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Is it possible to be vegan and keto?

Vegan keto foods
James

Vegan diets are often associated with carbohydrate rich foods, but is it possible to be vegan and keto? Let’s find out.

In this guide, we aim to bust a few myths about the carb content of vegan diet. We provide plenty of easy-to-digest information around food choices, possible health outcomes and potential pitfalls.

Once you’re familiar with the info in this guide, you’ll be able to make an informed decision on the future of your food choices. So without further ado, let’s dig in.

What is a ‘vegan keto’ diet?

The term ‘vegan keto’ refers to a diet that is a combination of, you guessed it, vegan and keto. It’s a diet that is 100% plant exclusive, but also keeps carbohydrate intake to a minimum.

It’s generally accepted that the ketogenic (keto) diet looks to keep carbohydrate intake at less than 10% of total calories in the hope of putting the body into a state of ‘ketosis’. Once successfully achieved, the body will effectively start burning fat for fuel instead of carbs.

When the body is in a ketogenic ‘fat burning’ state, it will convert fatty acids into ‘ketones’ that can be burned for fuel. Hence the term ‘keto diet’.

The keto diet requires the reduced carbohydrate calories to be replaced by fat, which will then be used by the body for energy production. This has led to this dietary pattern being referred to as ‘low-carb high-fat (LCHF)’ by many.

In essence, the diet we are referring to in this article would be classed as a low-carb high-fat vegan diet.

Bowl of vegan keto food

Wait, aren’t most keto friendly foods animal based?

Just googling the word ‘keto’ will bring up images of bacon, eggs, cheese and salmon; plus maybe an avocado or two. It’s an association that has stuck since invention of the ‘infamous Dr Atkins Diet’, which was the first book to really bring the benefits of keto to people’s attention in 1972.

There is no denying that animal products were the staple of Atkins’ diet, with high saturated fat options like dairy being at the forefront. Although a limited amount of healthy plant foods were allowed, they were largely marginalized due to their inherent carbohydrate content.

Fast-forward to the present day and the keto diet has been modified into a host of variations, and vegan keto is one of them.

Despite the common myth that a keto diet is ‘animal centric’, it can in fact be ‘plant exclusive’. The abundance of healthy plant-based fatty foods and low-carb veggies available mean that you can reach keto levels of fat/carb intake solely through plants.

In my opinion; it’s more than just possible, it may actually be optimal for many.

Vegan and keto food

So, what foods should you eat on vegan keto?

In essence, you will be eating a vegan diet minus the carbs. Classic vegan staples like beans, rice and grains will be replaced with plant-based fat sources that will provide your body with the energy it needs.

In addition, starch and glucose rich fruits and veggies will be replaced by options lower in carbohydrates. The majority of fruits and root vegetables will be off the menu, but plenty of fiber-rich low-carb veggies can fill your plate.

Here are some examples of foods that are both vegan and keto:

Protein

  • Nuts/Seeds
  • Nut butters
  • Soy products (tofu, tempeh, soy milk)
  • Seitan
  • Some plant protein powders
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Spirulina

If you’re interested in learning more about vegan keto protein sources; we have a complete guide here.

Fat

  • Nuts/Seeds
  • Olive oil
  • Coconut products
  • Nut butters
  • Avocado
  • Cacao

Carbs

  • Dark leafy greens (spinach, Kale, etc.)
  • Lettuce
  • Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.)
  • Berries
  • Select citrus fruits (lemon/lime)

Pantry Staples

  • Almond flour
  • Coconut flour
  • Coconut milk
  • Psyllium husk
  • Dried herbs/spices
  • Stevia

The above options are just a brief selection of the foods available from each category. Ultimately, any food that fits into your carbohydrate ‘budget’ for the day can have a place in your fridge.

Nuts and seeds

So far so good, But can you lose weight on a vegan keto diet?

Absolutely! In fact, a vegan keto diet could be one of the most effective ways to lose weight and remain healthy.

Many studies have found a vegan diet to be excellent for weight loss. For example; a 2015 randomized controlled trial looked at 5 different dietary patterns, and concluded that ‘vegan diets were more effective for weight loss than other diets’. Large scale studies have also found great weight-management benefits for plant-based dieters. One review looking at a wide population with different diets found that BMI was lowest in vegans.

Veganism aside; Keto diets have also seen remarkable weight-loss benefits in a host of clinical trials. In one 2013 study, obese patients were put on a keto diet for 8 weeks and lost a total of 13% body fat. In addition, the authors noted that hunger signaling within the body was noticeably suppressed, leading to reduced feelings of hunger while still maintaining weight loss.

Another randomized controlled trial was performed in 2016 looking at the benefits of a keto diet versus a calorie restricted diet for weight loss. The results were a win for keto; ‘the interventional weight loss program based on a keto diet is most effective in reducing body weight’.

The totality of evidence shows just how effective vegan and keto diets can be for weight loss. Based on this notion, it would be easy to infer that a synergy of these diets (i.e. vegan keto) could be the gold standard for weight loss.

Keto avocado tape measure

Is going vegan and keto BEST for weight loss?

Vegan keto is arguably the best diet we have for weight loss. Both dietary patterns have unique methods that can help to reduce weight and quash appetite while still remaining healthy.

Studies have shown that following a keto diet often results in less hunger and reduced desire to eat. It puts your metabolism into ‘fat burning mode’ so the body no longer feels the need to search for more food as it has plenty of body fat to use for fuel.

Also, by removing carbohydrates from the diet, keto forces the body to burn fat to use as energy. It’s a hormone signaling diet that can have positive outcomes on your fat stores.

