How does a vegan or plant-based ketogenic diet stack up against traditional keto? Is there even such a thing as a plant-based keto diet?
Yes…you can be plant-based and keto
Granted, it’s harder and takes more planning, but there are many benefits to the plant-based versions of keto, over meat-heavy ones.
What is keto?
Essentially it’s a low carb, high fat diet.
The aim of a ketogenic diet is to reach a state called ketosis. This happens when the cells stop receiving sufficient glucose from carbohydrates. Ketogenic diets are designed to put you into ketosis by limiting carbohydrates so much the body is forced to use dietary fat for fuel.
Ketosis is the body’s backup plan to make sure your brain gets fed during times of famine. To get into ketosis you’ll need to eat between 30g and 50g of carbohydrate per day for several days or even weeks.
For perspective, a medium apple has about 25g of carbohydrate. Upfront, it’s important to know that maintaining any ketogenic diet is hard. They are restrictive, and it eliminates entire food groups, making it more challenging to get all of the micronutrients and minerals you need. But it can be done with careful planning.
Meeting your requirements on plant-based ketogenic diet
Many healthy plant foods such as legumes, whole grains, vegetables, and fruit are restricted on traditional keto diets due their carbohydrate content. This means plant-based keto followers need to be more careful to make sure their are getting adequate protein.
The basic rule of thumb of a vegan or plant-based keto diet is:
- 5-10% of calories from carbs
- 25-30% from protein
- 65-70% from fat
The easiest way to meet your protein needs on a vegan ketogenic diet is to embrace all types of soy and other high protein vegan meat products. Soy milk, tofu, tempeh and edamame are extremely high in quality plant-based protein and are reasonably high in fat, making soy ideal for plant-based keto. Pairing soy foods with non-starchy vegetables is a typical vegan ketogenic diet strategy.
Foods to avoid
- Sugars and sweeteners
- Starchy vegetables (peas, corn, potato, sweet potato, etc)
- Grains including all flours and flour products, cereals, bread, etc.
- Limit legumes to 1 serve per day (except soy)
Keto friendly plant foods
- Soy (tofu, tempeh, milk, edamame, protein, yogurt, etc.)
- Most mock meats
- Green beans, mung beans
- Lower net barb legumes such as lentil (in small amounts)
- Nuts and seeds
- No starchy vegetables
- Non-caloric sweeteners
- Fatty fruits (avocado, coconut)
- Fats (including coconut cream, milk and yogurt)
There are several excellent low carb and vegan keto eating plans out there now days. One example is Eco Atkins.
The benefits of plant-based keto
Plant-based keto for weight loss
People lose weight on keto because ketones (the metabolic byproduct of ketosis) decrease your body’s hunger signals. This makes eating fewer calories easier. Ketones also boost energy and focus which make people feel good. It’s a bit like fasting, biologically speaking.
The initial rapid weight loss people see on keto is mostly fluid. That’s because carbohydrates hold water in your body, so when your stores of carbohydrate from the liver and muscles are depleted your weight on the scales goes down. To maintain this fluid weight loss you’ll need to stay in ketosis, which means sticking to a low carb, high-fat diet for the long term. If the goal is to lose body fat, you’ll need to maintain not only ketosis, but also a calorie deficit.
Improved blood sugar control
Keto diets reduce real-time blood glucose levels because people aren’t eating many carbohydrates. However, we need to consider insulin sensitivity – not simply just real-time blood glucose readings. Studies show that eating a lot of fat also causes a large insulin spike and may even worsen insulin resistance.
So the improvement in blood glucose levels may be caused by eating fewer carbs, rather than improved insulin sensitivity. In fact, we know that dietary fat causes more insulin to be released over time than glucose.
Nonetheless, if a person with diabetes is overweight, even modest weight loss will improve blood glucose control. So if weight loss from a ketogenic diet can be maintained, then there may be genuinely improved blood sugar control.
Health risks of meat-heavy diets
Most of the negative health consequences associated with keto are related to having high intakes of animal protein. These include, Animal protein-induced kidney damage, kidney stones, gout, heart disease, bone loss, increased risk of death and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Diets that are high in saturated fat also increase the risk of developing fatty liver.
Benefits of plant-based keto diet over traditional keto
The benefits of a plant-based keto diet over traditional keto are many:
- They still have plenty of fibre. Regular keto has very little fibre and can cause constipation.
- Less saturated fat (most from meat)
- More of the healthy fats (avocado, olives, nuts and seeds, soy)
- Better for the planet
- Much better for animal welfare
- Likely to be cheaper – depending on where you live
If you do decide to try a vegan or plant-based keto diet it’s a good idea to chat with a dietitian to ensure that you meet all of your nutritional requirements.