One of the more popular diets of recent years, the Atkins diet can be described as either a high protein diet or a low carb diet. But can this diet also work as a vegetarian or vegan diet? The focus of the Atkins diet has traditionally been on eating lots of meat, particularly in the initial “induction phase.” So using Dr. Atkins’ plan as a low carb diet for vegetarians may seem impossible. However, with a little planning, substitution, and a few adjustments, you can make Atkins work as a vegetarian or vegan.
Using Atkins for Vegetarians
1Start at Phase 2 of Atkins 20. Atkins 20 is the name now used for the traditional Atkins plan. This is known as the “balancing” phase, where you start to reintroduce certain carbs and foods slowly to determine the proper balance for your body.
- Following the standard schedule, you would follow Phase 1 until you are within 15 pounds of your weight-loss goal (or for at least two weeks), then move into Phase 2 until within 10 pounds of you goal. However, because of the limitations in low-carb protein options for vegetarians, it is recommended by Atkins to start at Phase 2 because it permits more carbs.
- Atkins, in any phase, focuses on “Net Carbs,” which it determines as total carbohydrates minus fiber, measured in grams.
2Climb the “carb ladder.” The plan for Phase 2, for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, is to add food groups and higher carb foods individually to gauge their impact and determine your ideal balance.
- Phase 2 typically starts at 25 g. of Net Carbs daily, which is increased in 5 g. increments (weekly, biweekly, or monthly, depending on your goals/preferences). Vegetarians, however, can start at 30 g. and build up from there.
- Atkins also recommends that vegetarians introduce seeds before berries, to facilitate protein and fat intake.
3Pack in the protein. Without meat available as an easy low carb protein source, vegetarians on Atkins need to rely on options like eggs, cheese, and soy. All through the Atkins diet, you’ll see that protein is essential. Find sources that are appropriate to your dietary restrictions and focus on a variety of ways to get these into your diet to hit your protein goal.
- Atkins calls eggs “one of nature’s most nutritious creations,” so if you are a vegetarian who includes them, they will be a backbone of your diet plan. Eggs can be a daily breakfast staple, and in any form — boiled, fried, deviled, chopped, etc. — can be included in meals and snacks throughout the day.
- No one can live on eggs alone, however, and especially if you are a vegetarian that eschews them, move your focus onto things such as cheese and other dairy like cottage cheese and yogurt, and especially soy.
- From edamame to tofu to meat substitute products, soybeans are an incredibly versatile source of protein for vegetarians. Soybeans provide the most complete vegetable protein, and supply only about 3-6 Net Carbs per serving as edamame, tofu, or tempeh. 
- Consider also gluten-based meat substitutes, such as seitan, or Quorn, a meat substitute made from fungi.
4Focus on “Foundation Vegetables.” In Atkins terminology, Foundation Vegetables are key low-carb veggies that are meant to add up to 12-15 Net Carbs daily.
- Salad greens are heavily represented as Foundation Vegetables because of their low Net Carb counts. You will consume less than one Net Carb gram per half-cup of alfalfa sprouts, endive, arugula, radishes, spinach, lettuce, and turnip greens, among others.
- Other low Net Carb veggies include mushrooms, cucumbers, broccoli, asparagus, and green beans.
- Starchy vegetables like potatoes don’t make the cut, nor do corn or carrots because of their sugar content.
- So, if you aren’t already a salad-lover as a vegetarian, you may want to become one before trying Atkins, though there should be enough vegetable variety to keep you happy.
5Consider Atkins 40 as well. Atkins 40 is a newer version of the diet plan that is meant to provide a bit more flexibility, as well as a bit more leeway on carbs.
- With it, you start with 40 g. Net Carbs daily, (10 per meal times three, 5 per shack times two), and add 10 g. weekly after getting within 10 pounds of your weight goal.
- Foundation Vegetables should make up 15 g. of your daily Net Carbs (around 6-8 servings), with other carb foods making up the remaining 25 g.
- This, then, provides you a little more room for including nuts, beans, legumes, and whole grains into your meals from the start, which might make life much easier for a vegetarian.
Using Atkins for Vegans
1Make further adjustments to Atkins 20 Phase 2. As with vegetarians, it is recommended that vegans using Atkins 20 (the traditional plan) start with Phase 2. This “balancing” phase permits more carbs, but also requires some additional adjustments for vegans.
- Vegans are recommended to start with 50 g. Net Carbs per day, as opposed to the 25 g. for standard Phase 2 or 30 g. for vegetarians who consume eggs and dairy. Vegans will still follow the guide of adding 5 g. per day in increments made weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly (based on preference), up to 80 g. Net Carbs.
