The idea of a vegan version of the ketogenic diet almost sounds like an oxymoron. I mean, isn’t part of the beauty of keto, the opportunity to eat lots of bacon, heavy cream, butter, and eggs?
While animal-based fats and proteins are standard options on a traditional ketogenic diet, a plant-based approach to the protocol will require more planning and consideration.
Although a version of the ketogenic diet that includes animal products is more accessible, some want to omit animal products from their diet to honor their personal beliefs, or due to the requirements of a therapeutic dietary program, and we get it. We will share some crucial tips and tricks to help you adopt the keto diet, vegan style.
What is a Vegan Ketogenic Diet?
Grass-fed meats, eggs, and dairy, along with super-fatty fish are all delicious options on a ketogenic diet, but there is more to consider about how our food choices affect the treatment of animals, the environment, and maybe even our vitality based on our individual nutritional needs.
The issues of animal suffering and the carbon footprint created in direct relation to the raising of animals for human consumption is generally at the center of a decision to remove animal products from their diet.
And that’s honorable, but in a diet that already restricts carbohydrates, it is clear that creativity and knowledge are necessary to make this protocol sustainable.
The vegan version of the ketogenic diet still looks to restrict high-glycemic carbs in the diet, insert ample amounts of quality fats, and maintain moderate protein intake.
It’s quite simple to get adequate protein and fat on the vegan diet in general, but how is it possible to reduce carbs low enough to get into ketosis on a diet centered around fruits and vegetables that contain carbs?
The answer to the question of how to limit carbs and achieve a vegan ketogenic diet are nuanced, but we have some essential tips to position you for success in this version of the century-old ketogenic diet.
How to Limit Your Carbs on a Vegan Ketogenic Diet
Here are some guidelines to help you adjust to the vegan ketogenic diet.
Side note, this approach is only for the extremely disciplined and brave of heart, because if you already perceive keto as a restrictive lifestyle, know that this version is the most restrictive:
20 Net Carbs Per Day
Although most ketogenic diets set the carb threshold around 20 net carbs a day, loosen that limit to 35 grams a day to make the plan work. Stick to leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables, avoiding high-glycemic carbohydrates just as you would on any iteration of the ketogenic diet, and you will be on your way to realizing your health goals!
Avoid Meat Fish Eggs and Dairy
This is likely pretty obvious, but we’ll mention it anyway: avoid meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and all other animal-based products. This version of the ketogenic diet relies solely on plant-based food options.
Focus on plant-based fats and make them at least 70% of your diet’s macronutrient composition.
Think avocado, olive oil, and if you’re into riding the line because you’re a rebel, even clarified butter (a.k.a. ghee)—or butter void of milk proteins like casein and whey, although doing so is still a bit controversial in the general vegan community.
Consume around 25% of your calories from plant-based proteins. And also, on a side but very relevant note, make no mistake: there are plenty of fantastic protein sources available when eating a plant-based, vegan diet.
For instance, hemp protein, spirulina, and chlorella are all nutrient-dense vegan options that work amazingly well on a low-carb, ketogenic diet.
Supplementation is something required on any vegan diet, especially as it relates to getting adequate levels of B12. In addition to B12, it is also essential to supplement with vitamins like vitamins D3, B6, DHA & EPA, iron, zinc, and taurine.
Vegan Ketogenic Foods:
There is so much to enjoy on either a vegan or ketogenic diet, but for most the challenge is marrying the two and making it work.
However, the absolute decadence of just an avocado sprinkled with Himalayan sea salt, and a drizzling of olive oil doesn’t exactly sound like deprivation to me.
Although animal-based products are clearly off the table with this lifestyle, there are many delicious, low-carb, fatty options to feast on, while keeping protein intake moderate to maintain nutritional ketosis.
Although the task may seem daunting at the onset, there is a way to make the vegan version of the ketogenic diet work, and we are going to unpack the insider tips and tricks to remove some of the doubt that may be holding you back from giving this version of the ketogenic diet a try.
Not Vegan Ketogenic Foods:
I am sorry to inform you, yet again, but the bacon and butter are off limits on this version of the ketogenic diet.
Although, if you are a rebel you can explore the options of adding in animal-derived products that are synonymously otherwise healthy like ghee, also known as clarified butter, to your diet as it is butter void of casein and other milk proteins.
This section is pretty succinct because it is fundamental: for most, this vegan style of keto requires removing all animal-based products, and that’s just the bottom line.
However, there are a lot of plant-based options that work well on the ketogenic diet that will help make this iteration of the lifestyle sustainable.
