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Eating a Low Glycemic Vegan Diet: From Food Options to Best Practices

October 7, 2021
Written by
Team NutriSense
Reviewed by
avocado, beans. beetroot, tomatoes, toasts and broccoli

There is a rising interest in plant-based foods, and one of the most popular plant-based diets is the vegan diet. There are many plant-based options with good glycemic index values, which you can compare with the help of our companion article here. In our opinion, the rising trend of plant-based foods can only give the discerning eater more options rather than fewer. Since every individual metabolism is different, some people will handle certain ingredients better than others. Knowing which foods to eat and when or how to eat them is half of the battle for optimized nutrition and overall wellness.

However, if you’re watching your blood glucose, you have the extra constraint of wanting to keep the glycemic index of the foods you eat on the lower side of the spectrum. People can be blood glucose conscious for many reasons, and here is our list of foods that can help control blood sugar levels.

For this kind of priority, it’s best to choose the foods based on a wide net of plant-based foods, then zero in on the specific foods within that category that also match your blood glucose needs. Fortunately, the vegan diet is naturally full of choices with low glycemic index values, much like the gluten-free diet. You can find our article for low glycemic index choices in a gluten-free diet here. In this sense, juggling both priorities in the air, the plant-based one and the low glycemic index one, is particularly easy for those following the vegan diet.

General Guidelines for Eating a Low Glycemic Index Diet

The basic principle of the low glycemic index diet is to eat foods that will be metabolized slowly and with a moderate effect on blood glucose levels. There are many strategies to do this, and we have an article on the practice of food combining for low glycemic index diets here. The glycemic index is measured against the first two hours of blood glucose level rises, so the idea here is to avoid sharp increases in blood sugar, not to avoid starches in food entirely. Our team thinks there are a few good options for managing blood sugar levels in hypoglycemia not related to diabetes, which you can find here. However, for most people, the low glycemic index diet is a good option for blood glucose control and monitoring.

Pair Vegan Proteins with Complex Carbohydrates

Plant-based proteins are on the rise, as direct substitutions like nonspecific “plant burgers” and more specialized products like oat milk, almond butter, or mushroom steaks. In any case, we can look to the tried-and-true strategies for glucose control and adapt them as best we can for the vegan diet. When we look to the roots of this strategy, we can find that proteins derived from plants should be paired with complex carbohydrates. The reasons for this are simple – a complex carbohydrate is more difficult for the body to digest, so it will take longer for the sugars inside of it to become reflected as glucose in the blood. If we take this line of thought to its logical conclusion, we can see that animal fats can also be substituted for plant-based fats. Avocado can often be substituted for butter, for example.

leeks, a head of cabbage, salad, parsley, beans

Proteins and Non-Starchy, Leafy Vegetables Have Extremely Low Glycemic Index Values 

As mentioned earlier, the vegan diet is naturally rich in foods that have very low glycemic index values. Fortunately, that is the nature of the type of food the diet consists of, like cauliflower or spinach. Of course, the vegan diet can also include starchy vegetables like pumpkin or potatoes, and this is an important point we’re trying to make in this article. Within the vegan diet, someone trying to prioritize low glycemic index foods has a lot of room to make improvements even within this framework.

Try Prioritizing Medium to Low Glycemic Index Carbohydrates

Fortunately, even some high glycemic index foods, like starchy bread and other vegan products, can be paired with low glycemic index proteins and leafy greens. The result of a dish made with starchy vegan options and less starchy vegan options will be a lower glycemic index. For example, if you make a simple avocado toast, the low glycemic index of the avocado will lower the overall glycemic index of the meal compared to a simple piece of toast by itself. We think this is a bit of sleight of hand, however, since at the end of the day, you are eating a healthy option, the avocado, next to a less healthy choice, the toast.

Include a Balance of Fats, Proteins, and Fibers in Your Vegan Meals

This is the heart of our argument here – you can substitute the toast within the vegan framework for another food that can pair well with the avocado, like a leafy green salad with mushrooms, which would also have plenty of fiber. These are important, as fibers can provide a filling option with very low glycemic index values while remaining within the vegan diet. Another good option is a simple plant-based burger rich in fat and fiber with a lettuce wrap instead of a burger bun.

vegan protein: slices of bread, potatoes, tofu, beans lentils, soybeans, nuts and seeds

Vegan Protein Options to Consider for Your Low Glycemic Index Diet

One important thing to consider when starting a vegan diet is the importance of protein and nutrient completeness. The first question is easier to solve within the diet, as many plant-based proteins are available within the modern vegan diet. And again, within the constraints of a low glycemic index diet, these protein options are doubly important to consider. A comprehensive list of vegan protein options can be found here.

