Remaining vegan on a low-carb diet can be challenging. Not impossible, but challenging.
A vegan Keto diet can be challenging, first and foremost, because it’s hard to get enough protein from plants. It’s hard to get enough protein on a normal vegan diet that includes beans, but although beans are a decent protein source, they have too many carbs to be Keto.
And protein isn’t the only nutrient plants are short on. That’s why it’s critical to supplement wisely on a vegan low-carb diet.
In this article, you’ll learn what it takes to transition to a Keto vegan diet. It requires extra care and sacrifice, but if you’re committed to avoiding animal products on Keto, you can make it happen.
What is Vegan Keto?
A vegan Keto diet is a very low-carb diet composed entirely of plant-based calorie sources. Plants are in, animal products (including eggs and dairy) are out.
The macros remain the same as on a standard Keto diet: 60-70% fat, 20-30% protein, and less than 10% carbohydrates. Keeping your macros in these ratios—especially keeping carbs low—gets your body burning fat and producing ketones. That’s called entering ketosis.[*]
How many net carbs should you aim for on vegan Keto? Probably less than 30 grams per day. That means beans—a vegan staple for protein, vitamins, and minerals—are largely off-limits.
Anything plant-based and low-carb is fair game on vegan Keto. Approved foods include:
- Healthy fats like coconut oil, avocados and olive oil.
- Low-carb vegetables like spinach, kale, mushrooms, broccoli, asparagus, etc.
- Nuts and seeds like almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, etc.
- Protein powders like rice protein powder, hemp protein powder, and pea protein powder.
- Plant-based proteins such as tofu, tempeh and seitan.
The list of disapproved foods is longer. Anything that comes from animals or containing significant carbs is forbidden. That means no meat, fish, eggs, dairy, honey, (most) fruit, beans, grains, sugar, or root vegetables.
Why Go Vegan Keto?
This question contains two separate questions:
- Why go vegan?
- Why go Keto?
The answer to the first question may include ethical reasons for avoiding animal products. Factory farming is not kind to chickens, cows, pigs, and a variety of other creatures.
Environmental concerns may also be a driving factor in choosing to go vegan. Plant-based diets are touted as being more sustainable and less damaging to the environment than a diet that includes meat and animal-based produce.
Someone might also go vegan for health reasons. Perhaps animal products don’t agree with them or perhaps they’re seeking to lower their risk of chronic disease.
Population data suggest that vegetarians have better health outcomes than the general population, but it’s not clear what’s driving that correlation.[*] Is it the plant-based diet or some other factor? Are vegetarians simply more likely to engage in healthy behaviors like exercise? We really don’t know.
Moving to specifics, both vegetarian and vegan diets are associated with lower cancer risk, but they’re also associated with higher fracture risk.[*][*] Interestingly, the mortality rates between vegans, vegetarians and occasional meat-eaters are similar.[*]
Why go Keto? The short answer is that the fat-burning state called ketosis may help with weight loss, blood sugar control, mental performance, and (potentially) chronic disease risk. Check out our articles on Keto for weight loss and Keto beyond weight loss for more on this topic.
Challenges of Vegan Keto
If you want to go Keto as a vegan, it’s wise to reflect on the challenges first. Here are the big ones.
#1: It’s restrictive
A Keto diet—even a normal Keto diet—is restrictive. You have to avoid carbs like it’s your job, and your menu shrinks accordingly.
Add vegan to the mix and your menu options are further reduced.
Your choices become more limited, with a heavy focus on plant-based, low-carb proteins such as tofu and tempeh, healthy fats such avocados, coconuts, olives, nuts and seeds, protein powders and low-carb veggies. These will be your main calorie sources.
#2: Dining Out
Most restaurants can probably make a salad or vegetable-based dish that won’t derail your Keto vegan lifestyle. But without beans, eggs, meat, or fish, that salad probably won’t be substantial enough to fuel your day. Ask your server for plant-based protein options if available, and be sure to include lots of healthy fats in your meal by adding an extra drizzle of oil. Your at-home nutrition plan should ensure you meet all your dietary requirements and it may help to be stocked up on emergency snacks whenever you leave the house.
