The Ketogenic Diet: Some Basic Principles
The ketogenic, aka keto, diet is all about macronutrients. It's defined as a low-carb, high-fat, and moderate protein diet whose goal is ketosis – an altered metabolic state in which the body switches to burning ketones as opposed to sugar for fuel. Being in ketosis provides a wide range of health benefits, just a couple of which include:
- Weight loss – When you reduce your calorie intake on keto, your body starts to burn its own fat stores to make ketones. But what's even better, the diet spares your muscles in the process . The keto diet is very effective for weight loss also because it has a naturally appetite-suppressing effect .
- Blood glucose support– Because keto is very low in carbs, it helps lower blood sugar. However, more research is needed to know what the long-term effects of keto on blood glucose support is.
- Reduced inflammation – Inflammation is the leading driver of many chronic diseases plaguing the Western world today. Think diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, and even cancer. Luckily, studies show keto to have both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects which helps with preventing these diseases .
- Better brain health – Ketones are your body's natural nootropics. They're a more powerful source of energy than carbs, and they provide a constant influx of energy for the brain, which you'll definitely notice. Carbs, on the other hand, lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes, which are know for causing brain fog. The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant action of ketones also helps protect the brain against free radicals and other damage.
To get these and many other benefits, you need to lower your carbs to below 50 grams per day and boost your fat intake to make up around 65-80% of your diet. However, you can adjust these rules to fit your specific needs and goals. To learn more about macronutrient ratios on the keto diet, click here.
But as a general rule – pay special attention to lowering your carb intake. Carbs are not your friend on keto because as long as your body is getting enough it will not enter ketosis. But fat, on the other hand, will be your primary source of fuel on this diet. Don't worry about the higher fat intake putting you at risk of weight gain and illness. A carb-deprived body burns fat, it doesn't store it!
Making the Keto Diet Vegetarian
To drastically lower their carb intake, keto dieters are advised to cut out all grains, legumes, some fruit, and all high-carb vegetables. They're also encouraged to boost their intake of high-fat dairy, fatty cuts of meat, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds. Ketoers also need to stay moderate with protein-rich food like eggs, lean cuts of meat, meat substitutes, and low-carb fruit and vegetables.
So, when you consider these guidelines, how do you make this diet vegetarian? After all, the diet excludes a whole range of vegetarian staples. Well, with a bit of researching and careful planning, a vegetarian keto diet is possible. Here are some ways to make the keto diet vegetarian and nutritious as well:
1) Eat enough protein
You only need around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight on keto. You can easily meet the minimal protein requirements by replacing meat with other protein-rich food. Good options include:
- High-fat dairy- Nutritionists claim milk products to likely be the best source of high-quality protein out there. That's because milk protein contains all 9 essential amino acids and is easier to digest than either beef or soy. Just make sure you're going for products higher in fat to make it more keto. Examples include sour cream, cheese, and full-fat yogurt.
- Pastured eggs- Right after milk, eggs are also one of the best protein sources available. Go for pastured eggs if possible because these are more nutritious than conventional eggs . One large egg provides around 6.3 grams of protein with all essential amino acids as well as 24 grams of fat, making it ideal for keto.
- Nuts and seeds- Most nuts and seeds are rich in protein. However, usually they don't contain all essential amino acids. You will need to eat a variety of nuts and seeds to ensure you're getting all necessary amino acids. Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, sesame seeds, and chia seeds are great options. Nut butters should also be on your keto food list.
- Tofu and meat substitutes- Soy products are a bit controversial in the keto community. Some dieters claim that phytoestrogens and antinutrients in soy could have a negative effect on health and nutrition. On the other hand, soy is a rare plant source of all essential amino acids. While soy milk may be high in carbs, tofu only has around 2 grams net carbs in a 7 oz. serving.
2) Eat 3 servings of low-carb vegetables
While grains and legumes are not allowed on a keto diet, many low-carb vegetables definitely are. You need to eat at least 3 servings of vegetables a day to meet your daily needs for vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Vegetables are also rich in health-benefiting phytochemicals that research shows reduce your risk of heart attack, cancer, and cognitive decline . Examples of low-carb vegetables are:
Leafy greens: spinach, cabbage, kale, parsley, arugula, lettuce, broccoli, endive, and celery.
Above-ground vegetables:zucchini, cauliflower, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, asparagus, and bitter gourd.
3) Stick to berries and low-carb fruit
Fruit is nature's candy, so it's definitely not allowed on keto. There are a couple of exceptions, though. Berries are generally low in carbs and there are many other low-carb keto fruit you can indulge in occasionally. Use fruit to add flavor to your keto desserts but still keep an eye on their carb count.
4) Eat a variety of fats
Fat will constitute the most part of your diet, so it's important to choose the healthiest and highest-quality fats available. You also need a variety of fats to ensure you are giving your body everything it needs. You see, some fats are essential while others are not. Some fats are also health-promoting while others put you at risk of diseases. Here's more on what fat you need to eat on a vegetarian keto diet and where to get it:
Essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs)
Essential fatty acids are those the body needs to obtain from food because it can't make them on its own. Your body needs them for brain functioning, healthy skin and nails, inflammation regulation, and countless other functions . Only two fatty acids are essential:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid)
- Linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid)
Most people are already getting enough omega-6 fatty acids since these are fairly common. But omega-3 fats are harder to obtain, so you'll have to pay special attention to these. The best vegetarian source of omega-3s include walnuts, olive oil, flaxseed, and chia seeds. However, studies show that your body needs fairly large amounts of plant omega-3s to convert it into its usable for .
