The Vegan Ketogenic Diet

I’m sure many of you may have about this popular diet that’s sweeping the nation – the ketogenic diet. It’s a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carb diet which forces the body to rely on fat instead of carbohydrates for energy. So, instead of burning glucose (which comes from carbs) for energy, the body switches to burning ketones (energy from fat). The keto diet puts the body into a state of ketosis, which can also occur through reducing carbs in the diet or through fasting. Ketones are produced in the liver where fatty acids are broken down, either from body fat or the fat that we eat.

Fun fact: The keto diet was originally used in the 1920s as a way to mimic the effects of fasting to help treat severe cases of epilepsy in children, though now many people use variations of it to achieve other outcomes (like weight loss).

Extensive research has been conducted on the keto diet, with results finding that it may help treat conditions like cancer, diabetes, acne, neurological conditions (like epilepsy), heart disease and obesity.

Now, what got me interested in the keto diet was when my gym set a challenge of who could reduce their body fat percentage the most and increase muscle mass. I went about looking for ways I could help reduce my carb intake while not starving myself. That’s when I came across the book Smart Carbs by Luke Hines, and in it he talked about the smart carb curve. Luke referred to five different zones; the keto zone, the low-carb zone, the sustain zone, the carb excess zone, and the warning zone. For the keto zone, he recommended that you consume between 0-50 grams of carbs per day. To achieve this, it’s important that your fat intake is sufficient enough to support this very low-carb intake to supply your body with enough ketones for energy.

I began implementing what I’d learnt; I downloaded the app MyFitnessPal, which helps track your calorie intake. I used it for its macronutrient tracker, specifically focusing on how many carbs I was eating, ensuring I stayed below 50g of carbs a day.

No-Tella Breakfast Smoothie (see recipe here)

Now, being vegan, this proved a real challenge. A lot of the protein-rich, high fat plant foods available usually come paired with high levels of carbs. So it was a little more restrictive compared the original keto diet where animal products are consumed. But, it was possible and I’ve been following the vegan keto diet for around 4 weeks now!

So, below I’ll be sharing with you the high-fat, low-carb foods I eat on a regular basis, as well as some vegan foods that are keto-approved, plus a quick run-through of what I eat in a day on the vegan keto diet.

What Does a Healthy Keto Diet Look Like?

Before we begin, I wanted to quickly go through what a healthy keto diet looks like for those of you interested in transitioning onto this diet yourself.

Now, this is an interesting question and there are hundreds of opinions about what best describes a healthy keto diet…

A typical low-carb diet will usually focus around limiting carb intake without giving much thought to increasing fats. It’s easy to be eating mostly meats and other low-carb foods for a low-carbohydrate diet, and still not get into ketosis.

The ketogenic diet, however, goes a step further and limits protein as well in order for the body to achieve ketosis. When looking at what makes up a keto diet, the rule of thumb is generally this:

  • 65 – 80% of calories comes from fat
  • 10 – 15% of calories comes from protein (0.5 gram per pound of lean body mass)
  • The remaining 5 – 10% of calories should come from carbohydrates

How to Eat Keto

Ideally, a keto diet should be made up of a wide range of nutritious wholefoods that do not cause inflammation. This means that 5-10% of the carbohydrates you’ll be eating should come from vegetables, seeds, and nuts rather than starchy foods.

The fats you’ll be consuming can come from sources like nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado, avocado oil, bacon or pastured lard, grass-fed butter, MCT oil, etc.

Once someone becomes keto-adapted, the appetite often regulates itself. So rather than feeling deprived, it actually becomes natural to feel less hungry overall, and you might even find yourself naturally going without food for 12 hours overnight.

