Veganism is a diet that avoids all animal products. That means no eggs, no seafood, no dairy, and certainly no meat.
Meanwhile, keto became popular in the early 20th century as a treatment for epilepsy. And in the last decade it’s blown up as an effective diet to lose weight and feel healthier.
Now we can combine the two to create the vegan keto diet.
Yes, the Vegan Keto Diet is Possible
Isn’t keto all about meat?
While the mantra “bacon, bacon, bacon” has become associated with keto, being keto doesn’t necessarily mean you have to eat bacon—or any animal product for that matter.
While it can be difficult to eat a low-carb vegan keto diet, it’s not impossible. All you need are a few signposts to know what direction to head in. Which is why we set out to put this guide together.
Let’s remember the basics.
The keto diet means eating foods that are high in fat, low in carbs, and moderate in protein.
To do reduce carbs on a vegan diet without sacrificing total calories or overall nutrition, you have to make sure to eat lots of fatty plant foods: leafy greens, seeds, nuts, etc.
Oh The Foods You Will Eat
To make sure we were on the right track we reached out to holistic Nutrition Consultant Liz MacDowell of Meat Free Keto, who generously helped us get our kitchen in order.
First, let’s get this out of the way: the vegan keto diet is not just tofu.
“Vegan keto is just as varied as a regular vegan diet, it just gets a little more creative with baked goods and other carb substitutes,” Liz told us. “It’s easy to forget how much of our food is totally vegan.”
It’s important to note that traditional veganism replaces meat-protein with legumes and grains—such as the ever-popular beans and rice.
But not on a vegan keto diet. Legumes and grains have far too many carbs to make them a regular substitute.
So, then what will you be eating?
What You Should Be Eating On Vegan Keto
To make a vegan keto diet work you want to fill your grocery cart with non-processed foods that are low in carbs and high in fat content.
- Avocado: it should be no surprise that avocado—and guacamole—is on this list: high in fat and rich in nutrients, plus it’s a millennial favorite.
- Vegetables: zucchini, Brussel sprouts, broccoli, mushrooms, peppers, and cauliflower (your number one new ingredient for making pizza).
- Coconut products: coconut cream, fatty coconut milk, coconut yogurt, coconut oil.
- Berries: blackberries, raspberries, strawberries.
- Tofu: including tempeh.
- Nuts: macadamia, walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts.
- Seeds: flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia, hemp; both in themselves and as spreads (butters).
- Oils: coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, red palm oil, MCT oil
- Vegan cheeses: made from nuts, soy protein, solidified vegetable oil, etc. (watch out for highly processed vegan cheeses).
To make vegan keto diet work you have to pay attention to how many carbs you’re eating.
Snacking on almonds might seem harmless, but eat too many and you’ll soon find yourself pushing up against your allotted carb limit. (There are about 2.9 grams of net carbs in one ounce of almonds, about 23 almonds.)
So what can you snack on?
Liz told us, “I always have frozen veggies, berries and protein powder on hand, so I can roast up some veggies with minimal effort or make a smoothie if I don’t feel like cooking.”
Planning is the key to success.
Avoid These Foods On Vegan Keto
Now we need to highlight all the foods you should avoid—or at least eat sparingly—on a vegan keto diet.
In addition to avoiding animal products and products which cause animals harm—for example, honey and palm oil—a vegan keto diet means avoiding high carb foods. And foods that are high in sugar.
You should also avoid foods that are high in sugar.
- Fruits: bananas, dates, mangos, and pears are high in carbs and should be eaten sparingly.
- Grains: yes that means bread, pasta, cereal, rice, and traditionally baked goods—just like a standard keto diet.
- Alcohol: some alcoholic drinks like beer are very high in carbs and should be avoided.
- Starchy foods: squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, peas.
- Sweeteners: honey, sugar (brown and white), maple syrup, and agave.
- Condiments: marinades, barbecue sauce.
- Sugary drinks: sodas, athletic drinks, sweet teas.
- Gelatin: watch out for gelatin; it’s derived from animal products and contained in numerous foods.
Many fruits and vegetables are high in carbs, so you have to be careful when choosing what to throw in your shopping cart.
Also, avoid highly processed foods such as margarine and canola. Why? Because highly processed foods don’t offer a substantial amount of the nutrients you need, such as the fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6.
One big final note before we move on.
“The big takeaway so far has been to listen to what my body needs, instead of blindly following advice I read on the internet. We are all different with our own genetic makeup and lifestyles, and so the macro ratio/number of carbs/fasting window that works for you might not work for me,” Liz told us.
“In a similar vein, our needs can change day-to-day. So, if you feel like you need more calories or carbs one day, but your fitness app is telling you that you’ve already hit your limit, just do what feels best for your body.”
What About Nutrition On The Vegan Keto Diet?
