Is a Vegetarian or Vegan Ketogenic Diet Possible?
Consider these general diet descriptions:
- Vegan diet: A diet devoid of all animal-derived products such as meat, dairy, eggs, and fish.
- Vegetarian diet: A diet that may include dairy and eggs but no meat or fish.
- Ketogenic diet: A very low-carbohydrate, moderate-protein, and high-fat diet with the objective of entering the metabolic state of nutritional ketosis.
So is a vegetarian or vegan ketogenic diet possible? Short answer: yes.
The ketogenic diet differs from other diets in that it is not based around food groups you can or cannot eat; rather it is based on the macronutrient ratio your body requires to enter a state of nutritional ketosis (defined by an elevation of blood beta-hydroxybutyrate, the body’s primary ketone body). Thus, any style of eating can potentially be ketogenic, whether that is vegan, paleo, low FODMAP, etc.
When you are approaching the ketogenic diet from a plant-based perspective, look at what plant foods comply to the macronutrient ratios you are following and stick to those.
General guidelines for following a ketogenic diet:
- Carbohydrates: no more than 50 g total per day; aim for ~20-30 g
- Protein: 1-1.5 g/kg body weight; try to stay under 120 g
- Fat: should compose at least 65-80% of your daily calories (108-133 g for someone eating 1,500 kcal/day and 144-177 g for someone eating 2,000 kcal/day)
Vegan ketogenic “food groups”:
- You can leverage any low-carb food as part of a ketogenic meal by simply adding oils, since oils are 100% fat. For example, a low-carb vegetable like broccoli does not have a ketogenic macronutrient ratio, but smother it in coconut oil, and it quickly becomes ketogenic. Just be sure to choose the right oils (most of which are plant-based). If possible, incorporate MCT oil into your meals. Oils will likely be your primary sources of fat on a vegan ketogenic diet.
- Try to incorporate these into every meal. Think leafy greens, lettuces, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cucumbers, celery, and zucchini. In addition to supporting a healthy gut microbiome, vegetables make it easier to consume more oils, and oils make vegetables taste better. It’s a win-win-win! Bored of steamed vegetables and salads? Add some variety!
Nuts & seeds
- These are staples on a vegan ketogenic diet due to their versatility and convenience. Just beware: Some nuts contain more carbohydrates than you might think.
- Examples of low-carb nuts & seeds (carb count per 100 g):
Pili nuts (4 g) Hemp seeds (8.67 g) Brazil nuts (11.7 g) Pine nuts (13.1 g) Walnuts (13.7 g) Macadamia nuts (13.8 g) Pecans (13.9 g) Hazelnuts (16.7 g) Sunflower seeds (20 g) Almonds (21.6 g) Flaxseeds (28.9 g)
Coconut and coconut products
- Yes, coconut is so good, it gets its own group. High fat, relatively low carb (depending on the product), and delicious—what’s not to like? There are so many ways to include coconut in a ketogenic diet: coconut oil, coconut butter, coconut cream, coconut flour, shredded coconut, for curries, coffee, and cakes. Coconut products to avoid on a ketogenic diet: coconut sugar/nectar, and coconut water due to their carbohydrate content.
- Although a ketogenic diet only requires eating a moderate amount of protein, it is necessary. Finding plant-based, low-carbohydrate protein sources is difficult when you cut out grains and legumes, so keep a quality protein supplement on hand…plus they make fruit-free smoothies taste better! Relying on whole foods for protein comes at the cost of additional carbohydrates, which may be acceptable if you are following a modified ketogenic diet. Foods such as hemp seeds, tempeh, and pumpkin seeds can supply moderate amounts of protein without significantly overdoing it on the carbohydrates.
Avocados Olives Kelp noodles Nori (seaweed) Pickles Artichoke hearts Sauerkraut Hearts of palm Lemons Limes Herbs & spices Shirataki noodles Tahini Mustard Hot sauce Apple cider vinegar Kale chips/dehydrated vegetables Flax seed crackers
Foods to limit severely or avoid completely:
- Grains and legumes—no breads, pastas, pastries, and no chickpeas, lentils, or any other beans.
- Fruits—especially high-sugar-containing fruits such as bananas, grapes, and mangoes. If you must have some fruit, stick to a maximum serving of ~¼ cup of wild blueberries or raspberries. These tend to be lowest in sugar.
- Starchy vegetables—potatoes, corn, beets, and all root vegetables should be removed or severely limited when following a ketogenic diet.
Vegan food swaps
- Cheese: cashew cheese, almond cheese, coconut cheese, nutritional yeast, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts
Brazil Nut Parmesan Recipe:
- 1 cup Brazil nuts
- 1 Tbsp. coconut oil
- 3 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
- ½ tsp. garlic powder
- Pulse all ingredients together in food processor until it becomes parmesan texture
- Milk: nut milks (almond, cashew, hazelnut, macadamia nut), full-fat coconut milk
- Butter: coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, coconut butter, hemp seed butter, cocoa butter
- Yogurt: coconut milk yogurt, almond milk yogurt, cashew milk yogurt
- Meat & protein: low-carb protein powder, tempeh, nuts & seeds, ground nut & seed “meat.” Soy products can be controversial, so you may want to avoid relying heavily on tofu as your main source of protein. Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans, where the controversy associated with soy generally does not apply.
Tips & tricks
- Think outside the box. You might be pleasantly surprised by what high-fat, low-carb plant-derived ingredients can mimic those not-so-keto ones. Craving pasta carbonara? Use zucchini noodles instead of grain-based pasta, and make your own sauce from tahini, nutritional yeast, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. The key is to swap out high-carb ingredients for low-carb (and hopefully high-fat) alternatives.
- Track everything you eat. There is no way to know how many carbohydrates you are eating without tracking your food intake. Download an app like Cronometer or My Fitness Pal to monitor accurately.
- Monitor your ketones. A blood ketone monitor is a good thing to have on hand and can help guide your food choices. Ketone levels above 0.5 mmol/L indicate you are in ketosis; however, 1-3 mmol/L may be ideal.
- Stock your freezer with “fat bombs.” We posted one of our favorite fat bomb recipes in this post. Keto-friendly desserts are ideal for times when you might be feeling restricted by your diet. They can remind you that a vegan keto diet is not so hard after all.
- Join online communities. These are great for connecting with others that are on a similar journey as you and also a great place to find recipe inspiration. There are a number of vegetarian and vegan ketogenic groups on Facebook that are open for anyone to join.
Submitted by the Metagenics Marketing Team