The Low-Carb Vegetarian

Patient Expert

David and Barry (right) on the Mesa Trail near Boulder, Colorado

So let's start to work on one here. Of the three main macro-nutrients -- carbohydrates, protein, and fat -- neither vegetarianism or low-carb living has any problem with fat. And fat generally provided the majority of the calories on any low-carb diet.

Unless you are a vegan -- a vegetarian who uses no animal products of any kind -- dairy products and eggs are great sources of fat as well as protein. Most cheeses, plain yogurt (especially Greek yogurt), and small servings of kefir are particularly good low-carb vegetarian choices. It turns out the vegetables are not a problem either. Low-carb diets can and do include many tasty and healthy one. I reviewed the "Good Veggies" here.

In fact, the only low-carb vegetarian problem might be protein. But it really isn't.

Meat and fish are far from our only protein choices. It just requires a little imagination and exploration to find an even greater variety than we ever thought possible.

We don't even need much protein. The authoritative resource for determining our daily protein requirement comes from the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, which is an independent nongovernmental entity that is nonetheless responsible for the recommended dietary allowances of nutrients in the American diet. It says that adult men need 56 grams of good-quality protein per day and that most adult women need 46 grams. Pregnant women and nursing mothers need 71 grams. That's actually not much -- and some people think we don't even need that amount.

We have plenty of delicious meat substitutes. Traditional soy products like the Chinese tofu and the Indonesian tempeh top the list. Then we have the texturized soy protein products, like Morningstar Farms Sausage Patties and BocaBurgers, although they may be too high in omega 6 when we eat them too freely.

A few months ago my favorite Certified Diabetes Educator and I jointly discovered delicious Quorn. Available in the frozen food cases of natural food stores, this mycoprotein product comes in many forms. Two of them, "Naked Chik'n Cutlets" and "Turk'y Roast," are low-carb.

A few evenings ago Barry re-introduced me to seitan. Introduced here from Asia, this wonderful food is made from wheat gluten In the bad old days I had often eaten seitan sandwiches. Those were bad days because of the wheat flour bread of the sandwiches, not the wheat gluten, which is very low carb.

Barry steamed some seitan -- available in natural food stores where we live as WhiteWave brand "Vegetarian Stir Fry Strips "-- in the stir fry he made for our dinner. I have also been adding it to my salads.

You can also read about these and several other meat alternatives in an article from The Vegetarian Journal that is online.

Vegetarians generally know that a meatless diet needs to be supplemented by a little Vitamin B12. But they also need to make a special effort to get enough omega 3 fatty acids to balance omega 6s in their diet. Most of us get our omega 3 from fish or krill oil, but these non-vegetarian sources aren't the ultimate source of omega 3s.

Plants are actually where all omega 3 originates. Particularly the leaves of plants. But the best vegetarian source is probably chia seeds.

So what's the problem? It turns out that those of us who are committed to a vegetarian lifestyle with a little effort probably can combine it quite well with a low-carb one.