Vegan-friendly Keto Foods

I’ve shared a small list below of some of the keto-friendly plant-based foods available for all you vegans out there who are looking to follow the ketogenic diet, but aren’t sure what to eat. These include (but are not restricted to):

  • Avocado
  • Asparagus
  • Artichoke
  • Bamboo shoots
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli/broccolini
  • Bok choy
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Capsicum
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chard
  • Chicory greens
  • Citrus
  • Chillies
  • Cucumber
  • Daikon
  • Eggplant
  • Endive
  • Fennel
  • Kale
  • Fresh/dry herbs and spices
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Mixed lettuce
  • Mushrooms
  • Olives
  • Onions
  • Okra
  • Palm hearts
  • Radicchio
  • Raspberries
  • Radishes
  • Rocket
  • Spring onion
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnips
  • Zucchini
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Sauerkraut
  • shredded coconut
  • Almond milk
  • Coconut milk/cream
  • Coconut oil
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Green leaf stevia
  • Apple cider vinegar
One of my vegan keto snacks – Roasted Rosemary Walnuts (see recipe here)

Why Even Follow the Ketogenic Diet?

Mark Sisson, creator of the blog Mark’s Daily Apple, says;

Doing a keto reset helps to restore our flexibility to alternate between different types of fuels and stored fats for energy, depending on what’s available. This flexibility has allowed humans to thrive for millions of years, when back in our hunter-gatherer days, we didn’t always have access to the variety and abundance of foods that we have available to us today.

Research has shown that the ketogenic diet provides health benefits such as:

  • Stabilising blood sugar and lowering insulin
  • Reducing oxidative stress
  • Improving the number of mitochondria (the “powerhouses” of cells – they help create energy for the cell), plus helping them to function better
  • Activating autophagy (the “clean-up” process in the body), where the cells break down old and broken parts of body tissue into nutrients the body can reuse.
  • Providing our cells with ketones, which are a much cleaner source of fuel to burn than glucose
  • Activating anti-inflammatory and anti-aging biochemical pathways.

Health Benefits from a Ketogenic Diet

The keto diet, when carried out correctly, may help:

  1. Improve metabolic function due to lowered blood sugar. When switching from burning glucose (sugar) to burning ketones (fat) for energy, our blood sugar and insulin levels fluctuate much less and remain much more stabilised. Stabilising blood sugar has many benefits of its own, including; reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes, improving conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome, reducing stress on the body (as there’s no need for stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to step in to help maintain blood sugar levels), which also, in turn, can help clear up acne (due to the body’s ability to balance hormones much more effectively).
  1. Reduce appetite and cravings. When blood sugar levels are more stable, hunger and food cravings are reduced! Plus, Ketones can also help in suppressing hunger by acting on the hypothalamus (the control centre for hunger/satiety) in the brain. Furthermore, high-fat meals encourage the production of a hormone in the body that helps increase feelings of fullness in the gut.
  2. Protect against cancer. Each and every one of us have emerging cancer cells, but the cells only develop into cancerous ones if the immune system fails to identify and kill them before they mutate and spread like wild fire. The ketogenic diet reduces oxidative stress and inflammation, encourages cellular clean-up, reduces blood sugar, and stimulates cancer-killing immune responses. Furthermore, most cancers feed on sugar in the body, so by eliminating/greatly reducing that food source (glucose) from the body and replacing it with fat, you can essentially starve the cancer cells.
  3. Protect neurons and improve brain function. Reports have found that the keto diet may help improve cognitive function, slow down the progression of neurodegenerative diseases, and may even help protect those on the diet from such diseases!
  4. Slow down aging. Ketosis reduces oxidative damage. Oxidation is a natural process in the body that helps our immune cells kill off germs and causes us to feel tired at the end of the day. However, it also causes damage to our DNA and promotes aging. By reducing blood sugar, ketosis significantly helps reduce oxidative stress in the body, as glucose is an oxidising sugar. What’s more, ketosis promotes autophagy, an anti-aging cellular cleanup process. Autophagy involves a cell eating its own old, defective parts and recycling the nutrients collected, keeping itself functioning like new. Side note: autophagy can also protect against cancers, neurodegenerative diseases, and viral and bacteria infections.
This is a before and after my 5-day fast (fasting is another way to achieve ketosis, and can go for many different lengths of time)

The Ketogenic Diet Is Not About Deprivation

You should not be depriving yourself on a ketogenic diet. Most people do better when they include some natural source of carbohydrates (e.g. lots of vegetables) and occasionally add starchy carbohydrates to their diet.

