This post was provided by our friends at Nuzest and written by Cliff Harvey, N.D., Dip.Fit, Ph.D.
The ketogenic diet is becoming one of, if not the most popular diet in the mainstream right now. Despite this popularity, the ketogenic diet is misunderstood. Many people think that it is solely a carnivore-style diet and that its very nature excludes vegans. But not so! There are plenty of ways to follow a keto diet and still be vegan. In fact, several of my colleagues and students are keto-vegans.
What Is Ketosis?
Ketogenic diets elicit the state of ketosis. Ketosis is when the body produces ketone bodies, mainly from fats (and some amino acids) to use as an alternative fuel in times of fasting or drastic carbohydrate restriction. When stored carbohydrate (glycogen) reserves become insufficient to supply the glucose normally necessary for fuel metabolism and for the supply of glucose to the brain and central nervous system, an alternative fuel source is needed. Ketones (especially β-hydroxybutyrate or BOHB) are created in the liver to supply fuel to the body and brain.
What Is a Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet itself is a form of low-carb, high-fat, low-to-moderate protein diet. Originally developed as a treatment for childhood epilepsy beginning nearly a century ago, keto and other low-carb, high-fat diets are now being studied for their potential use for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism, cancer, diabetes and obesity.
Ketogenic diets typically require that you eat around 4-parts fat to 1-part protein and carbohydrate (a 4:1 protocol). This is what leads people to believe that they can’t follow a ketogenic diet if they are eating an entirely plant-based diet.
The Problem with Ketogenic Diet Is Protein
In order to get quality protein, most people rely on meat, fish, chicken and eggs, which are nearly devoid of carbohydrate and packed with complete protein and with (depending on the meat and cut) relatively high levels of fat. This is great if you’re on a keto diet, but not so great if you’re vegan!
So, vegans typically rely on eating foods that contain protein but also have higher amounts of carbohydrate, which is a keto no-no.
How Vegans Can Get Enough Protein for a Ketogenic Diet, Without the Carbs
To be successful on a vegan keto diet, you need to find protein choices that are relatively low in carbohydrate. Fat intake is easy, as any vegan oil is going to fit the bill for keto. Protein is the tricky part.
Some vegan proteins that are relatively low in carbohydrate include:
*These are still relatively high in carbohydrate, but as part of a mixed meal, with vegetables, oils added, and other protein sources, can still be part of a keto diet.
Tips for Meal Planning for the Keto-Vegan
1. Plan Your Meals. The key to planning a vegan keto meal is to prioritize lower-carb protein foods, eat a lot of vegetables, and then add oils to the meal to increase the fat: protein/carb ratio. One of the common problems in going lower-carb is that vegan diets often tend to be based on starchy foods such as rice and potatoes. These often make up the greatest bulk of the diet, but in a vegan keto diet, this needs to be reversed, with the greatest bulk made up of vegetables, followed by low-carb protein foods, and then dressed in healthy fats and oils.
So, a vegan keto meal looks a little something like this: veggies + low-carb protein + oils
Example: 3 servings of veggies (kale, spinach, etc.) + mixed nuts, seeds and sprouted lentils + olive oil vinaigrette
2. Boost Ketones with MCTs. One thing that really helps a vegan keto diet is the use of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). Ketosis can be achieved with a little more protein and carbohydrate, and less fat, if you supplement with MCTs, as they are taken up into the liver (as compared to entering the body via the lymph) and are then converted into ketone bodies. If you add a tablespoon of MCT oil to smoothies and use it as part of your salad and vegetable dressings, you’ll make your keto-vegan journey a whole lot easier.
3. Use Pea Protein Isolate. There’s nothing magical about protein powder…but it is a convenient, cost effective way to provide high-quality protein to your diet. A protein smoothie can provide a meal, and for vegan keto, this meal can be tailored to exactly the amount of protein and fat you require. For example, a great option could be to have a scoop of pea protein isolate, with a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter, flax seeds, some kale, blueberries and a tablespoon of MCT—a perfect keto meal with around 65 percent of the calories from fat (mostly MCT) and more than 20 grams of protein.
So, a day of vegan keto eating could look a little like this:
Breakfast: Smoothie (as above)
Lunch: Leftovers from dinner
Dinner: Salad or vegetables with tofu, tempeh or mixed nuts and seeds, and dressed with flax and olive oil vinaigrette.
It’s actually relatively easy to give a ketogenic diet a go if you’re vegan. While the keto diet isn’t for everyone, it can be a great diet if you can stick to it. Thankfully, there are more ways to do keto than the old-style, classic keto diets, and if you simply avoid the obligate carbohydrates (grains, tubers and fruits), stick to the tips above, and prioritize non-starchy veggies, lower-carb plant-based proteins and healthy fats, you’ll find vegan keto a breeze.
About the author: Dr. Cliff Harvey is a naturopath and clinical nutritionist, and author and speaker specializing in holistic performance nutrition and mind-body-spirit lifestyle counseling.