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Meet a Vegan Low-Carber

Vegan and Vegetarian Diets Can be Low-Carb

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Updated July 01, 2014

Tofu
Rob MacDougall/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images
My friend Terri is probably the most careful eater I know. She eats an organic, vegan diet, with food 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. And yet, a few years ago she found that eating too much carbohydrate was having negative effects in her body. By experimenting, she found a way of eating that worked for her. To me, in addition to being a model of someone who truly lives her goals of “walking lightly on the earth”, her story shows 1) that contrary to popular opinion, one doesn’t have to eat meat, or even animal products, to eat a low carb diet, and 2) an example of figuring out how to adjust one’s diet to the changing needs of our bodies as we age. Many people find that as they go through midlife they do better with more protein and/or less carbohydrate in their diets (as well as fewer calories). Here is how one woman made that adjustment, even eating what many would consider to be a very restricted diet.

Tell us why you eat a vegan diet, and what you feel it does for you.

"I decided to become vegan in 1994, after reading Diet for a New America by John Robbins. I was already a vegetarian, but that book really clarified my feelings on eating animal products. Not only do I believe that being vegan is better for my health, due to the reduced animal fat, cholesterol, drugs and hormones in my diet, but it’s much better for the animals and the environment, too.

Theoretically, I don’t have any real issues with eating eggs and dairy products from animals that are kept in natural conditions, are fed a healthy, organic, drug-free and hormone-free diet, and are well treated. Unfortunately, most animals are not kept under those conditions, and commercial factory farming is appalling in its treatment of animals. Additionally, raising animals for dairy and egg production uses huge amounts of water, produces vast amounts of animal waste and its by-products, and causes dangerous amounts of chemical run-off to get into our water supplies.

So, 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."

Describe your diet before realizing that you would be better off reducing your carbohydrate load.

"Since becoming vegan, our diet has consisted of fresh, local (as much as possible), organic (almost exclusively) vegetables and fruits, whole grains and whole grain products, legumes, nuts and soy products. I always make sure that our many servings of vegetables include one leafy green daily, and that we all eat at least two fruits daily. We get plenty of protein from soy milk, soy yogurt, tofu, tempeh or legumes, and nuts or nut butter. We’ve always had sweets, thanks to the availability of high-quality dairy-free dark chocolate and organic natural and unrefined sweeteners."

What led you to realize that your carb level was too high? What steps did you take?

"As I got into my forties, I started having increasing difficulty with osteoarthritis. One of the things that I noticed was that I would often feel swollen, especially in my extremities, which was quite painful as it put pressure on my arthritic joints. I also noticed that my weight would fluctuate by a couple of pounds overnight, which had to be water weight. I tried eliminating plants from the nightshade family from my diet for several weeks, but noticed no change. I also had a blood test to detect antigens from foods to look for food allergies.

It seemed to me that the swollen feeling and the water weight gain went together, and that they coincided with occasions when I ate a lot of carbs, especially bread. I would also feel what I call “carbed” after eating carbs, which is where my heart rate increases and I feel bloated. I finally decided that I should try eliminating wheat from my diet for a while. The results were fairly dramatic. Not only did the swollen feeling improve right away, but my weight started dropping pretty rapidly. At the same time, to make up for the lack of carbs in my diet, I made sure that I was eating three servings of soy protein per day; this not only helps me feel satisfied, but also helps enormously with reducing my hot flashes. Then I started noticing that eating legumes, but not soy, seemed to cause some of the same symptoms as the wheat, so I reduced my legume intake, as well. I also reduced the amount of potatoes I eat.

Now my arthritis pain is less, due to less water pressure on my joints, and the reduction in my weight has the added benefit of reducing the stress on my knees and hips, so that helps with the pain, as well. Plus my weight fluctuates a lot less."

Next: How Terri Changed Her Diet - Her struggles and strategies

Terri's Menus and Recipes
  1. About.com
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  3. Low Carb Diets
  4. What You Can Eat
  5. Vegetarian Low Carb
  6. Vegan Low-Carb Diets - Interview With a Vegan Lowcarber

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