Published: 09/16/2015

Atkins for Vegans

It’s challenging for vegans to do Atkins, but not impossible. Because vegans don’t eat any dairy products, eggs, meat or fish, they can’t satisfy their protein needs in Induction. By beginning in OWL, at a higher carb intake than vegetarians or omnivores, however, it’s possible to do a version of Atkins that’s free of all animal products. The trick is to get sufficient protein from seeds, nuts, soy products, soy and rice cheeses, seitan, legumes and high-protein grains such as quinoa. Weight loss may proceed more slowly because of the higher carb intake than that of those following the standard Atkins program. 

Vegans should make the following modifications:

1.    Start OWL at 50 grams of Net Carbs, advancing by 5 grams each week or every few weeks, as long as weight loss continues, until 10 pounds from goal weight.

2.    Consume Induction-acceptable vegetables, known as foundation vegetables, and acceptable Phase 2 foods that are vegan appropriate from the start. These include most nuts and seeds and their butters, berries, and berries and a few other fruits, plus legumes. 

3.    Consume enough soy products and other suitable meat analogues to meet protein guidelines, being sure to have at least two different types of protein a day to get a good mix of essential amino acids. 

4.    In order not to interfere with fat metabolism, be sure to add extra flaxseed, olive, walnut and other natural oils to salads and vegetables to make up for the minimal amount of fat in most vegan protein sources.

If weight-loss goals are minimal, start in Pre-Maintenance at 60 grams of Net Carbs, in order to include small amounts of whole grains and starchy vegetables from the start.

What to Eat

  • Shakes made with plain unsweetened soymilk (or almond milk), soy (or hemp) protein, berries and a little sweetener can make a tasty breakfast. Add some coconut milk to up the fat content and create a creamier consistency.
  • Or make shakes with silken tofu. Try it pureed with peanut or almond butter for added protein and fat.
  • Saute silken tofu with onions and other vegetables to stand in for scrambled eggs.
  • Mayonnaise made with soy instead of eggs mixed with crumbled tofu, chopped celery and onions, and a little curry powder is a substitute for egg salad.
  • Silken tofu and soy creamer can be used in desserts; use agar-agar in jellied desserts.
  • Experiment with the numerous soy and rice cheeses, soy burgers and other analogues.

What to Expect

It may take longer to get into a primarily fat-burning mode, as the initial carb intake is more than twice that of Induction’s 20 grams of Net Carbs. At this higher level of initial carb intake, one should be especially alert to cravings and unreasonable hunger. After a week at 50 grams of Net Carbs, assuming weight loss of two or more pounds and the absence of cravings, patients can move up to 55 grams. As long as weight loss continues, add another 5 grams of carbs every week or several weeks until 10 pounds from goal weight. At this point, it’s time to transition to Phase 3, Pre-Maintenance.

Pre-Maintenance for Vegans

Whole grains usually loom large for vegans, and starchy vegetables are often important components of meals. However, they’re among the very foods that may have played a role in weight gain. These foods need to be reintroduced carefully and regarded as side dishes, rather than the mainstays of a meal. Over time, individuals may find that they can tolerate larger portions as long as they steer clear of refined grains and most processed foods. Vegans should diverge from the Carbohydrate Ladder by adding back starchy vegetables, followed by whole grains, before higher-carb fruits (other than the berries and melon acceptable in OWL).

Phase 2 vegan meal plan appears in The New Atkins for a New You. The book’s meal plans for vegetarians at higher carb levels can be modified for vegans.
Also see: Atkins for Vegetarians.