The driving principle behind a low-carb diet is to correct insulin resistance and fix any problems with the body's ability to mobilize it's fat stores for energy. A high-meat diet is not necessary to do that. In fact, you don't have to eat any meat at all. You can certain do a vegetarian low-carb diet if that's the way you like to eat.
What's essential when it comes to following a low-carb diet isn't the meat. It's getting an adequate protein intake, which means that if you are trying to do a vegetarian low-carb diet, you need to make sure you are getting all of the essential amino acids necessary to repair daily tissue damage, and a few extra protein grams that the liver can use for glyconeogenesis. Typically, a low-carb diet contains about 60 to 120 grams of protein, depending on how much lean muscle mass you have. A good rule of thumb is .8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass, but your protein needs will go down a little once you lose some of the weight.
Vegetarian Low-Carb Protein Sources
Vegetable protein is not adequate, so while vegetables can contribute a tiny amount to your protein needs, it's best to get your protein allotment from more complete protein sources. Getting enough protein is essential to the diet's success. For that reason, many vegetarians do eventually convert to eating small amounts of fish and meat because it's easier and more varied to do a low-carb diet that way, but you certainly don't have to. You can get all of the protein you need from the following sources:
Eggs: Eggs are one of nature's most perfect foods. They come with 6 grams of protein and weigh in at less than 1 carb each. They make a great meat substitute in casseroles, crustless quiches, and salads, as well as more traditional deviled eggs, creamed dishes, and egg scrambles.
Milk: Normal milk is a bit carby, but Hood Calorie Countdown milk only contains 3 grams of carbohydrates per 8-oz serving. It's made by simply removing the lactose from the milk, so it still carries a nice 8 grams of protein per serving.
Soy milk: If you like soy milk, make sure you pick a brand that is unsweetened, and if you care about GMOs, it needs to also be organic.
Yogurt: There are a few low-carb yogurts on the market today that are thick and rich. Dannon and Blue Bunny are the two that I'm familiar with. They come in very small 4-ounce containers though. Many low-carb dieters use plain Greek-style yogurts. Others just use any brand that is plain and sugar free. The controversy surrounding yogurt has to do with how much milk sugar (and therefore carbs) is actually left in the product after it's been cultured. Many people believe it only contains about half of the carbs listed on the label. Yogurt does come with a very low glycemic index response, so a lot of low-carbers have been able to eat it quite often and still stay in ketosis.
Cottage Cheese and other Cheeses: The biggest problem with cheese for vegetarians is the rennet used in the processing. While all Horizon organic cheeses are rennet free, there are lots of suitable brands for those who want to do a vegetarian low-carb diet. Joyous Living has a very lengthy list of cheeses and Amish butters suitable for a vegetarian diet, listed by brand names for easy reference. These are real cheeses, made with cow's milk, but they also have a list of soy cheeses at the bottom of the list for vegans.
Edamame: These are fresh green soybeans that you can sometimes find in the frozen vegetable section in grocery stores. Our local Walmart carries them, but you should also be able to pick up an organic, GMO-free variety of Edamame at your local health food store. They do not taste anything like the yellow soybeans. These are just like a green vegetable. Since they are high in fiber, the carbs are quite low. A cup of Edamame is only 8 net carbs but has 17 grams of protein. That's comparable to 3 eggs.
Black soybeans: Black soybeans are the king of low-carb beans. They are made by Eden Organic, GMO-free, and available at your local health food store. They are also available online from Netrition or Amazon. They are al la dente right from the can, probably due to all of the fiber, but you can put them into a crock pot and cook them for several hours if you want them to be as soft as regular beans. These beans do not taste like soybeans. They taste very similar to a black bean. 1 cup is only 2 net carbs. If you prefer dried beans rather than canned, Eden Organic sells the dried variety from their website. You cook them just like regular dried beans, but it takes a very long time to get them soft. When I used to make mine that way, it took a couple of days in the crock pot before they were soft enough for salads and chili.
Whey or Soy Protein Powder: Although I normally recommend whole foods, protein powders are an excellent way for a vegetarian to boost their protein intake. They make an easy morning breakfast shake when made with low-carb milk, soy milk, almond milk, or heavy cream; or you can mix them with flaxmeal or other low-carb flours to make muffins. Look for a brand that is unsweetened or sweetened with stevia or Splenda. Stay away from the powders sweetened with fructose.
