The keto diet gained popularity because of its ability to burn fat when you’re in a state of ketosis. It’s known as a high fat, adequate protein and low carbohydrate diet. Many people who follow this diet get their fats and proteins from meat, fish and dairy, though, so how viable is it for a vegan to do the keto diet?
We’ve teamed up with MD and physiologist Dr Margo de Kooker to get a better understanding of how keto works and how vegans can make it work for them.
In this blog, we’ll answer the questions:
- What is a state of ketosis and what is the keto diet?
- How do I know if I’m in a state of ketosis?
- Who should do a keto diet?
- Is the keto diet safe?
- How can a vegan do the keto diet?
And then we’ll give you some keto vegan food lists and vegan keto recipes to help you on your way.
Let’s get stuck in.
What is a state of ketosis and what is the keto diet?
The ketogenic diet is the name given to a diet that makes the body go into a ketogenic state and produce ketones to use for energy. According to Dr Margo, a ketone is a chemical that can be used by the cells as a source of energy, as opposed to our more common source, which is sugar (or glucose). In the keto diet, the majority of your calories come from fats.
Dr Margo notes, “A ketogenic diet tries to shift metabolism to make a person less dependent on glucose for energy.” This is why when you switch to a ketogenic diet, you’ll probably crave sugar for a while, as it can take three months or more for your body to adapt to using this new energy system. If you’re doing it for weight loss, you may not initially lose weight during this adaptation period.
How do I know if I’m in a state of ketosis?
The only way to know if you’re in ketosis, and therefore using ketones for energy instead of glucose, would be to measure your levels of ketones either using urine, blood or breath. The most readily available at-home tests are the urine test and finger prick test. To be in a state of ketosis, the level of ketones in your blood needs to be between 0.5 and 3.0 millimoles per liter (mmol/L).
Who should do a keto diet?
The important thing to know about the keto diet is that it was developed as a medical therapy. According to Dr Dominic D’Agostino, Associate Professor at the University of South Florida and an authority on all things keto, the diet was initially created as a remedy for epileptic seizures by mimicking the anti-seizure effect that fasting has.
Dr Margo adds to this, noting, “It’s effective for someone who is obese to get them burning fat and take the pressure off the glucose energy system. This will allow their metabolism to rest and adapt and heal. It is also helpful for diabetics who cannot process sugars adequately.”
Current studies are exploring the ketogenic diet’s positive effects on Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS, and even cancer.
It is good for general weight loss but should be done under the guidance of a medical professional. Even if you don’t get to ketosis though, you’ll likely be eating a lot healthier by cutting down on carbs and sugar. Banting is also a high fat, low carb diet, but it doesn’t necessarily put you into a ketogenic state, so this is maybe the softer version of the keto diet that you don’t necessarily need to do with the help of a medical practitioner.
Is the keto diet safe?
According to Dr Margo, the area people get into trouble is when they start getting their fat intake from excessive amounts of unhealthy fats. Having a high-fat diet doesn’t mean your daily calorie limit should go up. Eating unhealthy fats or dousing all your meals with cream is not going to do you any favours. This is what Dr Margo calls Dirty Keto – eating sugar-free junk food.
There is also the possibility of getting too high a ketone count in the blood, which can get dangerous. Because everyone reaches ketosis at a different level of carbohydrate intake depending on their weight, metabolism and lifestyle, it’s a good idea to work with a professional when planning your diet.
Dr Margo notes, “A popular diet is now cyclical eating, meaning once or twice a week you have carb-heavier meals and the rest of the time you do keto or banting-type eating.” What this leads to is metabolic flexibility, meaning your body is able to switch easily between using the fat-burning energy system and the sugar-burning energy system. And if you can do this, your body should burn both fat and carbs more efficiently.
How can I do a vegan keto diet?
Vegans eating a keto diet would need to focus on plant-based foods or vegan foods that have the lowest amount of carbohydrates and high amounts of fats.
Foods that are good for a vegan keto diet:
- Tofu, tempeh, seitan
- Leafy greens like spinach and kale
- Non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, cucumber, mushrooms and peppers
- High-fat dairy alternatives like soy milk, sugar-free coconut yoghurt, vegan butter and vegan cheeses
- The oilier nuts like pecans, macadamias, pistachios, almonds, and nut butters
- Seeds like sunflower and pumpkin
- Oils like coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil and nut oils
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi
- Avocado, fresh dried coconut, and small amounts of berries like raspberries and blackberries
- Seaweed like nori, kelp and dulse
- Sweeteners like stevia, erythritol and monk fruit
- Condiments: salt, pepper, fresh herbs, spices, lemon juice and nutritional yeast
- Drinks: tea and coffee
Foods to avoid for a vegan keto diet:
- Grain and starches like bread, pasta, rice, baked goods, cereals, oats and quinoa
- Starchy vegetables like carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, corn, peas, squash and beetroot
- Legumes like lentils, pulses, beans and chickpeas
- Almost all fruits except avocado and limited amounts of berries
- Sugary foods and drinks like maple and agave syrup, sodas, fruit juices, sauces like BBQ, tomato and chutney, and energy drinks
- Processed and packaged foods
Now on to the recipes
Here are three recipes that can get you started on your low carb journey.
So, in summary, a keto vegan diet is possible, but we recommend going to a nutritionist or medical professional to plan your diet according to your needs, metabolism and lifestyle. If you would like to follow the diet to some extent, but not worry too much about actually getting into ketosis, you’re still likely to be putting much healthier things in your body than before. Or perhaps, as Dr Margo suggests, you can go the cyclical route and make your metabolism more flexible than a yoga instructor.