When most people think of the keto diet or ketogenic diet, the first thing they think about is eating meat, fatty fish, cheese, butter, and eggs, because this diet is characterized as being a high-fat, moderate-protein, and extremely low-carbohydrate diet.
Therefore, since none of the aforementioned foods are permissible on the vegan diet, which is devoid of all animal products, it’s natural to assume that the concept of a keto vegan diet is almost an oxymoron.
In other words, if you try to visualize creating a Venn diagram of the foods that are compliant with a vegan diet and the foods that you can eat on the keto diet, the intersection—or the area that overlaps between the two circles—seems like it would be very small.
Is the vegan keto diet possible? In other words, can you be a keto vegan? How can you possibly do the keto diet for vegans?
In this article, we will discuss the vegan keto diet, foods that are compatible with it, and how to follow the keto diet for vegans.
We will cover:
- What Is the Vegan Keto Diet?
- Health Benefits of the Vegan Keto Diet
- Drawbacks of the Vegan Keto Diet
- What Can You Eat On a Keto Vegan Diet?
- Foods to Avoid On the Keto Vegan Diet
Let’s jump in!
What Is the Vegan Keto Diet?
The vegan diet is a specific type of plant-based diet that is stricter than other plant-based diets in that it eliminates all animal-derived foods and ingredients.
This includes not only the obvious offenders, such as all meat, poultry, fish, and seafood, but also foods like eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter, and other dairy products, as well as honey.
Instead, vegans eat plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts.
As can be seen, this list of vegan foods, while nutritious, are foods that tend to be relatively high in carbohydrates. Because the keto diet is, by definition, an extremely low carbohydrate diet, at first blush, this certainly makes the typical vegan diet incompatible with the keto diet.
With that said, it is possible to follow a vegan keto diet with careful planning and an understanding that there will be minimal food choices.
The vegan keto diet focuses on healthy plant-based fats and oils, such as avocados, coconut, nuts and nut butters, and seeds and seed butters. Keto vegans can also eat soy-based foods such as tofu and tempeh.
The keto diet is designed to be not just a low-carb diet but mainly a high-fat diet. This differentiates it from certain other low-carb diets that focus more equally on consuming protein and fat.
Although there is some variability in the specific macronutrient ratios used on the keto diet, experts suggest that most ketogenic diets involve consuming 70–75% of your calories from fat, 20-25% of your calories from protein, and 5–10% of your calories from carbohydrates.
One of the more common mistakes that people make on the keto diet is focusing too much on protein. The keto diet is really designed to be a high-fat diet rather than a high-protein diet, which is one of the reasons that the vegan keto diet can still work.
Many plant-based protein sources, such as legumes, whole grains, soy, and even some dairy products like Greek yogurt, are fairly high in carbohydrates.
However, if you focus on fats in the vegan keto diet—as you should with an omnivorous keto diet—it’s easier to keep your carbs low enough to stay in ketosis.
Other people who follow the keto diet are advised to stick with specific limits in terms of grams of carbohydrates, with most keto dieters striving to consume a maximum of 20-50 grams of carbohydrates per day, which is extremely low.
However, capping carb intake at 10% of your total daily caloric intake is thought to work well for most people following the keto vegan diet because it tends to be a bit more permissive in terms of the number of grams of carbohydrates you can eat per day, depending on your total daily caloric intake.
Also, many vegetables and plant-based protein sources contain carbohydrates, so it can be difficult to stay under 50 grams of carbohydrates per day on a vegan keto diet.
So, for example, if you eat 2,000 calories a day, you would be able to eat 100 grams of carbohydrates per day on the vegan ketogenic diet.
The difficulty with the keto vegan diet is that most keto meals are typically built around healthy fats and animal proteins, such as fatty fish, red meat, eggs, poultry, nuts, cheeses, avocados, coconut, seeds, and oils.
Although some of these foods are plant-based and vegan-friendly, meat or fatty fish is usually the center of the plate on a typical keto diet for omnivores.
Substituting these animal proteins with fatty, plant-based proteins that have a similar macronutrient ratio on the keto diet for vegans takes more thought and planning.
Health Benefits of the Vegan Keto Diet
Although there are no research studies looking at the specific health benefits of the vegan keto diet, there are plenty of studies demonstrating the benefits of the keto diet and vegan diet independently.
The purpose of the keto diet is to bring the body into a state of ketosis, which occurs in a metabolic state where the body is burning only fat for fuel rather than carbohydrates.
Vegans tend to have lower body weight and BMI than non-vegans, and studies suggest that people who adopt vegan diets are more successful at losing weight than those who eat animal products in their diets.
