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Diabetes Diet

Four Ways to Make Vegetarian Sandwiches Without Bread

If you follow a very low-carb diet, you may have assumed that sandwiches were off limits for you. And if you are also a vegetarian, you were probably certain that they were out of bounds.

Because a sandwich by definition is a light meal made of two pieces of bread with some filling, it’s got to have far too many carbohydrates for those of us who have diabetes. Eating so much bread would blow up our blood glucose level.

Bread is high-carb

Two slices of the typical whole-wheat bread sold in the United States have 24 grams of carbohydrate, and that’s not counting what we put between the slices. Those two slices alone would provide nearly half of the 50 grams of carbohydrates per day in a very low-carb diet.

Some people substitute one corn tortilla for the two slices of bread. While this would cut the carb load to 11 grams, we have four better options.

The first one I tried was to wrap the filling in a large leaf of lettuce, something that I discovered years ago in a Korean restaurant in Northern California. I understand that some chains also use lettuce wraps.

A second option is to use slices of cucumbers to hold the good stuff inside. The third choice is

to use toasted sushi nori, where the only carbs come from fiber. But much more satisfying to my taste buds is holding the filling with a soy wrapper.

The best option

Made from non-GMO soybean protein, these thin wrappers have as little as 1 gram of carbohydrate each. One flavor, sesame, has 2.

The American branch of Yamamotoyama Japan, which Kahei Yamamotoyama established in 1690, markets these useful “Sushi Party Soy Wrappers” here. East Asian markets often carry them, and Yamamotoyama.com as well as Amazon.com offer them online.

What’s inside?

But even when you solve the bread problem, what can a low-carb vegetarian put inside the sandwich? We actually have quite a few choices.

My current favorite is a meat substitute for vegetarians called Tofurky. While this tofu that’s jazzed up to taste like turkey only vaguely tastes like the big bird, to me and probably to most of us, it tastes pretty good from the get-go. I add lettuce and sometimes a slice of sweet onion or tomato in season, usually flavored with mustard and mayo, neither of which need to have any carbs.

Some stores sell other meat substitutes, some of which can be high in carbs. But Tofurky is the only one that I’ve checked out so far.

Other fillings

The insides of these healthy sandwiches don’t demand meat substitutes, of course. A big favorite of mine is avocado flavored with garlic salt. Cheese, either on its own or matched with another filling, is also quite satisfying. Some people like a sauerkraut or kimchi sandwich. You are welcomed to share your inventions.

The Earl of Sandwich is credited for inventing sliced bread so he wouldn’t get his hands greasy when he picked up his roast beef. The low-carb vegetarian take on his invention might make him turn over in his grave, but I think that it should actually make him proud.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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  • HelenM at

    Before I was diagnosed with celiac in 2007 I used to eat low carb pita bread. At first I got them here in the central valley of CA, later I was able to get them at a specialty store in NJ when I visited my sister. I would stuff my freezer with them when I came home. I liked salads with Italian dressing inside a half pocket for lunch, or pizzaish with sauce and mozzarella cheese and zapped in the microwave. I have tried lettuce wraps, messy, messy! Corn tortillas break when doubled over, again messy, messy! I will have to look for sushi wraps next time I shop.
    Aside to Tom: After more than 30 years, and I am a smart person, I can still be dumfounded by sudden changes in my body. Since nothing else stays the same as we age, it is reasonable to expect our control to require changes too. I am going thru one of those periods right now when it seems no matter how I eat, or shoot, the results don’t go where they used to. I am 78 now, don’t want to go thru that eat one thing, test, test, test. Eat it at a different time of day, test, test, test. Same with other foods and insulin. The Ron Sebol method. Aside from being limited to three strips a day by Medicare – tho they are available on e-bay.
    I do know the fewer carbs, the less insulin, the fewer mistakes. But…..according to my endo I should be letting up and let my A1c go up to 7. That gives me the shivers! Except in periods of chaos, my control is a habit. Tho my A1c wows the doctors, I feel that at 5.7 to 6.2 it is nothing to crow about, especially when it goes over 6. David, have you never gotten any flack from your doctors about your tight control and your age?