Since vegan diets are high in fiber, they are also great at promoting satiety. Filling up on keto-friendly vegetables will give you a feeling of fullness and activate the stretch receptors in your stomach, which in turn signal to the brain that you’re full.

One study found that following a high-fiber diet allowed participants to feel full on fewer calories. What a great way to lose weight.

Overall, the benefits of vegan keto make it optimal for anyone looking to lose weight. The diet stimulates the body’s fat burning capabilities while cutting calories and reducing hunger. Ideal.

Weight loss diet

Is vegan keto healthy?

A vegan keto diet can be healthy if planned appropriately. Meals and food groups will need to be carefully selected in order to get the full spectrum of nutrients.

Getting all the micronutrients, vitamins and minerals you require can be a challenge on this diet. The relatively constrained list of plant foods allowed could leave you short key nutrients if you’re not ingesting high-quality foods at every meal.

The best way to make a vegan keto diet healthy is by including plenty of cruciferous and dark leafy green vegetables. These vegan keto foods often give great bang for their buck. Nuts and seeds are also a great choice for key nutrients, such as magnesium, vitamin E and selenium.

It’s also worth noting that a vegan diet is naturally deficient in vitamin B12, so it’s essential to take this in supplement form. Other supplements worth considering are vitamin D, magnesium, omega-3 and iodine.

Selenium, iron and zinc can also be nutrients of concern for some, but can be obtained relatively easily through a well-planned whole-foods meal.

The health benefits that come from eating a whole-foods plant-based diet are exceptional. Studies show that going plant-based equates to a 12% reduction in risk of all-cause mortality. In addition, the blood sugar regulation offered by a keto diet can have a profound impact on longevity, with studies showing that keeping fasting blood sugar levels low often leads to increased lifespan.

Vitamins

Can a vegan keto diet be unhealthy?

Absolutely. Any dietary pattern can be unhealthy.

Including large amounts of processed vegan keto foods is a great way to quash any health benefits you might expect. Packaged and refined products are often loaded with cancer causing chemicals, poor quality fats and inflammatory oils.

In addition, some may see an increase in their LDL cholesterol if a high amount of saturated fat is included. The main source of saturated fat in vegan keto is coconut, so if you’re concerned about cholesterol you may want to stick with poly and monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil, avocado, etc.).

Anyone that’s not including enough plant matter in their diet will also likely suffer from nutrient deficiency. This can easily be addressed by increasing the diversity of foods in your diet of adding a simple supplement. However, if left unchecked, it could pose an issue in the long-term.

Sticking to the basic principles of eating a diverse range of whole, unprocessed foods is the best way to ensure that your vegan keto diet is healthy. Just remember to supplement B12.

Coconut

What are the benefits of being vegan and keto?

What are the disadvantages of being vegan and keto?

  • Risk of nutrient deficiency
  • Increased cholesterol based on dietary choices
  • Limited food options
  • Difficult adaptation period
  • Potentially diminished athletic performance

If you want to learn more about how a low-carb ‘keto’ diet can impact sports performance, here’s a link to our guide for low-carb endurance athletes.

Vegan keto athlete

Is vegan keto the right diet for me?

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to diet. Everybody has a set of genes, physiology and lifestyle that is completely unique. Without assessing your personal circumstances, it’s impossible to determine if the vegan keto diet is right for you.

That being said, there are some general categories of people who may or may not find the vegan keto diet beneficial.

Who will likely benefit from going vegan and keto?

  • People looking to lose weight
  • Diabetics looking to improve insulin sensitivity
  • Athletes looking to become ‘fat adapted’
  • Anyone hoping to improve longevity
  • People who feel best when eating a low-carb diet
  • Folks interested in environmental/animal welfare

Who should probably not try the vegan keto diet?

  • Anyone with a history of disordered eating
  • People without access to supplements
  • Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding

Before embarking on a significant change of diet, it’s always worth consulting with your doctor before making the switch. Following a vegan keto diet could carry risk for those with underlying health conditions and should always be attempted with caution.

Vegan health

My vegan keto experience

My normal diet would be classed as ‘low-carb plant-based’, but I have also spent time following a strict vegan keto diet as well. Since my normal carb intake is already low, it’s not too challenging for me to make the switch to keto.

I find the vegan keto diet incredibly satiating, which allows me to fast for 18/20 hours per day without hunger. This in turn promotes weight loss and can improve body composition in a short period of time.

Following a vegan keto diet also allows me to continue performing at a high-level during endurance sports. I can run for distances up to marathon length without the requirement for additional food, which shows just how effective fat can be as a low intensity fuel source.

The limitations of carb restriction usually comes in the form of decreased strength and reduced output during high intensity training. I feel more sluggish during these activities and my statistics prove that my performance is diminished.

I found the overall dietary pattern fairly restrictive and the limited amount of food groups definitely left me with fewer nutrients. The main source of frustration is the limited protein sources available, with an overreliance on soy products and pea protein powders being the best way to ensure adequate intake.

I find periodic ‘vegan keto days’ to work for me, but following this diet long-term comes with too many negatives in my highly-active lifestyle. I will enjoy eating this way one or two times a week to make sure I’m efficiently burning fat, but feel overly restricted when eating this way every day.

Vegan keto runner

Summary

Is it possible to be vegan and keto? Absolutely!

Following a vegan keto diet is becoming increasingly popular. It provides a combination the health benefits blood sugar stability while still including plenty of health promoting plants.

Despite the obvious benefits of a plant-exclusive diet that’s low in carbs; the potential pitfalls will still need to be taken into consideration. It might be the best way eating for some, but totally counterproductive for others.

Either way; vegan keto should be viewed as a tool that can be used to optimize health and performance. Just make sure it’s the right tool for you.

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