“Can I do this plan as a vegetarian?” “Do you have any vegetarian recipes?” We get these questions from time to time.
The answer is “Yes, but…” Let us elaborate on the “but.”
Animal foods – meat, poultry, fish – are the only foods with no carbohydrate at all. Even eggs, cheese, and shellfish have a tiny bit of carbohydrate. This makes meat, poultry, and fish the logical centerpieces of a very low carbohydrate lifestyle. Eliminating them leaves a mighty big hole to fill.
If you are a vegetarian because you just don’t like meat, we recommend you work on it. Really. Maybe you can’t face a steak, but could eat tuna salad. Maybe chicken on the bone grosses you out, but you could eat chicken kabobs. If there is some form of flesh food that you can bring yourself to consume, that’s the place to start. You can work on branching out a bit as you realize just how great eating this way makes you feel.
If you are a vegetarian because the budget is tight, we feel your pain. We have been there. But you need to understand that a diet based on cheap, carby food is making you fat, sick, tired and hungry. That stuff would not be cheap if they were giving it away.
Dana says, “My husband and I went through a couple of very lean years when he was in graduate school. We lived largely on chicken leg-and-thigh quarters, pork shoulder, eggs, cheese, and other cheap animal protein foods. A freezer is a great investment, allowing you to stock up on meats during loss-leader sales. Check Craigslist or a scratch-and-dent store for your best buy on a freezer.”
If you are a vegetarian for your health, trying to avoid animal fats and cholesterol, we have good news for you: You can now stop with zero guilt. Animal fats and cholesterol are not harmful; in the HEAL program they are valued foods. If you want to eat a rib eye or lobster dipped in drawn butter every night – and can afford to! – do it. We promise you, in the context of the HEAL program it will only do you good.
If you are a vegetarian because you are concerned about the environmental impact of meat, we recommend that you consider small-farm, responsibly raised meats, and sustainably caught or farmed fish. Meat agriculture does not have to be destructive. Peter Ballerstadt, PhD, a forage agronomist, makes a convincing case for grazing ruminants (cows, sheep, goats, etc.) being the way to heal the earth from the damage caused by factory grain-and-bean agriculture. You might look at his blog at Grass Based Health. You could also invest an hour listening to his lecture Red Meat Is Green, on YouTube.
If you are a vegetarian for moral and/or religious reasons, we cannot and will not argue with you. You can follow the HEAL protocol, but your protein selections will be quite limited. The grain-and-bean combinations on which many vegetarian recipes rely to create complete protein are far too carb-laden for HEAL – and for health. If you have been basing your diet on grains and beans and have come to us, whether because of obesity, diabetes, or both, you are living evidence of this sad fact.
A truly low carbohydrate vegetarian diet must be a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, and will, of necessity, be heavy on the eggs and dairy. There’s no problem with this nutritionally – a steady diet of cheese and-avocado omelets, egg salad, sugar-free custard, and the like will be nourishing. It just may become a tad wearisome over time. But you know what is never boring? Feeling healthy. Unlimited energy. Normal blood sugar. Not being ravenous all the time.
So look at new and interesting ways to cook eggs and cheese. Make friends with plain full-fat Greek yogurt. Be creative with the many low-carb, non-starchy vegetables on the HEAL plan. We have compiled a list of all of the vegetarian recipes in The Low-Carb Diabetes Solution Cookbook, which will give you a strong start.
While most vegetarian meat substitutes are too high in carbohydrate for the HEAL protocol, there are a few that are low enough in carbohydrate to work. These include:
Lightlife Tofu Pups – 0 g carbohydrate
Lightlife Smart Dogs – 2 g carbohydrate
Lightlife Smart Sausages Chorizo – 4 g carbohydrate
Lightlife Gimme Lean Breakfast Patty – 5 g carbohydrate (1 patty)
Lightlife Smart Deli Bologna – 3 g carbohydrate
Lightlife Smart Deli Ham – 4 g carbohydrate
Lightlife Smart Deli Turkey – 4 g carbohydrate
Lightlife Smart Deli Pepperoni – 3 g carbohydrate
Beyond Meat Beyond Chicken Strips Grilled – 3 g carbohydrate
Beyond Meat Beyond Chicken Strips Lightly Seasoned – 3 g carbohydrate
Beyond Meat Beyond Beef Crumbles Feisty – 3 g carbohydrate
Beyond Meat Beyond Beef Crumbles Beefy – 3 g carbohydrate
Boca Spicy Chik’n Veggie Patties – 4 g carbohydrate
Quorn Meatless Breakfast Sausage Links – 4 g carbohydrate
Quorn Meatless Breakfast Sausage Patties – 4 g carbohydrate
Quorn Meatless Bacon Style Slices – 2 g carbohydrate
Quorn Meatless Beef Strips – 0 g carbohydrate
Gardein Meatless Breakfast Patties – 5 g carbohydrate
Gardein Chick’n Scallopini – 4 g carbohydrate
Gardein Teriyaki Chick’n Strips – 4 g carbohydrate
Gardein Barbecue Chick’n Wings – 4 g carbohydrate
And a 6 ounce serving of tofu has 3 grams of carbohydrate.
Keep in mind that just because some of a particular brand’s meat substitutes are sufficiently low in carbohydrate doesn’t mean that all their products are. Too, it is important to stick to the prescribed serving sizes. Read labels!
Unlike meat, all but a couple of these substitutes do, indeed, contain carbohydrates. This cuts into how large a portion of vegetables you can afford at that meal. An example: The Chicken- Almond Noodle Salad on page 142 of The Low Carbohydrate Diabetes Solution Cookbook has 5 grams of carbohydrate per serving, with none of those carbohydrates coming from the chicken. If instead of chicken you use 2 portions of Beyond Meat Beyond Chicken Strips Grilled, diced, you will have added 3 grams of carbohydrate per serving, for a total of 8 grams per serving. You would need to divide the salad into 3 portions to keep the carbohydrate count HEAL-legal.
Keep in mind that vegetarian meat substitutes are generally low in fat – indeed, they boast about it, considering it a virtue. But we here at HEAL get the majority of our calories from fat. Add butter, mayonnaise, olive oil, or some other healthful fat to your vegetarian meat substitutes.
Too, vegetarian meat substitutes are processed foods, and may include ingredients you are trying to avoid for reasons other than keeping your carb load to a minimum. In particular, many of them contain soy, gluten, or both. Again, read labels!
As your health improves, your HEAL advisors may well clear you to add a few more grams of carbohydrate per day – some people eventually can go as high as 50 grams per day and maintain the health benefits of a ketogenic diet. This will allow you to add more nuts, seeds, vegetables, and plain Greek yogurt to your intake, which should help add variety and satisfaction. Still, we urge you to wait for your advisor to clear you for this step.