Vegetarian diets rely on plant-based food for protein. Most of the plants, though, pack lots of carbohydrates. Thus, vegetarians find it difficult to follow their ordinary diets while also trying to watch the amount of carbohydrates they consume. Protein-rich, low-carb foods, though, do exist, and they provide a great way to enjoy a vegetarian diet without loading up on starch.
Vegetarians eat a plant-based diet, but some eating habits vary. Vegans, for example, eat only plant-based foods. Lacto-vegetarians, meanwhile, consume milk and milk products in addition to plant-based foods. Lacto-ovo vegetarians consume eggs, milk and milk products along with plant-based foods. Flexitarians occasionally add small amounts of meat, fish and poultry to their plant-based diets.
Carbohydrates are the body's primary fuel. They provide energy to perform tasks and affect a person's ability to think. In the past few decades, however, some nutritionists have identified carbohydrate overload as a cause of weight gain and obesity. As such, some dietitians have suggested eating a low-carb diet.
The low-carb diet gained considerable popularity in the latter half of the 1990s due to the public's exposure to the Atkins diet. According to the Atkins approach, carb consumption should be based on each person's ability to lose weight and avoid cravings while still providing the energy to think clearly and perform tasks. According the diet, consumption differs by the individual, but it recommends eating between 20 and 30 grams of carbohydrate per day.
Because many proteins come from meat, eggs and dairy, vegans have the most difficult time of all vegetarians finding sufficient sources of protein. Nutritionist Joanna Pruess, author of "Soup for Every Body," considers food with 14 grams of protein per serving to be significant sources of protein.
Spinach, whole grains, rice, beans, legumes, corn, oats, peas and nuts all provide significant sources of protein. For example, black beans pack 15 grams of protein per cup, and split peas contain 16 grams of protein per cup. Raw oat bran contains 16 grams of protein per cup, and long grain white rice contains 13 grams.
The problem is that all of the aforementioned also contain significant amounts of carbohydrates, which make it difficult for a vegetarian also following a low-carb diet plan to find foods that fit into a diet.
Two foods provide an answer for those who want to enjoy low-carb vegetarian diets: soybeans and textured vegetable protein. Both are found in a variety of foods available in grocery and health food stores.
Soybeans pack a load of protein but contain small amounts of carbohydrate. Mature yellow soybeans that have been cooked contain 149 calories per serving with 14 grams of protein and only 8.5 grams of carbohydrate. They also provide a significant source of fat with 7.7 grams per serving.
Soybeans are used to make tofu and tempeh. A serving of tempeh, equal to a half cup, contains 15.8 grams of protein and 14.1 grams of carbohydrate with 6.4 grams of fat. Firm tofu, meanwhile, contains 19.9 grams of protein per serving with only 5.4 grams of carbohydrate and 11 grams of fat. A tofu serving equals one-half cup for firm tofu. Tofu production aims at a flavor and texture that simulates those of meats.
Another option is textured vegetable protein, or TVP. Textured vegetable protein, like tofu, is designed to simulate meat. It contains 25 grams of protein per serving with 14 grams of carbohydrate and no fat. A serving size equals one-half cup.