Being a vegetarian can be rewarding while admittedly challenging, but trying to go low carb on an already vegetarian diet is a whole different animal — figuratively speaking, of course. Cutting out meat and carbohydrates may seem virtually impossible, but fortunately you're not the first person to attempt the feat.
Author Margo DeMello certainly thinks so. After losing 45 pounds herself on a low-carb diet, 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 of carbs." As for 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."
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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."
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 No. 1 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 half cup serving of kidney beans has about 20 grams of carbohydrates, eaten in moderation of no more than one half cup serving of beans a day, the overall carbohydrate count can be kept down." A half cup of kidney beans also contains about 7 grams of fiber.
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 nonhydrogenated, 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."
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