Visions of a meal plan filled with bacon and charcuterie platters may come to mind when you hear about the keto diet, but is it possible to create a sustainable plant-based diet within a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic framework?
Some of our team here at Konscious Keto asked the same questions in the beginning.
A plant-based diet is one comprised of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and healthy fats, but the idea of establishing or maintaining metabolic ketosis, while eating a carb-centric diet, seems like a complete contradiction.
But is there a beautiful balance to be experienced where we get to have it all? Is it possible to live a ketogenic lifestyle that's humane to animals and conscious of our food choice's impact on the planet, while keeping it ultra low-carb?
Fortunately, it is possible to eat a ketogenic diet void of or limiting animal products, and we hope to demonstrate that with our tips and suggestions to help you implement a plant-based, low-carb, high-fat diet.
So, first things first: let's examine what a plant-based ketogenic is and then we'll get into how to realize this lifestyle in a way that's enjoyable and sustainable for you.
What is a Plant-Based Ketogenic Diet?
Well, some of this answer will be obvious: a plant-based ketogenic diet often excludes most or all animal-based products and relies on vegetation for sustenance.
Honestly, although the central premise of a plant-based diet is universal—eat plants instead of animals—the construction of a plant-centered diet means different things to different people.
For some, a plant-based diet resembles a vegan approach, comprised of mostly vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, to the exclusion of all animal products.
To others, a plant-based diet is primarily composed of an abundance of produce but also includes fish or dairy and eggs.
The version of plant-based keto that works well will be different for everyone. A little trial and error will prove helpful in determining the best fit for you. More on the most sustainable approach to a plant-based keto diet below.
Whether you choose to follow a cyclical keto diet (CKD), a high-protein keto diet (HPKD), or a standard keto diet (SKD), there is one constant: reduced carb intake.
The goal is to limit carbohydrate intake enough to trigger metabolic ketosis to accelerate fat loss among many other benefits—as your body switches from running on glucose to thriving on ketones.
As we mentioned, there are several versions of a plant-based ketogenic diet.
Here are the most common adaptations:
- Vegan: A vegan ketogenic diet is entirely plant-based and excludes all animal products or derivatives, like honey. A vegan ketogenic diet primarily consists of fruit, vegetables, tofu, seitan, tempeh, beans, nuts and seeds.
- Standard Vegetarian: Except for eggs and dairy, a standard ketogenic diet is free of all animal products and is almost entirely plant-based.
- Pescatarian: The pescatarian ketogenic diet is a derivative of the vegetarian keto diet. Similar to a vegetarian keto protocol, a pescatarian approach is plant-centered and includes dairy and eggs, as well as seafood.
- Lacto-vegetarian: This version of keto is a spin-off of the vegetarian program, but it excludes eggs.
- Ovo-vegetarian: The ovo-vegetarian diet is the inverse of the lacto-vegetarian diet. This approach includes eggs but not dairy.
- Flexitarian: Limiting carbs and entirely excluding meat can prove unsustainable for some, despite a desire to eat a plant-based ketogenic diet—enter the flexitarian approach.
This version of a plant-based ketogenic diet is true to its name and allows followers to eat mostly plant-based foods but allows meat in moderation—an approach that may be more realistic for some.
Our collective consciousness is shifting. A 2018 Neilsen Product Insider report showed that about 39% of Americans are choosing to eat more plant-based.
People may opt to limit or eliminate animal products for different reasons, be it moral or a result of health consciousness.
No matter the reason behind going plant-based, the result of following a dietary program that's abundant in vitamin-rich foods is excellent to improve overall health and feelings of well-being.
Can You Be Plant-Based and Keto?
As you see above, there are several approaches to eating a plant-based diet. The question is, is it possible to eat a plant-based diet, with minimal or no animal products and maintain ketosis, in addition to feeling satiated?
Eating a plant-based ketogenic diet is possible. Here are a couple of points to keep in mind as you plan to embark on the lifestyle:
You must limit carbs to achieve ketosis.
The metabolic state of ketosis is primarily reliant on reducing carbs enough to deplete the body's glycogen stores.
Without glycogen, we no longer have access to an abundance of sugar-based energy; and as a result, the body switches gears and starts relying on fat and ketones for fuel.
Select your menu carefully with ketosis in mind, and stick to fiber-rich, low-glycemic fruits and vegetables to provide bulk to your diet without overdoing it on the carbs.
