What you should know about LCHF for vegetarians – and GI diets for that matter

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:
Carbohydrates Protein Fat
5-10% 15-20% 70-80%
GI Diet – Guidelines in energy percent:
Carbohydrates Protein Fat
30-45% 25% 30%
Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
Carbohydrates Protein Fat
45-65% 10-35% 20-35%
Food and Drink Federation UK recommends:
Carbohydrates Protein Fat
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:

Calories: 300
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.

4 thoughts on “What you should know about LCHF for vegetarians – and GI diets for that matter

  1. One thing to know is that, like anything, there are a few different guidelines under the title LCHF. After perusing many of them and having some knowledge myself, the key to these diets is lowering your insulin levels. Thus, anything that rapidly turns into glucose once consumed, should be restricted. Many books say you should restrict all carbohydrates, while others recommend restricting only refined sugars, breads, etc… From the studies I’ve read, we have to focus on restricting those foods which affect blood sugar, thus every NON-FIBROUS Carbohydrate. You can consume as much fiber as you want because it, like the no calorie sweeteners most LCHF books recommend, is not something that is metabolized by the body.

    So go ahead and eat almost all of your favourite veggies. Just look for the ones that are high fiber and not high sugar or other carbohydrates.


    • @Corey: I understand what you are saying… though in the books and countless websites i have come across there is a difference between LCHF and GI… what you describe is what I think of as GI food. Which I agree is a healthy diet. Sure there are many different definitions, but as a vegetarian, if you can’t eat beans (which is labelled as too high in carbs usually) you are left with getting protein mainly from egg and cheese. Thanks for your input! 🙂


  2. Pingback: Vegans and Vegetarians on the LCHF Diet - What you need to know

  3. The LCHF diet is used to treat Type 2 diabetes naturally, without medication of any sort. When a Type 2 diabetic keeps their insulin low (by restricting carbs), their blood work results are fabulous – glucose levels are stabilized, cholesterol is lowered, and a side-effect is weight loss. This diet is also known as the ketogenic diet. You will see that it has helped many type 2 diabetics and is widely used by long distance athletes because it switches one’s body to burning fat rather than carbs. I really suggest you read more about it’s health benefits. Sadly, it is difficult to maintain the LCHF diet as a vegetarian.


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