After eating many different dietary styles over the years: low fat, vegetarian, vegan, high raw vegan, and paleo—I finally, and very thankfully, landed on the ketogenic diet for vegetarians.
Granted, the food choices on the traditional meat-based keto diet are fantastic, and the lifestyle provides many physical and mental benefits, but along with great food comes an awareness of the impact our food choices have on the world.
Listen, the absence of meat-based animal products may seem like an odd alternative on the keto lifestyle from the outside looking in, but with a closer look, you may find that it’s a way to have the best of both worlds.
It’s ultimately an eating style that encourages you to eat more fat, enables you to lose fat more efficiently, and also cultivates a world where our eating choices promote sustainability for our planet.
What is The Vegetarian Ketogenic Diet?
Stripped of any fanfare, the ketogenic diet for vegetarians is a modified take on the traditional keto dietary format that often relies heavily on animal products.
The goal of those following this modified plan is still to keep carbs low, proteins moderate and fats high.
The vegetarian keto diet seems like a perfect hybrid lifestyle that offers the health benefits of a plant-based diet, the fat-loss-boosting effects of the ketogenic diet, and also has a much smaller impact on the environment—unlike the industrial production of meat and meat-based products.
Overall, the vegetarian ketogenic diet seems like an ideal lifestyle and an effective diet to achieve improved glucose regulation, cognitive and neurological health, heart health, effective weight management, and the prevention of certain types of cancers.
Combining a vegetarian diet and a keto diet provides you with two eating styles that offer a delicious way to improve overall health.
Making positive choices about your food production and consumption is an easy way to ensure you stay in ketosis and provide your body with the best possible fuel.
You can eat a bit more fiber-rich, plant-based carbs on the vegetarian keto diet, and if you are one who leans more toward a vegetarian culinary palette, the vegetarian keto diet may be a great option.
Stick with leafy greens like swiss chard, spinach, kale, and mixed greens.
Other vegetables worth checking out at the market to keep on track with your commitment to living the low-carb, high-fat lifestyle are asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, zucchini and—entirely deserving of a special mention—cauliflower.
The Keto Diet for Vegetarians
Our consumption of meat-based products as a nation is disproportionate to other developed countries and something worth consideration—an opportunity for us to adjust our level and frequency of meat consumption, even if not wholly vegetarian, for the greater good.
Whether the choice to try a vegetarian keto diet is one motivated by ethical reasons related to the treatment of fellow animal-kind, to impact the environment positively.
If you’re one who prefers to omit meat in your diet for preferential or religious reasons: the vegetarian keto diet is an excellent approach to covering all the bases above.
While eating vegan items can be enjoyable and entirely acceptable on a vegetarian keto diet, approaching the ketogenic diet as a vegan can be challenging and requires planning to ensure a sufficient, balanced intake of macronutrients and micronutrients.
The primary challenge of eating a vegan versus vegetarian keto diet is the inability to rely on otherwise basic keto staples like cream, cheese, and eggs.
It might be best to start with a vegetarian-keto diet and test your limits before exploring a more extreme vegan-keto lifestyle.
Carbohydrates on a Vegetarian Ketogenic Diet
Knowing which fruits and vegetables are low on the glycemic index will prove crucial while eating a vegetarian keto diet.
Also, a note on the glycemic index: the index is a scale from one to 100 that ranks foods based on their impact on glucose levels when eaten, with one being the least and 100 having the most substantial impact.
With a large segment of a vegetarian keto diet being plant-based, it is particularly vital to opt for very low-glycemic fruits and vegetables as not to exceed your daily carb threshold, the ideal goal being 35 grams of carbs per day or less.
Bad Carbs (High Glycemic, Highly Processed)
I try to avoid demonizing any food or food group, but the fact is that high-glycemic fruits and vegetables will do nothing more than stall or derail your efforts to achieve ketosis and live a healthy, happy vegetarian lifestyle on keto.
With that being said, there are some fruits and vegetables that you’ll want to limit or eliminate entirely; the following is a list of some of the worst culprits:
High-glycemic Foods to Avoid
- Sweet Potato
Good Carbs (Limited) for a Vegetarian on Keto
- Leafy greens
Non-Carbs (Condiments and Spices)
Be hyper-vigilant about the ingredients in your condiments. Sauces, dips, and dressings can be a landmine for hidden sugar and other undesirable components.
Stick to low-carb, creamy, sugar-free condiments or those made with quality oils, preferably a quality MCT oil.
It’s exciting to note that almost all spices are in play and generally have no impact on glucose levels!
In addition to experimenting with the flavoring of your food, keep a keen eye on getting enough sodium, potassium, and magnesium, essential nutrients that are often depleted as a result of the water and electrolyte loss that occurs while eating a ketogenic diet.
