At this point, just about everyone has heard of the ketogenic diet—a high-fat, low-carb eating plan that studies show can supercharge your body’s ability to burn fat. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, though, it can seem like going keto just isn’t for you. But keto for vegetarians and vegans is totally a thing! While fish, meat, dairy, and eggs can be found in many popular keto-friendly recipes, experts say it is possible to take a vegetarian or even purely plant-based, vegan approach to keto.
Since being vegan is essentially a stricter version of being vegetarian, let’s start by looking at the basic rules for eating a vegetarian keto diet. Craig Clarke’s personal weight-loss journey inspired him to create a site devoted to helping people take a science-backed approach to meeting their own weight goals. His site features lots of useful information on the keto diet, including a helpful and extensive guide to the vegetarian keto diet. Here are the three most important takeaways.
And you can use our helpful keto calculator to determine your calorie and macronutrient needs.
To meet the protein and fat goals for the keto diet as a vegetarian, you’ll probably end up eating a lot of eggs and dairy, according to dietician Samantha Rigoli. Other vegetarian protein staples like black beans and chickpeas are off-limits on the keto diet, so you’ll want to double down on everything else.
While plant-based meats like tofu, tempeh, and seitan can be keto-compliant, keep in mind that many of those offerings may eat up a fairly high percentage of your daily carb intake. And don’t forget that some keto-friendly vegetables can be quite high in protein—mushrooms in particular, which contain 6.2 grams of protein per 100-gram serving.
There’s a lot you can’t eat on the vegetarian keto diet, but going by the recipes created by Melissa Sevigny, who runs the site I Breathe, I’m Hungry, what you can eat looks pretty damn delicious. Here’s 5 vegetarian keto recipes that are pretty much guaranteed to make your mouth water:
Some feel that the vegan keto diet is too restrictive, but Liz MacDowell, a holistic nutrition consultant who runs the site Meat Free Keto, disagrees. After suffering from IBS and related conditions for years, MacDowell decided to give vegan keto a try. “It was like a revelation to me,” she said. She also found it didn’t require that much more planning than simply following a plant-based diet.
That said, since vegans don’t eat eggs or dairy, it can be more challenging to hit your keto diet ratios. In addition to the non-dairy, non-egg protein options discussed above, MacDowell suggests incorporating nutritional yeast and hemp seeds.
Nutritional yeast contains about 3 grams of complete protein per tablespoon, plus tons of B vitamins. If you sprinkle some on the savory dishes you eat throughout the day, it can really add up!
Hemp seeds can also help you hit your keto targets. One quarter-cup serving will get you close to 50% of your daily iron requirement and 15 grams of protein. They’re also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can be hard to find in vegan foods.
As a vegan, your options for fats are more plentiful. Butter is off-limits of course, but you should use generous amounts of oil when you cook. And go nuts for nuts and nut butters! Macadamia nuts have an especially high fat content. You can also work in nut flours and nut milks. According to Rigoli: “If you’re on keto and you’re not eating meat or fish, nuts will be a big source of fat for you.”
Oh, and don’t forget about avocados! These superfruits are super fatty and a super source of vitamin B5. Eating a single avocado gives you 40% of your daily intake.
Rigoli, MacDowell, and other nutrition experts agree that keto for vegetarians and vegans can compromise your nutritional intake. “You’re missing out on a lot of nutrients by eating this way—especially iron and zinc and omega-3s and vitamin D—so a supplement is a really good idea,” Rigoli said.
She and MacDowell both recommend investing in a high-quality daily multivitamin for sure. Recommendations for other vitamins depend a lot on your personal diet choices, and it might be smart to consult with a nutritionist, particularly if you’re planning to adopt a vegetarian or vegan keto diet for the long term. As with the keto diet for meat eaters, it’s always helpful to take keto supplements to help you reach and stay in ketosis faster. Check out our popular MCT Oil Softgels and BHB Oil Capsules and Powders.