Keto for Vegans & Vegetarians
People choose a plant-based diet for a variety reasons: because it’s healthier than the standard American diet, because they believe that killing animals is wrong or unnecessary, because of concerns about the way animals are being farmed, or simply because they don’t like eating meat.
Whatever your reason, you may have also become interested in the keto diet because you’ve heard about all the great things it can do for your health. But with the ketogenic diet’s heavy emphasis on animal products, you may be wondering how the two could possibly be compatible. Well, they are, and it is possible to follow them both simultaneously. Read on to find out how.
What is the Keto Diet?
Your body has two energy sources: glucose and ketones. Glucose is made from carbohydrates, while ketones are made from fat. The standard American diet contains a lot of carbs, and because of this, most people only burn sugar and never turn on their fat-burners. In order to burn fat rather than sugar, you must eat very few carbs. Following a high-fat, low-carb diet turns the body into a fat-burning machine. This is the basic idea behind the ketogenic diet.
Is It Possible to Combine a Plant-Based Diet with the Ketogenic Diet?
Short answer: Yes.
Longer answer: Without animal products, you will have to get creative with your meal-planning, but it is still eminently doable.
A plant-based diet is almost the reverse of keto: low-fat, high-carb (preferably in the form of lots of vegetables and fruits). But keto doesn’t force you to eat animals. Its only requirement is to eat low-carb and high-fat, and since there are high-quality fats available in the plant world, it is possible to combine the two. The biggest step will be identifying and having these foods on hand so that when you’re hungry, you don’t just grab a granola bar.
Vegetarians will have it easier because a vegetarian diet allows milk, eggs, and cheese. Since a vegan diet passes on all animal byproducts, it will make things more challenging, but foods such as avocados, nuts, and olives can provide adequate fat.
Why Combine Keto and Veganism?
No matter your stance on the ethics of raising animals for food, considering the way many animals are farmed these days, there are definitely good reasons to include more vegetable-sourced fats. Also, a diet that is high in plant products contains a lot of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which produce an anti-inflammatory effect on your system. Eating less protein can also slow the growth of cancer.
Both a plant-based diet and the ketogenic diet offer multiple health benefits: they promote weight loss, are good for your heart, and can decrease your risk of type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
It stands to reason. When you cut one thing out of your diet, it gets replaced by something else. In the case of veganism or vegetarianism, the presumed goal is to replace processed meats and animal byproducts with healthier choices.
However, the quality of the food will make or break any diet. Foods that are whole and unprocessed are the best kind to eat. If you rely on vegan fast food, it is unlikely you will reap all the benefits or get all the nutrients you need.
Also, there’s more to a healthy diet than just cutting out animal products. The amount of sugar you eat matters. While there are recommendations for plant-based diets on what to eat, sugar is not forbidden or restricted. The amount of sugar you eat will have a significant effect on your ability to lose weight, as well as the other benefits of following a special diet.
This is where the ketogenic diet steps in. Cutting out sugar and simple carbohydrates will have the biggest impact on your waistline and your health. When your body does not have carbs available to burn, it enters ketosis and starts to burn fat. This is where things get interesting. Besides the obvious plus of shedding those stubborn love handles, a very important process called ‘autophagy’ occurs. Autophagy is the body’s way of cleaning house. Breaking down old cells and creating new cells results in a whole host of benefits: inflammation is reduced, your immune system gets a boost, and toxins and cancerous cells are eliminated. In short, the aging process slows. The body engages in autophagy when it is in fasting mode. The great thing about the ketogenic diet is that it makes the body think you are fasting without actually having to not eat.
The ketogenic diet is also anti-inflammatory and has many other health benefits, including:
- Regulation of blood sugar
- Increased energy
- Mental sharpness
- Better sleep
- Feeling hungry less often
Food Options for Vegetarian and Vegan Keto Dieters
The primary focus is on getting enough fat. Healthy fats include:
- Nut-based cheeses
- MCT oil (this supplement is available online or at health food stores)
Vegetarian-Only Healthy Fat Options
Low-Carb Vegetables for Keto Eaters
Lots of vegetables are low-carb, so plenty of great choices here. The lowest-carb veggies are leafy greens such as spinach, then stem vegetables like broccoli, followed by seed vegetables like eggplant. Root vegetables such as carrots have the highest counts and should be eaten in moderation, but there are still some keto-compatible options in this group as well.
- Swiss Chard
- Lettuce/salad greens
- Bok Choi
- Alfalfa Sprouts*
- Brussel Sprouts*
- Green Beans
- Summer squash*
Many root vegetables like sweet potatoes are best avoided while on keto, but some are still acceptably low-carb such as:
- Green onions
*Please note, this is not an exhaustive list and there are plenty of other keto-compatible veggies out there.
As for fruit, your best lower-carb options are berries, rhubarb, lemons and limes. Because the carbs add up quickly, these should be limited to a handful or a squeeze of lemon to flavor your water or tea.
More Tips for Vegetarian and Vegan Keto Dieters
While the recommendation for optimal ketosis is to consume fewer than 20 net carbs per day, a plant-based diet naturally contains more carbs so give yourself leeway. It may slow weight loss, but keeping your counts under 50 net carbs should keep you in ketosis. (Net carbs simply means grams of fiber subtracted from your total carb consumption.)
If you are feeling hungry, the area to focus on will be on increasing your fat intake.
Make sure you’re getting adequate nutrition. From B-12 to zinc, there is no shortage of multivitamins and protein supplements to help fill any nutritional gaps in your diet.
Most importantly, monitor how you feel. Both keto and vegan diets are restrictive diets and the combination makes them even more so. If you can’t do both, modify accordingly. You can also cycle in and out of the ketogenic diet and/or your plant-based diet.
Ethical eating is compatible with keto. It takes some planning, but that is true for any healthy diet. Whether you’re looking to lose weight, solve health problems, or increase your mental focus and energy, you can absolutely do keto without compromising your principles.