The ketogenic diet, better known as the keto diet, is a very low carbohydrate diet which has been proven to aid in weight loss. This diet works by using ketones as fuel for the body’s energy requirements which is where the term “keto” comes from.
These ketones are produced in the liver from fat cells and are turned into a useable fuel for the body to run on. Your body can use either glucose or ketones, but if glucose is readily available it will use it first.
This means that when glucose is available the body will not break down fat. It is actually in fat storage mode as most excess glucose is eventually converted into fat stores. A ketogenic diet limits carbohydrate intake, and by doing so causes your insulin levels to decrease. This results in your body turning to fat stores, breaking them down and burning the resulting ketones for fuel.
On the keto diet the most important thing to remember is to not eat too many carbohydrates per day. The amount of carbohydrates you should consume per day should be under 50 grams, although ideally under 20 grams, as the lesser the better if weight loss is the goal. The goal ratio that you should eat per day is 75% fat, 15-20% protein and the last 5-10% are made up of carbohydrates.
Because the carb intake is limited, it is imperative that whatever carbs are consumed are of the highest quality, to ensure nutrition is not compromised. This means that high-GI simple carbs need to eliminated, and any carbs eaten are high-nutrition, complex carbs.
As a vegan this diet is possible but it is not recommended as there are hardly any adequate sources of protein that are allowed to be consumed. Most alternative vegan protein meats are not allowed on the diet making it extremely hard to consume sufficient amounts of protein to maintain recommended macro ratios.
The vegan keto diet would be the same as the vegetarian keto diet although it will contain zero amounts of animal products. A higher amount of plant based proteins and nuts and seeds will be needed to attempt to make up for the lack of more usual protein sources.
For vegetarians this diet is achievable as you are allowed to consume dairy and eggs as sources of protein. Legumes are considered prohibited on the ketogenic diet so they need to be avoided as a protein source. Some other protein sources on the ketogenic diet can include tempeh, natto, miso and nuts and seeds.
If you are using meat alternatives always make sure you check the nutritional content, as they could be high in carbohydrates and/or be full of preservatives and fillers. If your protein needs are still not being met you can try an alternative supplement like hemp protein powder although this is not to be used as a meal replacement, just a protein top up.
Supplements and multivitamins are recommended to ensure that you receive enough nutrients including omega-3 (plant based EPA-DHA), iron, zinc and vitamin D although being a vegetarian you will likely already be taking some of these.
When following the keto diet as a vegetarian it is important to ensure that you are well informed of the right foods that you should be eating. While the initial focus is on the healthy carbohydrates, fats and protein which are the three macronutrients, it is essential that you incorporate foods high in zinc, omega-3, iron and calcium, as well as other vitamins and minerals that can be under-supplied by not consuming meats.
Examples of these foods are listed below:
Protein – Eggs, cheese, spinach
Good carbohydrates – Blueberries, tempeh, sweet potatoes
Omega-3 (plant based) – Walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds
Zinc – Kidney beans, sesame seeds, dark chocolate
Iron – Pumpkin seeds, soy items, kale
Calcium and vitamin D – Tempe, almond milk, almond butter
The best and easiest source of vitamin D is from the sun, but may need supplementation from dietary sources if adequate sun exposure is impractical.
All types of fruit should be limited although most berries including blueberries, strawberries and raspberries are fine in small amounts as they are low in sugar and carbohydrate making them ideal snacks or a desert. Most spices and quite a few condiments are also allowed on the ketogenic diet as they contain little to no carbohydrates.
There are plenty of foods to stay away from whilst on the keto diet. These include any refined carbohydrate foods that are highly processed and have a high glycemic index. Some of these are our day to day staple items that we use to cook with or just eat in general.
Pastas, bread, rice and starchy vegetables are among the many foods that are prohibited from the keto diet as they are rich in high-GI carbohydrates. When choosing nuts it is important to limit intake of peanuts, cashews and pistachios as they are all high in carbohydrates. Better nuts to choose include pecans, macadamia nuts and hazelnuts as they are all less than 2 grams per serving.
Always consult your healthcare professional or dietician before starting a new diet as they will be able to determine if it is right for you.