You've heard of every type of diet out there: the Beach Body Diet, a high-protein diet, Beyonce's infamous Master Cleanse, low-carb, etc. But what about a vegan keto diet?
It appears lately, however, that there's a new(er) player on the scene. The idea of a ketogenic diet actually isn't novel, but since keto is now having its heyday we're here to tell you that vegans can participate, too.
What does Ketogenic Mean?
Low-carb diets were a thing of the past. Or so we thought.
A ketogenic diet is one that puts your body into a state of ketosis.
I know, don't you just love it when definitions use one form of the same word to define another?
Ketosis is a metabolic state during which your body uses fat, instead of carbohydrates, as its energy source. So, a Keto diet restricts carbs in order to encourage your system to run off fat, aka go into a state of ketosis.
How to Enter Ketosis
Ketosis is a naturally occurring metabolic pathway.
Ketosis encourages your body to mimic starvation mode, minus all the hunger and additional muscle loss, by also using fat as food.
The Key to Ketosis is in the Carbs
Or the lack thereof.
In order for your body to switch to this metabolic pathway, it must have limited carbohydrates available. This is because carbs and fats are processed using different pathways and the body prioritizes carbohydrate conversion over that of fats.
How limited carbs?
The exact amount varies from person to person, based on body type and genetics, but somewhere between 20-100g of carbohydrates daily, with the sweet spot typically falling between 20-50g.
Because everyone's unique, the way to determine how many grams of carbs you should eat is to figure out at what point you're experiencing ketosis.
And, while there are several indicators of this (such as weight loss, suppressed appetite, and increased focus) the most accurate way to determine whether or not you're in a state of ketosis is by measuring ketone levels in either blood, urine, or breath.
On a Biochemical Level, What is Ketosis?
Ketosis occurs within one of three naturally occurring metabolic pathways. These three pathways are the process by which your body transforms macronutrients into energy.
- Glycolysis: processes carbohydrates that are broken down into glucose
- Transamination: processes proteins that are transformed into amino acids
- Beta-Oxidation: processes fats that have been broken down into fatty acids and glycerol
When there aren't any more carbohydrates left to process (aka all the glucose is gone) your body switches from glycolysis, the pathway by which sugar is converted to energy, to beta-oxidation, the pathway by which fats, in the form of fatty acids and glycerol, are transformed into energy.
During beta-oxidation, your liver breaks down fatty acids and glycerol into three different, water-soluble ketone bodies, called acetoacetate (AcAc), beta-hydroxybutyrate (beta HB) and acetone.
Acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate are ultimately the ketones your body can then use as fuel. Once your system switches to using ketones as its energy, it causes a shift in your metabolism. Leading to your body burning more fat while simultaneously suppressing your appetite!
Benefits of a Keto Diet
A ketogenic diet has also been shown to help alleviate symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in women by promoting healthy weight, balancing testosterone levels, improving the ratio of luteinizing hormone to follicle-stimulating hormone, and lowering fasting insulin.
Additionally, a keto diet could help prevent and treat neurological diseases categorized by neuron death, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, and has long been used as a treatment in those with epilepsy.
Let's make Keto Vegan
Ultimately the difference between keto and other low-carb diets, like Atkins or South Beach, lies in the amount of protein consumed.
As a high-fat diet, roughly 75% of calories consumed should come from fat, 20% from protein, and 5% from carbs (like leafy greens and some select fruit).
Although many keto-ers rely on animal products for their high fat intake, this diet can absolutely be vegan-friendly.
Let's break it down. (Numbers in parenthesis are equal to the number of carbohydrates per 100g.)
To eat liberally: cauliflower (4g per 100g), cabbage (3g), broccoli (4g), zucchini (3g), spinach (1g), asparagus (2g), kale (4g), green beans (4g), Brussels sprouts (5g). (More generally this category is comprised of vegetables that are grown above ground.)
To avoid: carrot (7g), onion (7g), beets (7g), parsnips (13g), rutabaga (7g), potato (15g), celeriac (7g), sweet potato (17g). AKA most starchy, root vegetables.
To eat: avocado - also great for healthy fats! (2g), raspberries (5g), blackberries (5g), and strawberries (6g).
All other fruits should be consumed in moderation or not at all due to their high carbohydrate levels.
Legumes and Grains
To avoid: peas, corn, lentils, legumes, quinoa, and all other grains and grain products.
Nuts and seeds
To eat: pecans (4g), Brazil nuts (4g), and macadamia nuts (5g).
To avoid: pistachio (18g), and cashews (27g).
Oils and Fats (aka the good stuff)
Olive oil, coconut oil, sesame oil, avocado oil, macadamia nut oil, and MCT oil. No carbs - eat it all!
To eat: tofu (varies by brand and style, but typically below 5g per 100g), leafy greens (see veggies, above), and nuts (see above).
To eat: olives (3g), guacamole (3g - without tomato, because tomatoes can add up quickly), and coconut cream (7g).
To drink: homemade almond or coconut milk (varies but typically low), champagne (1g), and wine (red/white 2g).
So there you have it. It may take some planning, and certainly an adjustment period, but a ketogenic, vegan diet is definitely possible.