A vegetarian low-carb diet might be challenging. Many of the best plant-based protein sources, such as legumes and whole grains, are heavy in carbohydrates. A low-carb vegetarian diet is possible, but it comes with its own set of obstacles. Trimming carbs may not be tough if you eat eggs or dairy. If you follow a strict vegan diet, though, you’ll need to be especially cautious to prevent depleting your protein intake to hazardous levels.
Low-Carb Diet Fundamentals
Before diving into the challenges of low-carb vegetarian eating, it’s a good idea to know why and how individuals follow low-carb diets.
Low-carb diets are popular for a variety of reasons, including improved health and weight loss. A low-carb diet reduces your overall hunger while lowering your blood sugar fluctuations. According to study, there are further advantages.
Low-carbohydrate diets increase “good” HDL cholesterol while lowering blood pressure, triglycerides, and “bad” LDL cholesterol. A low-carb diet can also help to cure many of the symptoms of metabolic syndrome, such as an increased risk of heart attack or stroke. To prevent such risks, food choices containing resistant starch may be a good option. But what is a resistant starch? To achieve a low-carb diet, this is a great idea.
Your carb limitations may be small, necessitating the removal of carbs and sugar, depending on your goals. It can also be difficult, especially for individuals looking to lose weight quickly. The daily targets for a low-carb diet for the average adult man or female can be broadly classified as follows:
- To maintain a healthy weight, consume 100–150 grams each day.
- 50–100 grams per day to help you lose weight gradually
- To achieve a ketogenic state and accelerate weight loss, consume 20–50 grams per day.
To maintain proper physiological function, our bodies require a range of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Nine of the 20 amino acids required to create proteins must be obtained from food. Meat, fish, shellfish, and dairy produce the most of these, which can pose a severe difficulty for devout vegetarians and vegans.
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Furthermore, proteins derived from certain plant meals are incomplete, meaning they lack all of the essential amino acids required for protein synthesis. As a result, you can eat a lot of plant proteins, but only a small part of them will be absorbed and transported to the bloodstream.
While some superfoods, such as beans and legumes, are high in protein, their carbohydrate content makes them unsuitable for low-carb diets. Similarly, while green veggies provide protein, you’d have to consume a lot of them to reach your daily requirement.
As a result, if you’re following a low-carb vegan or vegetarian diet, you’ll need to receive high-quality protein from a range of non-meat sources to meet your daily requirements. If the proteins are heavy in carbohydrates, you should either leave them off the list or consume them in moderation within your daily allowance.
Protein is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight in the recommended daily intake (RDA). This amounts to about 10% of your daily caloric consumption.
Eggs provide a complete supply of protein. Vitamin B12, choline, vitamin A, vitamin D, and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are all readily absorbed elements in eggs. The nutritious content of eggs from hens who consume a diversified diet (ideally pastured chickens) will be higher.
Six grams of protein and less than a gram of net carbohydrates make up one large egg. Fortified eggs have the same glucose and protein content as regular eggs, but include twice as much omega 3 fatty acids.
Dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are high in protein, calcium, and riboflavin. It’s critical to read product labels to avoid additional sugars, which can derail a low-carb diet. Dairy foods high in protein include:
- 15 g cottage cheese per 1/2 cup
- Hard cheeses (parmesan, for example): 10 grams per ounce
- 7 or 8 grams per 1 ounce for medium cheeses (like cheddar).
- 8 grams of milk per cup
- 6 grams per 1 ounce for soft cheeses (such as mozzarella and brie).
- 8 to 12 grams of yogurt per cup
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- Soybeans, whole
- Alexandra Shytsman / Verywell
The soybean is the star of plant-based proteins. If you can tolerate soy, it can be a high-protein source with significantly less carbohydrates than other legumes. Fiber, vitamin K, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, and riboflavin, as well as phytonutrients like genistein, are all abundant in soybeans.
After boiling, whole soybeans maintain almost all of their fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Black soybeans have a milder flavor than yellow soybeans and can be used in any dish that calls for high-carb beans. Organic, non-GMO black soybeans in a BPA-free can are also available.
Edamame (fresh soybeans) is another delicious way to eat whole soybeans and makes a tasty snack or salad ingredient. There are also soy-based dishes that have been prepared to look like meat. However, because soy isolates are blended with flavorings and other substances, verify the protein and carb counts on the product label.
Cooked soybeans contain about 29 grams of protein and 7 grams of net carbs per cup.
