There are many reasons to go vegetarian. Some people go veg for health reasons, some moral and ethical, while still others simply feel better eating a plant-based diet.
If asked to name the opposite of the vegetarian diet, it’s safe to say that anyone who knows how a low-carb diet works would jump up to scream “LOW-CARB!”
But in actuality, many people are finding tremendous success by combining vegetarianism with low-carb.
The question is how do you maintain a low-carb diet eating foods that are almost exclusively carbs? With the follow-up being, how do you take two of the most restrictive diets and combine them into one ultra-restrictive diet for maximum health without losing your mental health?
Well here are niKETO’s top 13 tips for living the vegetarian low-carb lifestyle.
1. UP YOUR CARBS
Typical low-carb dieting tells us to restrict daily carb intake to 20 grams. In truth, 20 grams is the low side of the buffer zone between 20 and 50 grams. Focusing on the low end at 20 grams is a safe way of making sure you get into a ketogenic state and remain there.
With vegetarians, eating a higher carb intake, around 35 grams, is a better way to optimize the low-carb experience, since it’s basically a diet being restricted from both ends. Starting at 35 grams, it’s a good idea to experiment and see how close to 50 grams a day you can get before being dropped from ketosis. Getting towards the upper end of the acceptable carb limit is necessary, because your body needs more wiggle room for carbs if you are planning on eating a more plant-based diet while adhering to low-carb.
2. FOCUS ON FAT, NOT CARBS
Fat is the focus of keto. Eating lower carbs is simply a means to an end to deplete your glucose and up your ketone production as a new energy source. So, while eating the right number of carbs is important, eating enough fat to promote the ketone switch is paramount.
Focus on vegetarian forms of fat since you won’t be getting animal fats: coconut oil, red palm oil, and MCT supplements are all great sources of good, non-animal based healthy fats that will stimulate ketone production.
3. GO GREEN… OR STAY GREEN
Low-carb diets love leafy greens and cruciferous veggies like cauliflower. They have tons of healthy benefits and the lowest carb counts when it comes to vegetables. Load up on spinach, kale, lettuce, and root greens. Filled with minerals that you’ll need on a low-carb diet, these are the super heroes of the keto diet, whether doing it traditionally or vegetarian.
4. AW NUTS!
Low-Carb approved nuts are amazingly helpful. They are great for helping add healthy fats to your day and most come with a nice salty punch that adds to the electrolytes you need to stay properly hydrated and far from the reaches of the keto flu. Nuts also help with satiety, keeping you fuller longer and away from mindless snacking that could derail your efforts.
No one can ask a vegetarian to stay away from fruits, and no vegetarian should have to. Don’t worry, low-carb won’t stop you from eating fruit: it’ll just limit them. Berries are the lowest carb of the fruits and almost universally accepted as the low-carb sweet treat that doesn’t need to be made. You can work in other fruits like apples and some small amounts of citrus since citrus fruits offer side benefits like helping you digest fats and avoid hunger, but do so within the limits of your daily carb intake.
Tofu is a vegetarian staple and a good meat replacement. The problem is that tofu is soy, which is a legume, and legumes are not recommended for keto. However, tofu can have value in low-carb dieting, but it’s imperative you get high protein, low-carb tofu, and only eat it within the confines of your daily carb goals. Tofu can be a good way to add protein to your vegetarian low-carb lifestyle, just be cautious and track everything.
Since we’re on soy, tempeh is another way vegetarians get their protein. Tempeh is a good addition to the low-carb vegetarian combo as long as you track it to keep it from upsetting your ketone production. Tempeh has the added benefit of being fermented, which low-carb diets love. Fermented foods are great for gut health, which in turn is good for fat break-down and absorption by the liver. So go for the tempeh as it’s a good source of protein and digestive help.
8. PRE-PACKAGED VEGETARIANISM
Low-carb dieters know to read their labels and keep an eye out for sneaky sugars and carbs that could derail them. Vegetarian options are no different. Prepackaged and flavored tofus, mixed greens, protein substitutes, and other vegetarian options pull the same tricks. It’s as easy to fall for the hidden carbs in vegetarian foods as any other, especially since vegetarian option are promoted and sold as the healthy alternative. But don’t let the packaging on the front keep you from reading the labels on the back. It’s always best to make sure.
Variety is a big issue low-carbers face. Getting sick of eating the same things leads to laziness on the diet, which can lead to a boot out of ketosis. That problem is doubled for vegetarian low-carbers. It’s a good idea to invest in spices to add different flavors to your meals, especially since tofu tastes like nothing. Spices are mostly carb free and can change the profile of your diet by quite a bit, which can help keep you on the diet and benefitting for as long as possible.
Vegetarian low-carb is so restrictive that is makes it very difficult to get the vitamins and minerals afforded be either animal proteins found in meat, or protein combinations found in high-carb vegetarianism. So what is a low-carb vegetarian to do for proper vitamin balance? Daily multi-vitamins and supplements. Normally it’s recommended that low-carb dieters find a daily multi without iron since meats provide more than enough, but for veg low-carbers, it’s a good idea to find a daily multi that provides iron. It’s also a good idea to take a fish oil supplement in order to get good omega-3 fats to compliment the omega-6 fats you’ll get from low-carb vegetarian eating.
11. EXOGENOUS KETONES
Speaking of supplements, exogenous ketones are another tool in your belt that can be used to assist your fat adaptation and help round out the diet. The point of eating low-carb is to force your body into producing and using ketones. But you can also get ketones from an external source that will push your system along and bombard your metabolic system with this new preferred fuel. Exogenous ketones come in a powder or pill form and can seriously boost a double-restricted diet like vegetarian low-carb.
12. PROTEIN POWDER
Not having animal proteins to fall back on can make getting into the keto protein sweet spot difficult. Because getting protein just right is so important to low-carb success, it’s a good idea to get some powdered protein and have it on hand to help supplement your daily intake. If at the end of the day your tracker shows a serious lack of protein, that can hurt your ketogenic progress, you can drink a scoop of protein to fill in the gaps and keep you on target.
But make sure there aren’t a ton of carbs or hidden sugars that some of the big name protein powder makers like to add.
13. DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF THE LOW-CARB DIET
The low-carb way of life actually has variations that practitioners use in different ways for different effects. In addition to the standard low-carb diet, there are the cyclical and targeted versions of low-carb that allow for timed carb consumption beyond the 20 to 35 grams recommended for vegetarians.
Cyclical sees its users jump in an out of a ketogenic state weekly as they eat higher carbs early in the week, and use that nutrition to push through until the start of the next week when they carb feed (carb up) again. Athletes tend to use this method and it has had very positive results for strength and stamina. If vegetarian low-carb is feeling overwhelming or leaving you feeling weak, then cycling your carbs to get the nutrition all in one big punch may be the answer.
Targeted low-carb is based on the idea of eating carbs right before exercise or a high exertion activity that will burn the carbs off and return the system to a ketogenic state when finished. If, as a vegetarian low-carber, you find yourself with a demanding task, try targeted to keep your system up and going.
If you’re a low-carb vegetarian and have tips or tricks you’d like to share, let the community know about them on our facebook page.