Atkins/low-carb diet as a vegetarian without eating soy protein?
January 27, 2013 10:28 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for ideas on how to achieve an Atkins/low-carb diet without meat, soy, fish or eggs. Possible?

I don't eat meat, and I occasionally do eat fish but not often (maybe once every week or two). I do eat eggs, but again, only occasionally. When I used to eat meat, I did the Atkins diet a few years back and I lost weight pretty easily by eating stuff like cheese, baked herb chicken, salami, cheeseburgers with no buns or ketchup, kielbasa... almost just meat all the time, except for the occasional spinach balls made with pork rinds (weird).

I want to lose weight that easily again, but now I don't eat meat. I simply find meat repulsive and can't force myself to do it. I also do not want to eat soy protein for a whole list of reasons that are non-negotiable. I will continue to eat eggs and fish occasionally, but not everyday so I can't build my diet around them.

Is it possible to do Atkins without eating meat or soy? What sorts of things could I eat? I don't need fish or eggs ideas -- those are obvious. Google isn't helping me too much. All veggie Atkins articles are about eating soy and when I find similar threads online, it's usually people arguing about soy or telling the OP that carbs are good. I'm not here to be persuaded to eat carbs or soy protein (or meat). I just want to know if I can do low-carb without soy and without meat, and only having fish and eggs sparingly. Anyone tried this or any meal ideas?

posted by AppleTurnover to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Beans are probably the best source of vegetarian protein you'll find.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:38 AM on January 27, 2013

Response by poster: Beans have carbs. Lots of them.

Also, FYI: I do eat dairy.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:39 AM on January 27, 2013

I've had good luck with Greek yogurt. It's relatively high in protein and the effect it had on me was to satisfy my hunger while consuming few calories. I would mix some nuts in with it for fiber & protein (not too familiar with Atkins, not sure if nuts are allowed).
posted by univac at 10:40 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're going to eat a lot of mushrooms and nuts. But I think that cheese is going to become the foundation of your diet.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:40 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seitan? It is one of the few non-soy vegan foods I can think of that has more protein than carbs. But it does have carbs.
posted by payoto at 10:40 AM on January 27, 2013

You're going to have to skip all the suggestions that involve foods you can't eat, but I got a ton of delicious ideas from this Ask about making dinners that are both paleo and vegetarian.

Some ideas of things I eat that may work off the top of my head:

BREAKFAST BOWL AKA THE ONLY WAY I AM HAPPY EATING VEGGIES AND BEANS FOR BREAKFAST: layer from bottom to top: refried beans, ranchera sauce, melted queso, sautéed peppers and onions, queso fresco or panela or another dry fresh Mexican non-melting cheese, a poached egg (you can leave this off if you're wanting to cut down on eggs and maybe eat more beans for the protein)

SNACKS: hummus or white bean dip with endive or crudité, puréed black beans with lime and cilantro, tons of microwave crisp-steamed veggies dipped in jarred red bell peppers puréed with olive oil and Italian spices or soy sauce/sesame seed oil/hoisin/chili garlic paste (not sure if you're full on sensitive to soy or you just don't want to overdo it like many vegetarians do but feel free to ignore that last suggestion)
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:41 AM on January 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

Well, you're obviously heavy into dairy territory here. Whole fat greek yogurt, cheese, etc. But it's going to be hard, and it may be worth considering increasing your egg and fish intake. I did a low carb vegetarian diet (still am, mostly) and I relied heavily on eggs and dairy. Coconut oil is good for fat -- I made smoothies with greek yogurt, coconut oil, coconut milk, flax seed, a little low carb fruit. Nuts are also helpful -- may be higher carb than you want right away, but you may not get as low carb as you could before when you were eating meat.

It's all doable, but you're likely going to have to eat a lot of the same stuff for a few weeks.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:41 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nuts and beans have more carbs than protein.

