Atkins Diet for Vegans


A low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet is an effective weight loss strategy, says Eric C. Westman, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Duke University Health System and co-author of the book “The New Atkins for a New You.” It helps the body switch from storing fat to burning fat. Vegan food selections are packed with carbohydrates from grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds which present challenges to using such an approach. However, with a few modifications, vegans can successfully follow the Atkins plan.

Starting Point

Raising the net carbohydrate level is an easy modification. A higher level allows for inclusion of traditional vegan favorites, such as legumes, berries, nuts and their butters in menu planning. Westman suggests beginning with 50 grams (g) net carbohydrate instead of the 20g in Phase One of the Atkins diet. As long as weight loss continues, net carbohydrates are increased in 5g increments every two to three weeks. Carbohydrate levels as high as 80g per day may be used successfully, but weight loss will be slower. It is important to use common sense regarding total caloric intake if weight loss halts.

Foundation Vegetables

Vegans will have no problem meeting the recommended 12 to 15g of net carbohydrates from foundation vegetables each day. Raw and cooked leafy greens, broccoli, bok choy, jicamas, bean sprouts and tomatoes are all acceptable choices. However, net carbohydrate should be limited to 6g per serving. A typical 15g day consists of 6 cups of raw vegetables and 2 cups of cooked vegetables. More detailed lists are available in print and online.


Preserving lean muscle mass is extremely important for maintaining a fat-burning metabolism. The New Atkins plan recommends daily protein intake in the range of 63g to152g for women and 70g to 204g for men. Meat analogues, including wheat gluten (seitan) and fungi, and legumes are excellent sources of protein and fiber. They are also significantly higher in net carbohydrate. Food labels should be checked for fillers and serving size. Most 1/4 cup servings contain 6.5g net carbohydrate. Additional information on meat analogues and legumes is available online.


The vegan diet often lacks adequate sources of Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D, calcium and iron. A well-formulated multivitamin/mineral supplement, along with an additional 1200mg calcium and 500mg Vitamin D supplements provide these micronutrients. The supplement label should list amounts close to 100 percent of the daily value (DV) and display the “USP” designation. This designation indicates manufacturers are meeting established standards set by the U.S. Pharmacopeia. A 1200mg omega-3 fatty acid supplement or alternative sources, such as algae, hemp seed or flax seed, is also recommended.


Besides weight loss, other health benefits are reported in individuals following a low-carbohydrate, high-protein plant-based diet. In a June 8, 2009, article from the “Archives of Internal Medicine,” D.J. Jenkins, M.D., stated that persons following low-carbohydrate plant-based diets have fewer risk factors for heart disease than those following conventional low-fat diets. This is encouraging. Combining the Atkins approach to weight loss with a vegan lifestyle is possible and beneficial to health in more ways than one.

About this Author

Based in Northwestern Pennsylvania, registered dietitian, Michele Frndak has educated the public about food and human behavior since 1981. A nutrition coach and community food advocate, Frndak holds a Master of Science degree in human nutrition from the University of Alabama. LIVESTRONG is the primary online community where she shares a passion for well-being through nutritional health.