Here’s how to eat on the low-carb vegetarian diet! These are the low-carb vegetarian foods you can eat (and there are plenty!) and what you need to avoid.
The low-carb vegetarian diet focuses on eating whole foods, unprocessed and as natural as possible. You’ll be eating all kinds of vegetables, low-sugar fruits, plenty of healthy fats and quality proteins, while looking closely at the sources of foods and the way your food is prepared.
We won’t focus on calorie counting or strict macros, instead I’ll make it a priority to help you understand the basic food groups and how they can fit in the low-carb vegetarian framework (for the lack of a better word).
I’m very excited about this article, I think it adds a lot of interesting information for anyone, so let’s get started!
What is the Low-Carb Vegetarian Diet
A low-carb vegetarian diet combines the benefits of eating low-carb foods with what a vegetarian diet has to offer. This means eating a diet that is rich in plants, dairy and eggs, while avoiding all meat, fish and poultry (and all foods that contain them). The focus is on eating plenty of whole foods that are rich in all kinds of nutrients.
What I like about eating low-carb and vegetarian, is that I can take the benefits of a low-carb diet and extend them to a vegetarian way of eating. If you think about it, a vegetarian diet simply means eating anything besides meat, fish and poultry. There is no mention of the quality of the ingredients or the way the meals are prepared.
Adding the principles of low-carb on top of the vegetarian diet leads to a healthier approach compared to the classical vegetarian diet. All of a sudden, the focus shifts towards the quality of the foods you’re eating and that’s very important in terms of health benefits.
Quick Tip: If you want to read more about the low-carb vegetarian diet, I’ve written an entire article on this topic – How To Implement a Low-Carb Vegetarian Diet
With this in mind, let’s move forward and see what are the foods that fall into each of the macronutrient categories, according to the low-carb vegetarian principles.
Carbs for a Low-Carb Vegetarian Diet
Besides getting plenty of healthy fats, keeping your carb intake below 150g per day is one of the most important factors on the low-carb diet. Avoid carb-heavy snacks and meals, cutting out any foods that will spike your blood sugar considerably.
This includes, but is not limited to refined carbs like sugar, flour, bread, cereal, and potato chips. Adjusting to this way of eating may seem difficult at first but, once you’re adjusted, your body will eventually shift from burning sugar to using fat as a source of energy. This translates to having more energy and all the other health benefits associated with low-carb and ketogenic diets (although this is not a ketogenic diet per se).
Carbs to Avoid
Like with any low-carb way of eating, you’ll have to eliminate high-carb foods, sugar, candy, as well as stay away from consuming too many grains (even whole grains). Here are some carb sources to remove from your home and kitchen:
- Breads (or at least eat rye sourdough bread)
- Packaged Foods
- Sweet Chocolate (70% or less)
- Ice Cream
- Any other packaged foods with refined sugars or flours
- Fruit juices and most fruits
Carbs to Enjoy
On a low-carb vegetarian diet, you’ll enjoy the same carbohydrates (from natural foods) as you’ll do when following a “regular” low-carb diet. These include low-sugar fruits, full-fat dairy products, and lots of veggies.
You know by now that vegetables have tremendous health benefits, being loaded with all the micronutrients (and other nutrients) that you need on a daily basis. I’m talking about things like an assortment of vitamins and minerals, but also healthy soluble and insoluble fiber, plenty of enzymes and phytonutrients. But what makes vegetables great is they’re extremely low in carbs, making them perfect for bulking your plate, including on a very low-carb vegetarian diet.
To keep your meals fresh and exciting, experiment with how your veggies are prepared. Try some raw vegetables on a salad, and roast others in coconut oil with plenty of seasonings. Making smoothies and nice creams is another great way to sneak-in more vegetables.
When it comes to vegetables, forget about counting calories or carbs, simply because vegetables are so low in carbohydrates.Make it a priority to eat all kinds of veggies, in different combinations, and as much as you feel like. You can cook them in the oven or stove top, eat them raw, make salads or use them in your smoothies.
Here is a complete list of vegetables that you can enjoy in your low-carb vegetarian journey:
- Brussels sprouts
- Swiss chard
- Green beans
- Summer and winter squash
- Bell peppers
- Potatoes (both white and sweet potatoes)
- Shallots (french onions)
- Spring Onions (scallions)
- Onions (red and white)
- Bell Peppers
- Chili (different varieties)
- Celery (root and stalks)
- Cabbage (white or red cabbage, napa cabbage, spring cabbage, or other varieties)
- Ginger Root
- Turmeric Root
- Green Peas
- Green Beans
- This may not be a complete list of vegetables or some of these vegetables may not be available where you leave.
- Potatoes have more carbs and should be eaten in moderation.
- In order to lower the glycemic index of potatoes (or others) eat them with a fat source or with an acidic food like vinegar.
- Besides green beans, all other types of beans contain more carbs and should be consumed in moderation.
Because of the sugar content, fruits should be eaten in moderation on low-carb diets. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid fruits all together, but rather don’t make them a constant priority.