Now, it’s not necessary to stay on a ketogenic diet each and every moment of every day to reap all the benefits of keto. Our ancestors went through times of fasting and times of feasts. You may only need to be in a state of ketosis or fast a few days a week. Everyone is individual. So listen to your body and decide for yourself what’s best for you.

Keto Diet Cautions

The ketogenic diet is not for everyone. There are some people who should be very careful with it, or who at least should only carry it out with medical supervision. This may include:

  • Type 1 Diabetics
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers
  • People with the genes ApoE4/E4 or ApoE3/E4
  • Women who struggle with irregular cycles and infertility
  • Strength and high-intensity athletes.
Keto Zucchini Bread (see recipe here)

What I Eat in A Day on The Ketogenic Diet

Now here is a short meal plan of what I eat as a vegan on the ketogenic diet. Keep in mind this is only one day of meals so it should not be misconstrued as a complete meal plan. This is just an example to give you an idea of what I eat.

Breakfast

Protein Shake:

  • Amazonia Raw Protein Isolate plant protein powder
  • Spirulina
  • Cacao powder
  • Flax seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Natural peanut butter (just peanuts, no added sugar, oil, salts, etc.)
  • Filtered water

Snack

Spinach, Olive and Almond Salad:

  • Coconut oil (for sautéing)
  • Spinach
  • Chilli flakes
  • Olives
  • Avocado
  • Hemp seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Almond butter (just almonds, no added sugar, oil, salts, etc.)
  • Olive oil
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Lemon juice
  • Himalayan salt and black pepper (for seasoning).

Lunch

Golden Cauliflower:

  • Oven-baked cauliflower
  • Turmeric
  • Cumin
  • Coriander
  • Chilli powder
  • Lime.

Snack

Stuffed Mushrooms:

  • Portobello mushrooms
  • Garlic
  • Crushed almonds
  • Lemon juice and zest
  • Olive oil
  • Himalayan salt and black pepper (for seasoning).

Dinner

Indian-Spiced Brussels Sprouts:

  • Coconut oil (for sautéing)
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Curry leaves
  • Chilli powder
  • Smoked paprika
  • Himalayan salt and black pepper (for seasoning).

I purposefully left out the quantities of each item as everyone is individual, so different amounts of each food will be required by different people to ensure each is reaching their daily target of fats, protein and carbs.

As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products, or following any new regimes. It’s important to check with a doctor before following this or taking any new product, especially if taking any other medicine or supplement or if pregnant or nursing.

Have you tried the vegan ketogenic diet before? What was your experience? Please share below!

Lots of love,

🖤 Vanessa

Sources:

Wells, Katie. (October 26, 2018). How to Do a Ketogenic Diet (& Is It Safe for Women?). Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/335469/ketogenic-diet/

Link, Rachael, MS, RD. (May 17, 2018). Vegan Keto Diet & Vegetarian Keto Diet: Can They Be Done?. Dr. Axe. Retrieved from https://draxe.com/vegetarian-vegan-keto-diet/

Hines, Luke. Smart Carbs. Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2018. Print.

Lionel Carneiro, Sarah Geller, Audrey Hébert, Cendrine Repond, Xavier Fioramonti, Corinne Leloup & Luc Pellerin. (October 6, 2016). Hypothalamic sensing of ketone bodies after prolonged cerebral exposure leads to metabolic control dysregulation. Scientific Reports. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/srep34909

Antonio Paoli, Gerardo Bosco, Enrico M. Camporesi, and Devanand Mangar. (February 2, 2015). Ketosis, ketogenic diet and food intake control: a complex relationship. NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4313585/