Nuts and Seeds: Nuts and seeds are high in fiber, so their carbohydrate content is low. 1-ounce of walnuts, for example, come with 4 grams of protein and only 2 net carbs.
Tofu or other soy products: Tofu can be a nice meat substitute in stir fries or casseroles. Some people like it whipped into their protein shakes for breakfasts or snacks.
Wheat Gluten and Seitan: Before going gluten free, I used wheat gluten and home ground black soybeans in some of my low-carb baking experiments, but it's a bit difficult to work with due to the sponginess. Wheat gluten is the protein portion of the wheat, so it's very low in starch and carbohydrates when compared to regular flour.
Low-Carb Products: Many of the low-carb products and mixes on the market today use wheat gluten, high-protein wheat starch isolates, and other high-protein flours. Low-carb tortillas, pastas, and flat wraps can help boost your protein intake while making your diet more manageable to live with.
Vegetarian Products: Many vegetarian products, such as veggie burgers, sausage, imitation hamburger crumbles, and even Quorn products are surprisingly low in carbs. Not as low as meat, of course, but low enough to work into your diet. Just make sure to read the labels carefully and try to avoid added sugars and starches.
Quinoa: This is the only grain that I know of that is a complete protein, but carbohydrate wise it is similar to brown rice. Quinoa weighs in at 17 net carbs per half-cup serving with 4 grams protein, so most low-carb dieters wait until pre-maintenance to add it to their diets.
How to Do a Vegetarian Atkins Diet
The rules for a Vegetarian Atkins Diet are quite different from the traditional Atkins Diet, which might be why so many vegetarians who have started low-carbing have either quit or switched to eating meat. A 20-net carb Induction can be quite difficult using only vegetarian sources of protein, and working your way up the carb ladder could take weeks to get to healthier vegetarian sources.
If you're willing to eat fish, you can do a standard Induction Diet of less than 20 net carbs for 2 weeks, before adding additional carbs to your diet, but if not, Atkins suggests you avoid their Induction Diet completely as it won't give you the nutrients you need.
Vegetarians are told to start out with 30 net carbs per day and include eggs, all unsweetened dairy products, nuts, and seeds from Day 1. That's in addition to the salads, vegetables, healthy fats, and miscellaneous items such as sour cream allowed on Induction. Simply count up your daily carbs, and make sure that you stay beneath 30 net carbs per day. After 2 weeks, you can evaluate your weight loss. If you're losing more than a pound a week, you can add a few more carbs per day if you want to. For example, move to 35 net carbs per day rather than 30.
Also remember, that vegetarian sources of protein tend to be lower in saturated fats than meat is, so you might want to use more healthy fats such as coconut oil in your meals and breakfast shakes.
The idea is always to make the diet work for you. If you need more carbs and are willing to settle for a slower weight loss in order to stick with the plan, then that is what you do. There are no absolutes other than to find what works for you and then do that for the rest of your life.
Vegetarian Recipes and Additional Help
If you need some inspiration or want to seek out some fabulous vegetarian low-carb websites, take a trip over to Pinterest and type "vegetarian low carb recipes" into their search bar at the top. What you'll get in a huge page of assorted vegetarian low-carb recipes from many different Pinterest boards that you can check out. For example, someone made pizza on top of a zucchini sliced lengthwise and someone else used eggplant slices. There are casseroles, salads, egg muffins, lettuce wraps, stuffed mushrooms, and more. A lot of the recipes comes from sites that are not focused on vegetarian low-carb diets, but it might give you some good ideas to get your creative juices flowing.
And while you're looking around the web at regular vegetarian sites, don't forget to visit Linda's Low Carb Recipes. She has a special meatless section with a star by all of the recipes that are suitable for Induction. But don't just stop there, click on the yellow "home" at the bottom of the page and check out her vegetable section, salads, breads, and miscellaneous recipes, for additional ideas and inspiration.
Also check out Splendid Low Carbing. Jennifer is not vegetarian but is a low-carb cookbook author that bakes the low-carb way without soy or gluten.
The recipe section at Low Carb Friends might also be helpful. They have breakfast recipes, salads, vegetables recipes, and low-carb baked goods that would fit a vegetarian style of eating. Plus, if you join the site, you can also ask for vegetarian food ideas in their recipe help section.
In addition, the Active Low Carber Forums has a special section set up for vegetarian low carbers that might be helpful. Although vegetarian low-carb dieters are few, they have a lengthy list of threads you can read through for more information and ideas.