Keep in mind that some fruits are lower in carbs compared to others. Berries and avocado are great examples of low-sugar fruits, being much lower in sugar compared to apples, bananas, or watermelon, and therefore can be enjoyed sparingly. On the other hand nectarines, peaches, melons or pears have more fructose (sugar), so these are the ones that you may have to eat in moderation.
As a general rule, I like focusing on eating more low-fructose fruits, while eating those that are high in sugar only when I have a reason to do so (eg: after a training session or a hike, or as a quick recovery when I feel tired).
Fruits that are low in fructose (sugar)
- Berries (Blackberries, Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Sea Buckthorn, etc)
- Sour Cherries
- Bananas (green-ish)
Fruits that are moderate in fructose
- Pears (they have more fructose compared to apples)
- Whole melons
- Dried Fruits – raisins, dates, figs, prunes, apricots (too sweet, eat in moderation or when you need electrolytes)
Note: Stay away from all syrups, fruit juices, compotes, canned fruits or any foods that contain these sugar-loaded desserts even in small amounts. These “foods” have too much added sugar which is unhealthy for reasons you probably are familiar with. But that’s not all, these so-called “foods” are pasteurized and sterilized, which renders them useless in terms of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytonutrients).
Protein on a Vegetarian Low-Carb Diet
There are plenty of high-protein foods that do not come from meat products, and that’s actually great for anyone eating low-carb vegetarian. I remember when I first started eating vegetarian, it was almost impossible for me to imagine a meal without meat. Turns out the secret was in front of me all along: plenty of vegetables, some eggs and dairy. That’s it!
Here’s a comprehensive list of vegetarian protein sources to try on:
- Eggs – make sure they’re pastured-raised or free-range
- Cheese (dairy) – cheeses include fats and protein – think all kinds of cheeses, including hard cheeses, soft cheeses and white cheese kinds of cheeses, including hard cheeses, soft cheeses and white cheese
- Full-Fat Cream (dairy) – these include both fats and protein
- Nuts and Seeds
- Legumes (basically Beans)
- Stay away from packaged vegan and vegetarian meat substitutes. These packaged products typically contain unwanted and unnecessary ingredients, have a high carb content, plus they are loaded with refined seed oils (unhealthy alert!).
- Beans are a good source of protein but they also come with more carbs, and should be eaten in moderation.
- Grains are tricky – while oats, rice or quinoa have some protein, other grains like wheat have too many carbs overall.
- In my opinion, grains should be eaten in moderation, since the general list of foods includes options which are more “balanced” in terms of real nutrients.
Fats for Vegetarians Low-Carb
When trying to eat low-carb, fats should make up the big part of your calories. Luckily, most high-fat high-quality foods come from plant-based sources, including some fruits, nuts and seeds, oils, and dairy products.
With time you’ll discover that it’s actually easier to eat a low-carb vegetarian diet compared to a “regular” vegetarian diet, simply because you won’t have the distraction of meat. Usually meat takes a big part of a plate and that is confusing for most of us, because we don’t get to eat that many plants.
Once you forget about eating meat, you’ll be able to use the low-carb framework more efficiently by planning to eat more nutritious foods. This may not make too much sense now but I promise you that, once you’ll start eating low-carb and vegetarian, you’ll understand what I mean by all this.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are fantastic sources of both protein and fat, but also a powerhouse of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fiber or phytonutrients). Make sure to always choose raw nuts that haven’t been processed with heat or oils.
The list of nuts and seeds is long and includes lots of options:
- Brazil nuts
- Macadamia nuts
- Pine nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Peanuts aren’t nuts, rather they are categorized as legumes. Personally I avoid peanuts unless they come from organic sources but also due to their anti-nutrients content (namely phytic acid, lectins and aflatoxins).
Veggies and Fruits
There are plenty of foods with a healthy fat content beyond nuts, seeds, and healthy oils. These include:
- Olives – green olives, kalamata, zaromenes, etc
- Cacao butter
- Coconut butter
- Nut butters – cashew, almonds, hazelnuts
The problem with all these “natural” oils is that most of them are already oxidized at the time you’ll consume them. Long story short, most of the natural fats present in nuts and seeds are sensible to heat, light and oxygen. This means that any kind of processing, (even something mechanical, as opposed to chemical oil extraction) leads to oxidations of the fats. Oxidized fats lead to inflammation in the body and should be avoided. That’s the main reason why PUFA rich oils like flaxseed oil aren’t actually healthy.
These are the only oils that you should focus on (don’t worry, they are enough to keep you nourished):
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Extra virgin coconut oil
- Avocado oil
- MCT oil (this is a supplement)
Dairy and Eggs
If you tolerate dairy, it’s perfectly acceptable to consume dairy foods on a low-carb vegetarian diet. Since you’ll not be eating any kind of meats, cheeses and other full-fat dairy products will be an important part of your eating in terms of healthy fats.
My advice is to choose high-quality full-fat dairy products from organic, grass-fed sources whenever possible. French cheeses are something that I personally recommend to anyone wanting to eat high quality dairy products. The secret to finding quality cheeses is to look for traditionally prepared products, made by small farmers.