Whey protein powder?
posted by payoto at 10:43 AM on January 27, 2013

Oh wow, I am sorry about recommending tons of beans. I guess I forget how much carbs they have! Anyway, still, learn how to microwave-steam veggies and make sure there's always at least one of them taking up a ton of room on your plate. Trying to eat tons of protein gets tedious and is a pain in the ass and remembering to eat an insane amount of vegetables helps.
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:43 AM on January 27, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far. The other disclaimer is that when I did Atkins as a meat-eater, I REALLY did Atkins. I probably ate less than 5 carbs on most days. And my ketosis-testing strips were the darkest color. Debatable how healthy that was, but the weight melted right off me, and then I switched to low-calorie to maintain.

Suggestions are great - keep them coming. It sounds like, no matter what, I am going to have to eat more carbs than I did as a meat-eater. Oh well, guess I had to expect that!
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:46 AM on January 27, 2013

I would point out that "TVP", though usually soy based, can actually come from just about any high-protein plant source.

Now, proving a particular batch didn't come from soy - Well, TVP amounts to the "pink slime" of vegetarian foods, good luck telling where it came from. ;)

I would also recommend Quorn, if you can get it in your area. A bit on the expensive side (like $6 a box in my area vs Morning Star's $4 - Kinda sad that one of the cheapest-to-make foods on the planet costs more than high-end meats), but it uses mycoprotein (from fungus) rather than TVP. It gives some people mild indigestion, though, so YMMV.
posted by pla at 10:46 AM on January 27, 2013

Any whole vegetable is going to contain a pretty lot of carbs. I think you can get into ketosis without eating meat, soy, fish, or eggs, but I honestly think you'll have think more in terms of powders & oils than "meal ideas".

Nuts, yogurt, mushrooms, beans, and most cheese will be out. Whey powder, other non-soy pure protein powder, oils, and multivitamins will be your friends.
posted by ftm at 10:46 AM on January 27, 2013

You might find this article helpful. It's about doing Paleo as a vegetarian, but since the diets share some principles it may help.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:51 AM on January 27, 2013

Response by poster: Quorn is not soy, but that's a whole other weird thing. Quorn has a texture and flavor similar enough to chicken that it grossed me out the same way real chicken does. And I read a lot about Quorn and they try to make you think it's made of mushrooms (hence them using the term fungi), but it's made of some weird bacterial growth and... yeah, I just can't do Quorn. Unfortunately.

This is sounding potentially impossible at this point, given my eating pickiness. I do have some pea protein, which is a good base for shakes and stuff. But if I'm going to have to drink all my meals, I may have to re-evaluate!
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:53 AM on January 27, 2013

Eh? It's not a "weird bacterial growth" (or bacterial at all), it's a fungus. Go ahead and don't eat it if the texture or the idea of fungi being grown in vats grosses you out, but I don't think they're trying to deceive you.
posted by wayland at 11:03 AM on January 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yes, Quorn is a mycoprotein. You could fairly call it a fungus or even a mold, but it is not bacterial. I think it's pretty tasty, but that's just me.

I don't think you should give up on your idea of doing the diet, just be less restrictive. I am a pescatarian and I did "low carb" and ate as many vegetables and fruits as I wanted to (essentially disregarded the carb content of the veg/fruit as long as it was a veg or fruit and excepting potato), and I ate a ton of dairy (we're talking full fat yogurt, butter, milk, cheese, whipped cream/heavy cream, etc), and I lost weight as fast as I think any person would want to and got to my absolute lowest goal weight within a month.

I do have to admit I was eating a significant amount of soy, though, but I'm more picky on the vegetable and nut side - I think if I liked more vegetables and nuts I could have cut out a lot of the soy. I guess what I'm saying is that you may find even eating "less carb" instead of truly low carb/Atkins, you might still achieve your weight loss goal.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:14 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can do South Beach Phase 1 vegetarian, but if you're a super picky eater, I don't know. Here are links to my favorite SBD/Food blogger. Hope this helps.

