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How to Eat a Low-Carb Diet as a Vegan

There are many vegan, low-carb diet food choices. These include nuts, mushrooms, nutritional yeast, and much more.

You want to eat a low-carb diet, but you’re a vegan. It isn’t possible to mix these two diets, is it? The only way to go low-carb and get enough nutrients is with an animal-based diet, right? Actually, there is a way to be a low-carb vegan. 

Anything under 100–150 grams of carbs per day is a low-carb diet. The keto diet requires a daily carb intake of less than 20–50 grams of carbs per day. 

We explore below the foods that can keep daily carb intake below 100–150 grams. 

In the sections below, we’ll explore how a low-carb vegan diet can help, some vegan food options that are low in carbs, and how a registered dietician (RD) can help you get on the right track with your low-carb vegan diet.

Why is a Low-Carb Diet a Good Idea for Vegans?

One of the most common reasons to try a low-carb vegan diet is to lose weight. Yes, vegans can have weight issues. A donut may be vegan, but it’s also full of sugar that puts on the pounds. Say goodbye to sugar when on a low-carb diet. 

Usually, low-carb diets for weight-loss are only temporary. Vegans can return to a more balanced vegan diet after they reach the recommended weight. 

Weight-loss isn’t the only reason for low-carb diets. Some people choose permanent low-carb diets that reduce symptoms and complications with conditions, such as: 

  • Metabolic syndrome 
  • Diabetes 
  • Epilepsy 
  • Endometriosis
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Regardless of your reason for adopting a vegan, low-carb diet, you need to know about your food options. That’s what we’ll cover in the next section.

12 Vegan Foods That Are Low in Carbs

It’s important to understand the nutritional contribution your low-carb vegan choices can make to a balanced diet. To meet your daily nutritional requirements, you’ll need to consume a wide range of the following foods. We’ll mention the carb content of each food, along with the health benefits of some foods. We will often use the term “net carbs.” You calculate net carbs by subtracting the fiber content from the total carbs.

For the foods listed below, you can see the content of vitamins and minerals at the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) FoodData Central database. To determine if the food is a good source of important vitamins and minerals, see the Harvard School of Public Health’s table showing the recommended daily allowances (RDA) of different nutrients.

1. Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are among the easiest and most convenient foods. There’s no cooking required and they’re delicious! They’re great sources of Omega-3 fatty acids along with many vitamins and minerals, and they are extremely low in carbs. Consider the following nuts and seeds that are low carb. Each listing is for a 1-ounce serving.

  • A 1-ounce serving of pecans has 1 net carb. That’s 4 grams of carbs less 3 grams of fiber. 
  • A single ounce of macadamia nuts has 2 net carbs.
  • An ounce of Brazil nuts has 1 net carb and a single Brazil nut contains 100% of the RDA for selenium.
  • Walnuts are extremely nutrient dense. And they’re only 2 grams of net carbs.
  • Hazelnuts have 2 grams of net carbs. They’re also one of the rare sources of Vitamin K.
  • Peanuts have 4 net carbs, but one ounce provides 7 grams of protein. Peanuts are also a rare source of resveratrol. That’s the anti-aging ingredient in red wine.
  • Almonds have 3 net carbs. They’re one of the healthiest nuts.
  • Pine nuts have 3 net carbs. As with the other nuts, they have their unique strengths.

Not all nuts are low in carbs. Pistachios and cashews have 5 and 8 net carbs, respectively. You can enjoy these nuts in moderation.  

What about peanut butter and other nut butters? They’re fine as long as they’re just ground nuts. Check the labels to make sure there aren’t any added ingredients.  

So, what about the seeds? Well, these are some real power packs of nutrition. They’re high in protein. Each of the following is based on 1-ounce serving. 

  • Hemp seeds have 1 net carb. 
  • Flax seeds and chia seeds each have 2 net carbs.
  • Pumpkin seeds have 3 net carbs along with 10 grams of protein. They’re also a great source of magnesium.

