Vegetarian Protein sources - the best low carb options
Getting enough vegetarian protein is very fundamental to making low carb dieting work, and for us veggies protein can be more complicated to identify - not least because, unlike meat or fish, all vegetarian protein also contains carbs to some extent which must be accounted for, especially in the early phases of the diet.
Low carb dieting does not mean high protein, which carries a variety of health risks - however it is important to watch protein levels, and Atkins recommends a minimum of 60g protein per day.
Some great sources of vegetarian protein include:
Eggs - eggs are an excellent source of vegetarian protein for low carbers, typically containing around 6g protein per medium sized egg vs less than half a gram of carbs. Choosing organic free-range eggs also gives you a highly nutritious protein source for any meal
Cheese - cheese is calorifically dense and you need to control portions if weight loss is your aim - however at around 1 gram of carbs for a 28g serving, you can safely include it in your vegetarian low carb diet. Read labels carefully as carb and protein counts vary widely - goats cheese is particularly good (even though its taste divides opinions widely!)
Tofu is the vegetarian low carb dieter's best friend. It is the single lowest carb source of protein, you can eat it very freely in all phases of the diet. It also substitutes very well in low carb meat recipes. A lot of people are put off by the bland appearance and taste of tofu, but like many bland foods it is an excellent background for strong flavours and seasonings. It's always better to flavour your own tofu, as many ready-made versions contain extra carbs - always read the label.
Tempeh is a fermented soya product originating in Indonesia, and whilst slightly higher in carbs than tofu, it's another great protein option for non meat eaters (or meat eaters you might share meals with, as its chewy texture often appeals). Find it in your healthfood store, fresh, frozen or in a jar, or
make your own
using freshly cooked soybeans and a little starter culture. The finished product can be marinaded, grilled, fried or baked in endless variations, and also makes a good 'meat substitute' in many receipes.
Nuts and seeds are also a great source of vegetarian protein that are low in carbohydrates. Peanuts (strictly speaking a legume not a nut!), pecans, wanuts, macadamias, pine nuts and hazlenuts are all very low carb - the sweeter tasting nuts like cashews and pistachios you will be unsurprised to know contain more sugars. Nut butters are also excellent, look for alternatives to peanut butter in your healthfood store (nothing wrong with peanut butter though, just check the label and get one with no added sugar). Seeds are also very nutritious and low carb - sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds are excellent, and flaxseed (linseed) should be a part of every vegetarian diet due to the excellent source of omega 3 oils it contains.
Other sources of vegetarian and vegan protein include the old 70s standby TVP - versatile and cheap - and seitan, protein from gluten and a staple of Japanese cuisine: this can be hard to find but is very low carb and interesting to try (assuming no wheat/gluten intolerances).
Ready made foods like vegetarian sausages, quorn products etc are all possibilities but - I'll say it once again - check the labels carefully. Ingredient and therefore carb levels vary wildly, and you need to count EVERY gram, especially at the induction phase of a low carb diet.
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