The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat, and moderate-protein diet known for helping people lose weight and improve overall health.
It is often associated with animal foods, but the ketogenic diet can be adapted to fit plant-based meal plans, vegan diets included.
Vegan diets typically exclude all animal products, which makes it harder to eat low-carb. Fortunately, vegans too can enjoy the potential benefits of a ketogenic diet with a bit of careful planning.
What’s the Vegan Ketogenic Diet?
The vegan ketogenic diet is high in fat, low in carbs, and moderate in protein.
Carbs are usually reduced to below 50 grams a day to get into and maintain ketosis, which is a process where the body burns fat for fuel as opposed to glucose.
Eating this way is composed mainly of fat at about 75 percent of your intake, which is why people following the ketogenic diet usually turn to high-fat animal products, such as full-fat dairy, butter, and meats.
However, it is also possible for people that eat plant-based diets such as vegans to follow the ketogenic diet too. People on a vegan diet avoid animal-based foods such as dairy, eggs, poultry, and meat while eating just plant-based foods such as grains, fruits, and vegetables.
It is possible for vegans to achieve ketosis by relying on high-fat, plant-based products such as nuts, seeds, avocados, and coconut oil.
The Ketogenic Diet for Vegetarians – An Overview
Follow the rules below to implement the ketogenic diet properly:
- Get no less than 70 percent of your calories from fat
- Eliminate animal flesh (such as poultry, fish, and meat) from your diet
- Limit your total intake of carbohydrates to no more than 35 drams a day
- Figure out your macronutrient and calorie needs using a keto calculator
- Supplement using nutrients such as iron, EPA, DHA, zinc, and D3 that you might not getting enough of
- Eat low-carb vegetables in plenty
- To meet your protein needs, consume eggs, plant-based proteins, and high-fat dairy
Which Vegetarian Diets Are Idea for the Ketogenic Diet?
You can incorporate keto in just about any vegetarian lifestyle. Obviously, the more liberal forms of vegetarianism allow a wide variety of food options, which helps make mealtimes very enjoyable.
Veganism and the ketogenic diet don’t work too well together. As human beings it is important to consumer complete protein that contains all 9 essential amino acids (“Essential” nutrients are those the body cannot make on its own and have to be obtained through diet).
Animal protein contains all the essential amino acids in the necessary quantities but plants contain just some of them.
Different plant foods contain amino acids of different types. So, by excluding animal products completely, vegans must rely on a combination of seeds, legumes, and grains to get all the essential amino acids needed by their bodies.
Most of the foods are too high in carbs to be part of the ketogenic diet that’s typically restricted to 20 grams of net carbs a day. Those that wish to avoid animal products completely, however, can follow a non-keto vegan diet that’s lower in carbs known as the “Eco-Atkins” diet.
The Eco-Atkins diet is low in carbs and completely plant-based. While it contains fewer carbs compared to most vegan plans, it is not regarded as ketogenic since it provides over 60 grams of net carbs a day and includes grains too.
How Can You Get Enough Fat on the Vegetarian Ketogenic Diet?
High-fat dairy and eggs will comprise a significant component of most of your keto meals, but they will not be the only fat source. You can actually use many plant-based oils to replace animal fats often used to cook and/or bake if you like.
Below is a list of oils that can be used and what they can be used for:
Coconut Oil: It provides an abundance of fatty acids that are the ideal sources of fuel for keto dieters. It is great for desserts, fat bombs, and baking and cooking at temperatures below 350°F.
Avocado Oil: It contains a lot of healthy monounsaturated fats. Its smoking point is also the highest of any other cooking oil at 520°F, which makes it ideal for baking, cooking, as well as deep frying. It can even be used for frying vegetarian tater tots discussed later in this article.
Olive Oil: It is one of the healthiest oils around. A study done in 2018 actually found that extra virgin olive oil is the healthiest and safest oil for deep frying, baking, and cooking.
MCT Oil: it is usually derived from palm oil and coconut oil. It contains saturated fatty acids that go straight to the liver after skipping the normal fat digestion process and going straight to the liver for conversion into ketones for fuel. It can be added to smoothies, sauces, salad dressings, fat bombs, and even hot drinks such as tea or coffee to provide a boost in energy.
Red Palm Oil: It is an incredible source of Vitamin A and Vitamin E and doubles as a vitamin supplement. It has a rich, buttery texture, and a mild carrot-like flavor. When you buy palm oil, you need to exercise caution since many of the products are made in a way that wildlife and the environment are harmed. If you wish to include red palm oil to your keto diet, ensure that you only buy Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) or RSPO-certified products.