Vegan Ketogenic Diet Alternatives
The previous portion may have seemed obvious, but fear not as we are about to get into the keto and vegan-friendly foods you can nosh on to make this version of the low-carb lifestyle work.
There are a lot of quality, plant-based fat and protein staples to eat and keep it keto— mainly, nuts, seeds, oils, and low-glycemic vegetables.
Although most fruit and starchy vegetables are benched, avocado and berries are excellent low-glycemic fruits to incorporate into your diet because they are as nutritious as they are delicious, packed with healthy fats and antioxidants, respectively.
Although most vegan diets rely heavily on fruit and encourage eating loads of vegetables regardless of their glycemic impact, the inverse is true when you want to achieve ketosis.
The following are some keto-friendly foods to add to your low-carb diet that are equally aligned with your concern for the humane treatment of animals and how modern, industrialized farming affects the environment, as well as your waistline and general health.
- Leafy greens — spinach, kale, etc.
- Nuts, seeds — macadamia, pecans, almonds; chia and hemp seeds et al.
- Avocado and berries — blueberries, strawberries, etc.
- Vegan “meats” — tempeh, tofu, seitan
- Fermented foods — sauerkraut, Kim Chi, living (unsweetened) yogurt, etc.
- High-fat dairy substitutes — coconut milk, vegan cheeses, vegan cream cheese, etc.
- Above-ground vegetables — zucchini, cabbage, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, et al.
- Cruciferous vegetables (also grown above ground) — cauliflower and broccoli
- Sea vegetables — seaweed, dulse, kelp, etc.
- Mushrooms — portobello, shiitake, king oyster, etc.
- Plant-based fats – coconut-based MCT oil, red palm MCT oil, olive oil, avocado oil, etc.
- Sweeteners – stevia, erythritol, monk fruit, and other low-carb sweeteners (check our extensive post on ideal keto-friendly sweeteners, here)
Foods to Limit:
Depending on your level of carb restriction on the vegan keto diet, which will depend on your goal (e.g., therapeutic mitigation of disease, fat loss or muscle gain, etc.), you may be able to eat nightshade vegetables, like onions, in moderation.
However, be mindful of portions as these foods are higher in carbs and can compromise ketosis if consumed in large amounts.
If there’s a list of foods to eat, you probably can guess what’s coming next—foods to avoid on a vegan ketogenic diet.
Nightshades like potatoes are definite no-no’s, and carrots aren’t much better regarding their glycemic index (GI) at, 85 and 71 respectively.
The following are foods to avoid on a vegan keto diet as they will compromise ketosis:
- Sugar — no surprise here, avoid table sugar and all other forms that spike blood sugar (e.g., agave, honey, maple syrup, etc.)
- Grains — wheat, corn, rice, grain-based flour, et al.
- Tubers – potato, cassava, yams, etc.
- Fruit – bananas, pineapples, oranges, etc.
- Legumes — lentils, kidney beans, peas, etc.
Keto-Friendly Vegan Dairy Replacements
There’s never been a better time to eat a specialized diet. There are so many alternatives to animal-based foods that you can swap in to convert recipes to vegan and keto-friendly versions.
However, many keto recipes, from fathead pizza to 'everything' bagels, contain dairy and eggs.
Varieties of these two staples are central to a slew of low-carb recipes, but if the vegan diet is your approach you may feel at a loss about how to prepare all the Pinterest-worthy dishes saturating your social media feeds without them.
Luckily, companies like Daiya Foods and So Delicious has created a line of dairy-free vegan cheeses (e.g., shredded cheese, cream cheese, etc.) that can put you back in the game and on your way to expanding your dietary options on the vegan, keto diet.
We’ve compiled a brief list of vegan dairy replacements to set you off on the right path below:
Replace Butter with Coconut Oil or Vegan Butter
Coconut oil behaves similarly to butter, with a slightly lower melting point but the same smoke point, which makes coconut oil a good butter replacement.
If you are not into the flavor of coconut oil, look for vegan butter options—Earth Balance is a fantastic brand and their vegan butter and mayonnaise taste at least as good as their animal-based contemporaries; plus the line is free of hydrogenated oils which is vital as they significantly increase the risk of heart disease.
Instead of Cream Cheese have Vegan Soft Cheese
The increase in awareness around the vegan diet, in general, has proliferated the creation of a lot of brands that make decadent vegan cheeses.
Kite Hill, Treeline—a line of artisanal, savory cheeses—and Follow Your Heart all offer nut-based cheeses that can stand-in for dairy-based options in recipes.
The exciting thing is that the cheeses are delicious and almost have the same texture as cream cheese.