It must be sustainable.
Many people start diets, lose weight, and regain it all—if not more! It's easy to follow a highly-restrictive program short-term, but a dietary plan must be sustainable long-term to make it a lifestyle.
A ketogenic diet is restrictive of carbs and a plant-based diet curbs consumption of animal-based products.
Combine a plant-based approach and a ketogenic diet, and it seems like there's little left to eat but coconut oil, dark leafy greens, and organic tofu—clearly not sustainable long-term.
Luckily, there's more than one way to approach a plant-based ketogenic diet!
To that end, following a flexitarian, pescatarian, or vegetarian keto model are advisable as they allow for more dietary wiggle room and open up additional protein choices to keep you satisfied.
You need adequate protein.
Muscle development and health are mainly dependent on protein; it's a building block for all areas of the body.
A common question asked of those following a vegan or vegetarian approach to keto is how do you get adequate protein without eating animal products?
But plant-based foods like hemp, spirulina, and chlorella are excellent sources of complete protein, providing all the amino acids our body needs, that are low in carbs and filled with nutrients—outstanding options for anyone following a plant-based ketogenic diet.
However, some may find chugging green smoothies and eating hemp heart and chia pudding to get their protein unfulfilling.
A more realistic approach to a plant-centered ketogenic diet for many will include some meat or seafood, dairy or eggs, to round out the plan and offer a wider variety of options to keep things exciting long-term.
Consider increasing veggie consumption while sprinkling in servings of meat, full-fat dairy, eggs, and bone broth, for an added portion of protein and a broader selection of food options that can make the plan easier to follow long-term.
You may be excited and ready to get started on a plant-based ketogenic diet at this point and need a few pointers to get going. No worries, we've got you covered. Here are six steps to adopting a plant-based keto diet:
Choose your approach
As there are several versions of a plant-based diet, the same holds for the keto diet, as we've mentioned.
Whether you opt to follow a flexitarian and cyclical plant-based keto diet or choose for a high-protein plant-centered approach, the key is to select a plan that works for you—one that you can maintain as a lifestyle.
A dietary transition and adopting new habits takes time. Be kind to yourself as you release old habits that no longer serve you and ease into a new way of eating.
Regardless of your preferred approach to a plant-based ketogenic diet, the payoff will be evident in how great you look and feel.
Also, be optimistic, consider the foods you get to eat as opposed to those you're choosing to omit; there are many options to enjoy!
Keep carbs low.
This one should come as no surprise; as it's the premise of the entire ketogenic lifestyle to achieve and maintain metabolic ketosis.
Many on a plant-based diet will eliminate meat and many fruits and vegetables that typically serve as vegan or vegetarian dietary staples like bananas, mango, pineapple, rice, beans or potatoes, and with good reason: they spike blood sugar and disrupt metabolic function.
Center your diet around dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, and low-glycemic fruit like avocado or the colorful variety of low-carb berries which include blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and are ideal for anyone on a keto diet.
Track your macros to make sure you hit your set carb intake and also maintain a caloric deficit if your goal is weight loss.
Also, free online macro calculators like that offered by MyFitnessPal are a great tool to determine a starting point for your macros; you can adjust your program as you go based on your results.
Pile on the low-carb veggies.
Some people may feel concerned about trying a plant-based ketogenic diet because they assume it means eliminating many nutrient-rich vegetables, but this couldn't be farther from the truth.
There are loads of low-glycemic vegetable choices ideal for anyone living a low-carb lifestyle.
Here's a list of some of our low GI favorites:
- Brussels sprouts
- Green beans
If you're interested in more detail on the best veggies to eat on keto, along with a comprehensive keto shopping list, check out our recent article.
Eat your protein.
Getting enough protein on any plant-based diet can be a challenge if avoiding meat completely. Making sure to eat adequate protein on a ketogenic vegan or vegetarian diet requires a bit of a mindset shift, but it is possible.
Here's a list on keto-friendly, plant-based, complete proteins—containing all nine essential amino acids—to keep your muscles healthy and ketones high:
- Hemp seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Chia seeds
Eat Healthy Fats.
Here's a point where the keto and plant-based worlds seamlessly converge. Eating an abundance of quality fat is the cornerstone of a ketogenic diet and also advisable on any version of a plant-based diet.