While the above list of plant-based oils that you can consume does not contain all oils, the ones listed here are the most versatile and healthiest.
Having said that, high-fat plant foods are the best fat source. The foods will help you meet your fiber, mineral, vitamin, and fat needs simultaneously, which makes them ideal for vegetarian keto dieters.
Protein on a Vegetarian Keto Diet
Below is a comprehensive list of foods that contain protein with the green light on a vegetarian keto diet:
Vegetarian Ketogenic Proteins:
- Seeds and Nuts
If you decide to consume any soy products at all, you must try sticking to the ones that are fermented and non-GMO.
If you are still having a hard time meeting your protein needs, it is time to consider using a hemp or organic rice protein powder. However, it is important to note that it should only be used as a supplement and not a regular meal replacement.
You need to be highly cautious of packaged vegetarian and vegan meat substitutes. While such may be excellent meat substitutes with regards to protein and fat, they may also contain carbs in high quantities.
It is important to consider the ingredients and check the carb content per serving. You also need to check whether it is full of fillers and preservatives. Better substitutes for meat would be any of the aforementioned proteins along with eggplant or portobello mushrooms.
Fats for Vegetarians in Ketosis
Seeds and nuts are sources of both fat and protein. It is important to ensure that you choose mostly high-fat and low-carb options, because some seeds and nuts are higher in carbs than others and may quickly add up.
Best Lower Carb Nut Options:
- Pine Nuts
- Macadamia Nuts
- Brazil Nuts
- Unsweetened Coconut
- Nut Butters Made from Any of the Above
Vegan Alternatives for Dairy and Eggs
You will find plenty of keto-compatible vegan alternatives that you can use to reduce your consumption of eggs and cheese. Below is a brief overview of the options available to you:
- Use vegan cheese instead of dairy-based cheese
- Use vegan butter or coconut oil instead of regular butter
- Use products like 'VeganEgg' or 'The Vegg' instead of regular eggs
- Use vegan soft cheese instead of cream cheese
- Use nut-based yogurt instead of sour cream and yogurt
- Use coconut cream instead of heavy cream
For additional details on how to use and find these vegan alternatives, you should read through the vegan ketogenic guide.
When you go to buy keto-compatible vegan options, ensure that you don’t get any hidden carbs, added sugar, or unhealthy ingredients such as hydrogenated oils. You also need to pay attention to the protein and fat content. Vegan replacements usually don’t contain as much protein and fat as regular eggs and dairy. Ensure that you always consider this when you use these alternatives in recipes and track your macros.
Vegetables are nothing to write home about when it comes to fat content, but it is hard to come across a vegetarian that can go one day without them. The important thing you should always remember when choosing vegetables for your ketogenic diet is to aim for a low-carb content. You might just be surprised by the number of vegetables that have lots of carbs. Listed in order or highest to lowest carb content for every raw 1 oz. serving, the ideal vegetables for the ketogenic diet include:
- Brussel Sprouts (0.1g Fat, 2.5g Carbs)
- Green Beans (0g Fat, 2g Carbs)
- Broccoli (0.1g Fat, 1.9g Carbs)
- Cabbage (0g Fat, 1.6g Carbs)
- Cauliflower (0g Fat, 1.5g Carbs)
- Asparagus (0g Fat, 1.1g Carbs)
- Spinach (0.1g Fat, 1g Carbs)
- Cucumber (0g Fat, 1g Carbs)
- Celery (0g Fat, 1g Carbs)
- Zucchini (0.1g Fat, 0.9g Carbs)
A common assumption about the keto diet is that all sources of sugar are strictly forbidden, fruits included. The truth is that keto meal plans tend to limit fruit to a certain extent, but there are still plenty of low sugar and low-carb fruits you can include to ensure a proper balanced diet. Berries, in particular, have the highest antioxidant levels of all fruits and can help in stabilizing blood sugar levels due to the high content of fiber. Listed in order of highest to lowest carb content per 100g, fruits approved for the ketogenic diet include:
- Coconut (33.5g Fat, 15.2g carbs)
- Blueberries (0.3g Fat, 14.5g Carbs)
- Raspberries (0.7g Fat, 11.9g Carbs)
- Blackberries (0.5g Fat, 10.2g Carbs)
- Grapefruit (0.1g Fat, 8.4g Carbs)
- Strawberries (0.3g Fat, 7.7g Carbs)
A Typical Day on the Vegetarian Ketogenic Diet
The learning curve here is to figure out which foods fit within the keto and vegetarian limitations. Here is what a typical day on the vegetarian low-carb diet looks like.
Breakfast: Protein pancakes made from protein powder and eggs or chia seed pudding with protein powder.