For example, a review of 12 studies looking at the health and weight loss effects of the vegan diet found that those who followed vegan diets lost an average of 5.5 pounds (2.52 kg) more than participants on omnivorous diets over a period of 18 weeks.
The vegan diet has been associated with reducing the risk of certain chronic diseases and health conditions such as heart disease, certain cancers, obesity, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes.
One review of the health benefits of a vegan diet found that vegans have a 75% lower risk of developing high blood pressure and as much as a 78% reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with those consuming animal products.
Because vegan and keto diets have both been shown to reduce certain heart disease risk factors and promote weight loss, it’s certainly reasonable to assume that the vegan keto diet can confer these same benefits as well.
Drawbacks of the Vegan Keto Diet
The keto vegan has its challenges and potential drawbacks.
The primary concern with following a vegan keto diet is nutritional deficiencies.
Because the eating pattern is relatively restrictive, it is common to see deficiencies in nutrients such as iron, calcium, vitamin B12, and fiber.
Many people following the keto diet do not get enough fiber because the severe carbohydrate restriction naturally limits high-fiber foods like legumes, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables in abundant quantities.
Fiber is necessary for healthy digestion and bowel movements, and it also supports the bacteria in your gut, promotes satiety between meals, delays the release of blood sugar to prevent blood sugar spikes, and can protect heart health.
It’s particularly important to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin B12, iron, and zinc, all of which are often low in the vegan diet. Supplementation of these nutrients may be necessary for vegans following the keto diet.
What Can You Eat On a Keto Vegan Diet?
A healthy keto vegan diet should focus on getting nutritious fats, plant-based protein sources, and non-starchy vegetables.
Examples of healthy fats to eat on a keto vegan diet include coconut, avocado, olive oil, and flaxseed oil.
Proteins include soy products like tofu and tempeh, spirulina, nutritional yeast, and hemp protein.
Nuts, seeds, nut butters, and seed butters should be a major source of calories for keto vegans, and all non-starchy vegetables should also be included as much as possible.
You can also focus on vegan “cheeses” like cashew cheese, cashew yogurt and nut-based “burgers” like walnut burgers.
Foods to Avoid On the Keto Vegan Diet
Unfortunately, the list of foods to avoid on a vegan keto diet is quite expansive, given the restrictions of both diets.
When overlapped together, the convergence of the two leaves a relatively small number of foods you could actually eat and omits quite a number of foods, either because they are animal-based products that are unsuitable for the vegan diet or because the carbohydrate content is too high for the keto diet.
Additionally, if you want to be following a healthy vegan keto diet, it’s also important to avoid processed fats and oils that could otherwise potentially be permitted on the diet but will not do anything beneficial for your health. An example includes fried soy chicken nuggets.
Here are some of the foods to avoid on the vegan keto diet:
- Meat: Beef, pork, lamb, bison, goat, veal, deli meats, etc.
- Poultry: Chicken, turkey, duck, squab, and goose
- Fish and seafood: Salmon, tuna, cod, haddock, sardines, mackerel, halibut, scallops, anchovies, mussels, shrimp, lobster, etc.
- All dairy products: Milk, yogurt, ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, butter, ice cream, cream, and other cheeses.
The following are foods that you should limit on the keto vegan diet in order to restrict your carbohydrate intake to induce ketosis and/or to promote optimal health:
- Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, beets, parsnips, pumpkin, carrots, turnips, etc.
- Grains (even whole grains): Any grain-based bread, rice, quinoa, oats, freekeh, millet, rye, barley, amaranth, buckwheat, all grain-based pasta, and couscous, etc.
- Legumes: Beans, lentils, peas, split peas, and chickpeas.
- Fruits: Apples, bananas, clementines, oranges, berries, melon, apricots, pears, plums, grapes, peaches, cherries, etc.
- Sugar-sweetened beverages: Soda, juices, flavored milk, sweet tea, sports drinks, sweet coffee drinks, bottled smoothies, and energy drinks.
- Condiments: Jelly and jam, sweetened peanut butter, barbecue sauce, honey mustard, Nutella, ketchup, marinades, sweetened salad dressings, etc.
- Processed foods: Granola bars, breakfast cereals, chips, cookies, crackers, pretzels, processed cheeses, ice cream, candy, frozen meals, processed soy meats, and baked goods
- Sweeteners: White sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, artificial pancake syrup, and agave nectar
- Alcoholic beverages: Beer, wine, mead, and sweetened cocktails
Note that you can eat some low-sugar fruits, starchy vegetables, and legumes in moderation, but because the carbohydrate content of these foods is rather high, you have to be mindful of your portions, how frequently you are eating these foods and the overall carbohydrate content of your diet.
If you are looking for even more information on the keto diet, check out our guides in our keto diet database.