One problem with plant-based protein is that it’s not complete. That is, it’s lacking one or more of the essential amino acids. Even many plant-based foods that have all nine of the essential amino acids are so low in one or more of the amino acids that they’re not considered complete proteins. 

For example, the pumpkin seed has all essential nine amino acids, but it’s too low on a couple of them to be considered a complete protein. However, hemp seeds and chia seeds are complete proteins.

2. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are another plant-based superfood that’s low in carbs. And they’re one of the few plant-based sources of Vitamin D. Unfortunately, you’ll have to eat a lot of mushrooms to reach the RDA for Vitamin D. The best ways to get your Vitamin D as a vegan are sunshine, fortified foods, and supplements.

Mushrooms are full of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. But some of their greatest superpowers come from their complex mix of flavonoids, antioxidants, and other substances like beta glucan. Beta glucan is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, cancer-fighting powerhouse. 

Most dieticians consider the shitake mushroom as the healthiest choice. It’s followed by white mushrooms, cremini, portobello, and oyster mushrooms. These mushroom types each have about 1 net carb for a 1-ounce serving.

Mushrooms have a great place in the vegan diet as a meat substitute. Have you ever tried a portabella mushroom burger? That’s just the start of what you can do with mushrooms. 

Mushrooms have a tendency to soak up the flavor of other foods like garlic and red wine vinegar and somehow make it more delicious. That’s the umami effect. Unami is difficult to put into words but you’ll know it when you taste it!

3. Nutritional Yeast

Like mushrooms, nutritional yeast is a fungus. It’s been a common food source for hundreds of years. Vegans like it because it’s another complete protein source. Nutritional yeast has only 1 net carb for 2 tablespoons. 

Nutritional yeast is a processed food. It’s derived from saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast, which gives you 5 grams of protein in only two tablespoons. Then different brands fortify the yeast with many nutrients that are hard to get for vegans — that’s the nutritional part. For example, Braggs Nutritional Yeast provides 315% of the RDA of Vitamin B-12 in a single tablespoon. That’s a vitamin that’s extremely difficult to get on a vegan diet.

Nutritional yeast has a nice cheesy taste. It’s a great replacement for romano cheese in pasta dishes. And, it goes well in some smoothies.

4. Soy Products

Soy products are the cornerstone of any vegan diet. There are a wide range of soy products, including:

  • Tofu has less than 1 gram of net carbs in a 126-gram serving
  • Edamame has 4 net carbs in a 100-gram serving
  • Tempeh has 2 net carbs in a 100-gram serving
  • Miso has 3 net carbs in a tablespoon

Tofu can serve as both a meat substitute and an egg substitute. A quarter block of tofu (about 116 grams) contains 9 grams of complete protein. A similar portion of ground beef has 16 grams of protein. But tofu gives you the protein without all the negative health effects of ground beef. In fact, tofu has many important antioxidants and has less than 1 gram of saturated fat. A quarter pound of ground beef has 13 grams of saturated fat. 

Edamame are immature soybeans. When cooked and properly seasoned, they make a great high protein snack. A cup of edamame contains 17 grams of complete protein!

Tempeh comes from fermented soybeans. Unfortunately, the cooking process removes the probiotics. And, uncooked tempeh isn’t safe. A cup of tempeh (166 grams) has 31 grams of complete protein. But that’s not all. You’ll also get 25% of the RDA of iron. Iron is one of the nutrients that’s hardest for vegans to get.

Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans. Unlike tempeh, miso’s probiotics are active. Thus, it’s great for your digestive health. A tablespoon is all that’s needed for a bowl of miso soup, so 3 net carbs per tablespoon isn’t as bad as it sounds.

5. Berries

We’ll limit this section to the most common berries — raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. All these berries are superfoods that go beyond mere vitamins and minerals. They each have unique antioxidants and flavonoids that add to their superpowers.

  • Raspberries have 5 net carb grams per 100 grams
  • Blackberries have 5 net carb grams per 100 grams
  • Strawberries have 6 net carb grams per 100 grams
  • Blueberries have 12 net carb grams per 100 grams

Yes, blueberries are far worse in net carbs than the other berries. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy small portions of blueberries when considering your overall diet. 