How Vegetarians Can Limit Their Carbs
With a little creativity and planning, it's entirely possible to limit carbs enough to achieve ketosis successfully via the vegetarian, ketogenic diet.
Remember, a lot of your meals on a veggie-keto diet will technically consist of carbs in the form of leafy greens and cruciferous veggies, so choosing vegetables and fruits with the lowest glycemic impact, and limiting servings, is vital.
Protein on a Vegetarian Ketogenic Diet
There is a wide selection of plant-based protein options that you can integrate into your meal plan.
Whether you go the route of tofu, soy, or tempeh—or get your protein from other sources like hemp, chia and flax seeds, or chlorella and spirulina—there are endless keto-friendly options that you can use to keep your weekly meal plans exciting and keto-friendly.
Vegetarian Ketogenic Proteins
Again, there are many vegetarian keto protein options but here are some standouts because of their nutritional impact and keto-friendly macros:
- Nuts: You will find that nuts are a staple in all vegetarian diets and the same holds true when adjusted to fit keto. Macadamia nuts, almonds, and peanuts are excellent for those on the keto diet. Pistachios are a bit higher in carbs and can still work into your plan, but proceed with caution.
- Beans and Legumes: Chickpeas and lentils are a few good vegetarian sources of protein with a low enough rating on the glycemic index (GI) to work on keto, but with that being said be mindful of portions and track your macros.
- Dairy: Heavy cream and cheese are excellent ingredients to fatten up a meal quickly and add richness to foods that aid in satiety. Also, eggs and dairy are a particularly ideal protein source on keto because of their affordability, general accessibility, and the fact that egg and dairy production has a disproportionately lower environmental impact compared to meat, farmed fish, and poultry.
- Seeds: Pumpkin, sunflower, hemp, chia and flax seeds are all nutritional powerhouses and an excellent source of protein on a veggie-based keto diet.
- Low-carb Protein Shakes: You could go with a whey protein, an egg white protein, or even a pea protein for a vegetarian option. Your choice will likely come down to a preference in taste.
Vegetarian-Friendly Protein Sources
We touched on several vegetarian protein options above, but here are some options that are worth highlighting:
- Eggs: Eggs are such an excellent source of protein, fat, and vitamins, all ideal nutrients on a ketogenic diet. In addition to being incredibly accessible, eggs are also a super-affordable keto staple that can be acquired on a budget.
- Tofu and Tempeh: Both foods are fixtures in almost all vegetarian diets, and they can be used to mimic the texture and sensory experience of meat in things like veggie burgers and stir-fries.
- Cheese and Cream (Dairy): Take advantage of the inclusion of dairy in your diet and enjoy decadent cheeses and cream; just these two ingredients come into play in so many keto-friendly recipes that it will keep you eager for the next bite before you’re done with the last.
- Nuts and Seeds: Nuts and seeds are an excellent protein source and super convenient to toss in your bag and take with you, so you always have a keto-friendly snack. Remember, stick to a low-carb nut or seed option like almonds, macadamia nuts, or pumpkin or sunflower seeds as not to blow your daily carb macros.
Protein Powders for the Vegetarian Keto Diet
Most all low-carb protein shakes you find on the market will, by default, be vegetarian.
Most protein shakes, vegetarian or other, will contain whey, casein, pea protein, or a protein powder consisting of egg white powder.
Whichever you choose is mostly a matter of preference.
Fats for Vegetarians in Ketosis
There are many healthy, vegetarian, options to help you optimize ketosis.
Whether it’s grass-fed butter or ghee; pasture-raised eggs or heavy cream, the ketogenic diet encourages us to eat delicious full-fat foods to reduce body fat.
Healthy Oils & Fats for Keto Vegetarians
As I mentioned, we are fortunate to have so many healthy fat options at our disposal to maintain ketone bodies and achieve an optimal state of wellness.
Here’s a list of some of our favorite vegetarian-and-keto-friendly fat sources:
- Coconut oil/MCT oil
- Avocado oil
- Omega 3 fish oil
- Hemp oil
- Grass-fed butter
- Bacon fat or renderings
- Beef tallow
Getting Enough Fat on the Vegetarian Keto Diet
What a sweet task, getting in an abundance of healthy fats each day—we’re roughing it!
The aforementioned fat sources make getting in enough fat, even on a modified vegetarian iteration of the ketogenic diet, easy and enjoyable.
Buying Quality Eggs and Cheese
For the sake of consuming quality products that are hormone and GMO-free, this is an area where we strongly suggest opting for eggs and cheese produced on local farms or that are USDA certified organic.
Also, the excessive hormones that may produce unknown health problems in those who eat industrialized meat over time, coupled with the deplorable treatment of animals raised in mass-farm settings, are enough to take a closer look at where our food is sourced—the big picture of the journey from farm to plate.
