LCHF for vegetarians – how does it actually work in practice? LCHF is a diet that has been popular for a long time and now and even LCHF cookbooks for vegetarians is abundant, but do they stay within the range of what is defined as a low carb LCHF diet?
LCHF – if anyone has missed it – stands for Low Carb, High Fat and involves removing the carbs from your diet that can be removed and eat most of your calories in fat. Some authors advocate as much as 75% of the energy intake of fat.
|LCHF guidelines in energy percent:|
|GI Diet – Guidelines in energy percent:|
|Dietary Guidelines for Americans:|
|Food and Drink Federation UK recommends:|
|50-55%||10-15%||ca 33% (en tredjedel)|
The theory behind the diet is that in a traditional diet too many carbohydrates are eaten, especially fast as sugar and white flour. This increases the production of insulin and the body receives signals to store fat. By removing the carbohydrates from your diet the body will decrease insulin production and not store fat as easily. LCHF diets restrict carbohydrate intake by removing bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, root vegetables and most fruits.
Personally I think that the LCHF diet is not good in the long run – it’s far too little intake of fruit and veg for my taste. I feel better when I get my daily dose of fiber and antioxidants – but I know many people who say they feel great on a LCHF diet.
I have read most of the LCHF cookbooks for vegetarians, and concluded that it is also nearly impossible to eat a varied vegetarian diet with a low carbohydrate content.
Most carb diets recommend that the intake of carbohydrates is kept around 5-10% and protein intake is around 15-20%. In a vegetarian diet, this is hard to keep up, unless you live on nuts, egg, butter and cheese. Even protein rich vegetarian foods like beans and lentils contain a high proportion of carbohydrates. Lentils have 65% of their energy coming from carbohydrates, chickpeas 54% and kidney beans 55%.
Here is the energy distribution of lentils, chickpeas and kidney beans:
Lentils dried and then cooked:
Protein: 32 E%
Fat: 3 E%
Carbohydrates: 65 E%
Chick peas in a can:
Protein: 27 E%
Fat: 19 E%
Carbohydrates: 54 E%
Kidney beans in a can:
Protein: 38 E%
Fat: 7 E%
Carbohydrates: 55 E%
Should you then add fresh vegetables and fruit, it quickly adds up to much more than the 5-10% of energy intake you are allowed from carbohydrates. Personally I think it is misleading to call (most) vegetarian recipes – at least those containing vegetables and beans – LCHF recipes.
GI then, does that work on a vegetarian diet?
GI diets are based a little bit on the same principles – avoiding certain carbohydrates, but is more tolerant with the amount of carbohydrates, at least if they are of good quality like vegetables, whole grains and some fruits. Recommendations for a GI diet fall within a range of 30-45% carbohydrates, 25% protein and 30% fat. A little easier to maintain in a vegetarian diet. Many GI diets start with a phase similar to LCHF, avoiding carbohydrates as much as possible, and then increase the carbohydrate intake and introduce some whole grains, more vegetables and some fruit.
So, what is the energy distribution in a GI recipe? Did GI work with a vegetarian diet?
If you make a vegetable omelet with lots of cheese so it will stay within the range of both LCHF and GI diets, but for example a vegetarian chili with beans and vegetables – even if it is served without rice and bread contain way too many carbs. An example:
Carbohydrates: 36 g
Fat: 12 g
Protein: 12 g
Converted to energy percent that is 48 E% carbohydrates, 16 E% proteins, and 36 E% fat. Perfect according to the National Food Agency recommendations, a little too high in carbohydrates for a GI diet and does definitely qualify for a LCHF diet. To cope on a LCHF diet and stick to less than 10% carbohydrates you would have to live mainly on cheese and egg and avoid beans, lentils and fruit. In the long run it will be quite boring and you’ll miss out on a lot of good nutrients. I think instead you should focus on finding the right kind of carbohydrates. Out with sugar and white flour in with vegetables full of vitamins.
Although there are some LCHF recipes on this site, most of them follow the GI principle or the NFA recommendations. Where there are LCHF recipes, they follow the LCHQ – Low Carb High Quality principle, recipes with few carbohydrates – and the carbohydrates found is of good quality – no sugar, sweetener and white flour.