The Vegan Ketogenic Diet

Mar 15, 2021

At first glance, vegans and ketogenic dieters have little in common. One eats no meat; the other eats it liberally. One loads up on carbs; the other takes pains to avoid them. They seem to be on opposite ends of the eating spectrum. If you are passionate about animal rights and still want to be lean and healthy, and you’ve found that your body does better with fewer carbohydrates, it is possible to combine these approaches. You can go vegan as a keto dieter or keto as a vegan.

Green vegetables on a table

Trying to align two disparate eating philosophies will force you to walk a fine line—particularly in a world of readily-available animal products and high-carb foods. A vegan ketogenic diet can appear to be a very restrictive diet, but it is possible to pull it off while maintaining your sanity, decreasing animal suffering, and improving your health.

To implement the diet correctly, follow these rules:

  • Limit your total carbohydrate consumption to 35 grams or less per day.
  • Eliminate all meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and other animal products from your diet.
  • Eat plenty of low-carb vegetables (above-the-ground vegetables).
  • Get at least 65% of your calories from plant-based fats.
  • Consume around 25% - 30% of your calories from plant-based proteins.
  • Supplement with nutrients that you may not be getting enough of (e.g., vitamins D3, B12, & B6, DHA & EPA, iron, zinc, and taurine).

It can be hard enough to restrict carbohydrate consumption on a regular ketogenic diet. High-carb foods that you should avoid include:

  • Grains – wheat, corn, rice, cereal, etc.
  • Legumes — lentils, black beans, peas, etc.
  • Sugar – honey, agave, maple syrup, etc.
  • Fruit – apples, bananas, oranges, etc.
  • Tubers – potato, yams, etc.

Low-carb vegan-friendly foods that you can eat on a vegan keto diet:

  • Vegan “meats” — tempeh, tofu, seitan, and other high-protein, low-carb vegan “meats”
  • Mushrooms — shiitake, king oyster, lion’s mane, etc.
  • Leafy greens – spinach, kale, etc.
  • Above ground vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, etc.
  • High-fat dairy alternatives – unsweetened coconut-based yogurt, coconut cream, vegan cheeses, etc.
  • Nuts and seeds – pistachios, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
  • Avocado and berries – raspberries, blackberries, and other low glycemic impact berries
  • Fermented foods — Natto, sauerkraut, kim chi, etc.
  • Sea vegetables — dulse, bladderwack, kelp, etc.
  • Sweeteners – stevia, erythritol, monk fruit, and other low-carb sweeteners
  • Other fats – coconut oil, olive oil, MCT oil, avocado oil, etc.

Vegan Protein Sources for A Ketogenic Diet

Getting enough protein on the vegan diet to maintain health and muscle mass is hard enough without restricting carbs. When you combine the ketogenic diet and veganism, you take out many of the most potent plant-based sources of protein like legumes.

There are still, however, plenty of great options for protein:

Tofu

Tofu is an excellent substitute for meats like pork, chicken, beef, and fish. It’s made from soybeans and is high in protein and calcium.

Although it gets a bad reputation for being bland, tofu has an amazing ability to absorb flavors from spices and marinades. As long as you season or marinate it before cooking, it will be delicious. You can also make it as firm and chewy as meat by buying extra-firm tofu and pressing the heck out of it.

Tempeh

Tempeh is firmer than tofu and has a grainier texture. It is made from fermented soybeans and is a good substitute for fish and ground beef.

Tempeh is easy to prepare - all you have to do is slice it, dice it, or grind it up in a food processor. If you find tempeh to be a bit bitter, try steaming it for a few minutes before using it.

Note: Soy contains goitrogens, which are plant compounds that can impair thyroid function. If you experience fatigue, cold sensitivity, constipation, dry skin, or unexplained weight gain as a result of upping your intake of soy-based products, then you should limit the amount of soy you consume.

Seitan

Seitan is a vegetarian meat substitute made from wheat gluten, soy sauce (or tamari), ginger, garlic, and seaweed. This vegan “meat” is high in protein, low in fat, and a good source of iron. Seitan does, however, contain a lot of gluten. If you are sensitive to gluten in any way, then it’s best to avoid seitan.

Vegan “Meats”

There are a handful of vegan burgers and other “meats” that are available in store. When deciding which one is right for you, make sure you carefully read the ingredients and nutrition facts. If a product has a lot of potentially harmful ingredients or added sugars/carbs, it is best avoided. Look for the simplest ingredients, the lowest carbohydrate content, and a good amount of fat or protein per serving.

Nuts & Seeds

Many nuts and seeds are packed with protein, as well as essential vitamins and minerals.

