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Stocking the low carb vegetarian kitchen

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Vegetarian low carb tips

If you're a non-meat eater, you obviously face a unique challenge in attempting to start a low carbohydrate diet. After all, most of the foods in the average vegetarian's daily meal plan are high in carbs. So, what's a vegetarian to do? Is a low carb diet impossible without meat?

Vegetarians can low carb, too

Author Margo DeMello certainly doesn't think so. After losing 45 pounds on a low carb diet herself, DeMello wrote The Low Carb Vegetarian, a cookbook to help other vegetarians plan low carb meals.

"Tofu, seitan and a lot of the different fake meat products" make good staples, she suggests. "For the hot dog and hamburger products though, you do have to look at the ingredients because some do have a lot a carbs." As far as vegetables, "carrots are out, and potatoes are out," says DeMello, "but I include a ton of the different kinds of greens, and cauliflower is a good substitute for potatoes or rice."

Get your greens

Anthony Leone agrees on the benefits of green leafy vegetables. Leone is the founder and owner of New York City-based low carb eatery Energy Kitchen. "The best vegetables that are low carb are the ones that are low on the glycemic index, such as spinach, broccoli, romaine lettuce, cucumbers with the skin on, etc," he says. "The vegetables you would want to stay away from are carrots, beets ... and potatoes."

The soy advantage

Jason DeMoranville, author of The Core of a Balanced Diet, believes strongly in the benefits of soy. "As a staple food for vegetarians, you can't beat soy as the number one vegetarian source for good digestible protein and low carbs every day," he says.

But what about beans? Vegetarians commonly know beans as a great protein source, but most varieties of beans tend to be high in carbs.

"Beans definitely have a place," says Les Harris, executive chef of the South Glastonbury, Connecticut-based Glastonbury Gourmet LLC. But since people tolerate different levels of carbohydrates in trying to lose weight, "the early stages of a low carb diet plan may require the abstinence of beans for a limited amount of time."

Chef Jacki Pearson of St George, Utah-based Green Valley Spa agrees. "Beans also provide a healthy protein alternative in moderate portions of half a cup," she says. "Even though a 1/2 cup serving of kidney beans has about 20 grams of carbohydrates, eaten in moderation of no more than one 1/2 cup serving of beans a day, the over all carbohydrate count can be kept down." A half cup of kidney beans also contains about 7g of fiber.

Fill up on fiber and healthy fats

Fruits are often restricted in the beginning of many low carb diets, but are allowed in later phases. Consult your low carb plan to see what fruits are allowed.

"Eat foods rich in fiber, protein and healthy fats such as non-hydrogenated, unprocessed coconut oil, olive oil, soybean oil and butter and no trans fats," suggests Karen Spirer, president of Karen's Fabulous Foods, a national food company that produces the "Fabulous Tastes" line of low carb baked goods. "Avoid the hydrogenated vegetable proteins found in margarine and processed salad dressings. Healthy fats cause virtually no blood sugar elevation, and protein causes very little."

Low carb shopping list for vegetarians

So, what's a good shopping list to take to the grocery store if you're starting a low carb vegetarian diet? The list below includes Spirer and Harris' top suggestions.


Salad greens and other leafy vegetables -- spinach, parsley, Boston and romaine lettuce Asparagus, artichoke hearts, arugula, bamboo shoots, beet greens, cabbage, cauliflower, celeriac, chard, collard greens, cucumber, broccoli, brussel sprouts, eggplant, escarole, garlic, green onions, jicama, kale, leeks, kohlrabi, mushrooms (especially straw), mustard greens, okra, peppers (all varieties), pumpkin, radish, radicchio, rhubarb, sprouts (alfalfa and bean), string and wax beans, snow peas, Swiss chard, tomatoes, tomatillo, turnips, water chestnuts, watercress, yellow summer squash and zucchini.


Acerola, avocado, blueberries, chayote, cantaloupe, cranberries, peaches, raspberries and strawberries.

Nuts, seeds

Almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, cashews, pine nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds.

Legumes (limit on a strict low carb eating plan)

Soybeans and soybean-derivative products, lentils, black eyed peas, kidney beans.


Eggs prepared any manner as log as they are not fried in trans fats; heavy cream, low carb yogurts; soy milk and coconut milk; hard cheese such as Swiss, cheddar, Parmesan, gouda, edam, jarlsberg, mozzarella, muenster, etc.

Oils, fats

Butter, soybean, olive oil, coconut, sesame, safflower, almond, avocado, macadamia nut

Whole grains, rice (allowed on some controlled-carb plans)

Soy, barley, oats, buckwheat, bulgur, wheat bran, kashi, spelt, quinoa, hominy, bulgur, millet, wild rice and brown rice in moderation.

Seasonings, condiments

Ginger, oregano, mustard, garlic, olives, vinegar, peppers, mayonnaise, low carb catsup.

Vegetarian recipe ideas

Harris also suggests these sample vegetarian meals:

  • Omelettes, both plain and with vegetables and cheese). Experimenting with different cheeses will add texture and flavor variety, (ie: goat, sheep, cow).
  • Tossed greens with nuts (ie: almonds, macadamia nuts)
  • Vegetable stir fry with bean curd -- sauce of herbs and cayenne pepper (to taste)
  • Low carb pasta with herbs, broccoli, garlic and tomatoes and a grated hard cheese (romano or parmesan)
  • Low carb pasta with a cheese and a tomato sauce (without added sugar)
  • Grilled vegetables (asparagus, peppers, zucchini and summer squash) in a marinade of olive oil, salt and pepper. Add a soft goat cheese on a low carb whole grain bread or low carb pasta.

More low carb recipes

Low-carb slow cooker recipes
Low-carb soup recipes
Low-carb lunch recipes under 400 calories

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