How To: Follow a Lower Carb Vegan Diet

So, what do you eat?


Restricting carbs on a vegan diet by Emily Jost


I have had type 1 diabetes for over 25 years, aged 11 at diagnosis, and for almost 20 of those have followed a vegan diet.  Having been a vegetarian since the age of 5, I decided to cut out eggs and dairy too when I realised that these industries were the same as the ones producing meat, and that dairy cows and even “free range” chickens generally have short and miserable lives.


I have been reading with interest about the benefits of a reduced carb diet to people with Type 1 diabetes for a few months, but always thought that it would be very difficult to do while avoiding animal products.  I love food and worried that my choices would be too seriously limited.  But about 6 weeks ago I decided to try it, and as a 2 week experiment, cut my daily carb total from about 150g to 90g.  I found it not only easy, but enjoyable and have since cut down further to 75g-90g per day, and have noticed less BG spikes and obviously reduced insulin needs (although no weight loss as yet).  I am toying with cutting down to 60g per day, but am not quite there yet. 


So, what do I eat? 



Salads, low-carb vegetables, nuts and seeds form a large part of my diet.  I also eat a lot of pulses and sprouted pulses and seeds.  The carb value of pulses is one of the reasons that further carb restrictions could be difficult: I am not prepared to cut down on these, as they provide protein, fibre and lots of vitamins and mineral, plus they are slowly absorbed, so unlikely to cause a spike if bloused for correctly.  Delicious dressings are essential for salads – olive oil plus lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, mustard, garlic, herbs – the possibilities are endless.


Nuts and seeds

A great source of protein and many other nutrients, nuts are also filling and make an ideal ingredient as well as a snack.  Home-made nut loafs and rissoles are great, and they can be sprinkled on soya yogurt or added to salads – most are especially great toasted.  Different types of nuts have different carb values, so do need to be checked and counted.

Seeds like sunflower, sesame and pumpkin are good sources of calcium, as well as being delicious.  Dry-toasted in a frying pan, or with added soy sauce, they are great on soup, salad or to provide a crunchy topping to bakes etc.  Sesame seed pulp (tahini) is a fantastic ingredient for sauces, dressings and dips, being high in fat and calcium.


Sprouted seeds and pulses

Sunflower, alfalfa, rocket and radish seeds can be sprouted, as can chickpeas, green lentils and mung beans.  These make a very nutritious addition to any salad and are delicious.  It’s worth buying a sprouter as the sprouts end up being very cheap compared to ready-sprouted ones.


Meat Substitutes


Note: most of these products require a trip to the wholefood or healthfood shop, although supermarkets usually sell some basics like soya milk and cream, plain soya yogurt and tofu.

In addition to nuts, seeds and pulses for protein, I also use meat substitutes, usually made from soya protein and wheat gluten.  Many veggie sausages and burgers are quite high carb; I am a big fan of Redwood’s Vegi Deli range that includes sausages, schnitzels, chorizo-style chunks.  Some are nicer than others, but the range is so wide that there should be something to suit all tastes.  Personally I don’t like anything that tastes too meaty – but for some people this is exactly what they are after.  Most of these products are both low carb and high protein.  A couple of examples:


Marjoram Sausages:

23.9g protein per 100g

4.9g CHO per 100g



23.5g protein per 100g

16.5g CHO per 100g


Cheatin’ Ham:

22.8g protein per 100g

4.6g CHO per 100g



Tofu is also another excellent source of protein and very low carbs, and is an extremely versatile ingredient.  Quite bland on its own, when flavoured with herbs/spices/garlic/sesame oil/mustard/wasabi/miso/paprika etc and fried it is delicious.  It can be sliced, diced, scrambled, mashed…and some manufacturers make already-interesting tofu infused with basil or sun dried tomato (yum) or it also comes smoked.


Taifun tofu wieners & other sausages.  These are the king of all vegetarian sausages, made from tofu and divine, either raw or cooked.  Chop and add to a salad, chop and fry and add to a soup or stew, fry or steam them whole and eat with a mash and gravy.  Expensive but worth it!



This is another soya bean product, made from fermented, whole soya beans.  It can be added to stir fries and other dishes as a good protein source with an interesting texture.  I always think it tastes like stir-fried apple crumble (ie a bit wrong) but it does add another choice to the animal-free diet.



