Consequently, a low-carb diet is an important way for people with certain health issues such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and some neurological disorders to improve their health and quality of life.
Aside from the science behind low-carb diets, one reason many people have success losing weight while eating a diet that is void of carbohydrates is that there are no calories to count or hunger pangs to endure. For this reason, many people report that low-carb eating doesn’t feel like they are dieting. However, this has led to a widespread belief that low-carb diets must consist of indulgent meats and cheeses or even confusion regarding which foods can be part of a low-carb plan.
Key among the groups curious about low-carb eating are vegetarians and vegans. Because low-carb diets are often heavy on meat, many people mistakenly think vegetarians can’t do low-carb diets. However, that is simply not the case – there is such a thing as a low-carb vegetarian diet.
How to Eat Less Carbs as a Vegetarian or Vegan
There are some simple ways you can transition to a low-carb diet, even if you’re a vegetarian or vegan. Below are some ways to minimize carbs in your diet and some recipes to get you started.
Make the Swap
One of the easiest ways for vegetarians looking to cut down on carbs in their diet is to simply make a conscious effort to swap carb-heavy foods out for non-carb foods. The key here is mindset: don’t think of it as eating less or going without. Rather, just replace the starches and sugars you eat with vegetables, nuts, and fats.
If you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian (you eat dairy products and eggs but don’t eat meat or fish), many dairy products are low-carb, as are eggs. Keep an eye out for dairy products without added sugar to incorporate into your diet.
Here are some tips for replacing carbs with dairy and egg products for vegetarians:
- Choose omega-3-enriched, pastured, or free-range eggs when possible.
- Eat grass-fed butter, which simply means the butter is made from the milk of grass-fed cows.
- When eating yogurt or kefir, eat those with live cultures, such as probiotics, and opt for the full-fat,
- Cheese is a great way to add flavor to low-carb foods, and it is high in nutrients.
If you are a vegan and do not eat any food derived from animals, including dairy and eggs, you’ll find there are many low-carb plants and foods that are great substitutes for carbs in your diet. Please note that these are also great for vegetarians as well. Not only are these low-carb foods, but some of them are high in protein and fat, which makes them a filling option for any meatless diet.
- Vegetables are an obvious choice because many of them have very few carbs, including onions, cauliflower, tomatoes, bell peppers, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, and broccoli.
- Nuts and seeds are a smart choice for low-carb diets because not only are they low in carbs, they are also high in good fat and protein. Some great options are walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, and macadamia nuts.
- Chia seeds are an especially great choice because most of the carbs in chia seeds are derived from fiber, making them a good source of protein and fat.
- Fruits, especially berries like blueberries and strawberries, can be incorporated into a low-carb diet. Other fruits should be enjoyed in moderation because there are some carbs in most fruits.
- Fatty fruits like avocados offer high fat content with few carbs.
- Legumes such as peas and green beans are low in carbs. While other beans like pinto beans and chickpeas are higher in carbs, they include a lot of fiber and protein and can be eaten in moderation as part of a low-carb diet.
- Healthy fatty oils like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil can be low in carbs.
- Soy foods like tempeh is protein-rich with low carbs.
- Dark chocolate that has a high cocoa content, like 70-85% or more, is a low-carb/high-fat option.
So, What Is the Best Low-Carb Vegetarian Food?
A vegetarian diet should include a carefully planned variety of foods that are packed with nutrients, especially protein since meat is the primary supplier of protein in non-vegetarian diets. This is even more true for vegans. So, while one food cannot supply everything we need to sustain a healthy lifestyle, soy is often considered the best low-carb source of protein and fat when consumed in foods like tempeh.
Solidify Your Concept of Low-Carb
So, are vegetarian meals high in carbs? The answer is that they can be.
While there is no exact number or precise ratio that determines a food or diet to be “low-carb,” creating a meal plan based on solid, low-carb suggestions limits your carb intake and, thus, gives you the healthy benefits of eating low-carb without the unhealthy trade-off. Finding your personal balance may take some experimenting, but you’ll eventually find a happy medium that yields the health outcome and results you’re aiming for.
To start off, you can follow the recommendations for the average daily carb intake.
- Low – Consuming as little as 20-50 grams of carbs per day can produce weight loss results fairly quickly because it will put the body into ketosis, the metabolic state of high energy consumption, which is the foundation of the keto diet. This is a great range for vegetarians with a weight loss goal, but it is not a practical range for vegans.
- Low-Medium – Consuming 50 to 100 grams of carbs per day is a mid-range carb-limiting diet that will also lead to weight loss, especially if you take care to exercise.
- Medium – 100-150 grams of carbs per day is still a good range for successful weight loss, especially with lots of exercise. Note that vegans should aim for the 100-150-gram range to ensure the body has enough food and nutrient intake to produce adequate energy.