So far, what we know is that certain species of algae. You can usually find these sold as supplements or algal oil. You need around 2000-3000 mg of omega-3s daily, which you should be able to obtain by eating a variety of foods and also taking omega-3 supplements.
There are also non-essential PUFAs that you can benefit from on your vegetarian ketogenic diet. Most are found in a variety of plant foods, so we're sure you won't be missing out on them.
For a very long time, saturated fats were blamed for causing atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and stroke. But now, researchers say that their role in causing these disorders was much exaggerated . Furthermore, saturated fats are diverse compounds that can't be lumped into a single "bad" category.
On a keto diet, saturated fats are not only good but a valuable tool for raising ketones. A special type of saturated fats called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are even scientifically proven to raise ketones . They don't require digestive enzymes and are sent from your small intestine into the liver to be used for energy. Sources of MCTs on a vegetarian ketogenic diet are:
- Coconut oil (68%)
- Palm kernel oil (52%)
- MCT oil (100%)
Dairy is another source of MCTs, but the concentration is too low to make a noticeable impact. Include any of the above oils to your keto shopping list to support ketosis while on a vegetarian ketogenic diet.
Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs)
While the topic of saturated fats has always been controversial, researchers were never divided on MUFAs. It's generally regarded as healthy since many studies showed that it has a protective effect on heart health and metabolic functioning . Oils highest in MUFAs include:
- Olive oil (75%)
- High-Oleic sunflower oil (85%)
- Canola oil (60%)
- Safflower oil (77%)
Other great sources of MUFAs are avocados, pumpkin seeds, most nuts, basil pesto, and dark chocolate.
Make these fats a part of every meal to boost your fat intake. You can also use vegan margarine, coconut oil, and other substitutes for baking and cooking.
Preparing Vegetarian Keto Meals
Now that you know what ingredients you need pay attention to on your vegetarian ketogenic diet, you're probably wondering how to put this into practice. Making vegetarian keto meals can seem trick at first. But with a bit of researching and practice, you'll build a collection of vegetarian recipes to make your diet both nutritious and exciting.
Let's start by listing some staple ingredients you need to add to your pantry today:
Dairy & Eggs
- Sour cream
- Cream cheese
- Melty cheese like gouda, cheddar, or parmesan
- Cottage cheese
- Full-fat probiotic yogurt (for gut health)
- Free-range eggs
Fats and oil
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Margarine (trans-free)
- Almond flour
- Coconut flour
- Chickpea flour
- Leafy greens
- Spring beans
- Sauerkraut (rich in probiotics)
- Goji berries
Nuts & Seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
Nut Butters & Pastes
- Peanut butter (sugar-free)
- Almond butter
- Tahini (sesame paste)
Condiments and spices
- Hot Sauce
- Soy sauce (light)
- Apple cider vinegar (ACV)
- Basil Pesto
- Ranch dressing
- All herbs and spices
The above list of ingredients, of course, isn't complete. But it's a good starting point for a vegetarian ketogenic diet. Consider visiting our keto recipes section to get inspirational ideas for your next plant-based meal.
Otherwise, take a look at the tips below for making vegetarian ketogenic diet recipes:
Make all three macros part of your meals considering the recommended ratios for the ketogenic diet (5% carbs, 25% protein, 70% fat). This way, you'll know you're getting every necessary nutrient while also ensuring you'll get into and stay in ketosis.
Snack on nuts, seeds, and low-carb sweets. On a vegetarian diet, nuts and seeds are a perfect source of all important macros as well as fiber. Just make sure to keep an eye on your carb intake when enjoying these low-carb, high-fat snacks. Using apps like MyFitnessPal definitely helps with this.
Get creative with substitutes. There's no reason you shouldn't enjoy your favorite meals just because you're on a low-carb diet. Zucchini noodles (zoodles), cauliflower rice, almond flour muffins, avocado spreads and stevia-sweetened desserts are some great low-carb twists to your favorite meals.
Don't shy away from a handful of processed foods if they help you meet your macros. Normally, you'll hear that excluding processed food is the way to go on keto. And while that is a wise thing to do, it can cause trouble when you adopt a more restricted version of the ketogenic diet. Adding TVP, trans-free margarine, and canned goods can be a convenient way to get all the nutrients you need on your vegetarian ketogenic diet as long as it's low-carb and rich in healthy fats.
Opt for low-carb and high-fat vegetables whenever possible. There's a range of low-carb fruit you can enjoy on your vegetarian ketogenic diet. You can also find a few high-fat examples with avocado being the most notable. Make sure to track your carb intake when making meals with these as it's easy to go overboard with carbs on a vegetarian ketogenic diet.
Supplement when necessary. Keto supplements include MCT oil, exogenous ketones, and collagen peptides, among many others. These help you meet your macros, reach ketosis, and feel good on a keto diet. Add a supplement of your own liking to make your vegetarian ketogenic diet easier.
The ketogenic diet is not really a plant-based diet. Its focus is more on specific macronutrients than on food groups. That's why you'll see meat and dairy on the top of keto foods lists. But making this diet vegan or vegetarian friendly is possible, albeit a bit challenging.
Opting for high-fat plant foods like avocados, coconuts, and nut butters is one way to meet your keto macros on a vegetarian ketogenic diet. Making sure you're eating high-quality protein is also important. But one of the biggest concerns on a vegetarian ketogenic diet is omega-3 fatty acids intake. This essential nutrient is difficult to obtain on plant-based diets so make sure to eat foods rich in this fatty acid or go for supplements.
Other than that, a vegetarian ketogenic diet can be just as nutritious and healthy as any other version of this revolutionary dieting approach. With a bit of practice and researching, any diet can also become a keto diet.