Keto for Vegans: What to Focus on and What to Avoid
Written by Matt Koulas
on March 17, 2019
If you're like most people who've heard of keto, you may associate this weight loss program with plates full of beef, bacon and butter. This stereotypical ketogenic diet really takes to heart the idea of "eat fat to lose fat"; right?
The truth is, a ketogenic diet done right actually looks (and tastes!) healthy. It includes a balanced spectrum of whole foods, including nuts and seeds, vegetables, a small amount of fruit, and high-quality animal products, including meat, eggs, fish, poultry, shellfish and dairy.
You'll notice, however, that a typically well-rounded and healthy keto diet is still rich in animal protein and animal fats.
This begs the question:
Can vegans follow a ketogenic diet?
The Best Foods to Eat on Keto for Vegans
The short answer is that it IS possible for vegans to do keto. Taking the plant-based approach to this diet will require that you take extra care to make sure you're selecting foods that offer plenty of fat as well as a decent amount of protein.
To this end, here are some ideal foods for vegans who want to adopt a ketogenic diet, whether for weight loss, improved mood, increased energy or any of its other benefits:
- Nuts and seeds, especially walnuts, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds and almonds
- Low-carb vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, kale, bok choy, artichokes, Swiss chard, endives, asparagus, sprouts and Brussels sprouts
- Small amounts of lower carb fruits, including berries, lemon and tomatoes
- Coconuts and coconut oils
- Olives and olive oils
- Condiments including mustard, apple cider vinegar, hot sauce and salsa (watch for added sugars)
- Coconut flour, almond flour, herbs and spices
Special Considerations for Vegans on Keto
Get Enough Good Fats
Because vegans don't eat any animals or any products derived from animals — including dairy, butter and eggs — they miss out on a major source of high-quality fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids.
Of course, many plants do contain and omega-3 fatty acids. But these plants also tend to have a higher concentration of omega-6 fatty acids, which can promote inflammation in the body and lead to a less-than-ideal omega 6 to omega 3 ratio in your diet (a good ratio is anywhere from 4:1 to 1:1).
As a vegan on keto, you can boost your healthy fat intake by ensuring that you consume a lot of walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, coconut, coconut oil and medium chain triglycerides (MCT), which are derived from coconuts.
Get Enough Good Protein
It's also important to remember that animal-based products provide a rich and diverse source of amino acids, the protein building blocks that are essential for health.
Even though a keto diet requires only a moderate protein intake (around 15%–20% of your daily caloric consumption), it's still important to get a wide range of amino acids in order to support optimal physical and mental function. So vegans need to take special care to eat as broad a plant-based menu as possible.
Avoid Excess Soy Products
Many nutrition experts also advise against over-consuming tofu and other soy products, even if they are low in carbs. This is because soy contains compounds called isoflavones, a kind of plant estrogen that can mimic the estrogen hormone found in humans. If consumed to excess, soy products can alter normal testosterone levels in both men and women.
If you do eat tofu on keto, do so moderately, and aim to get the bulk of your protein intake from other plant-based sources.
Watch Out for Keto Flu
If you've been following a plant-based diet for a long time, vegan keto may feel a lot different. You're probably used to eating a lot of grains (like oatmeal and rice), legumes (like beans and lentils), fruit and starches like root veggies and sweet potatoes. All of these foods — which are staples in a standard vegan diet — are a no-go on keto because of their high carb content.
When you transition from a high carb to a super low carb diet, your body will likely go through a withdrawal period. Often called "keto flu," this transition period (which usually lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks) can include flu-like symptoms, including muscle cramps, irritability, mental fogginess, insomnia and huge sugar cravings.
This is totally normal, even for people who eat animal products. As a vegan, however, the sudden depletion of carbs may be more of a shock to your system. To mitigate the effects of keto flu and get past it more quickly, be sure to drink lot of water, consume plenty of fiber and electrolytes, avoid strenuous exercise, get enough sleep, and minimize stress.
For some go-to, vegan-friendly, keto-friendly fats, be sure to check out our high-quality nut butters made with a diverse range of healthy ingredients!
This article was written by: Sara McEvoy
Sara McEvoy, PT, DPT is a licensed and board-certified doctor of physical therapy. She earned her degree in 2011 from Boston University. Sara is also a professional freelance writer and copywriter. She researches and writes almost exclusively within the health and wellness field.