Wheat protein used as a meat substitute – it can be bought plain or from Oriental shops in tins in the form of mock duck.  Use in place of duck or other meat in many different dishes.


Cruelty-free low carb “dairy”

Dairy replacements are plentiful nowadays.  Soya milk is low carb, but also worth noting that it’s low protein too, as is soya yogurt.  Both can be used in the same way as dairy milk.  Soya cream is also a useful ingredient and quite lovely on fresh strawberries.  Watch out for the types that can be whipped, though, as these are sweetened and therefore higher carb.


Soya “cheeses” have improved in recent years and there is a place for all of them in the vegan diet.  Here is a quick review of what’s on offer:



A powdered parmesan style product for sprinkling on soups etc.  Also adds a convincing cheesy flavour to sauces, pestos etc.


Scheese (Bute Islands Foods)

A range of hard “cheeses” with very strong flavours.  They do not melt, and although the flavours are good, the texture is not like dairy cheese.  Probably better for cooking.


Cheezeley (Redwood)

Comes in a super-melting style, in 3 flavours – it really does melt beautifully, but the flavours are quite subtle.  The non super-melting types have better flavours but don’t melt!  They also have higher carb content.


Toffutti Slices

Individually wrapped “cheese” slices – these are like processed cheese and melt very well, but are quite bland in flavour.


Toffutti Cream Cheese

Delicious high-fat cream cheese, comes plain or flavoured with herbs etc.


Toffutti Sour Supreme

A sour cream substitute with many sweet and savoury applications.


Miscellaneous Ingredients

Gram flour is a very useful ingredient.  Recently I’ve made courgette fritters using gram flour, and “pizzas” with a gram flour pancake base – fabulous and easy!  I haven’t yet worked out the carb contents of these, but suffered no BG spike after eating them.  No Egg is an egg replacer which is useful in recipes where eggs are used for binding only – you can’t make an omelette with it!  There are a few egg-free mayonnaises on the market.  My favourite is Plamil, which comes in a few flavoured varieties.


Sweet stuff

Luckily for me I don’t have a very sweet tooth, so I am happy pudding-wise to eat berries with soya yogurt or cream, and good dark (70% cocoa +) chocolate.  See below for a stunning chocolate mousse recipe.


Some Typical Day menus




1.       Plain soya yogurt with vanilla essence, 2 spoonfuls of Lizzi’s low-GL granola, roasted hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds & cacao nibs.  Occasionally adding some berries or ½ grapefruit.  20 – 25g CHO.

2.       2 small pieces sourdough toast with avocado or vegan cheese plus a glass of soya yogurt/hazelnut milk lassi. 25 – 30g CHO.

3.       McCann’s instant oat bran – made according to the instructions, but with soya milk, has only 10g CHO per serving, so is an excellent alternative to porridge.  I have it with roasted hazelnuts and plain soya yogurt.




  1. Soup – eg. lentil & vegetables, white bean and spinach, watercress and bean. 20 – 25g CHO.
  2. 1 Vegi deli schnitzel, hoummous, sprouted alfalfa & sunflower seeds, sun-dried tomatoes, avocado.  20 – 25g CHO.
  3. Any leftovers of the previous evening’s meal!




  1. Celeriac (or white bean or swede) mash, 2 vegi deli sausages, red wine & onion gravy, steamed broccoli. 20 – 25g CHO.
  2. Gram flour pancake with creamy mushroom topping; green salad with olives. 20 – 25g CHO (I think).
  3. Braised tofu with tahini, stir-fried greens with garlic, spicy celeriac chips. 15 - 20g CHO ( I think).



Eating out


I am not prepared to forgo occasional meals out and am accept having a higher carb meal than usual at these times.  However, by not having breads, rice, noodles, potato etc I find it’s still possible to enjoy a meal out at many restaurants while keeping the carb count down.


I still eat out at the same places I did as a vegan on a higher carb diet.  Indian & South Indian: curries, dahls and vegetable side dishes (without potato) and have found many starters are relatively low carb, especially the lentil based ones.  I’ll also allow myself a poppadum on the side.  Turkish: I love a mezze which is mostly salads and pulses of many kinds.  Vietnamese or Thai: lots of tofu and veg dishes.  Tapas: vegetable and lentil or bean dishes. I think I would possibly go hungry in an Italian restaurant, an English pub or greasy spoon…




Many non-vegan vegetarian and even omnivorous recipes can be easily adapted using the replacements mentioned above.  I’m not going to give recipes for such obvious things as nut loaf (which can be delicious and made low – carb), or basics like lentil or bean soup.  However, I will give a few recent discoveries and unusual favourites I’ve developed over the years.