#3: Getting enough protein
Getting enough protein is the primary challenge for plant-based Keto dieters.
How much protein do you need to support muscle and other essential functions? It depends on your activity level. Here are the science-based recommendations:[*]
- High activity: 1.6 grams protein per kilogram body weight (100 grams for a 140-pound person)
- Moderate activity: 1.3 grams protein per kilogram body weight (80 grams for a 140-pound person)
- Minimal activity: 1 gram protein per kilogram body weight (60 grams for a 140-pound person)
When in doubt, aim for the higher end of this spectrum. For most people, 100 grams of protein per day is a good baseline target. Some may thrive at double that amount.
There are several main protein options on vegan Keto:
- Nuts and seeds
- Hemp, pea, and rice protein powders
Try not to over-rely on nuts and seeds. Not only are they easy to overeat, but they contain anti-nutrients (like phytic acid) that inhibit mineral absorption and high amounts of omega 6 fats (like linoleic acid) that appear to be inflammatory in excess.[*][*]
You may also find some plant-based “fake meats” that are low carb, but as these are often highly processed foods we recommend them as “sometimes” treats to spice up your diet, and not foods worth leaning on for the bulk of your protein intake.
#4: Nutrient deficiencies
When you avoid all animal products, it’s challenging to get all the nutrients you need for optimal health. But supplementation and careful consideration of your dietary choices can plug most of these gaps. Keep reading.
How to Make a Vegan Keto Diet Work
Despite these main challenges, if you’re determined to make vegan Keto work for you, it’s absolutely possible. Follow the tips below, focus on getting in all the necessary macro and micronutrients required for optimum health, and you may see success with vegan Keto.
Best Supplements for Vegan Keto
Here’s a short list of supplements to enhance a vegan Keto diet:
- B12. Vegetarians and vegans tend to be deficient in this crucial mineral for energy production and nervous system health, as it is not found in any plant foods at a significant level.[*]
- Choline. If you’re avoiding meat, liver, and eggs, you’re likely to be deficient in choline—a nutrient that helps your liver process fat.[*]
- Omega-3s. The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA support heart, brain, and eye health.[*] The best source is fish, but vegans can get their omega-3s by consuming algal oil-based supplements.
- Taurine. High in animal foods, this under-appreciated nutrient has been identified as an important longevity aid.[*]
- Creatine. Creatine increases strength and has been shown to improve cognitive function in vegetarians.[*] Creatine stores decline on a vegetarian diet. Supplementation can fix that problem.[*]
Get those nutrients handled—and get enough protein—and you’ll be better positioned than most Keto vegans.
Vegan Keto Recipes
If you want to embark on a plant-based journey, browse the Carb Manager recipe database for the best vegan Keto options. Here are some of our favorite recipes to help get you started:
5 Tips for a Vegan Keto Diet
Before we sign off, let’s condense this article into five actionable tips:
- Get at least 100 grams of protein per day. Most of this protein will come from vegan protein powders, low-carb plant-based proteins such as tempeh, tofu and seitan, and (to a lesser extent) nuts.
- Don’t overdo the nuts. They’re easy to overeat, contain anti-nutrients, and are high in omega-6 fatty acids.
- Be flexible in your approach. If you are looking to transition to a vegan Keto diet for environmental and ethical reasons, you can start with ‘meatless mondays’ or simply experiment with reducing your meat and dairy consumption. If you are looking to be predominantly plant-based with the inclusion of a little meat or dairy, opt for grass-fed and locally sourced.
- Supplement. Take the supplements listed in the previous section and also consider a well-formulated multivitamin to cover your micronutrient bases.
- Experiment. Try vegan Keto for one week and see how you feel. Better, worse, about the same?
Your answer to #5—along with any blood work or test results that you review with your doctor—should guide your plans.
Maybe you stay Keto vegan, maybe you dial it back to vegetarian Keto, maybe you bring back carbs, maybe you sprinkle in some animal products. Keep experimenting until you find a regimen that’s enjoyable, sustainable, and leaves you feeling strong and healthy.