The nuts and seeds with the most protein (per 100 grams) are:

  •         Pumpkin seeds - 30 grams of protein
  •         Pistachios - 21 grams
  •         Almonds - 21 grams
  •         Sunflower seeds - 19 grams
  •         Flaxseeds - 18 grams

You must also consider the carb content of these nuts and seeds as well (per 100 grams).

  •         Pumpkin seeds - 54 grams of total carbs
  •         Pistachios - 28 grams of total carbs
  •         Almonds - 22 grams of total carbs
  •         Sunflower seeds - 20 grams of total carbs
  •         Flaxseeds - 29 grams of total carbs

Peanuts do deserve an honorable mention. They are packed with protein (~24 grams in 100 grams of peanuts) and relatively low in carbs (16 grams of total carbs in every 100 grams of peanuts).

Vegan Protein Powder

Vegan protein powders are great allies when it comes to meeting your protein needs on the vegan ketogenic diet. When it comes to choosing the right vegan protein powder, there are many options. A few favorites include Garden of Life and SunWarrior

Instead of relying only on protein powders try:

  •     Adding a flavorless vegan protein powder to your meals. You can add it to sauces, mix it with your vegan burgers, or make delicious coconut oil and coconut flour-based protein bars with them.
  •     Make a low-carb smoothie with flavored vegan protein powders. 

How to Get Enough Fat on A Vegan Keto Diet

Even though you can’t eat eggs, meat, butter, or dairy, there are an abundance of fat sources on the vegan ketogenic diet.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is an excellent oil for fat bombs, keto desserts, and cooking or baking at temperatures below 350 degrees Fahrenheit. It provides keto-friendly fuel from long chain and medium chain saturated fatty acids.

Olive Oil

This oil contains a wide variety of healthy fats and has been found to have a plethora of health benefits as well. Feel free to use it as your primary cooking, frying, and baking oil on the vegan keto diet.  Olive oil is a great oil to use in salad dressings, sauces, and condiments.

Avocado Oil

Avocado oil contains more healthy monounsaturated fats than any other commonly used oils. It also has the highest smoke point of any other cooking oil (at 520 degrees Fahrenheit), which makes it an excellent option for cooking, baking, and frying.

Red Palm Oil

Red palm oil is an incredible source of Vitamins A and E. It has a mild carrot-like flavor, with a rich, buttery texture, and a slightly higher smoke point than olive oil and coconut oil. All of this makes it the perfect oil to prepare your vegan meats with and roast your nuts and seeds in. Look for RSPO-certified or Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) products. The companies that produce these products are approved by the RSPO (the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) for using sustainable practices that meet strict environmental and social criteria.

MCT Oil

This oil is commonly derived from coconut and palm oil. It contains medium chain triglycerides, which are saturated fatty acids that skip normal fat digestion and go right to the liver where they are converted into ketones for fuel. If you need an energy boost, add this flavorless oil to your salads, sauces, fat bombs, and hot drinks like coffee or tea.

There are definitely more vegan oils you can consume, but the oils listed above deserve special mention because of their versatility and health benefits.

High-fat plant foods will serve as your ideal fat source. These foods will help you meet your fat, vitamin, mineral, and fiber needs simultaneously.

Whole food fat sources for vegans:

Avocado

High in monounsaturated fat, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, avocados are the perfect addition to any vegan keto meal.

Nuts

Nuts are a healthy addition to any diet, and they are filled with different types of essential fats, vitamins, and minerals. Macadamias are arguably the best nut for keto because they have the highest amount of healthy monounsaturated fats and the lowest amount of net carbs and inflammatory omega 6 fats compared to other nuts. Be aware of how many nuts you are consuming. The carbs and calories from any nut can quickly add up and slow your progress.

Seeds

Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds are another high-fat, healthy addition to the vegan ketogenic diet. They do, however, contain higher levels of inflammatory omega-6 fats, and are best consumed moderately.

Vegan Dairy Substitute

The Vegan dairy substitutes tend to be high in fat but it is important to check how many carbs are in each serving. Many vegan products contain unexpectedly high amounts of carbs.

It is easier than ever before to maintain a vegan ketogenic lifestyle. There are plenty of vegan keto-friendly options and alternatives available that will allow you to veganize most keto recipes.

Getting enough fat and protein on the vegan ketogenic diet is also very achievable. Plant-based oils like coconut oil, avocado oil, MCT oil, and olive oil, as well as avocados, nuts, and seeds, will cover all of your fat needs. To support functioning optimally and meeting your protein needs, make sure you have a vegan meat alternative, vegan protein powder, or high protein nuts and seeds with each meal.

All information and tools presented and written within this article are for educational and Informational purposes only. Any nutrition, lifestyle and product recommendations are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Before starting any new supplements, diet and exercise program please check with your doctor or practitioner.

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