- Vegans are also advised to make allowances for seeds, nuts, and legumes from the start, instead of introducing them over time.
- Basically, even Atkins itself is admitting that vegans, due to the limited protein sources available to them to begin with, cannot consume enough calories per day on Atkins without making some changes. But with adaptation, it is possible to succeed.
2Be precise with the rest of the plan. Since vegans have to make some alterations to important elements of the Atkins 20 plan, it becomes even more imperative for them to adhere closely to the remaining parts of it.
- Eat frequently, with no more than 3-4 hours between meals or snacks. Feeling hungry all the time is more likely to trigger carb cravings.
- Make sure you are spreading out your Net Carbs during these frequent meals. Using 40 of your 50 allotted Net Carbs at one meal — for instance, pairing ½ cup of chickpeas (22 Net Carbs) with a cup of soy milk (17 Net Carbs) will leave vegans in particular with very few dining options for the rest of the day.
- Also, consuming too many carbs at one time can cause a spike in insulin, which helps convert carbohydrates into fat, and which the Atkins diet is constructed to avoid.
- Drink eight glasses of water daily, as is recommended for all Atkins dieters. Hydration is important for everyone, and water can be surprisingly effective at curbing hunger temporarily.
- Choose lower-carb whole grains as needed, such as long grain brown rice and whole grain pasta (of which Atkins sells branded versions, if you’re interested).
- Vegans won’t have a problem with getting their daily vegetables in, but stick primarily to the Foundation Vegetables with lower Net Carbs.
3Learn to love soy even more. Soybeans are important for vegetarians on Atkins, but are critical for vegans as a protein source.
- In the form of edamame (6.2 g. Net Carbs, 11.1 g. protein), silken tofu (3.1 g. Net Carbs, 5.4 g. protein), and tempeh (3.3 g. Net Carbs, 15.4 g. protein), or in foods ranging from (miso) soup to (soy) nuts, soybeans need to play a central role in the diet of any vegan on Atkins.
- This wikiHow article offers some ideas on vegan cooking with soy and other proteins and is a gateway to various wikiHow vegan recipes. Remember, though, that recipes need to be vegan and low-carb to suit Atkins.
4Check out Atkins 40 as well. As mentioned in the vegetarian section, Atkins 40 is a newer plan with a little more flexibility and allowance for carbs. The starting point for everyone on the plan is 40 g. Net Carbs daily, adding 10 g. per week once within 10 pounds of your weight goal.
- You could also consider starting at 50 g. Net Carbs, as with Atkins 20 for vegans.
- With less focus on restrictions of food types, especially in the beginning, vegans can consume “sufficient protein from seeds, nuts, soy products, soy and rice cheeses, seitan, legumes and high protein grains like quinoa.”
1Define the details and benefits of the “Eco-Atkins” diet. This diet is not, strictly speaking, an Atkins diet, though Atkins does tout is as an option for vegetarians and vegans on its website.
- The concept of this diet derives mainly from a study detailed in the Archives of Internal Medicine (2009), which found that participants placed on a vegan low-carb, high-protein diet saw a markedly better drop in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels as compared to those on a standard low-fat vegetarian diet, while both groups lost weight roughly equally.
- The vegan diet in the study was 31% protein (mainly gluten, soy, and nuts), 43% fats (mainly nuts, vegetable oils, soy products, and avocado), and 26% carbs (from fruits, veggies, and some cereal products).
2Out-carb Atkins, but smartly. The 26% of calories derived from carbs in Eco-Atkins equates to roughly 130 g. per day, which is low by traditional nutrition standards (around 225-350 g. daily) but quite high for typical Atkins plans (which tend to max out at around 80 g. Net Carbs).
- Atkins, not surprisingly, states “Imagine how much better this group would have done if they followed Atkins protocols for carb consumption?”, but let’s presume that you intend to stick to the diet as described in the study.
- The greater leeway on carbs on Eco-Atkins is not an invitation to consume white breads, rice, potatoes, or baked goods, however. You need to spend these extra carbs on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, oats, and the beans, legumes, etc. from which you are deriving much of your protein.
3Fill up on fiber. One important reason to focus your carbs on vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains is the higher fiber content in these foods. When dieting in general, and especially when on a vegetarian/vegan low carb diet, fiber is definitely your friend.
- High-fiber foods take longer to digest, providing a greater feeling of satiety (that is, fullness), which can combat cravings and help keep your diet on track.
- A high-fiber diet helps promote bowel health, can lower cholesterol and reduce blood pressure and inflammation, and helps control blood sugar levels.
- The value of fiber is why it is deducted from carb counts in Atkins’ Net Carbs.