I am a creative and intuitive cook – I don’t measure things, and if I ever follow a recipe I always adapt it anyway, so I give you these as guidelines – apologies for the lack of precision, and also apologies for the lack of carb values.  They will hopefully give you some ideas, though, for reduced carb vegan deliciousness.


Braised tahini tofu


Slice a block of tofu in half to make two “steaks”.  Use either smoked or plain.

Make a marinade of the following ingredients:

Tahini, sesame oil, chopped fresh coriander, soy sauce, the juice of a lime, a teaspoon of sugar or apricot jam, chilli flakes, minced garlic and/or shallots.  Beat together to make a smooth paste.

Put the tofu in a baking dish and score with a knife.  Smear with the paste so that it’s completely coated.

Bake in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes.  The paste becomes an amazing crispy shell, with the soft and succulent tofu inside.  This is one of my favourite dishes ever – invented by my sister and adapted by me.


Courgette fritters

Grate some courgettes into a bowl.

Add garlic, chilli or any other spices as desired (Thai curry paste, curry powder, fresh herbs etc.) and salt and pepper.

Sprinkle in some gram flour and stir.  Keep adding and stirring until you have a batter that’s not too runny.  Heat some oil in a non-stick frying pan and when it’s hot, add spoonfuls of courgette mixture.  Allow to crisp then turn over and fry on the other side.  Serve with a soya yogurt raita and salad.  (I had this last night and worked out that 3 fritters adds up to about 15g CHO).


Gram flour pizza

Make a batter from gram flour, water, salt and olive oil.  Whisk so that it’s a pancake batter texture.  Heat some oil in a small non-stick frying pan – like for pancakes, a very thin coating is all you need. Get it nice and hot, then reduce to low.  Use a ladle to spoon in some batter so that it fills the pan.  When it comes away easily from the sides, turn over and cook the other side.  Place on a baking sheet.

Make a topping from fried onions, peppers and courgettes, roasted tomatoes, olives, pesto, basil, mushrooms – whatever veg you fancy.  Add some sliced vegan sausage or chorizo- style chunks.  Spread over the pizza base and heat through for 10 minutes.  If adding a meltable vegan cheese, only add this for the last 5 minutes.


Gram flour pancake with creamy mushroom topping

Make a pancake as above.

For the topping, cook some mushrooms with garlic, salt and pepper in some olive oil or vegan margarine, until soft. Reduce to get rid of most of the liquid coming out of the mushrooms.  Add a good dollop of toffutti cream cheese, some plain soya yogurt and some parmazano.  Spread over the gram flour pancake and enjoy with a green salad.


Chick pea burgers

Drain and rinse a tin of chickpeas, and place in a bowl. Add some tahini, lemon juice, chopped coriander and garlic and salt and mash together with a potato masher.  Form into burgers and fry.


Celeriac Chips

Peel the celeriac and cut into chips (or whatever shape you like).  Put some olive oil in a roasting tin and heat slightly over a hob.  Add salt, pepper, chilli flakes, coriander seeds, paprika or thyme and oregano.  Toss the celeriac in the oil so that they are coated and roast in a medium- hot oven for approx 30 – 40 minutes.  They don’t have to be spiced, but this is how I like them.  They possibly could be deep fried, but I don’t think they’d be as nice.


Celeriac Rosti (this recipe comes from my sister Charlotte)

 Peel the celeriac.  Grate in a food processor or by hand. Dry slightly on kitchen paper, then stir in some No-Egg.  Potato rosti relies on the starch in the potato to bind it, so celeriac needs the extra help.  Season.

Heat some oil in a heavy-bottomed or non-stick frying pan.  Get it quite hot then reduce.  Form a ball of grated celeriac in your hands then add to the pan.  Press the celeriac down hard with a spatula.  Fry until crispy then turn over, and fry the other side.


Chocolate mousse

Melt some good dark chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water.  In a bowl whisk some toffutti sour supreme with some soya cream.  Add the melted chocolate and stir.  Add flavours as desired: white rum, lime juice and zest, chilli, orange zest and orange oil, brandy, coffee… Place in individual cups or glasses and refrigerate to set before serving.  I like serving this in tea cups with saucers.

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