Some low-carb friendly egg and dairy products include the following foods:
- Heavy whipping cream
- Raw cream
- Creme fraiche
- Cottage cheese
- Hard Cheeses – Cheddar (UK), Gloucester (UK), Comte (France), Gouda (Netherlands), Emmertaler (Germany, Switzerland), Cascaval (Romania), Jarlsberg (Norway), Beaufort (France), Parmesan (Italy), Brunost (Norway).
- Soft Cheese – a few examples: Brie (France), Camembert (France), Munster (France), Havarti (Denmark), Raclette (France).
- White cheese – examples: Feta (Greece), Mozzarella (Italy), Halloumi (Cyprus).
- Butter – choose grass-fed butter, should be as yellow and as hard as possible.
- Full-fat yogurt
- Eggs – make sure they’re pastured-raised or free-range
Condiments, spices, and some salad dressings don’t quite fit into any macronutrient category. However, they’re important to mention because they can give plenty of flavor and some nutrients to your meals. Here are a few condiments you might want to keep stocked in your pantry on your vegetarian low-carb diet.
As a rule, these should only contain ingredients whose names you can pronounce. Always choose products free of additives, preservatives, added sugars and refined seed oils. Add these as often as you like to your meals but use them as condiments, making whole foods the center of your meals:
- Salad Dressing – go natural, no additives, preservatives, fillers, refined oils or added sugar
- Ketchup and Mustard – go natural, see above
- Hot sauces
- Mayonnaise – look for brands made with natural ingredients, cage-free eggs and without refined seed oils
- Sugar-free ketchup
- Sugar-free or low-sugar high-fat salad dressings – natural
Spices and Herbs
Dried and fresh herbs and spices are full of flavor. Try adding these to your meals as often as you can:
- Himalayan salt
- Cayenne pepper
- Chili powder
- Lemon or lime juices
- Pepper mix
- Bay Leaves
Fermented vegetables are a great source of probiotics and vitamin K2, plus assorted vitamins and minerals. But in order to make use of these properties, you need to be aware of the following limitations. They should be:
- Naturally fermented using salt only
- No additives and preservatives
- Not pasteurized or sterilized in any way
- Once fermented, they should be kept in a cold environment (fridge, cellar) to slow down the fermenting process.
- Keep in mind that fermented foods kept on a supermarket shelf are sterilized, which means all beneficial bacteria are dead and vitamins content is almost non-existent.
Here are the fermented foods that you should look for:
- Pickled vegetables assortment
- Picked tomatoes
- Other local varieties
Note: You can easily do your own fermenting. It takes about 2 weeks, and it’s much cheaper compared to buying from the store.
Others foods that don’t fall into any of the categories below. As with all the others, use your own judgment and look for the healthiest options (organic, fair trade, naturally prepared, no additives and preservatives):
- Low-Carb Flours – almond flour, sesame flour, coconut flour
- Coffee – I like espresso coffee, organic and fairtrade
- Tea – green tea, black tea, fruits, chamomile, mint, linden etc
- Coconut Water – it’s loaded with electrolytes, great for recovery drinks or in smoothies
- Coconut Milk
- Sweetener – choose a natural sweetener, I love organic coconut sugar
- Baking Soda and Baking Powder – great for baking desserts, breads, etc
- Veggies Balls – I found that IKEA sells some of the best vegan balls, without any kind of additives.
Vegetarian Low-Carb Meal Ideas
Now that you know which foods to include in your vegetarian low-carb diet, here are some friendly recipes ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and desserts.
- Deviled egg
- Vegetables and eggs with avocado cooked in skillet using coconut oil
- Egg frittata with vegetables cooked in the oven or skillet
- Vegetable and feta omelet fried in coconut or olive oil
- Smoothies made from combos like bananas, avocado, berries, cruciferous, other veggies, spices and superfoods.
- Banana and egg pancakes
- Flourless pancakes
- Egg salad with added avocado and other veggies
- Mixed greens salad with avocado, mozzarella, pesto, olives, bell pepper, onions, a few nuts, lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil dressing
- Vegetarian low-carb Greek salad with feta, tomatoes, onions, olives, fresh Greek spices, and extra virgin olive oil
- Vegetables Soup
- Homemade Cream Soup
- Cheese pizza with cauliflower crust, vegetables and cheeses
- Portobello with eggs cooked in the oven
- Potatoes and butter, served with avocado
- Soft cheeses with veggies salad and olives
- Vegetables Soup
- Homemade Cream Soup
- Dark chocolate and nuts
- Nuts and dried fruits
- Berries and creme fraîche
- Fat bombs various recipes
- Raw chocolate cake
- Homemade chocolate
- Whipped cream and berries
- Cinnamon baked apples
- Low-carb Muffins with berries, nuts and seeds
- Are you looking for low-carb vegetarian recipes? Browse all my recipes and find your favorites!
- Discover how to prepare simple low-carb vegetarian meals – 50+ Healthy Vegetarian and Vegan Meal Ideas for People Who Can’t Cook
What are your best tips for choosing healthy low-carb vegetarian foods? Did you find my tips interesting? Share in the comments.