Vegetarianism is rising in popularity, with roughly 7.3 million people eliminating meat from their diet in the United States alone (1). On the surface, a ketogenic diet and vegetarian diet seem to be polar opposites. Typically a vegetarian diet eliminates all meat, and the ketogenic diet relies on lean meats for protein. A vegetarian diet is higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein and fats... So, can these two diets coexist?
The answer is a resounding yes. Regardless of your reasoning for becoming vegetarian, you can still reap the benefits of a ketogenic diet with a few tweaks to the diet. The ketogenic diet focuses on high fat foods, which can be found in both animal and plant based foods. As a vegetarian keto dieter, finding what protein foods and low-carb vegetables work for you is essential. You may have to be slightly more flexible with your macronutrient content, especially if you dislike vegetarian protein sources such as tofu. Below is a guide to show you how to make tweaks to the ketogenic diet to fit your vegetarian lifestyle.
TWEAKING YOUR KETOGENIC DIET
Understanding “good” versus “bad” carbohydrates is a cornerstone of the ketogenic diet, and the same principle applies when considering a vegetarian keto diet(2). Food items like chips, ice cream, white potatoes, pastas, breads will not have a place in your keto diet (unless you cycle your carbs). Low carbohydrate vegetables will be the bulk of your diet by volume, but the challenge is ensuring your carbohydrate count stays within the keto 5-10% range. Low carb vegetables include:
Leafy greens such as spinach, salad greens, kale
Fruits are included in the ketogenic diet in moderation, and are usually limited to lower carbohydrate fruits such as berries. Include these in your diet in moderation to maintain ketosis.
Nut butters, nuts and seeds, healthy oils, and dairy products will make up the majority of the fat sources in your vegetarian ketogenic diet. While meat eaters often get a portion of their fat content built in with their meat source, be conscious that often vegetarian protein sources have no or negligible fat content. To make sure you are hitting your fat goals, add extra oil while cooking, choose lower carbohydrate nuts, and drizzle nut butter on your keto pancakes. Utilizing fat supplements like MCT oils may help you hit your fat targets.
The myth that vegetarians don’t get enough protein still circulates around the dark corners of the internet (3), but rest assured you will have no problem hitting your protein goals as a vegetarian keto dieter. Eggs, dairy, miso, tofu, tempeh, nuts and seeds will be staples in hitting your protein target. Be wary of meat substitute products as they can be full of artificial ingredients and added carbohydrates. If you are having trouble hitting your targets, or strongly dislike miso and tofu, consider adding a protein powder supplement to your diet. When added to unsweetened almond milk, you have a low carbohydrate shake packed with protein.
(1) Ellen Schuster, BA, MS. Vegetarian Trends. sneb.org. https://www.sneb.org/blog/2018/04/03/general/vegetarian-trends/ April 3, 2018. Accessed Sep. 15th, 2018
(2) Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The Nutrition Source. Carbohydrates. hsph.harvard.edu. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/ Accessed Sep. 15th, 2018
(3) Amanda Woodvine, BSc. The Protein Myth Why vegetarian and vegan diets contain all the protein that you need. Vegetarian and Vegan Foundation. 2018.