Replace Yogurt and Sour Cream with Nut-Based Yogurt
Yogurt offers a plethora of probiotics that promote healthy gut microbiome, but some brands, vegan or other, contain loads of unwanted sugar and carbs.
Check your local health food market to find plain and unsweetened almond, or coconut milk yogurt, like the fantastic living yogurt called CocoYo, made by GTS Living Foods, that provide active cultures through a process of gentle fermentation.
If you can’t find that brand, just make sure to go for an option with no added sugars or hidden carbohydrates.
Replace Dairy-Based Cheese with Vegan Cheese
There are many plant-based kinds of cheese on the market right now.
You’ll notice some brands repeated throughout as their cheeses taste the most like their dairy-based contemporaries and contain quality ingredients.
Although, be mindful of cashew stand-ins as these can bump up your carb count. You will want to work it into an overall daily limit that works for you.
Treeline, Miyoko’s Kitchen, and Follow Your Heart are all standout brands, and a great place to start. These brands have a wide array of cheese offerings, and one or more should have the cheese alternative that you want.
Replace Milk with Coconut Milk
You can substitute coconut milk for regular milk in recipes in a 1 to 1 ratio. If you’re not a fan of the coconut flavor, there is nut-based milk (e.g., almond milk), and hemp milk—all of which are delicious and also vegan and keto-friendly.
Replace Heavy Cream with Coconut Cream
From baking to creating delicious vegan cheesecake, coconut cream is an excellent alternative to heavy whipping cream and can come in handy for many keto-friendly recipes.
Keto-Friendly Egg Substitutes
Eggs along with nuts are foods often known to cause food-based allergic reactions. Not great news for those who are sensitive, I suppose, but the demand in the marketplace is great for those on a vegan, ketogenic diet.
Chia and flax seeds, as well as silken tofu, can be used to make a natural and affordable vegan-friendly egg replacement.
Also, products on the market like VeganEgg made by Follow Your Heart, TheVegg, and Ener-G Egg Replacer are all viable egg replacement options that are compatible with the vegan, keto diet.
With both chia and flax seeds acting as excellent sources of omega-3, they’re a fantastic option to increase nutrient intake while enjoying vegan baked goods.
Making an egg replacement with chia or flax is simple: add one tablespoon of seeds to two tablespoons of hot water, mix and let sit for a few minutes to let it thicken; then use the mixture in place of one egg.
How to Eat Enough Fat on a Vegan Ketogenic Diet
Of the challenges one can face when beginning a vegan, keto, diet, this is not one. MCT and other plant-based oils, avocado, and nuts and seeds, as well as vegan dairy alternatives provide ample amounts of healthy fat to fuel your body.
Here’s a brief list of the oils you can use and what you can use them for:
Its dense and abundant nutrition, health benefits, and ability to act as fat-based fuel make medium-chain triglyceride oil (MCT oil), specifically coconut-based MCT oil, the apex of the plant-based oils.
Red palm oil is also a good source of MCTs and drizzling them on your meals will help you get enough healthy fats to provide you with needed energy while supporting ketosis.
Like MCT oil, olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats and is anti-inflammatory. Olive oil also supports heart health and may help prevent strokes.
Just be mindful of its heat threshold, and keep heat when cooking with it below 405 degrees to preserve the nutrients in the oil and avoid oxidation.
Avocado is an overall rock star on the keto, vegan diet and its oil derivative doesn’t disappoint.
Avocado oil is perfect for deep frying, cooking, and baking because it has the highest smoke point of all plant-based oils with a heat-ceiling of 520 degrees Fahrenheit.
Also, as is the case with any plant-based oil, opt for cold-pressed, organic oils whenever possible.
Vegan Dairy Replacements
Dairy replacements are a great way to boost fat in your diet. Enjoy creamy, cheesy dips with low-glycemic veggies.
A lot of the dairy alternatives are also perfect ingredients to create either sweet or savory fat bombs; the options are endless.
Again, this creamy, fatty fruit is a perfect addition to any vegan, keto diet.
Whether naked with a sprinkling of sea salt or gussied up in a flavorful avocado dip: eating an avocado a day is a great way to hit your fat macros, stay satiated and benefit from the abundant vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in this nutritional powerhouse.
An excellent snack on-the-go or the base of creamy, savory vegan cheeses, nuts are vital on a vegan, keto diet. Nuts are rich in monounsaturated fat and provide fiber, B-group vitamins (including folate), zinc, vitamin E and potassium.
Also, nuts offer phytochemicals like antioxidant compounds (flavonoids and resveratrol), as well as plant sterols.
