There are all sorts of diets to choose from, each reporting a series of unique benefits along with commonly shared benefits such as potential weight loss. Two of the most popular diets are the ketogenic diet, typically referred to as the keto diet, and a vegetarian or plant-based diet.
In many regards, the keto diet and vegetarian diet can be seen as fairly disparate, as the keto diet involves eating a high-fat, relatively high-protein diet and significantly reducing carbohydrates, whereas the vegetarian diet, due to its reliance on plant-based foods, by default, tends to be high in complex carbohydrates, and relatively low in fat and protein.
So, is it possible to combine the two? Can you do a vegetarian keto diet? Is a keto diet for vegetarians even possible?
In this article, we will discuss following a keto vegetarian diet, what you can eat on a vegetarian ketosis diet, and how to induce a state of ketosis using a keto diet for vegetarians.
We will cover:
- What Is a Vegetarian Keto Diet?
- Health Benefits of the Vegetarian Keto Diet
- What Can You Eat On a Keto Vegetarian Diet?
- Foods to Avoid On the Keto Vegetarian Diet
Let’s jump in!
What Is a Vegetarian Keto Diet?
A vegetarian keto diet, also known as a keto vegetarian diet, is essentially a keto diet for vegetarians, meaning that it is a plant-based diet that is high in fat, relatively high in protein, and extremely low in carbohydrates.
Although there are some personal exceptions in the way people typically follow various plant-based diets, a vegetarian diet is usually distinguished from a stricter vegan diet by the inclusion of eggs and dairy products, which is why the vegetarian diet is often called an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet.
Therefore, vegetarians can consume eggs and dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, and ice cream, but they do not eat animal flesh of any kind, including red meat, pork, poultry such as chicken and turkey, fish, or seafood.
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.
Many plant-based protein sources, such as legumes, whole grains, soy, and even some dairy products like Greek yogurt, are fairly high in carbohydrates.
The difficulty with the keto vegetarian 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 vegetarian-friendly, meat and fatty fish are usually the centers of the plate on a typical keto diet for omnivores.
However, it is possible to follow a vegetarian keto diet by focusing on using healthy fats such as coconut oil, avocado oil, and olive oil to cook plant-based proteins such as tofu, tempeh, and spirulina, and eating lots of eggs, nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut, cheese, and other full-fat dairy products.
Hemp seeds are another great option for vegetarians on the keto diet.
Health Benefits of the Vegetarian Keto Diet
Although there are no research studies looking at the specific health benefits of the vegetarian keto diet, there are plenty of studies demonstrating the benefits of the keto diet and vegetarian diet independently.
#1: The Vegetarian Keto Diet Can Promote Weight Loss
The keto diet and vegetarian diets have both been independently shown to help support weight loss, so it’s reasonable to assume that the keto vegetarian diet may help people lose weight.
For example, one large review of 12 studies investigating the potential weight loss effects of following a vegetarian diet found that vegetarians lost an average of 4.5 pounds (2 kg) more than omnivores over 18 weeks.
Furthermore, another study found that following a vegetarian diet was found to result in significantly more fat loss and total weight loss compared with a traditional low-calorie diet for individuals with type two diabetes over a period of 6 months.
In terms of the weight loss benefits of the keto diet, one study involving adults with obesity found that a keto diet resulted in significant reductions in body weight and body mass index (BMI). Participants lost an average of 31 pounds (14 kg) over six months.
One of the potential benefits of the keto diet for vegetarians is that the high intake of healthy fats can help promote satiety and may help you stay fuller for longer.
#2: The Vegetarian Keto Diet Can Help Decrease the Risk of Certain Chronic Diseases
The vegetarian diet, in particular, has been associated with decreasing the risk of certain lifestyle conditions and chronic diseases.
For example, studies have found that plant-based diets can improve numerous risk factors for heart disease, such as reducing LDL cholesterol, BMI, and blood pressure, and the vegetarian diet may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.
Interestingly, although it’s common to assume that the high-fat keto diet might not be particularly healthy for the heart, long-term studies have found that following the keto diet can indeed result in significant decreases in body weight, triglycerides, total cholesterol as well as LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and blood sugar.
As these are all risk factors for heart disease, there’s a potential that the keto diet may decrease the risk of heart disease.
Another common reason that people adopt the keto diet is to support brain health. Numerous studies have found that the keto diet can help support brain health because ketosis can potentially help manage symptoms of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
#3: The Vegetarian Keto Diet May Help Regulate Blood Sugar Levels
Both the vegetarian and keto diets may help control blood sugar levels, meaning that a keto vegetarian diet may be suitable for those with type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance.
For example, one long-term study of nearly 3,000 adults found that adopting a vegetarian diet decreased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 53%.
Moreover, one review found that following a vegetarian diet can lead to significant improvements in HbA1c levels, which is a marker of long-term blood sugar control.
Similarly, the low-carb nature of the keto diet can make it particularly beneficial for improving insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control, with evidence suggesting the keto diet can reduce HbA1c levels by 16% and the reliance on diabetes medications to manage blood sugar levels.
What Can You Eat On a Keto Vegetarian Diet?
A healthy keto vegetarian diet should focus on getting nutritious fats, plant-based protein sources, and non-starchy vegetables.
Here are some of the best foods to eat on the vegetarian keto diet:
- Non-starchy vegetables: Bok choy, spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, broccoli, mushrooms, kale, cauliflower, zucchini, asparagus, celery, artichokes, onions, tomatoes, and bell peppers
- Healthy fats: olive oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil, avocados, MCT oil, hemp seed oil, and avocado oil
- Nuts: Pecans, almonds, walnuts, cashews, filberts, macadamia nuts, pistachios, and Brazil nuts
- Seeds: Squash seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds
- Nut butters: Almond butter, peanut butter, other nut butters, sunflower seed butter, tahini
- Full-fat dairy products: Milk, yogurt, ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, and other cheeses
- Protein: Eggs, tofu, tempeh, seitan, spirulina, and nutritional yeast
- Herbs and seasonings: Cinnamon, red pepper flakes, garlic, basil, paprika, pepper, turmeric, salt, oregano, rosemary, and thyme
Foods to Avoid On the Keto Vegetarian Diet
Given the restrictions of the vegetarian diet, as well as the need to severely restrict your carbohydrate intake on the keto diet, there are quite a few foods that you need to omit or limit on the vegetarian keto diet.
Additionally, if you want to be following a healthy vegetarian 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 of this would be fried soy chicken nuggets.
The foods to completely avoid on the vegetarian keto diet include all meat, poultry, fish, and seafood.
Foods to limit or avoid include starchy vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, sweets, processed foods, sweetened beverages, condiments and sauces like barbeque sauce and jelly, all sweeteners, and alcoholic beverages.
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.
Although it’s definitely possible to follow a vegetarian keto diet, the keto diet for vegetarians certainly takes more thought and planning. Focus on healthy fats as the center of your plate, remembering that to induce ketosis, 70-75% of your calories should be coming from fat.
For more information on the keto diet, check out our database of keto diet resources.