A common question we get here at Carb Manager:
Can you combine a veggie or vegan diet with Keto?
Traditionally, a Keto diet contains a fairly high amount of animal protein through meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. On the surface, it doesn't appear to be all that herbivore-friendly.
That being said, with some tweaking, a plant-based Keto diet can be achieved.
If you consciously design your plant-based Keto diet, you can find protein, essential fatty acids, and micronutrients in eggs, supplements, and a few other places.
Normally, vegetarians get many nutrients from legumes. But you can’t eat legumes on a Ketogenic diet. They contain too many carbs. They’ll kick you out of the fat-burning state (ketosis) for which the diet is named.
The key for Keto vegetarians is to find low-carb, nutrient-dense foods that they’re comfortable consuming. And the ease in achieving this goal depends on which brand of vegetarianism we’re talking about.
We'll also look at the ins and outs of vegan and veggie Keto, including the potential benefits, top foods to include, and how to overcome common challenges.
Types of Vegetarians
The term vegetarian refers to someone who doesn’t eat meat and (possibly) other animal products. Here are the different types of vegetarians, from least restrictive to most restrictive:
- Pescatarians consume seafood, dairy, and eggs, but avoid meat.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians consume dairy and eggs, but avoid seafood and meat. This is how most of the western world does vegetarianism.
- Lacto vegetarians consume dairy but avoid eggs, seafood, and meat.
- Vegans avoid all animal products, including eggs, dairy, and honey.
The further you descend on the list, the more challenging it becomes to do Keto healthfully. A pescatarian, for instance, should have little trouble getting enough protein, vitamin B12, and omega 3 fatty acids from fish. A vegan, however, will probably need to take omega-3 algae supplements and plant-based protein powders. This article will focus mostly on Keto dieting as a lacto-ovo vegetarian.
What is Veggie Keto?
You might be interested in following a plant-based diet for ethical or religious reasons, or you may be looking to reduce your carbon footprint. Others choose the plant based-lifestyle in an effort to support their health.
Regardless of your motivation, there are various ways in which you can tweak a low-carb, Keto diet to make it more plant-friendly.
- Veggie Keto is simply a ketogenic diet without meat and fish. You're still aiming to primarily eat high-fat, low carb foods in order to remain in the state of Ketosis.
- A vegan Keto diet is one that contains no animal products whatsoever - including eggs, dairy, as well as meat and fish. Going fully vegan on Keto can be challenging as many vegan protein sources are also high in carbs. That being said, it's not completely impossible if you plan ahead and you're determined to make it work.
Concerns About Keto for Vegetarians and Vegans
Concerns about eating a plant-based very-low carb diet generally fall into three categories:
- Protein concerns
- Essential fatty acid concerns
- Micronutrient concerns
With meat and fish off the menu, Keto vegetarians must work extra hard to get enough protein. Who cares about protein? Your body does. Protein is arguably the most essential macronutrient.
Carbohydrates are not the most essential. If you don’t eat carbs, your body synthesizes glucose—the simple sugar needed for brain energy—through a process called gluconeogenesis, primarily from amino acids, the basic building blocks of proteins[*].
Dietary fat is essential, but less essential than dietary protein. We carry around plenty of body fat as backup energy. And though fat is a great energy source, carbs can fulfill that function too.
That leaves protein. Protein structures every tissue in your body. It provides the raw materials—amino acids—for muscles to grow, wounds to heal, and hormones to form[*]. No other macro can do these jobs.
Meat and fish are called “complete proteins” because they contain the full spectrum of amino acids. You can get the full spectrum of aminos from plant sources, but it’s harder—especially on Keto, without legumes and grains.
Essential fatty acid concerns
Meat and fish are high in omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids. Arachidonic acid, for instance, is an omega-6 fatty acid that structures cell membranes, regulates immunity, and contributes to reward signaling in the brain (endocannabinoids are arachidonic acid derivatives)[*].
Omega 3s are also important. The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, best found in marine life, have a wide range of functions in the human body. They support healthy levels of inflammation, brain function, even mood[*][*].
Certain micronutrients—like creatine, carnosine, and taurine—are only found in meat[*]. Iron is another big one. It’s found in plant-products, yes, but in a less bioavailable form than the “heme iron” in meat[*].
Getting enough B vitamins on plant-based Keto can also be challenging. B12 is best found in animal products, and niacin and thiamine are best found in starchy foods.
How To Go Keto As A Vegetarian
Time to get practical. Heed these tips to optimize your Keto vegetarian diet.
#1: Eat eggs
If you’re comfortable eating them, eggs can solve most concerns about vegetarianism on Keto.
They solve the protein concern. Egg protein is among the most bioavailable proteins on the planet[*].
They solve the fatty acid concern. Eggs are rich in arachidonic acid, and—if from pasture raised chickens—omega-3s too.
They solve many micronutrient concerns. Eggs provide B12, iron, choline (for liver health and fat metabolism), and vitamin A as retinol. (Your body uses retinol more readily than plant-based vitamin A). Eggs, in other words, are the perfect food for Keto vegetarians.
#2: Eat dairy (if tolerated)
If your gut likes dairy, consider yourself a lucky Keto vegetarian. Dairy products are rich in protein and a variety of essential fatty acids.
Whey protein deserves a special mention. Whey is more easily digested than the other milk protein (casein), and it’s more bioavailable too[*].
If you can’t do whey protein, turn to soy protein, pea protein, hemp protein, or other plant-based alternatives. But keep in mind that these plant-based proteins have a lower biological value than egg, meat, or whey protein[*].
#3: Supplement wisely
Despite your best efforts to perfect your plant-based Keto diet, you’ll probably still miss a few key nutrients. Consider taking:
- Creatine. For strength training and cognitive support[*].
- Carnosine. For muscle endurance and antioxidant support[*].
- Taurine. For cardiovascular health[*].
- B vitamins like B12, niacin, and thiamine for energy production.
- Omega-3 fatty acids for inflammation support and brain health. (If you’re not cool with taking fish oil, look for omega-3 algae supplements).
- Eat eggs. They’re a supplemental food. Consider eating at least four per day.
What about iron? Keto vegetarians can eat dark chocolate, eggs, and seeds for this mineral. If you’re eating lots of these foods and you’re still iron deficient, consider working with a medical professional to supplement your way back to normal iron status.
#4: Eat low-carb vegetables with healthy fat
All Keto dieters should follow this rule, but Keto vegetarians should live by it. A typical meal will feature a bed of greens topped with healthy fats and protein from nuts or eggs. Another go-to meal is a green Keto smoothie.
For low-carb vegetables, try kale, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, asparagus, spinach, lettuce, and other leafy greens. For healthy fats, try extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil, as well as butter, ghee, and extra virgin (unrefined) red palm oil. Mix and match to suit your taste buds.
What About Vegan Keto?
A vegetarian Keto diet can quite easily be achieved by replacing traditional protein sources like meat and fish with eggs, dairy products, nuts, seeds, and tofu.
But what about fully vegan Keto?
Functional medicine practitioner Dr. Will Cole pioneered the Ketotarian diet, a primarily plant-based version of Keto that offers a fully vegan option. This typically means relying more heavily on plant-based protein sources like tofu, nuts and seeds, and even tempeh in moderation.
Although it can be done, fully vegan Keto does come with its challenges. Here’s how to stay on top of them:
1. Ensure You Eat a Variety of Whole Foods
By going low-carb or plant-based, you’ve already placed restrictions on your dietary choices. Combining the two regimes adds another layer of restriction, which may make the diet more difficult to stick to long-term.
To overcome this, ensure you have a range of delicious recipes ready to experiment with. You’ll find plenty of those in the Carb Manager App.
2. Stay on Top of Nutrient Deficiencies
While it is entirely possible to eat a vegan diet and be healthy, you should be mindful of certain nutrient deficiencies that may occur.
You can cover your bases to a degree by eating a variety of nutrient-dense, colorful whole foods, but it's also important to stay on top of blood work and supplement where necessary.
3. Make Plant-Based Protein a Priority
We know that protein is important for a whole host of bodily processes, including growth, repair, and maintaining satiety.
Because many plant-based foods are rich in carbohydrates, it can be challenging to remain in true nutritional Ketosis on a vegan Keto diet while also consuming adequate protein.
Here are some useful sources to stock up on:
- Hemp seeds. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and come with a complete amino acid profile.
- Tofu and Tempeh. Although they do contain carbohydrates, both soy products can work well in moderation. Opt for organic whenever possible.
- Meat substitutes. Certain meat replacements like seitan and Beyond Meat can help to keep your protein intake up on vegan keto.
- Keto-friendly protein powders. There are an increasing number of protein powders on the market with Keto-friendly macros, including:
- Sun Warrior Blend
- Vega Sport
- Philosophie Protein Cacao Magic
- 22 Days Plant Power
- Garden of Life Raw
4. Experiment with Intermittent Fasting
Another way to encourage your body into Ketosis while on a plant-based diet is to combine it with intermittent fasting.
If fasting is suitable for you, you can experiment with shortening your eating window and extending the amount of time you spend in a fasted state to kickstart your body into using fat as a fuel, potentially making it easier to remain in Ketosis.
Top Veggie Keto Foods
There are certain foods that make great staples on a healthy, well-balanced plant-based Keto diet, including:
Low-Carb Veg & Fruits
- Leafy greens
- Cauliflower (in moderation)
- Dark berries (in moderation)
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Shea butter
- Grass-fed butter
Vegetarian Sources of Protein on Keto:
- Nuts & Seeds
- Nut & Seed Butters
- Tempeh (in moderation)
Vegetarian + Vegan Keto Recipes
Veggie Keto Breakfast:
- Keto Vegetarian Egg Cups
- Keto Vegetarian Mushroom Spinach Quiche
- Keto Instant Pot Vegetarian Frittata
- Keto Vegan Veggie Scramble
- Low Carb Vegetarian Burrito Bowl Recipe
Veggie Keto Lunch:
- Keto Vegetarian Mushroom Pizza Bites
- Low Carb Veggie Delight Sushi
- Keto Vegetarian Buddha Bowl
- Keto Vegetarian Cauliflower Steak Pizza
- Keto Vegetarian Griddled Zucchini Open Sandwich
Veggie Keto Dinner:
- Low Carb Vegetarian Mushroom Stroganoff
- Low Carb Vegetarian Lasagna
- Keto Veggie Nuggets
- Low Carb Veggie Egg Fried Rice
- Low Carb Vegetarian Mini Eggplant Pizzas W Arugula Artichoke Salad
Veggie Keto Snacks & Sides:
- Low Carb Vegetarian Garlic Croquettes
- Keto Vegan Bread
- Keto Vegan Guacamole
- Keto Vegetarian Stuffing Balls
- Keto Coconut-choc Fat Bombs
Veggie Keto Desserts:
- Keto Vegan Chocolate Mug Cake
- Keto Vegan Dark Chocolate Cake
- Keto Vegan Strawberry Fat Bomb Bites
- Keto Best Veggie Chocolate Chip Muffins
- Keto Vegan Tahini Cookies
And if you're looking for more options, remember to search "vegan" or "vegetarian" inside the Recipes section of the Carb Manager app - you'll find lots of recipes, and we're always adding more. Check out the Meal Plan + Meal Planner sections for weekly plans to fit your plant-based, low-carb lifestyle.
Is Plant-Based Keto 2.0 The Solution?
Another option is “Keto 2.0”, essentially a more laid back version of the Ketogenic diet that allows for a more relaxed macronutrient ratio - typically 50% of calories from fat, 30% from protein, and 20% from carbs. This could mean you get to consume up to 100 g of carbohydrates on a 2000 kcal diet.
While it’s unlikely you’ll be in true Ketosis on Keto 2.0, it would still be considered a fairly low-carb diet.
It would also make it easier for you to stay fully plant-based while eating a wider variety of foods and still hitting your protein requirements.
Find out more here: The Ultimate Guide to Keto 2.0
Plant-Based Keto: Get Started Today
With the Carb Manager App, we offer the ability to filter recipes and meal plans by “vegetarian”, making it easy for you to find healthy, plant-based, Keto-friendly meals.