We have to talk about nutrition.
That is, how you’re going to get all of the nutrients your body needs to function on a vegan keto diet.
The vegan keto diet presents a set of challenges that you have to recognize if you’re going to make it work.
All of us need to take in 9 essential amino acids through the food we eat. These amino acids are the bricks that make up proteins and maintain a host of bodily functions, including building muscle, maintaining the immune system, and absorbing nutrients.
Any type of vegan diet—keto or otherwise—likely lacks a sufficient amount of one particular amino acid called lysine. Why?
Because lysine is not contained in many plant foods. And that poses an issue for proper nutrition.
The WHO (World Health Organization) advises people to eat 13.6 milligrams of lysine per pound of bodyweight. So if you weigh 160 pounds that’s 2,176 milligrams of lysine.
The solution is to seek out and eat foods rich in lysine.
Sources of Lysine:
- Soy: tempeh, in particular, is a great source of lysine—or soy milk.
- Lupini Beans: (lupines)
- Pea Protein: (and pepitas)
- Avocado: (guacamole)
- Legumes: peas and lentils
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Almonds: dry roasted
Soy and lupini beans are both great sources of lysine.
And if you’re getting tired of the same daily dose, you can pick up vegan protein powder, “which will also contain a full spectrum of amino acids, including lysine,” Liz told us.
The Omega Issue
The vegan keto diet has been criticized because it’s difficult to maintain a balance of the fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6.
Why should you care about these acids at all?
Well, for starters omega-3 fatty acids…
- Can lower blood pressure.
- Can fight inflammation.
- Can promote brain growth in infants.
- Are good for your skin.
- Can slow the development of plaque in the arteries.
- Can reduce the chance of abnormal heart rhythm.
- Can reduce the likelihood of heart attack and stroke.
The goal is to eat foods that will give you a proper balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Liz happened to write a post on her site breaking down the acids but we’ll try to summarize here.
Breaking Down Omegas
Plant foods commonly have the omega-3 fatty acid dubbed alpha-lineleic acid—which we’ll call ALA to keep things simple.
Meanwhile, the most common omega-6 fatty acid in plant foods is linoleic acid or LA.
So far, so good?
While our bodies need these omega-3 fatty acids they’re difficult to obtain directly in a vegan diet—because fatty acids are mainly found in high amounts in fatty fish like mackerel and salmon.
Your body can convert ALA (from above) into DHA. The conversion rate is very low, however: less than 1%.
And omega-6 fatty acids compete for the same pathways as omega-3. In other words, if you consume too many omega-6 fatty acids you won’t get enough of the omega-3s you need.
“Studies have shown that it is possible to obtain sufficient EPA and DHA, assuming you consume the correct amount of ALA and limit omega-6 intake, which completes with omega-3s for conversion. There are also vegan omega-3 supplements on the market, and many vegan multivitamins contain balanced omegas.”
Basically, the vegan keto diet puts you on a seesaw. As always, you need to find a balance.
Omega Foods to Eat
So what foods should you eat on a vegan keto diet to get your omegas?
- Algae: nori, spirulina, and seaweed are all rich sources.
- Hemp seeds: an excellent source of omega-3 and omega-6.
- Walnuts: one serving size can fulfill your daily requirement.
- Edamame: the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is high (5:1) so eat sparingly.
- Flaxseeds: rich in protein, fiber, magnesium, manganese, and omega-3s.
- Chia Seeds: one ounce (28 grams) may meet your recommended intake.
And then there are supplements. You can take either omega-3 supplements or vegan multivitamins to increase and help balance fatty acids.
Low Vitamin D
Vegan diets do not contain any foods with significant amounts of vitamin D.
Unless you get enough sunlight each day it may be necessary to take supplements to obtain the daily recommended 400 IU (10 mcg) to 600 IU (15 mcg) of vitamin D.
Unfortunately, most supplements are not vegan-friendly because most supplements are derived from fish oil or from a wax found in sheep’s wool.
But there are vitamin D supplements made from lichen. And those are the ones you want to take with glass of water.
Vegan Keto Health Benefits
While the health benefits of a keto diet are highly touted—from stabilizing blood sugar to helping control epilepsy—we want to take this space to highlight some positive benefits of veganism itself.
[Keto Benefits plug]
Lower Body Weight
At the end of one study comparing five different diets for weight loss, the vegan diet came out ahead.
The average body mass index (BMI) of vegans is much lower than that of non-vegetarians. In general, people who have a plant-based diet are less likely to develop obesity.
Vegan dieters have a 15% decreased risk of all cancers. That’s likely thanks to the consumption of more vegetables, fruits, and legumes, which all have cancer-protective elements.
People eating a vegan diet have a 25% decreased risk of heart disease.
It turns out, a low carb vegan diet was shown to improve heart disease risk factors, according to one study.