Sesame seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and sunflower seeds, etc., are another high-fat food source ideal on a vegan, keto diet.
However, eat seeds in moderation as they tend to be higher in omega-6, which can raise blood pressure, lead to blood clots that can cause heart attack and stroke, and can lead to excess water retention.
Vegan Protein Sources for the Ketogenic Diet
Regardless of the version of the vegan diet you choose to follow, a common question is: how do I get enough protein in my diet?
Fortunately, there are many vegan-friendly proteins and hitting protein macros on this plan is easy—plus the premise of the majority of versions of the ketogenic diet advise keeping protein levels moderate, anyway.
Chlorella and Spirulina:
These two forms of algae are an excellent source of protein and appropriate on keto. Restricting starchy vegetables can easily be supplemented with these two nutritional gems as one gram of the algae is equivalent to about 1,000 grams of fruits and veggies but without all the carbs!
Furthermore, Spirulina contains two and a half times more protein per ounce than steak and 2-5 times the amount of antioxidants per ounce than most fruits and vegetables.
Also, just a 30 gram serving of chlorella has 5X the chlorophyll content of kale and contains more iron than liver.
Known to some as “wheat meat” is high and protein and low in fat, but the drawback is that it contains a lot of gluten as well as soy which may be less than ideal for some.
With its neutral taste and ability to take on flavors well, tofu is a handy option.
However, it, like seitan and tempeh, are soy-based which, can again, be problematic as some experience fatigue, gastrointestinal distress and constipation due to the plant compound called goitrogens found in soy.
This firmer and grainer textured meat substitute is made with fermented soy and is thought to be a good substitute for beef and fish.
Tempeh is particularly great if you’re short on time and need to get something tasty on the table fast as it doesn’t need to be pressed to remove excess moisture to firm it up in recipes.
Just dice or mince it in the food processor, and you’ll be on your way to some yummy vegan eats.
Other Vegan “Meats”:
High demand for vegan foods has resulted in a lot of vegan-friendly burgers and “meat” products popping up in local stores.
However, this diet is a subculture that relies on macronutrients that are moderate in protein and high in fat, while a lot of these “vegan meat” products are loaded with carbs and sugar, not ideal for anyone keto.
Just be diligent about reading labels to make sure you’re not unwittingly eating artificial ingredients or anything else that could spike your blood sugar and kick you out of ketosis.
Nuts and Seeds:
Both nuts and seeds are a good source of protein and are vegan and keto-friendly, but nuts also contain carbs so track your portions as not to overdo it.
The following are the nuts and seeds with the most protein (per 100 grams):
- Pumpkin seeds — 30 grams
- Pistachios — 21 grams
- Almonds — 21 grams
- Sunflower seeds — 19 grams
- Flaxseeds — 18 grams
Although peanuts are part of the legume family and not a nut, they are worth noting and considering on a vegan, keto diet.
Peanuts are packed with protein, with 24 grams in 100 grams of peanuts, and they are lower in carbs than some other nuts, containing 16 grams per 100-gram serving.
Now, nuts are a great source of protein. However, nuts can also contain a lot of carbs, and that can derail your efforts on this diet, especially if your goal is fat loss.
Here’s a brief look at the carb load of a 100-gram serving of various nuts commonly eaten on the ketogenic diet:
- Pumpkin seeds — 54 grams of total carbs
- Pistachios — 28 grams of total carbs
- Almonds — 22 grams of total carbs
- Sunflower seeds — 20 grams of total carbs
- Flaxseeds — 29 grams of total carbs
Vegan Protein Powder:
Vegan protein shakes are a great way to hit your protein macros on the vegan, keto diet, but also know that it’s possible to get enough protein on a diet from whole food sources, alone.
If you’re on a budget opt for pea protein as it is pretty affordable, works well in recipes, and is easy for most to digest.
Again, it’s never been a better time to try the vegan, ketogenic diet. With a large assortment of dairy and egg alternatives, it’s possible to mimic many animal-based favorites, without the guilt.
Limit fruit but when you do enjoy it, choose low-glycemic berries rather than higher-glycemic options.
Focus your dietary plan around lots of healthy fats, leafy and cruciferous vegetables, and fatty dairy replacements, along with quality protein powders.
You’ll be fat-adapted and successfully living the low-carb, keto-vegan lifestyle in no time—while minding your commitment to the humane treatment of our fellow animals, as well as our precious planet.
Effect of a 6-month vegan low-carbohydrate (‘Eco-Atkins’) diet on cardiovascular risk factors and body weight in hyperlipidaemic adults: a randomized controlled trial: