I have become a vegetarian within the last 7 months and I am 25 years old with an active lifestyle (5'8'' and 140 lbs). I am training for my first marathon this summer.
I am on a seizure medication that occasionally gives me problems with low blood sugar. I try to eat regularly and add protein in at every snack or meal to maintain blood sugar.
I have not noticed weight gain but rather weight shifting...my legs and thighs are thinner but I am getting a bit of a belly.
Dear J. S.,
Any suggestions for how to not limit carbs that are necessary for training but still getting the protein I need without all the extra calories? - J. S.
Many new vegetarians eat a lot of soy, which they see as complete protein and a satisfactory replacement for meat. But soy beans are also high in fat, unlike other beans - that's why soy oil is made from the soy bean. So limit soy to a few modest servings a week of traditional soy foods like soy milk, tofu or tempeh and explore other protein sources.
Most vegetarian foods, especially legumes and whole grains, have protein, carbs and fat in varying percentages. So think holistically, rather than in separate categories. By eating a wide variety and different combinations of whole foods within your dietary restrictions, you should be able to meet your nutritional needs without excess calories.
Legumes - beans and lentils - are an excellent low cal source of vegetarian protein, especially when combined with whole grains. Beans have some carbs, are high in fiber and slow to digest, so will help to maintain your blood sugar levels. Plus lower your cholesterol.
Be sure to use a little oil and some spices in cooking beans, to help with flavor and digestibility. 1 cup of cooked beans or lentils averages 15g of protein.
Nuts and seeds are very nutritious, and a source of good fats, but also high in calories. The good news is you don't need to eat more than a handful a day.
Culinary oils such as olive oil can add a surprising amount of calories to your diet, at 120 cal. per Tbsp, without much in the way of nutrition. So favor steamed, baked or broiled foods over fried, and check the fat content of dressings, sauces and spreads.
Eat whole grains (not whole grain flours), to get the maximum vitamins and minerals from your carbs. Whole grains have a surprising amount of protein, oats and quinoa having the most. Those two are also highest in fat of all the grains.
Whole grains (not flours) are high in fiber, and digest slowly, so they maintain blood sugar levels for a few hours after eating, avoiding highs and lows.
Eat all the veggies you want, the more the better, especially green veggies. Except for avocados, they are low in fat. Go a little easy on the high carb veggies such as potatoes and sweet potatoes if you're concerned about too much carbs.
If you focus on eating a balanced varied vegetarian diet of whole foods, low in added fats such as oils, then you won't need to worry so much about protein and carbs in isolation.
Judith Kingsbury, Savvy Vegetarian