Lower Blood Pressure
Vegans have a 75% risk reduction when it comes to developing hypertension, i.e. high blood pressure.
Why? Well for one (and it’s a big one), vegans don’t eat red meat which has been associated with worsening hypertension.
Vegan diets are high in fiber. And the millions of bacteria that have set up shop in your gut love to munch on fibrous materials. Happy gut bacteria means vegans suffer far less from inflammation.
The point is… your gut ecosystem will thank you for being on a vegan keto diet.
But it’s not the only factor. Stress, hormones, and genetics also play a role. As far as food is concerned dairy, in particular, has been weakly linked to skin inflammation.
Seeing as how veganism cuts out dairy it’s no surprise that you can expect healthier skin.
More Energy (Sort of)
Plant-based proteins are easy to digest. Which is why vegans tend to feel a boost of energy right after eating.
It’s not exactly what you’re eating that makes vegan keto dieters feel more energetic, though; it’s what you’re not eating: carbohydrates, sugars, processed foods. A well-rounded diet, vegan or otherwise, will always lead to a bigger boost of energy.
There is evidence that plant-based diets make you feel better—more optimistic and upbeat—which may be due to more antioxidants in the bloodstream.
But maybe what being on a vegan diet really does is make people pay attention to the foods they’re eating, which helps foster a well-balanced diet. And that, in turn, results in a boost of optimism.
You may not feel the benefits of a vegan diet immediately. As with a typical keto diet—or even a vegetarian keto diet—it takes some time for your body to adjust—hence temporary “symptoms” like keto flu and keto breath.
As Liz told us:
“I’ve been told that I was a little grumpy in the first few days (which probably means I was very grumpy), and my workouts were quite sluggish at the beginning.
“But, my mood and athletic performance eventually returned to normal (in fact, my overall mood is much better now than it was before keto) and the rest of the effects I experienced were all quite positive.”
How To Get Started
What makes vegan keto challenging is it combines two restrictive diets, which can make it hard to know what to throw into the pot.
Liz offered some helpful advice for anyone looking to get started:
“Don’t stress about being perfect! A lot of us have this inner drive to do things completely correctly, but that can really add a lot of extra stress and unnecessary pressure. If you eat a few more carbs or calories than you intended, it’s no need to panic. If you’re following a meal plan, but have a work lunch, don’t stress! Changing your diet and lifestyle isn’t an overnight process, so one day won’t make a huge difference in the long run. The important thing is that you keep up the positive momentum and make good changes overall.”
Liz recommends taking a “slow and steady approach,” which applies to anything we decide to change in our lives. Especially when it’s about adopting a new diet, which can be dramatic if we’re not used to paying attention to what we eat or having to refocus our attention.
“I’d love for people to know that vegan keto is totally achievable and that you don’t have to go crazy trying to hit macros perfectly every single day. Keto is not an exact formula – it’s a state your body achieves. So whatever foods you eat to get there are totally fine. :)”
As for my favorite recipe, I am currently obsessed with this Buffalo Jackfruit Dip. It’s just so good and is one of those things that you kind of can’t believe actually fits into a reasonably healthy diet.”
To help you get started on your own vegan keto journey we’ve compiled some recipes you can try below.
Vegan Keto Recipes
To help you get started on the vegan keto diet we’re including all of the recipes from across our site that fit the vegan keto lifestyle. Recipes are divided between their respective categories, such as Breakfast and Dinner. We hope you find it helpful. And we’ll be sure to update the recipes below as our directory grows!
Vegan Keto Breakfast
Figuring out what to eat for breakfast can be a pain. Afterall… you don’t want to think first thing in the morning! It takes a bit to get the engines going. The recipes below should help clear the fog and help you get your day started right.
Vegan Keto Lunch
You need to keep your energy up in the middle of the day, but what to eat for a vegan keto lunch? It’s not always easy to order-in like your coworkers might. Which is why the recipes below will help you make a quick and easy lunch that’s vegan, keto, and delicious!
Vegan Keto Dinner
Eating the same thing every day gets boring, and you won’t last long if you don’t entertain your palette by mixing up your entrees. Which is why we’ve included the vegan keto dinner recipes below!
Vegan Keto Snacks
Sometimes you’re not ready for a meal and just need the quick energy boost afforded by a snack. And that’s when you need a quick low-carb snack, that’s vegan-friendly too. We hope the following snacks give you the boost whenever you’re in need!
Vegan Keto Desserts
Whoever said “You can’t have your cake and eat it too” clearly never tried a vegan keto diet. There are many delicious desserts that are full of fats and vegan that you can make to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Vegan Keto Sauces/Condiments
When you need to pizzazz a meal it’s best to have sauces handy. Which is why we’ve compiled the following vegan keto friendly sauces and condiments that you can add to any meal.