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A question that frequently comes up with clients is whether or not you can eat a vegan keto diet without soy or soy products for protein. After all, soy is a staple ingredient for many vegans, both for the nutritional content, and because so many vegan convenience foods use soy as a basis.
The easy answer to this is yes, of course you can eat a vegan keto diet without relying on soy products. However, things get a little more challenging when you switch from hypotheticals into reality and start planning just how to meet all of your nutritional needs without using soy as a low carb vegan.
Vegan Keto Protein Sources (that aren’t soy!)
Most vegans who are interested in trying a keto diet without soy products worry that they won’t be able to get enough protein. This apprehension is completely understandable, especially for those that mostly rely on beans and grains to obtain their protein. After all, these vegan staples don’t have too much of a place in keto or low carb diets in general.
I should point out that so many whole foods contain some level of protein already, so it might be worth tracking what you eat in a program like MyFitnessPal to see how much protein you’re consuming already. You may be surprised by just how much it is!
If you track what you eat, and still find yourself coming up short on a daily basis, consider the following options:
If you can eat gluten without any problem, seitan (which is made entirely of wheat gluten) is your most efficient protein option. It’s super low in carbs, and high in protein; in fact, just one 3-ounce serving of seitan contains around 20g of protein with just 3-4g of carbohydrates (depending on brand, preparation, etc.). This makes it an easy addition to dinner on those days where you feel like you just haven’t had enough protein.
Yes, beans are still on the table. While beans are definitely a little bit higher in carbs, you can still easily integrate them into a low carb or ketogenic lifestyle. Look for beans like fava beans, black eyed peas and mung beans which are relatively low in carbs. They’ll still pack about 10-15g of net carbs per half cup, but they can still function as part of a well-rounded vegan keto diet.
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are actually great sources of protein. Most are very low in carbs (with the exception of cashews and pistachios), and tend to pack between 5-8g of protein per serving. Hempseeds actually have 10g of protein per 3 tbsp serving, with zero net carbs.
Because it can get boring just eating plain nuts and seeds, I like to use them to make sauces to top my meals. Peanut sauce for pad thai, or a hempseed ranch dressing to put on a salad can add some healthy fats and protein to any meal!
Greens and Other Veggies
Greens are surprisingly high in protein. There are around 5g of protein in one cup of cooked spinach, and only 2.5g of net carbs. You could make a pretty hearty meal out of 2 cups of sauteed spinach, seasoned and mixed with a serving of hempseeds, and it would have 20g of protein and just 5g of net carbs.
While slightly higher in carbs, kale, brocolli and portabella mushrooms are also pretty protein-rich vegetables.
You knew it would have to make an appearance at some point… If you’re really struggling to get enough protein on a soy-free, vegan keto (or just low carb) diet you can always add protein bars/powder to your daily regiment. Given the amount of protein-rich whole foods that are out there, it’s not essential to use protein powders, but it sure is convenient. I like to drink a protein shake with greens powder on days where I’m eating a lot of junk food, so at least I feel like I’ve gotten a little nutrition in me.
There are a bunch of low-sugar or sugar-free plant-based protein powders on the market. I listed a few of them here.
Surprisingly, there are actually some meat substitutes out there that are soy free! Beyond Meat makes crumbles and burgers that don’t contain soy (and are delicious!). I haven’t really found any other soy-free meat substitutes (that aren’t basically just pure seitan), but I’d love to know in the comments if you’ve found any!
How do you get your protein on a low carb, plant-based diet? I’d love to hear in the comments!