Phase 1 Vegetable Side Dishes

Phase 1 Vegetarian Main Dishes

FWIW my friend is a pescatarian, and she's been doing this pretty well - I think you could do it.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:15 AM on January 27, 2013

When I used to eat meat, I did the Atkins diet a few years back and I lost weight pretty easily by eating stuff like cheese, baked herb chicken, salami, cheeseburgers with no buns or ketchup, kielbasa... almost just meat all the time, except for the occasional spinach balls made with pork rinds (weird).

The new Atkins guidelines actually call for a specific amount of vegetables each day -- 12 to 15g of net carbs from the foundational vegetables list. By net carbs, they mean the total number of carbs minus the fiber. That's a lot of vegetables -- approximately 6 cups of salad and 2 cups of cooked vegetables per day.

If you are eating essentially a vegetarian diet without soy, the Induction phase (20 net carbs/day, no fruit/seeds/nuts/legumes) is going to be very difficult. The official guidelines for vegetarians beginning Atkins are to start in a later phase (Ongoing Weight Loss), with an allowed 30 net carbs/day. For vegans just starting Atkins, the recommendation is to start at 50g net carbs per day. No, you won't lose weight as quickly as you did eating < 20 net carbs a day in the Induction phase. But you can still "technically" do Atkins, you'll just be starting in a later phase. They also recommend starting in a later phase if you don't have that much weight to lose:

1. Start in Phase 2, Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL), at 30 grams of Net Carbs and introduce nuts and seeds and all unsweetened dairy products except milk (whether whole, skim, low fat, or no fat) and buttermilk before berries.
2. Or, if you have no more than 20 pounds to shed and are willing to swap slower weight loss for more food variety, you may start in Phase 3, Pre-Maintenance, at 50 grams of Net Carbs.

But with the later phases of Atkins, you can think about things like unsweetened almond milk, almond flour, coconut milk, coconut flour, coconut oil, peanut butter, and almond butter. A lot of people doing low carb make faux bread and faux muffins with flaxseed and alternative flours. They also say that you can eat some legumes, but "in extreme moderation (2-tablespoon servings), using them as garnishes on soups or salads." There's more details about adapting Atkins for vegetarians and vegans in The New Atkins for a New You book.

Also: lots of avocados.
posted by kathryn at 11:33 AM on January 27, 2013

Response by poster: One idea I kind of came up with is using paneer or a "grillable" cheese instead of tofu and making some dishes that way. It's not pure protein or anything, but it does have some protein and fat. Cheese is made with dairy so has a little carbs, but not much at all.

Thanks for the ideas and experiences. Encouraging so far - maybe if I plan this out very carefully, I can do it. As a meat-eater, Atkins is easy because you can have as much as x foods as you want, so I didn't need to worry so much as long as those foods were available. This will require more planning, but maybe not as impossible as it seemed...
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:33 AM on January 27, 2013

To my knowledge, there is no naturally occurring plant food that has measurably more protein than carbohydrate; lentils are the highest, at about a 1:1 ratio. This means that you will have to turn to a processed food. If I were in your situation, which is quite a quandary, I'd use a lot of whey protein, greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and/or quark.

Leaft greens should be a significant part of anyone's diet, although their actual calories are somewhat negligible.

The majority of my calories would come from coconut, avocado, cocoa, and other fat-rich tropical plant foods. A small amount of flaxseed is also good. I'd highly recommend eating as much as you can of fish, eggs, and even cruelty-free pastured meat if you can handle it.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 11:35 AM on January 27, 2013

Thanks for the suggestions so far. The other disclaimer is that when I did Atkins as a meat-eater, I REALLY did Atkins. I probably ate less than 5 carbs on most days. And my ketosis-testing strips were the darkest color. Debatable how healthy that was, but the weight melted right off me, and then I switched to low-calorie to maintain.

