Here’s How to Go Keto and Still Be Plant-Based
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard the endless hype about the Keto diet, a low-carb eating plan originally created for people who suffer from seizures, which promotes rapid weight loss by limiting carbs and burning fat for energy instead. But, if you follow a plant-based lifestyle, you may be asking yourself, “Is it even possible to do Keto without eating meat?”
First of all an editorial note: Here at The Beet we are not fans of the keto diet as a long-term solution to keeping off weight. Harvard's T. H. Chan School of Public Health explains that the high fat content of keto goes against the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association and may raise LDL cholesterol. Plus there does not appear to be any better results after 1 year between those who attempt to lose weight through keto and other more conventional diet plans. Keto basically reduces the body's reliance on glucose for energy and forces it to mobilize fat stores as ready energy, by putting your body into ketosis. There is no single keto diet, according to the Harvard School of Public Health review, but the approach generally calls for eating an average of 70-80% of your total daily calories from fat, 10-20 percent from protein and 5-10% from carbohydrate, or less than 50 grams of carbs a day (equivalent to about one bagel). This is not only extremely hard to sustain, but controversial in the medical community that espouses a heart-healthy diet high in vegetables, fiber and low in saturated fat. However we recognize how popular the keto diet is, and we wanted to answer the question: Is it possible to be keto and plant based? The answer is yes, if you are prepared to substitute animal protein with plant protein, and keep your fat sources plant based such as avocados, vegetable oil, olive oil or flax seed oil, and be prepared to eat plenty of nuts and seeds.
“Instead of meat and dairy, you'll be getting healthy fats from plant-based sources such as avocados, coconuts, olives, nuts and seeds, which also contain protein,” says functional medicine expert Dr. Will Cole, author of Ketotarian, a predominantly plant-based Keto diet program. “A conventional Keto diet can be really low in vegetables due to the fear of eating too many carbs. However, on a vegan keto diet, you focus on low-starch vegetables like dark leafy greens which give you a more well-rounded nutrient-dense diet in the long run.”
Although you may have fewer protein as a plant-based eater choices than meat-eaters, following a vegan keto diet plan still provides plenty of variety. You can nosh on healthy eats like avocado fries, cauliflower fried rice or zucchini noodles. Or indulge in a handful of roasted macadamia nuts or nut butter guilt-free. The key is to fill up on plenty of fats and proteins while minimizing your carb intake to a maximum of 50 grams a day.
“My book Ketotarian is all about how to do the keto diet completely plant-based, whether you are pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan,” says Cole. “While you don't have the option of eggs, ghee or wild-caught fish, which I allow for vegetarians and pescatarians, the basics of what you are eating will provide you with the essential nutrients your body needs to thrive.”
Devotees of the keto approach – including Halle Berry, Vanessa Hudgens and Kourtney Kardashian – credit the extreme diet with promoting clearer skin, boosting energy and, of course, helping to shed extra pounds. “The keto lifestyle offers so many benefits such as weight loss, appetite control, more energy and better mental performance,” Berry posted on her Instagram page. “If you’re like me, you can possibly reverse type 2 diabetes. You’ll experience better physical endurance, better skin and also less acne if that’s an issue. And it even helps control migraines! So today I encourage you to say yes to Keto. Give it a try... What do you have to lose?!”
But, despite the numerous celebrity endorsements, not everyone is on board with the recent keto craze. Whitney English, a registered dietician and nutritionist in Los Angeles, warns there could be plenty of drawbacks to cutting carbs out of your diet. Ultimately, it could actually do more harm than good, especially if you are a vegan or vegetarian.
“It can be hard to meet nutrient needs when your choices are so limited,” says English. “There is no research on vegan ketogenic diets. What we do know is the more restrictive a diet, the harder it is for people to stick to it. Why cut out nutritious, health-promoting foods if you don't have to?”
Instead, she suggests losing weight the old-fashioned way: getting plenty of exercise and upping your intake of fresh fruits and veggies, and focusing on a whole foods plant based diet. “Eating a nutrient-rich, varied plant-based diet and listening to your body's hunger and fullness cues is the best way to achieve a healthy weight,” says English. “Jumping on the fad diet bandwagon may help you lose weight in the short-term, but typically results in weight regain in the long-run.”
Nonetheless, many experts (Cole included) still insist that the keto diet is a beneficial way for anyone to experience longterm health benefits. These could include – but aren't limited to – stabilized blood sugar, less inflammation and better cardiovascular health.
“Weight loss is typically the first aspect that draws a person to try a keto diet,” says Cole. “While that is certainly a benefit, the health benefits go far beyond that Specifically, a keto diet helps to stabilize out-of-control blood sugar, lower inflammation through moderating pro-inflammatory pathways and help enhance cognitive function as ketones are able to pass through the blood-brain barrier as a more effective form of fuel to your brain than glucose.”
Although there is still limited scientific evidence to support these claims, research does show that following a keto diet could have benefits for overweight individuals. According to a 2014 study conducted at the University of Pandova in Italy, participants who suffered from obesity saw improved appetite control and weight loss when they adopted a high fat, low-carb lifestyle. However, researchers concluded that the keto diet should only be followed for a maximum of 6 to 12 months.
That said, even Cole admits that extreme eating, such as increasing your protein and fat intake, as prescribed on the keto diet, can pose some serious health risks. “A traditional ketogenic diet doesn't always take into account the sensitivities that some people have to dairy and processed conventional meats,” he says. “These can perpetuate inflammation and the health problems they are looking to avoid with being in a ketogenic state. That is why I advocate for eating a plant-based ketogenic diet to avoid this and other potential pitfalls of conventional Keto diets.”
In other words, you are what you eat. So always try to eat a well-balanced diet. Regardless of whether you decide to follow a traditional plant-based diet or give the keto craze a try, remember to always consult a doctor first before embarking on any drastic lifestyle changes!