While the ketogenic diet limits or eliminates certain types of food for all dieters--namely sugar and simple carbohydrates--some individuals want or need to eliminate animal byproducts too, for health reasons or personal choice.
Can the ketogenic diet, in which many people rely heavily on butter, bacon, and cheeses be successfully (and happily!) adapted to a vegan or plant-based diet?
The answer is a resounding yes!
“This [vegan keto] lifestyle is 100% achievable. Yes, there will be a short period of transition in which your body will have to get used to the new regimen, but the same is true of adopting a new exercise program or buying new glasses.” -Vegan at Heart
Why Plant-Based Keto?
The reasons for choosing to lead a vegan lifestyle are numerous. Some people find that a sensitivity to dairy or meat products is a roadblock to reaching their health goals with keto. Others choose to embrace an entirely vegan diet for ethical or moral reasons. And still others simply feel their best when eating a raw, primarily plant-based diet.
Craig Clark, author of the popular keto diet blog Ruled.Me says, “Animal suffering, climate change, and health are three vitally important issues that can all be addressed with one solution — the vegan diet. At least, this is the idea that many health documentaries promote, however, the truth is much more nuanced. For example, some people have much better health when they go low-carb and eat some animal products, while others feel much better on a high-carb vegan diet.”
Basic Guidelines for a Vegan Keto Diet
If you choose to follow a vegan, or primarily plant-based ketogenic diet, the following guidelines and best practices will be helpful as you look for recipes:
Center Your Diet Around Plant-Based Fat
Fat is the staple of a ketogenic diet, typically comprising around 65-75% of your caloric intake. On a vegan ketogenic diet, this fat will come from plant-based foods like these:
- Macadamia nuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Chia seeds
- Coconut oil and coconut flour
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- MCT oil
Support Your Diet with Plant-Based Protein
Protein is an important part of the ketogenic diet. Not only does protein have a substantial sating effect on your appetite--it provides sustainable energy and allows your body to build, rather than consume, muscle for energy. Plant-based keto will feature protein sources like these:
- Coconut milk and almond milk
- Nuts like almonds, cashews, and pistachios
- Tofu Vegan “meats”
- Vegan cheese
- Unsweetened coconut yogurt
Know Your Low-Carb Fruits and Vegetables
If your goal is a plant-based ketogenic diet, you’ll want to make sure you know which fruits and vegetables are low in carbohydrates. Some of the fruits and vegetables with the lowest carb counts include the following:
- Swiss chard
- Bok choy
- Bell peppers
- Honeydew melon
Avoid High-Carb Fruits, Grains, and Root Vegetables
The bulk of many vegan diets revolve around grains, fruits, and root vegetables. However, all of these foods are high in carbohydrates and can quickly throw your macro percentages out of balance, keeping you from achieving your health goals with keto:
- High-carb fruits like kiwis, oranges, bananas, and papaya
- Root vegetables and tubers like potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, and carrots
- Grains including quinoa, barley, oats, corn, and rice
- Sugar, including honey, agave, and syrups
Track Your Macros for Success
Tracking your macronutrients, especially as you begin a ketogenic diet, is key to success. Macronutrients--the basic categories of food you will eat throughout the day--can be divided into carbohydrates, fats, and protein. The average ketogenic diet consists of 65-70% fat, 20-25% protein, and 5% carbohydrates. Depending on your health goals and unique body, you’ll probably want to keep your carbohydrate intake between 10-50 grams per day, spread out evenly throughout your meals.
Use a free app like Carb Manager to easily keep track of your macro percentages, to easily see whether you’re on target throughout the day, or to hone in on potential problems if you’re plateauing in reaching your goals with keto.
Eat Raw, Whole Foods When Possible
It’s surprisingly easy to eat a highly processed plant-based diet. Vegan “meats” in particular may be heavily processed with toxic chemicals like hexane (used in refining gasoline) to produce soy isolates and textured vegetable proteins. Keeping a focus on whole, raw foods will pack the most benefit when it comes to micronutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. When purchasing packaged and processed food, read labels closely, investigate mystery ingredients, and opt for organic whenever possible.
Find Go-To Snacks, Meals, and Treats
There’s no faster way to quit a ketogenic diet, especially in the adjustment period, than failing to identify new foods you love that can be your go-to meals, snacks, and treats. Explore keto recipe blogs and books dedicated to vegan or dairy-free recipes, ask around in keto forums and groups on social media, and start experimenting in the kitchen!
There’s a huge variety of vegan-friendly keto recipes that get rave reviews. All you have to do is find them, and try them! The blog Meat Free Keto has a wealth of delicious options to try. And PETA (that’s right, the organization dedicated to ending animal cruelty) has a terrific roundup of some of the most popular plant-based keto recipes on Instagram. If you’re looking for complete vegan keto meal plans, look no further than the Vegan at Heart blog.
Avoid Hidden Sources of Carbs in Vegan Foods
Carb creep is real, and some foods might seem keto-friendly, all the while hiding small amounts of carbohydrates that add up over the course of a day, week, and month. This carb creep caused by hidden sources of carbohydrates can be a significant hindrance to staying in deep ketosis and meeting your goals with plant-based keto. Some vegan-friendly foods to watch out for include:
- Vegan “meats” like veggie burgers can contain a surprising number of carbs like wheat or black beans.
- Sweeteners added to coconut milk or almond milk
- Sauces and condiments, which often contain flour
- Peanut butter
- Gum, vitamins, and mints (check those labels!)