Soy milk is one of the most well-known high-protein soy products. It’s manufactured by grinding soybeans with water, then going through a series of filtration, homogenization, and stabilization processes to achieve a texture similar to cow’s milk.
Carbohydrate and protein levels can vary due to differences in processing and additions. Always read the label on the product. To keep carbs to a minimum, pick unsweetened versions over sweetened varieties.
A cup of organic unsweetened soy milk has around 7 grams of protein and 4 grams of net carbohydrates.
To make tofu, coagulate soy milk and squeeze out the water. It has a mild flavor and a texture that absorbs whatever ingredients you throw at it. It is one of the most popular meat substitutes in Asian cuisines and can work in a variety of non-Asian recipes as well.
Silken tofu is available in shelf-stable packaging and is ideal for blending into smoothies, puddings, and other “soft” dishes. Tofu that has been chilled is firmer and works well in stir-fries and other dishes. Tofu can be pressed even more to achieve a firmer texture that is great for baking.
Soft or firm tofu offers 9 grams of protein and only 2 to 3 grams of net carbohydrates per 4-ounce meal.
Tempeh is produced from whole soybeans that have been boiled, fermented, and pressed into a cake in Indonesia. It’s denser than tofu and doesn’t absorb as much flavor. Tempeh is also the only major traditional soy food not to have originated in Chinese cuisine. The chewier texture of tempeh makes it an enticing meat replacement for grilling or stir-frying.
In comparison to tofu, a 4-ounce serving of tempeh has roughly 20 grams of protein and 12 grams of net carbohydrates.
The need to limit grains is perhaps the most significant shift that vegetarians face while following a low-carb diet. Whole grains have enough protein to help you fulfill your daily nutritional needs—not as much as soy or legumes, but enough to help.
Grains are generally the first thing deleted from a low-carb diet because they are primarily starch. Fortunately, there is one notable exception: seitan, a high-protein, low-carb meal produced from wheat gluten. Because of its thick thickness, seitan is frequently referred to as “wheat meat” or “fake duck.” It’s frequently shaped into loaves or cubes and can be seen in a variety of Asian cultures.
A 1-ounce portion of seitan contains 21 grams of protein and 4 grams of net carbohydrates, depending on the brand.
Seeds and nuts
Nuts, seeds, and nut butters are excellent sources of protein, but they are best used as a snack, topping, or spread rather than as a main source of protein. While nuts and seeds are high in protein and low in carbohydrates, they are mostly fat (between 65 percent to 85 percent on average).
Portion management is crucial in this regard. If you sit with an open container of nuts, you may easily eat a cup and sabotage your low-carb efforts. Divide any nuts you buy into single-size quantities to avoid this.
For example, a quarter cup of almonds contains 8 grams of protein and 3 grams of net carbohydrates, but also 16 grams of fat.
Weight Loss Shake / Protein Drink Powder
Protein powders are powdered forms of protein that come from eggs, plants (such as rice, hemp, soy, peas, and potatoes), or milk (either in the form of casein or whey protein). The powders often include other ingredients, such as sugars, artificial flavors, thickeners, vitamins, and minerals.
Many items are available as ready-to-make shake mixes with high protein and low carbohydrate content. Look for protein powders that are low in added sugar and starch thickeners on the product label.
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Meal Plan for a Low-Carb Vegetarian
Fruit & Nut Butter Cinnamon French Toast for Breakfast
- calorie count per serving: 200
- 19 grams of carbohydrates per serving
- Apricots for breakfast
Serving size: 16 calories
- 3 grams of carbohydrates per serving
- Lunch: Cilantro Pesto Baked Tofu Salad
348 calories per serving
- 9 grams of carbohydrates per serving
- Mocha-Dusted Almonds are a sweet treat.
148 calories per serving
- 6 grams of carbohydrates per serving
- Afternoon Snack: Edamame Glazed
120 calories per serving
- 9 grams of carbohydrates per serving
- Tomato Basil Spaghetti Squash for Dinner
262 calories per serving
- 15 grams of carbohydrates per serving
- Snack for the evening: Garlic Parmesan Popcorn
126 calories per serving
- 14 grams of carbohydrates per serving
- Calories in total: 1,220
- Carbohydrates in total: 75
If you want to stick to a keto diet with low carbs (under 50 grams per day), you can make changes to the meal plan. Use low-carb bread for breakfast toast, for example. You can simply omit the bread and spread the nut butter on fruit slices instead.
Replace the calories with a warm beverage. The antioxidant-rich coconut golden milk offers only 74 calories and 10 grams of carbs per serving.