6. Bell Peppers

Bell peppers come in four colors — green, red, orange, and yellow. You’ve probably heard that you should “eat the rainbow” to make sure you get the right mix of antioxidants, flavonoids, and plant sterols. Well, bell peppers can give you most of the rainbow in one vegetable type. You’ll get varying degrees of Vitamin C depending on the color. 

  • Green bell peppers provide about 110% of the RDA for Vitamin C per 100 grams while having only 5 net carbs
  • Red bell peppers provide about 157% of the RDA for Vitamin C per 100 grams while having only 5 net carbs
  • Orange bell peppers provide about 176% of the RDA for Vitamin C per 100 grams while having only 6 net carbs
  • Yellow bell peppers provide about 154% of the RDA for Vitamin C per 100 grams while having only 6 net carbs

All RDA calculations were based on 90 mg, which is the recommended amount for male non-smokers. The recommended amount for females is 75 mg — so the Vitamin C over the recommended amount is much higher for females. For both males and female smokers, add 35 mg to the daily recommended amount. 

7. Cacao

Cacao is an interesting fruit. When it’s broken open, harvesters collect the beans. These beans are actually the seeds of the fruit. Producers process the seeds by either crushing them into powder or breaking them into nibs. That’s still considered raw cacao. With further processing, it becomes cocoa. And with still more processing, it becomes your chocolate bar. Here, we’ll back up a few steps and focus on raw cacao.

You’ve heard about all the benefits of dark chocolate. It’s even better in its 100% untainted form. But it has a bitter taste. To get the taste of chocolate, mix it in a smoothie with strawberries. Now you’ll have two superfoods working for you and it tastes great. Cacao nibs can serve as chocolate chips in low carb flours like almond flour. 

A single tablespoon of cacao powder has 1 net carb. But it has 4% of your RDA for iron and 25% of the RDA for copper. Cacao nibs have 11 net carbs in 3 tablespoons, while the nutritional benefits are similar to an equal serving of cacao powder. 

8. Avocados

What can you say about avocados? What don’t they have? A whole avocado has 3 grams of net carbs. And they’re great sources of:

  • Monounsaturated fat
  • Soluble and insoluble fiber
  • B vitamins
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
  • Folate
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Lutein (carotenoid)
  • Zeaxanthin (carotenoid)

9. Jackfruit

Do you miss barbecues? Jackfruit can perfectly mimic pulled pork. Put the right low-carb barbeque sauce on it and no one will know the difference. And, it’s a great addition to a pizza!

A cup of jackfruit (165 grams) has 37 net carbs and 3 grams of protein. Of course, you’ll have a difficult time keeping your carb count in line if you eat too much of it, but it is good to add to your mix due to its many health benefits. Studies have shown that jackfruit extract can significantly reduce high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides. 

10. Tomatoes

What would the world be without tomatoes? There would be no pizza or marinara sauce! The good news is that 100 grams of tomato has only 3 net carbs. And a single tomato provides 28% of the RDA for Vitamin C.

Tomatoes have a few important antioxidants and flavonoids, but the superstar is lycopene. There’s significant evidence that lycopene plays a large role in preventing heart disease and many cancers.

11. Cruciferous Vegetables and Leafy Greens

We don’t have to go into the nutritional benefits of these vegetables. Everyone knows they’re good for you. The cruciferous vegetables are a diverse group with some of the options also being leafy greens. Here, we’ll focus on some of the healthiest cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens. Each of the following are based on 100 mg servings:

  • Arugula — 2 net carbs
  • Bok choy — 1 net carb
  • Broccoli — 4 net carbs
  • Brussels sprouts — 5 net carbs
  • Cabbage — 7 net carbs
  • Cauliflower — 3 net carbs
  • Collard greens — 1 net carb
  • Horseradish — 8 net carbs
  • Kale — 1 net carb
  • Radishes — 2 net carbs
  • Rutabaga — 6 net carbs
  • Turnips — 5 net carbs
  • Watercress — 1 net carb
  • Wasabi — 16 net carbs

Wasabi may be high in net carbs, but don’t worry. It would be extremely difficult for anyone to consume a 100 mg serving of wasabi! A little wasabi goes a long way.