What to Eat on a Vegetarian Keto Diet
It's essential to consider macronutrients and the amounts in which you consume them to achieve a balanced meal program on the vegetarian keto diet.
The consumption of a considerable amount of fats, moderate amounts of protein and restricted intake of carbs is the goal; about 70% fat, 25% protein, and 5% carbs.
By default, you will eat more vegetables on a vegetarian-style diet.
On keto, however, which vegetables you consume, and the amounts are more important than ever in your effort to limit carbs and remain in ketosis.
The following is a food list to enjoy on a vegetarian keto diet:
ANIMAL FATS AND PROTEINS (DAIRY & EGGS)
- Cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt (full fat, unsweetened)
- Swiss chard
- Green beans
- Garlic (raw)
- Collard greens
EAT IN LIMITED AMOUNTS
- Spanish (white) onion
NUTS AND SEEDS
- Macadamia nuts
- Brazil nuts
- Coconut (unsweetened)
- Pine nuts
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Sunflower Seeds
EAT IN LIMITED AMOUNTS
KETO SEED OPTIONS
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
FATS AND OILS (OPT FOR ORGANIC, COLD-PRESSED OILS AND GRASS-FED ANIMAL FATS)
- MCT oil
- Grass-fed butter
- Coconut oil
- Avocado oil
- Olive oil
- Hemp oil
NON-DAIRY FAT SOURCES
- Coconut Cream
- Cocoa butter
- Sugar-free ketchup
- Worcestershire sauce
- Sriracha sauce
- Chili sauce (sugar-free)
- Mayonnaise (opt for varieties made using cage-free, pasture-raised, eggs when possible)
- Yellow mustard
- High-fat, sugar-free dressings and sauces
- Hot sauces
- Sauerkraut (sugar-free)
- Coconut aminos
Spices are an essential component of making good food, period. No matter how beneficial, no one wants to eat bland, flavorless food.
Spices are an area to explore and have some fun because there is a minimal restriction on spices on the vegetarian keto diet.
Simply put, adding spices to meals is an opportunity to dial the flavor way up without adding to your food’s carb load!
Here are some great spices to enjoy on the vegetarian keto diet:
- Chilli powder
- Cayenne pepper
Vegetarian Keto Recipe Ideas
There's an endless amount of mouth-watering vegetarian recipes that can work on a keto diet.
Here are some to give you an idea of how delicious and simple it can be to eat as a vegetarian on keto:
Konscious Breakfast Ideas
Eggs come in handy for any meal on keto, but they are even more helpful if also eating vegetarian.
Opt for any variation of a veggie-filled omelet with cheese or a frittata with a heaping side of avocado sprinkled with sea salt.
Smoothies are another fantastic breakfast option.
Think full-fat coconut milk, baby spinach, blueberries, a splash of lemon juice along with stevia to taste—meals can be quick and easy on keto.
Konscious Lunch Ideas
Meal prep is a great tool in general, and many of the foods you’ll want to reach for on this diet can be made ahead of time, so they’re ready for whenever you decide to ‘break the fast.’
Also, just so you know, cauliflower is the star of the show on any version of the keto diet because it is super versatile and can mimic the texture and feel of, otherwise, high-carb comfort foods.
Stir-fried Cauliflower Rice: This versatile dish is so easy to whip up, and you can use whatever veggies and fat sources you have on hand to produce a tasty, low-carb remix on the traditionally restaurant-bought fried rice.
Cauliflower Crust Pizza: This may be my favorite of the keto-style crusts, and it’s incredibly easy to make.
Also, it’s a great idea to top the pizza crusts and freeze them, so all you have to do is reheat and eat when ready.
Fatty Salad with Leafy Greens: Salads are a great option on a vegetarian keto diet.
Go for dark leafy greens to maximize micronutrients, add some boiled eggs, walnuts, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil in a bowl, and you are good to go.
Change up the toppings throughout the week to keep things interesting: add avocado, olives, bell peppers and feta cheese—all tasty additions.
Konscious Dinner Ideas
A nice seared steak slathered in salted grass-fed butter with some cauliflower mash is a great go-to meal for dinner, also an excellent option for meal prep as it reheats well.
Yes, I told you, cauliflower is everywhere on keto, give into it and enjoy life!
Zucchini Alfredo: Zoodles is a fantastic pasta replacement on keto! They are mild in taste and will take on the flavors you use when seasoning.
Pair zoodles with a rich and creamy alfredo sauce using cream cheese, heavy cream, parmesan cheese, grass-fed butter, salt, and spices.
Rotisserie Chicken Thighs and Creamed Spinach: This is another great meal that can easily be made ahead of time, portioned out, and refrigerated, so mealtime is no-fuss throughout the week.
