulses and beans due to carbohydrate content.

It may be worth seeing a registered dietitian or nutritionist if you are unsure about the nutritional quality of your vegan diet and whether you require supplementation. It is especially important to ensure you have appropriate advice if pregnant or breastfeeding.” – Tara Kelly, RD


So what did I think of my week of vegan low carb eating? Check in next week to find out!

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