At first glance, a “vegan keto diet” may seem like an oxymoron. For many people, their first impression of the keto diet is centered around the heavy consumption of meat, fish, butter and cream – in other words, a vegan’s worst nightmare. However, with many sources of vegan protein and plant-based fats, a vegan keto diet is absolutely possible.
What Can You Eat on a Vegan Keto Diet?
According to Healthline, following a standard keto diet means consuming 70% of your calories from fat, 20% from protein and 10% from carbohydrates. Core items in a vegan keto food list include:
- Fats: Avocado, coconut products, nuts, seeds, olives, plant-based oils and vegan cheese
- Protein: tofu, seitan, tempeh, nutritional yeast and non-dairy yogurt
- Carbohydrates: berries and non-starchy vegetables (think “grows above ground”) such as leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini and mushrooms
Basing a diet around such a high percentage of fat may seem startling but it’s important to note that, per gram, fats have more than twice as many calories as proteins or carbohydrates. This, coupled with the fact that most vegetables and fruits are naturally low-calorie foods, means that this diet won’t look as shocking once it’s on your plate.
Foods to avoid in a plant-based keto diet include meat products, sugar, grains, starchy vegetables and high-carb nuts like cashews and pistachios.
Why You May Want To Consider a Plant-Based Keto Diet
Although there has been no research on plant-based keto benefits, many studies have been conducted on the vegan and keto diets individually. In this section, we’ll compare the reported benefits of each diet on its own, allowing you to make an informed decision as to whether combining the two may be the right option for you.
#1 May Help with Weight Loss
In a study published by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), obese patients (both men and women) were placed on a keto diet, resulting in “significant weight loss.” Levels of blood glucose and total cholesterol also decreased. The same article cites a similar study conducted by Yehuda, Rabinovitz, and Mostofsky, which found that in a comparison between low fat and low carbohydrate diets, the women on a ketogenic diet lost more than double the amount of weight (8.5 kg versus 4.2 kg) as the low-fat group.
Similarly, a non-keto study found that following a vegan diet resulted in the highest level of weight loss when compared to omnivorous (meat-eating), pescatarian (allowing fish, dairy and eggs), semi-vegetarian (occasionally allowing meat) and vegetarian diets. In fact, after six months, the vegan weight loss study showed that weight loss among the vegan population was roughly double the amount of weight lost on any of the other diet.
#2 May Decrease Risk for Certain Cancers
As mentioned above, it has been proven that keto diet benefits include lower levels of blood glucose. As it turns out, certain types of cancer, such as squamous cell lung cancers, thrive on glucose. Throughout a study of 192 patients suffering from either lung or throat cancer, those with lower blood glucose levels had better survival rates than their counterparts.
Very similar results are shown among those following a vegan diet. According to an article by the Mayo Clinic, those following a meatless diet experienced lower cancer rates than those who did not. Among that group, vegans topped the list, followed by vegetarians.
#3 May Improve Heart Health
Interestingly enough, although a keto diet is high in fat, this doesn’t necessarily lead to dangerous cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Scientific reviews of subjects put on a keto diet show lowered cholesterol and blood pressure. This may be because lowered intake of carbohydrates causes our livers to decrease production of triglycerides.
In adults, the American Heart Association claims that plant-based diets lead to decreased mortality rates and lowered levels of cardiovascular disease. Compared to their meat-eating peers, vegans in a 20-year study were 16% less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease and were between 31-32% less likely to die from the disease.
#4 May Lower Risk of Diabetes
After reading about decreased glucose levels earlier in this article, this probably doesn’t surprise you. Sugar itself is a carbohydrate and limited in a keto diet. So, it’s no surprise that keto diet benefits include decreased glucose (blood sugar) levels. In one clinical study published on the NIH website, experts claim that a low-carb keto diet can serve as an effective option to manage diabetes in situations where its sufferers either cannot access or, choose to avoid, medication. However, you should consult with your doctor before foregoing any prescribed medications.
Plant-based diets have also been proven to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. In a review of 9 independent studies, each found that plant-based diet benefits include improved insulin sensitivity and decreased risk of type 2 diabetes.
#5 May Increase Brain Function
One immediate side effect of a keto diet can be brain fog or headache as your body adjusts to its new norm. However, this period only lasts a few days. Long-term, a keto diet can improve brain function. A 2018 article in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience argues that, as our brains age, they become less efficient at processing glucose as an energy source. The fat consumed in a keto diet is absorbed by the liver and used to create ATP, a chemical that can help transport glucose within the brain. So, while you may not have as much glucose in your blood, your brain is better able to harness it for energy. In the same study, rats on a keto diet showed increased brain function across all age groups.
A vegan diet can improve brain function in a different way. According to the Chicago Health and Aging Study, people with a high level of saturated fat in their diet were more than three times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Per researchers, this is because trans fats and saturated fats promote a gradual build-up of plaque within the brain. A vegan diet mainly includes plant-based unsaturated fats compared to the higher levels of saturated fat and cholesterol in meat products.
The 3 Best Vegan Keto Cookbooks That Can Help You Succeed
If you’re now scratching your head, wondering how to create meals from your vegan keto food list, don’t worry! These three books contain hundreds of simple plant-based keto recipes for you to choose from.
This is a great book for beginners. In addition to the recipes themselves, this book contains an entire chapter dedicated to explaining the keto diet.
Authors Nicole and Whitney include tips for creating shopping lists and meal plans so you’re always prepared for the week ahead. If you aren’t convinced yet, this book has dessert recipes!
If you suffer from carb cravings during keto, Liz MacDowell has written this book for you. With more than 60 recipes, Liz has created keto-approved alternatives to foods like waffles, muffins and cupcakes.
Her goal is to make a plant-based keto diet easy to follow without feeling overly restrictive.
This cookbook is packed with recipes and offers substitution recommendations for allergy sufferers. All recipes include macronutrient details so you can easily calculate your consumption of fats, proteins and carbs.
Author Lydia Miller focuses on ingredients you can find in your local grocery store or on Amazon.
Is a Vegan Keto Diet Right for You?
Although there are no scientific studies on a combined keto and vegan diet, analysis of the individual diets suggests that plant-based keto benefits may range from improved heart health and brain function to an overall extension of your life span. With the budget-friendly cookbooks listed above, it’s certainly worth a shot!
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