Whole chicken thighs paired with the cream sauce in the spinach deliver a dish abundant in fat and conscious of carbs.
For a time-saving life hack with this meal, grab a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from your local market to cut meal prep time in half!
Cauliflower Wrap with Mushroom and Avocado: Cauliflower tortillas/wraps are incredibly easy to make and super versatile. They can be tortillas, sandwich wraps, or bases for quesadillas.
Pair tortillas with a generous helping of ripe, creamy, avocado, lettuce, mayo and thick strips of portobello steak mushrooms seared in grass-fed butter—Boom!
There you have it, dinner with ideal keto macros: high fat, low carb, and moderate protein.
Can I Do Keto If I’m Vegan?
Without the fatty goodness added into the vegetarian keto diet with dairy and eggs, the parameters of a vegan ketogenic diet are most restrictive.
Eating a vegan keto diet is possible, albeit a bit impractical, but it can be achieved with a lot of planning and consideration.
Vegan Alternatives for Eggs and Dairy
If you do attempt the vegan ketogenic diet, you will undoubtedly need compliant alternatives to eggs and dairy.
Fortunately, there are a variety of vegan alternatives for both that will have an insignificant impact on your glucose levels.
There are many swaps you can use to keep it vegan, keto and delicious.
Here’s a brief conversion chart to give you an idea of some options that may work for you:
Heavy Whipping Cream
Coconut Oil or Vegan Butter
Dairy-based Cream Cheese
Vegan Cream Cheese
Yogurt and Sour Cream
Premade alternatives: The Vegg or VeganEgg
Homemade alternatives: If you’re feeling a little adventurous, you can make an egg replacement—good to use to produce fluffier baked goods—if you combine 1 tsp baking soda with 1 tbsp of white vinegar to equal one egg serving.
We provide more detail on all products mentioned in the article within our vegan ketogenic diet guide which you can access here.
In addition to the handy keto to vegan-keto options noted above, the following is a list of foods you can eat on a vegan ketogenic diet:
- Fermented foods: Food like sauerkraut, kimchi and natto are options to explore on a vegan keto diet and can, in some cases, be used to bulk up recipes or mimic meat in recipes.
- Mushrooms: Speaking of vegan foods that mimic meat, mushrooms are an excellent option to use in vegan burgers, stir-fries, or casseroles to very closely imitate beef.
- Vegan “meats”: Options like tempeh, tofu, and seitan are very popular meat replacements relied upon on a vegan diet. These ingredients probably replicate meat most accurately in meals.
- Sea vegetables: Sea vegetables like kelp and dulse are incredibly nutrient-dense options that can be used to boost nutrition and add flavor to meals.
- Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are a great tool in our food arsenal on a vegan, keto diet. Stick to the lower-carb nuts like almonds, walnuts and macadamia nuts so you can intake a decent amount of fat without too large of a carbohydrate impact.
- Sweeteners: Many consume sweeteners like agave on a vegan diet, but that is not a good option on a keto vegan diet because it will elevate glucose levels unnecessarily. Instead, stick with stevia, xylitol, erythritol and monk fruit sweeteners to enjoy confections without compromising ketosis.
As a general guideline, keep in mind that it’s still crucial to keep an eye out for natural or added sugars when buying vegan-friendly foods as they may be supplemented with sugar to enhance flavor.
Also, look for vegan brands void of hydrogenated oils or hidden carbs, and pay particular attention to fat and protein macros when deciding whether a given food is best in support of your goals.
It is also essential to compensate for the fact that vegans are prone to specific deficiencies if not eating a well-rounded diet, and adding supplements to fortify the body with adequate amounts of B12, calcium, iodine, iron, zinc, the long-chain fatty acids EPA & DHA, and fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, & K2 is vital.
Takeaway Action Steps for a Vegetarian or Vegan Ketogenic Diet
Success on a vegetarian or vegan ketogenic diet is most often achieved if you follow a few simple guidelines and tips:
- Dedicate at least 70% of your calories from fat to plant-based foods
- Eliminate all meat, fish, and animal by-products from your diet (if vegan)
- Restrict protein intake to around 25% of daily caloric intake
- Use quality supplements to get nutrients that may be lacking on a vegan diet
- Limit your total carb intake to 35 grams or less per day
Rest assured, although meat is out of bounds on this plan, there are plentiful, low-glycemic vegetables you can eat on their own.
Leafy greens or versatile cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower that can be used to remix many traditionally high-carb dishes to make them suitable for keto.
Start by swapping out meat for a day, on say a Meatless Monday, and then see how thoroughly you’d like to eliminate animal products from your diet.
Regardless of how strictly you want to follow the ketogenic diet, whichever iteration of the food you prefer, here at Konscious Keto, we think it’s safe to say that a plant-based ketogenic diet is as beneficial to our personal goals, as it is our environment.