Aim for Veggie-Friendly and Low-Carb Meal Plans
You can use pre-created meal plans to get a good idea regarding how to meld low-carb and vegetarian diets.
An ideal menu for a low-carb vegetarian (not vegan) diet would be similar to the following sample meal plan:
- Breakfast: Olive-oil-fried eggs and vegetables OR full-fat yogurt with berries
- Lunch: Carrots and cucumbers dipped in hummus with some nuts on the side OR leafy greens, hard-boiled eggs, and blueberries tossed in olive oil
- Dinner: Chili beans, cheese, sour cream, and salsa OR eggplant moussaka
A sample meal plan for vegans:
- Breakfast: Avocado toast with tomatoes OR full-fat coconut yogurt with nuts and unsweetened shredded coconut
- Lunch: Large, leafy green salad with tempeh avocado, non-starch vegetables, vegan cheese, and pumpkin seeds OR coconut and cauliflower soup
- Dinner: Shirataki noodles with vegan alfredo sauce and mushrooms OR vegan walnut chili with sliced avocado and vegan cheese
Low-Carb Vegetarian Recipes
If you’re inspired to try a low-carb diet, it doesn’t mean you have to forgo flavor. Fill out your meal plan with our favorite two recipes, sure to fill you up and taste great, too.
Broccoli Fried Rice
This fresh take on classic fried rice creates a refreshing bed of chopped broccoli on which you can add anything your heart desires, from chopped nuts, sauteed veggies, or scrambled or boiled eggs if you’re not vegan. Depending on the add-ins you opt for, this could be a side or the main entree. Then, keep leftovers in the fridge for a quick heat-and-go lunch.
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
To make this, you’ll need:
- 6 c chopped broccoli, including stems
- 2 t toasted sesame oil
- 1 small red pepper sliced thinly
- and chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 c shredded carrots
- 1/3 c peas
- 1 small garlic clove, grated
- 1/2 t fresh ginger, grated
- 2 T tamari or soy sauce
- 1 green onion, diced
- Blend broccoli in a food processor until it is similar in size and shape to rice (about 10-20 seconds).
- Add sesame oil to a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Add peppers, carrots, and peas, cooking the vegetables until softened (about 5 minutes).
- Add broccoli, garlic, ginger, and soy sauce, mixing all the ingredients together.
- Once well combined, smash the mixture down with a spatula and let it cook for about 5 minutes. Then, flip it over and cook the other side for another 5 minutes.
Grilled Cauliflower Steaks With Romesco Sauce
If you’re a vegetarian, you’ve likely heard all the hype about cauliflower steaks – now is your chance to try this truly modern-day way to grill out. As a bonus, the Romesco sauce truly makes the dish.
Makes: 4 servings
To make this, you’ll need:
- 1 large head of cauliflower
- 2 T fresh lemon juice
- 1 T olive oil
- Sea salt to taste
- ¼ c slivered almonds
- ½ large tomato on the vine, chopped
- ½ c thinly sliced roasted red peppers, packed
- ½ T fresh lemon juice
- One t minced garlic
- ¼ t sea salt
- ¼ t ground cumin
- Sliced parsley
- Remove leaves from the outside of the flower and cut the stem off completely so the flower is flat across the bottom.
- Hold the cauliflower on a cutting board, sitting flat on the base where the stem once was. Using a very sharp knife, cut down through the center of the cauliflower, making two-inch thick slices like you would slice bread.
- Preheat the grill to medium heat.
- Mix oil, lemon juice, and salt in a bowl and brush the cauliflower steaks with half of the oil mixture.
- Cook on each side for 8 to 10 minutes, adding the rest of the mixture to the other side before flipping, making sure you have those deep grill marks. Steaks should be tender all the way through when pierced with a fork.
To make the Romesco sauce:
- Preheat the oven to 350°.
- Spread almonds onto a baking sheet and bake for 3 to 5 minutes until lightly golden; they can burn very quickly, so keep a close eye on them. Set aside.
- Place the half tomato into a food processor and process until smooth and completely broken down.
- Add all other ingredients listed for the sauce above and almonds to the food processor and process until smooth and creamy.
- Serve sauce atop the cauliflower steaks and garnish with parsley.
Learn More From Arizona Gynecology Consultants
Whether you’re looking to lose weight pre-surgery or are simply striving for a healthier lifestyle, eating a low-carb, vegetarian diet can get you there. Browse our blog for more tips on diet and nutrition as well as other low-carb recipe suggestions.
Ashley is a board certified Nurse Practitioner who is excited to follow her passion back into women’s health. She has five years of experience as a Nurse Practitioner in family medicine, as well as, five years of bedside experience in high risk labor and delivery.
Ashley is a native of Illinois, but moved to Arizona in 2015 to accelerate her nursing career. She achieved her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing from Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa where she also played volleyball. While working as a nurse in 2017 at Banner University Medical Center, she completed her Master’s of Science in Nursing at Chamberlain College of Nursing.