    • David Mendosa at

      I know that doctors often tell their patients, as they have told you, Helen, that an A1C of 7 and up is best. But no doctor has ever dared tell me that. I just tell them that I have studied and written about diabetes for more than 20 years, and they don’t dare get into a discussion about that with me!

      “The Ron Sebol method:” That phrase brings back memories, Helen! Did you read my article about him at http://www.mendosa.com/sebol.htm ?

      BTW, don’t bother to look for the sushi wraps in a local store unless you have a well-stocked Chinese market. I buy mine through Amazon.com

  • Steven Bukosky at

    Anne makes a good question or observation. I have two Walmart Relion meters, one at home and at work. I have checked them side by side and they were reasonably accurate relative to each other. I do know that I begin to feel the effects of being low when I’m testing in the 70’s and even 80’s.

    So, given the questionable accuracy, I concentrate on eliminating spikes and then see what the A1c is to validate things.

    Oh, I might add that I’m dieting to lose weight and the biggest challenge is adjusting my insulin dosage. I walked into work one morning and just about went blind. I worked on an apple and craisins and did a test. I was 44. I normally eat breakfast at my desk but with the diet, I have not been having the higher readings in the morning. As I said, a real challenge.

  • Anne at

    Dear Dr. Mendosa,

    Why do I feel sick if my blood glucose dips below 95? I feel best when it’s around 120. What do you recommend? Thank you for your advice!
    Best wishes,

    • David Mendosa at

      Sometimes it takes getting used to, Anne. Either that or your meter isn’t working right.

  • Steven Bukosky at

    It sure is a challenge! I’ve bought Brown Berry 12 grain bread for years and recently a local whole grain brand but even that has 23g carbs per slice, which we slice with an electric knife to make it even thinner. At least I learned today that a low carb diet is 50 grams per day. I was majorly bummed out when I read your doctor friend recommended 6-6-12 grams for the three meals.

    I wish that there was some program/app that showed a correlation between carbs, calories, glycemic index and satiety index. Is there?

    • David Mendosa at

      All you really need, Steven, is to use your blood glucose meter to test just before and then 2 hours after the first bite of your meals. To have the very best blood glucose level your goal needs to be as close to 83 mg/dl at all times.

  • Tom Wolff at

    Low-carb tortillas seem ubiquitous now, with net carbs of 5 or 6 each. There are a number of decent low-carb breads too. Mahler’s Bakery makes a couple of “California Lifestyle” breads, one with 5 net carbs/slice, and one with 2 net grams: http://www.mahlersbakery.com/Images/Product/CalCinnamonWalnut.jpg . Chompie’s makes three Carbs Not! breads with only 1 net gram/slice: http://www.chompies.com/online-store . Oasis makes two low-carb breads with 6 net grams/slice:http://www.oasisbreads.com/Products_LC-Flaxseed.htm (also HealthGrains version) . But to get near zero, radicchio leaves, iceberg lettuce leaves, or Romaine lettuce leaves, although more messy than bread or tortillas, are pretty much zero carb options. The problem with the low-carb breads is availability. Chompie’s is in the Pheonix, Arizona area and the others are clustered in the northern San Diego area of southern CA (plus super-expensive http;//www.JulianBakery.com ). They can be purchased online, if not in your grocery, for example at: http://www.locarbu.com/ But more reasonably in the grocery, where they are in many, in SoCal, including Chompie’s.

    • David Mendosa at

      Yes, Tom, a lot of companies claim to have low-carb bread. But my low-carb diabetes group tested some of them years ago and we came away from those tests quite dubious about their veracity.

  • Lynne at

    How is it that Gruyere does not have carbs. Great to know.

    • David Mendosa at

      Most cheese, except for really soft ones like cottage cheese, are quite low in carbs, Lynne. But according to the tests by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, only Gruyere is non-carb. I don’t know why. You or I would probably have to go to Switzerland to find out!

  • Lynne at

    Raw wrap fabulous for sandwiches Cukes great idea. Kite hill brand almond milk cream cheese only at WFds very good. Almonds ok??

    • David Mendosa at

      I am so glad that you are interested, Lynne! Personally, I often eat veggie sandwiches with sushi wraps. I have begun cutting them in half too. Yes, almonds and what they make with them are fine for us to eat.