You can get zero-carb whey protein isolate powders, I realise that's neither appealing nor a real meal suggestion but if you want to go to the kind of sub five carbs a day ketosis you were in before you might find it useful.
posted by atrazine at 12:02 PM on January 27, 2013

How about milk? Like, a gallon a day. Milk's great! Drink all the milk. Milk has a lot of protein. In conclusion, milk.

Unfortunately, milk also has quite a lot of carbohydrates.
posted by atrazine at 12:04 PM on January 27, 2013

If you adjust your expectations, that may help as well. Since you're going to have trouble as low as as you did when you were still eating meat, expect that you will lost weight more gradually than you did when you were doing hard-core Atkins. All bodies are different (as yours will be different from how it was when you did Atkins a few years ago), but I lost a fairly steady two pounds a week while still consuming about 50g/carbs per day. I'm an omnivore so the meal- and snack-planning was easier; I don't really have suggestions for you on that front besides "up your dairy, egg and fish intake."
posted by rtha at 12:06 PM on January 27, 2013

If you're just looking for ketosis, you could check out the ketogenic diets they put epileptic children on: some recipes. A lot of them are ovo-lacto vegetarian.

N.B. if you try this, do not draw on your experience to give advice to kids actually on ketogenic diets for medical purposes.
posted by d. z. wang at 12:23 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a low-carb eater who cooks at home for vegetarians and vegans ... I think dairy is your main option. But you also want fat. So: Heavy cream veggie curries and stews, lots of butter and cheese. Avocados.
posted by zippy at 1:30 PM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bivalves. No brain, no problem, right?

Various algae.
posted by cmoj at 1:37 PM on January 27, 2013

Not the most active sub but you may find some ideas or inspiration.
posted by karlos at 2:51 PM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's all a matter of trade-offs, and you're going to have to figure out what's most important for you. It's entirely possible, but you need to decide if you're willing to, for example, stick with a higher level of carbs (I was eating 25 g net carbs when I was in my serious weight loss phase of low carb eating), increase your consumption of fish and eggs, or eat a limited and repetitive diet with lots of full fat dairy for your protein. I didn't find this too difficult, but I was eating some soy (not a lot -- I limit it in my diet), unrestricted eggs and fish, and I wasn't trying to follow Atkins or South Beach specifically, just drop net carbs to drop weight. It worked; I lost 30 pounds.

Searching for vegetarian paleo/primal recipes may give you some good ideas and things you can modify to fit your restrictions.
posted by gingerbeer at 4:50 PM on January 27, 2013

A cup of milk has about 12g of net carbs (skim milk and whole milk both have roughly the same amount).

Oysters and mussels have a small amount of carbs per piece and must be eaten in moderation. The USDA site states that six raw oysters have about 3g of carbs.
posted by kathryn at 5:47 AM on January 28, 2013

Kale chips, courgette (zucchini) chips. Cauliflower grated and used in recipes that call for rice. Cauliflower mashed and used instead of potatoes. Cauliflower used to make bhajis. Shake with milk, spinach, and cocoa powder. Almond muffins (made with almond flour).

There are a ton of great recipes on LowCarbFriends. That's where I got most of the ones I've mentioned. The forums at Livestrong are also great; there are several regular posters who are low carb/ketosis seekers, and vegetarian/vegan. Plus you can use the MyPlate feature to track your calories, carbs, and protein.
posted by fruitopia at 6:15 AM on January 28, 2013

A few lesser-known food items that might help you get more protein:

Chia seeds. Excellent ratio of fat:protein:net carbs. Very keto-friendly. You can mix them in with whole-fat Greek yogurt for a high fat, moderate protein, low carb meal.

Hemp protein powder. Works well mixed in with almond milk.

Both products are high fiber (hence the low net carb count), so you may want to introduce them gradually to your diet.

Mainly, though, I think your goal will be to crank up your fat intake to get the necessary calories and to keep you feeling fed. Just keep dolloping it in and on everything.
posted by nacho fries at 3:29 PM on January 28, 2013

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