Here you can find our abbreviated list of vegan-friendly proteins to consider:

  • Beans - Including Navy Beans, Pinto Beans, Black Beans, and Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Soybeans - Including edamame, tofu, and tempeh
  • Nuts & seeds - Try soaking and sprouting the nuts and seeds for a higher protein content
  • Seitan
Avocado, Nuts, Flax seeds, Chia seeds, Extra Virgin Olive oil and olives

Vegan Fats to Include in Your Low Glycemic Index Diet

Fats are also an essential part of the balancing act inherent to the vegan low glycemic index diet. Here the issue would be to consume enough fats to counterbalance the potentially starchy vegan options when animal products are removed. Fortunately, there are many low glycemic index options in the vegan diet to simplify this process. A comprehensive list of healthy vegan fats can be found here.

 Here you can find our abbreviated list of vegan-friendly fats to consider:

  • Avocado
  • Nuts
  • Flax seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Extra Virgin Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Avocado oil
fiber: Brussel sprouts, Asparagus, Collard greens, Broccoli, Squash, Turnips

Fiber Options for Low Glycemic Index Plant-Based Diets 

Fibers are also relatively easy to find in the vegan diet since plant products tend to be richer in fiber than their animal counterparts. In general, fibers that support the other goals of the vegan low glycemic index diet are preferable to less supportive ones. For example, a serving of asparagus would be a good choice since it also has a low glycemic index and is a plant-based fiber. You can find a comprehensive list of vegan fibers here.

Here you can find our abbreviated list of vegan-friendly fibers to consider:

  • Brussel sprouts
  • Asparagus
  • Collard greens
  • Broccoli
  • Squash
  • Turnips

Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

Click here to listen to the podcast.
Listen to the full podcast:
Eating a Low Glycemic Vegan Diet: From Food Options to Best Practices
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The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels
The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels

The premise of the paleo diet is that the body can handle a mix of meats, fruits and vegetables, eggs, fish, and complex carbohydrates better than processed meats, refined fats, grains and simple carbohydrates because it evolved to eat the first category as hunter-gatherers.

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The Health Benefits of Winter Squash
The Health Benefits of Winter Squash

A common ingredient in cozy winter recipes, winter squash is one of our favorite foods this time of year. Read on to learn more about how it can benefit your health.

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love

Haven't finished your holiday shopping yet? Pick from this list of NutriSense-approved holiday gifts to find some great last-minute stocking stuffers for everyone on your list!

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love

Still haven't bought all your holiday gifts this year? Don't worry—there's still time to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Read our guide for some great ideas!

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The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose
The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose

Learn more about inflammation, how it affects blood glucose levels and what you can do to prevent and manage it.

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The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet
The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet

Fermented foods have a range of health benefits. Read on to learn more about what they are and why you should be adding them to your diet.

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The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes
The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes

Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes are similar in usage, but pretty distinct in taste, texture, appearance, and even nutritional content! Read on to find out more about each one.

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The Health Benefits of Living With Pets
The Health Benefits of Living With Pets

Did you know that living with a pet can do more than just put a smile on your face? Read on to learn all the ways living with pets improves your wellbeing.

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The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices
The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to dishes, and also have a range of health benefits. Learn more about a few of our favorites.

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The Health Benefits of Beans
The Health Benefits of Beans

Learn about the health benefits of beans and how they can help you live a healthier, longer life.

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The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?
The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?

Review our guide to metabolic diets to help get a better understanding of what they are and whether they might be right for you.

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The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa
The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa

Learn about the traditions and nutrient-dense food commonly enjoyed during Kwanzaa. 

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The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection
The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection

Have you ever wondered how your glucose levels might be connected to joint pain? We'll take a deep dive into this connection and share tips for reducing pain.

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The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia
The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia

This article explores hypoglycemia in non-diabetics, how to manage symptoms through diet, and the advantages of glucose monitoring.

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The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels
The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels

Take a look at how aging can affect your blood glucose levels.

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The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels
The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels

Read on to learn more about vitamin D-rich foods and what you should include in your diet to make the most of this vitamin’s health benefits.

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The Best Diet for Menstruation
The Best Diet for Menstruation

When it comes to your menstrual cycle, what you eat can significantly impact how you feel. Read on to learn more about the best foods to add to your diet to help during that time of the month.

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The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices
The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian holistic healing system that dates back over 5,000 years. In the second installment of our series on the practice, review the benefits and risks associated with popular Ayurvedic herbs and spices.

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The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet
The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet

In this article, we break down what a low FODMAP diet looks like for beginners, and its potential benefits and drawbacks for gastrointestinal health.

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The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis
The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis

When it comes to bone health, good nutrition is absolutely critical. Read on to learn what osteoporosis is and why some foods may increase your risk of or worsen the condition.