Here's a list of keto-friendly, plant-based, fats to enjoy:
Nuts and seeds:
- Macadamia nuts
- Brazil Nuts
- Walnuts (omega-3)
- Chia seeds (omega-3)
- Flax seeds (omega-3)
- Hemp seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Grapeseed oil
- Olive oil (omega-9)
- Coconut oil
- Avocado oil (omega-9)
- MCT Oil (medium chain triglycerides)
- Macadamia oil
- Flax oil (omega-3)
- Palm oil
- Avocado (omega-9)
- Cacao butter
- Coconut manna (butter)
- Coconut milk/cream
This advice holds true when attempting to adhere to any dietary protocol. Planning ahead and even incorporating some level of meal prep all help set you up for success.
Consider whipping up a bowl of cauliflower mash, a tray of Brussels sprouts and another of 80/20 beef or lamb meatballs as a basis for your meal plan to ensure meals are ready when it’s time to break your fast.
Also, pre-packaging snack packs for a serving of healthy food on the go is an excellent way to stay on track during your busy day, or even when traveling.
Furthermore, if you're a globe trotter and a venture seeker, you might want to read our recent article brimming with seven tips to help keep it keto while traveling.
Best Sources of Protein on a Plant-Based Keto Diet
As we mentioned, our bodies need nine amino acids, or proteins, to function well. Protein acts as the pillar and building block of muscle growth and synthesis, in addition to lending to other crucial functions in the body.
In addition to playing a significant role in muscle development, repair and growth, protein is also vital for immunity, heart health, body weight regulation, and proper growth and development.
Since a plant-based ketogenic diet often reduces meat and a variety of animal-based products that provide protein, it's particularly important to be mindful of food choices to ensure adequate intake.
We, of course, advise blending up a creamy chocolate or strawberry cheesecake variety of Keto Shake as an excellent and clean source of plant-based protein.
Here's a list of additional ideal protein options for those following a plant-based keto diet:
- Nuts and seeds
- Nut butter
If not following a vegan protocol, consider:
Tips For Supporting a Plant-Based Keto Diet
Take Exogenous Ketones
If increasing energy and performance is a goal, consider adding a high-quality exogenous ketone supplement like Keto Activate to your dietary protocol—to elevate ketone levels and further deepen ketosis, along with its many health benefits.
Also, we know you're now clear on keeping veggies you eat on the lower side of the glycemic scale. But on those days when an extra sweet potato puts your carb macros a bit higher than usual, exogenous ketones are a handy tool to help re-establish ketosis, fast.
Fat is your friend, enjoy it
Eating an abundance of quality fats is essential to our health for many reasons—from helping the body communicate with all its systems through neuronal signaling to protecting the nervous system—eating healthy fat is vital to our well-being.
Focus on eating a balanced blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, keeping intake around 1:1. Also note, consuming adequate amounts of fat helps with the production of many hormones which offer protective properties to our organs.
Track your macros
Macro calculators are a great starting point to determine the best fat, carb, and protein limits to help achieve your health goals. But the best determinant of effective macro ceilings is results.
Tracking macros becomes even more important for those eating a plant-based diet because most protocols call for eating more carbs and this can compromise nutritional ketosis, if not careful.
Avoid nutrient deficiencies
Focus on eating a broad spectrum of low-glycemic fruits and vegetables along with fat and protein to make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need.
Switch up the low-carb veggies on the menu and use your Instagram feed for a little inspiration, the possibilities are endless.
Consult with your doctor
It's always a good idea to speak with your doctor or medical practitioner before beginning any diet to determine whether the intended approach aligns with your current state of health and nutritional needs.
A plant-based ketogenic diet is on the more restrictive side, but it is doable with a little creative consideration, planning, and meal prep.
Review our articles noted above to stock your fridge with plant-based, low-carb foods sure to please.
And rest assured that following a plant-based ketogenic diet is a surefire way to change your life for the better while being kind to the animals and the planet alike.
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Payne, P. R. (1975). Safe protein-calorie ratios in diets. The relative importance of protein and energy intake as causal factors in malnutrition. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,28(3), 281-286. doi:10.1093/ajcn/28.3.281
Shprintzen, A. D. (2013). Would You Like to Be a Successful Vegetarian? The Vegetarian Crusade,147-182. doi:10.5149/northcarolina/978146960891.003.0007
Wu, G. (2016). Dietary protein intake and human health. Food & Function,7(3), 1251-1265. doi:10.1039/c5fo01530h