Snack: Cottage cheese with sunflower seeds or sliced cucumber with paprika cream cheese dip
Lunch: Egg omelet with pesto and herbed goat cheese or large salad with vegetables, avocado, nuts and seeds.
Dinner: Spinach salad with cashew-crusted tofu, cubed feta, grilled zucchini, and olive oil; or zucchini noodles with pesto and tofu; sautéed vegetables with tempeh.
Vegetarian Ketogenic Meal Ideas
Ideas for Breakfast
- Egg frittata with avocado and asparagus
- Eggs and vegetables with avocado fried in olive or coconut oil
- Smoothie from almond butter, some berries, coconut cream, full-fat yogurt, ice, and stevia extract
- Vegetable and feta omelet fried in olive or coconut oil
Ideas for Lunch
- Vegetarian low-carb Greek salad with tomatoes, feta, olives, onions, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh Greek spices.
- Mixed green salad with mozzarella, avocado, onions, bell pepper, olives, pesto, lemon juice, a few nuts, and extra virgin olive oil dressing
- Egg and avocado salad
- Stir-fried cauliflower ‘rice’ with eggs and veggies
Ideas for Dinner
- Coconut oil-fried eggplant parmesan
- Portobello “steak” with cauliflower mashed potatoes and kale salad
- Pasta made using zucchini noodles and keto alfredo sauce
- Cheese pizza with cauliflower crust and broccoli
Side Effects of the Vegan Ketogenic Diet
It can be difficult to transition to a keto diet. The transition period from a higher-carb diet to the ketogenic diet, usually referred to as the keto flu, can be incredibly difficult on the body. Unpleasant symptoms might occur as the body switches from burning glucose to fat for fuel.
The side effects associated with the ketogenic diet include:
- Poor Concentration
- Difficulty Sleeping
- Muscle Cramps
Getting enough rest, keeping the body properly hydrated, eating foods rich in fiber, and engaging in light activity helps ease keto flu symptoms. Supplementing with the electrolytes sodium, magnesium, and potassium can help reduce some symptoms, such as headaches, muscle aches, and insomnia.
The vegan ketogenic diet restricts consumption of many foods, which means that it isn’t appropriate for all. It may not be ideal for people with Type 1 diabetes, pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers, athletes, or those with eating disorders or a history of disordered eating.
If you wish to transition to the vegan ketogenic diet, you should first consult your doctor or any other qualified health care professional to ensure that it is safe for you to start following it.
The Importance of Diet Quality and Supplements
Vegan diets are usually low in key nutrients, especially when not planned carefully. Vitamin K2, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Omega-3 fats, Zinc, Iron, and Calcium are all examples of nutrients lacking in some vegan diets.
The vegan ketogenic diet is much more restrictive than a regular vegan diet, which is why those that follow it should always supplement using high-quality minerals and vitamins and plan means properly to ensure that the diet is nutritionally adequate.
Focusing on whole foods, eating fortified foods, and enhancing nutrient availability by sprouting and fermenting, for instance, is very important for people that follow a vegan keto diet.
However, it can still be challenging for people following the vegan ketogenic diet to meet their macronutrient needs exclusively through food. Supplementing with certain minerals and vitamins usually lacking in vegan diets is a great way to prevent potential deficiencies and make sure that your daily requirements are actually met.
Long-Term Keto Dieting Tips
You must familiarize yourself with the proper portion sizes for every type of food you eat. The Mayo Clinic has easy to remember visual cues for helping you stay on track.
For example, a fruit serving shouldn’t be larger than a tennis ball. A serving of most vegetables should not be larger than the size of a baseball. A serving of carbs should be about the size of a hockey puck.
Your dairy serving should be about the size of 3 or 4 dice. A serving of protein should be the size of a deck of cards. Every serving of fat shouldn’t be larger than 2 dice.
Try staying open to trying new foods as well as ways to prepare old favorites. Use spices you haven’t tried previously, and keep looking for new recipes to try.
Find new and tasty ways to prepare dishes to help you maintain consistency with the keto diet. The result is that you will reap the long-term benefits associated with maintaining a healthy and nutritious way to eat over your lifetime.
The Bottom Line
The vegan ketogenic diet is low in carbs and high in fat with special emphasis on whole, unprocessed, plant-based foods.
Ketogenic and vegan diets have been linked to benefits such as reduced diabetes and heart disease risks as well as weight loss.
Supplementation may be needed to a certain extent to ensure that nutrient needs are met, including Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, and Iron.
Research shows that both the keto and vegan diet can be beneficial to health, but studies on the effects of the vegan ketogenic diet are required for determining whether it is effective and safe to follow in the long run.