Vegans and vegetarians may find it challenging to follow a low-carb diet because they don’t include meat in their diets.
Most low-carb eating plans rely heavily on meat; when this isn’t an option for moral or ecological reasons, knowing which foods provide the best sources of protein without a lot of carbohydrates is the key to success.
Lacto-ovo vegetarians include eggs and dairy products in their diet, while vegans forgo any food derived from animal sources.
If you don’t eat meat and need tips on how to customize a low-carb diet to fit your needs and preferences, read on for the best strategies.
Low-Carb Diets Provide a Range of Health Benefits
Nearly two dozen controlled trials and studies have been conducted over the past decade or so that prove low-carb diets are superior for weight loss.
One of the main reasons low-carb diets work well is appetite reduction. Protein fills you up, resulting in fewer calories consumed overall; it’s much easier to eat less without really trying, and a diet rich in protein is much more effective for weight loss than a low-fat diet. (1, 2)
Low-carb diets also have positive effects on other important health markers. (3)
These changes can be particularly important for people who suffer from type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and some neurological disorders.
The Eco-Atkins diet is a good example of the vegan and vegetarian approach to eating low-carb; in this case, 26% of calories are drawn from carbs, and studies show this is a much healthier avenue that low-fat diets, whether they include meat or not. (8, 9)
Low-Carb Food List for Vegetarians and Vegans
For lacto-ovo vegetarians, more options for low-carb foods are available through including eggs and dairy products in the diet.
- Eggs contain virtually no carbohydrates, and deliver a range of nutrients not found in plant foods, including vitamin B12. The best choices are free range and organic; you can also find omega-3 enriched eggs.
- Dairy products like grass-fed butter, cheese, yogurt and kefir also work well on a low-carb diet; high in protein, these foods contain very few carbohydrates; look for yogurt with live cultures to cultivate friendly gut bacteria, and always choose unsweetened versions.
While lacto-ovo vegetarians usually get sufficient amounts of vitamin B12 from dairy products, vegans need to supplement; studies show tablets taken orally are comparably effective to the sublingual delivery method. (10)
A wide variety of foods low in carbs make the list for both lacto-ovo vegetarians and vegans. Some of these are also excellent sources of protein and high-quality fat.
- Soy-based foods like tempeh and tofu
- Other legumes, like various beans, lentils, chickpeas, and peanuts
- Seeds and nuts, including walnuts, almonds, flax seed, macadamia nuts, and pumpkin seed
- Chia seed; the carbs in this superfood are mostly fiber, so calories come primarily from healthy fats and protein
- Fatty fruits like olives and avocados; the oils in these high fat fruits are extremely beneficial
- Most vegetables, including tomatoes, members of the cruciferous family (broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, etc.), onions, bell peppers, garlic, celery, eggplant
- Fruits like blueberries and strawberries; other fruit may also be acceptable depending on the level of carbs you’re shooting for
- Dark chocolate is the perfect low-carb treat as long as you make sure it’s between 70% and 80% cocoa
- Health oils like coconut, avocado and olive
Low-carb diets don’t usually require counting calories, but developing a working knowledge of which foods are low in carbs while still delivering good amounts of protein is essential.
Grains and processed foods of any kind are usually not suitable when you’re working to keeps carb counts low; you can find a comprehensive list of vegetable carb counts (from low to high) here.
Making a Low-Carb Diet Work For You
Everyone has different needs and desires, so it’s important to make sure the guidelines you set for yourself address taste, preference and long-term health goals.
Since there isn’t any hard-and-fast rule about what “low-carb diet” actually means, look over these guidelines to zero in on what will serve you best.
- 20 to 50 carb grams daily will put your body into a state of ketosis, which means it begins to burn fat for fuel. You should not feel hungry, and you will shed extra pounds quickly.
- 50 to 100 carb grams daily is a good range for automatic, long-term weight loss; this works well for people who don’t exercise a lot.
- 100 – 150 carb grams daily is considered more of a maintenance level; this will provide plenty of auxiliary fuel for those who are very active.
The lower range of carbohydrates is quite feasible for lacto-ovo vegetarians, but vegans will find it impractical, and will be much more comfortable aiming for the higher range.
You may find a nutritional tracking application helpful when you’re starting out to make certain you’re on target with limiting carbs while getting adequate amounts of protein. You can find a free app here.
These menu ideas are geared to vegetarian diets; if you’re eating vegan-style, you’ll need to make the appropriate substitutions and modifications according to your preference.
- Breakfast: vegetables with omelet, or scrambled eggs; berries and full-fat yogurt, coconut milk and blueberry smoothie, baked beans and avocado
- Lunch: hummus with vegetable sticks (carrot, cucumber, celery, etc.), nuts, quinoa salad; four-bean salad; stir-fried vegetables with generous amounts of nuts or seeds as garnish; leftovers from dinner.
- Dinner: quiche with spinach, asparagus, or other vegetables, according to taste; eggplant moussaka; feta cheese salad with macadamia nuts and pumpkin seeds; tempeh stir-fry with vegetables and cashews; grilled portabella mushrooms with avocado and vegetables; mashed cauliflower baked with cheese and served with avocado; chili beans with salsa and sour cream.
It’s always a good idea to make double or triple recipes of any dish you enjoy; you’ll save time and have easy lunches or extra meals for your effort. Freeze leftovers to use when you’re in a hurry.
Summary: Vegetarians and vegans can enjoy the health benefits of eating low-carb with smart planning; use a nutritional tracker to make sure you get enough protein and fat to keep your appetite under control.