Low Carb Vegetarian Meat Substitutes

Soybeans are often used as a vegetarian meat substitute.

Soybeans are often used as a vegetarian meat substitute.

If you are a vegetarian, it may be difficult -- but not impossible -- to find sources of protein that are vegetarian-friendly and low in carbohydrates. Proteins such as nuts, seeds and legumes can substitute as “meats” without adding too many carbohydrates to your diet. Forty-five to 65 percent of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Definitions of "low carbohydrate" vary, but most low-carbohydrate diets recommend that you consume between 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates per day for the initial phases.


Soybeans are a type of legume commonly found in meat alternative products. Soybeans are a good source of protein and are relatively low in carbohydrates. A 1-cup serving of cooked soybeans has more than 22 grams of protein and less than 20 grams of carbohydrates. Soybeans are also a good source of fiber, folate and potassium. Manufacturers often use soybeans to create fake “meat” products such as soy burgers or soy crumbles. Other soy-based meat alternatives include tempeh, fermented soy, and tofu.


Mycoprotein is a type of fungus found in some meat substitutes instead of soybeans or other legumes. Nutritionists discovered the fungus in the 1960s and figured out that they could mass produce the substance through fermentation. As unappealing as eating a fungus may sound, products that contain mycoprotein taste very similar to meat. They are also very low in carbohydrates. A “chicken” cutlet made with mycoprotein has 11 grams of protein and just 5 grams of carbohydrates.

Portabella Mushrooms

Known as the steak of the vegetable family, portabella mushrooms are both hearty and low in carbohydrates. Vegetarians often grill portabella mushrooms for a main dish, to add to salad or to slather with cheese in a sandwich. Portabella mushrooms are not a good protein source, containing less than 4 grams in a 1-cup serving. However, the same serving size has only 5 grams of carbohydrates. You can easily replace your meat with these mushrooms in many recipes to create a low-carb, vegetarian alternative.


Seitan, made from gluten, is known as "wheat-meat" because of its meaty texture. Although it seems like a meat alternative made from wheat would be high in carbohydrates, a 3-ounce serving only contains 8 grams of carbohydrates. The same serving size contains 20 grams of protein. You can make seitan at home using high-gluten flour or vital wheat gluten. By adding herbs and flavorings, you can flavor your seitan to taste. Many meat substitute products also contain seitan.

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Ireland Wolfe has been writing professionally since 2009, contributing to Toonari Post, Africana Online and Winzer Insurance. She obtained her Bachelor of Arts in psychology and Master of Arts in mental health counseling. She is also a licensed mental health counselor, registered nutritionist and yoga teacher.

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