The healthy, non-cruciferous leafy greens include:

  • Spinach — 1 net carb
  • Romaine — 4 net carbs
  • Beet greens — 1 net carb
  • Swiss chard — 2 net carbs
  • Endives — 1 net carb

The taste of these foods span a wide spectrum, from the peppery taste of arugula to the fiery taste of wasabi to the smooth taste of Swiss chard. There’s something for everyone to like with all these choices.

12. Other Important Low-Carb Vegan Foods

We got nowhere close to covering all your options for low-carb vegan foods! We skipped the root vegetables like onions! Though onions and garlic aren’t low in carbs, in the small amounts used in most meals, they’re fine on a low-carb diet. Don’t eat an onion like an apple though — you will go over your carb limits. Of course, who eats an onion like an apple?

With all the low-carb vegan foods we didn’t cover, there’s one group that sticks out more than any other — herbs and spices. These are some of the most nutritionally dense foods on the planet. And they’re what gives that extra taste that makes meals so enjoyable. And what’s even better is that almost all herbs and spices are low-carb!

We covered the tip of the iceberg of your options for a low-carb vegan diet. It’s important to mix and match these foods to ensure you get all the nutrients you need. And that’s complicated. You would have to be an expert to juggle all these foods to get the right nutrients. The good news is that there are experts available to help you transition to a vegan, low-carb diet. That’s what we’ll discuss in the next section.

Top Nutrition Can Help You Stay on Track With Your Vegan Low-Carb Diet

When changing your eating habits, you’re changing a major part of your life. Eating usually happens without having to make difficult decisions. Now you have to balance your nutrients with a new diet. And you have to figure out how to make it taste good without it being too difficult to prepare your meals.

At Top Nutrition, we will match you with a registered dietician (RD) to help you as you’re phasing into your new diet. They’ll know which foods and meal plans are best to help you meet your goals. Your RD knows all the tricks to making the food taste just how you like it, while making preparation as convenient as possible. 

Before long, your initial baby steps will turn into habits. You’ll eat low-carb vegan foods without giving it a second thought — just like you instinctively reach for the foods you’re currently eating.

Now that you’re on the right track to your new low-carb vegan diet, it’s a good idea to explore all the benefits the right herbs and spices can provide. Food companies often limit their taste-enhancing ingredients to sugar and salt. Replacing these with the right herbs and spices can provide a huge boost to your health. You can prevent many unpleasant health conditions with the right mixtures of herbs and spices.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some good sources of protein when on a vegan, low-carb diet?

Good sources of complete proteins include hemp and chia seeds, nutritional yeast, soy products, and spirulina. Good sources of incomplete proteins include nuts, mushrooms, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, asparagus, watercress and spinach.

What are some low-carb vegan breakfast ideas?

Chia seeds soaked overnight in almond milk is a good choice. You can blend in cacao to give it a chocolate pudding taste and texture. If you want an extra morning jolt, add some instant espresso to your blender.

Another good option is a tofu egg scramble mixed with bell peppers and mushrooms. This gives you the complete protein of tofu and incomplete protein from mushrooms. The bell peppers give you a powerful Vitamin C punch similar to orange juice.

What are some ways I can use low-carb vegan foods in smoothies?

Try adding tumeric and ginger to your smoothie. These are some of the most powerful spices. It’s a good idea to mix these with black pepper to enhance their absorption rates. Add an equal amount of cinnamon to give the smoothie a sweet taste. This goes especially well with a strawberry based smoothie. Spirulina powder is great in green smoothies. And it adds a complete protein to your smoothie.

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About the author

Nicolette Star Maggiolo, RD, LDN
I'm a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist with education from Boston University and clinical training from both Brigham & Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. I specialize in helping the military and non-military individuals embrace nutrition as a partner in both their mental and physical health.

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