It’s not an uncommon question: Can vegans and vegetarians do keto? And no wonder. The reputation of the ketogenic diet to those unfamiliar with the high-fat, low-carb diet plan is that it’s heavily meat and animal fat focused. While that can be true, there is such a thing as a low-carb vegan keto diet that still promotes weight loss, health benefits, and all the other perks that come with training your body to produce and use ketones for fuel rather than leveraging carbs for energy.
So, in short, yes, you can eat a vegan keto meal plan or vegetarian keto diet while on a keto diet! But how? Keep reading.
Vegans eat no animal products at all, ever, while vegetarians consume no meat, poultry, or fish, but typically still consume eggs and dairy. And while there’s a perception that the keto diet is very high in animal fats, there is more than one path to the very low-carb, moderate-protein, and higher fat keto diet. However, as with any diet, it’s important for vegans and vegetarians to pay attention to food quality and nutrient density and try to avoid convenient, packaged, pre-made foods, which often contain poor nutrients. It’s also important to be mindful of carb consumption and avoid any foods with added sugar so you can maintain ketosis.
There are many different reasons people choose to avoid meat, other animal products, or both. It’s a very personal decision. But that decision doesn’t have to exclude you from pursuing a ketogenic lifestyle and its benefits. Over the years, available products and knowledge of what to eat on a keto diet have evolved to allow practicing vegans and vegetarians to easily and successfully eat to maintain ketosis. The most important considerations are to still get quality fats in the diet, B vitamins, and protein, although through plant-based products.
Best Sources of Fat for Vegans and Vegetarians on a Keto Diet
The nutritional dilemma all vegetarians and vegans face is getting enough healthy fats. Due to the lack of healthy animal fats on a vegetarian diet, it’s hard to get all the fatty acids you need as a vegetarian, and it’s nearly impossible for vegans. (Read more about how to mitigate the omega-3 deficit here.) But this challenge has nothing to do with whether you’re keto or not, which means you’ll still reap the benefits of a keto diet if you’re vegan or vegetarian.
You’ll also want to do everything you can to ensure you get enough healthy fats regardless of whether you’re keto. You also need to be sure you get the right kinds of fats, including the right balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.
Most people consume a diet high in omega 6, but not enough omega 3. This is especially true for vegans and vegetarians with high nut consumption. Nuts and seeds are high in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in fish, are high in EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid or Omega-3 fats) and are essential to optimal health.
Yes, nuts and seeds are high in ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which are precursors to EPA and DHA. However, our bodies do not convert ALA to EPA and DHA with the same efficiency they convert the ALA found in fish and grass-fed beef. In fact, only 5 percent of ALA from nuts and seeds is converted to EPA, and less than .5 is converted to DHA.
If you’re vegan or vegetarian, follow the guidelines of functional medicine practitioner/researcher and bestselling author Chris Kresser, who recommends algae or marine plant  sources of DHA and EPA to meet your body’s fatty acid needs. There are many brands that also make spirulina and chlorella tablets and powders. Check out our friends at Energy Bits algae tablets as well. And as seaweed is becoming more popular, you can find dried seaweed snacks and even seaweed noodles at most health food stores.
Regardless, if you’re vegan and keto and want to ensure optimal health, Dr. Nasha Winters advises you may need to take an animal-based supplement, such as fish oil. While far from ideal, science shows that there’s no better way to ensure you get enough omega 3s.
On a vegetarian diet, it’s easier to eat enough healthy fats because your diet can still include eggs and dairy.
Good Plant-Based Fat Sources for Vegans and Animal-Based Sources for Vegetarians
If you’re looking for vegan or vegetarian whole-foods sources for good fats, start with the following keto-friendly food products.
- Plant-based oils, like coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, or hemp oil (look for cold pressed/minimally processed for liquid oils and avoid highly processed vegetable oils and canola oil, as they drive inflammation)
- Coconut cream or coconut milk
- Nuts and seeds (think macadamia nuts, pecans, walnuts, and moderate cashews)
- Nut and seed butter (think tahini and almond butter)
- Eggs (vegetarian only)
- Ghee (vegetarian only)
- Heavy cream (vegetarian only)
- Cheese (vegetarian only)
The Best Protein Sources for Vegans or Vegetarians on a Keto Diet
When eating vegan/vegetarian keto, you still need moderate protein. But how do you get it if you’re not eating meat or fish, or consuming the popular protein alternative, highly processed soy products? Although soy is not typically recommended on a keto diet because most it is genetically modified, estrogenic, and difficult to digest, tempeh is a form of fermented soy that that is more easily digested and assimilated by the body (and is available at most well-stocked grocers). There are also great high-protein protein powders out there. Algae and seaweed-based products are also nutrient dense and, surprisingly, also contain quite a bit of protein! In fact, green algae (aka chlorella) contains up to 70 percent protein. Microalgae also have an amino acid profile that compares to that of an egg, containing all of the essential amino acids that humans can only get from food. Therefore, we recommend including sea vegetables in your vegan/vegetarian keto diet.
Vegan/vegetarian keto protein sources:
- Nuts and seeds
- Nut butter and seed butter
- Algae and seaweed
- Nutritional yeast (also contains B vitamins, which are often lacking in vegan/vegetarian diets)
- Hemp seed
- Chia seed
The Best Sources of Carbohydrates for Vegans or Vegetarians on a Keto Diet
Good news for the keto vegetarian or vegan. Your carbohydrate sources are the same sources we recommend to anyone embarking on a keto journey: keto-friendly vegetables and select fruits. While not all fruits and vegetables are keto-friendly, many are (see the list below), and those you can eat in abundance, provided you stay within your daily macros.
Healthy, Keto-Friendly Vegetables
For a keto diet, stick with the following low-carbohydrate vegetables and avoid starchy vegetables (most root vegetables), which are typically high in carbohydrates and may kick you out of ketosis.
- Brussels sprouts
- Spinach (and other leafy green veggies)
- Brussel sprouts
- Tomatoes (in moderation)
Happy Plant-Based Eating!
With more and more keto knowledge and plant-based products available, it’s easier than ever to achieve and maintain ketosis on a vegan or vegetarian diet without suffering from a lack of nutrition or exceeding your allotted net carbs. These days, it’s even easy to find great high-fat vegan butter, full-fat cream cheese, and condiments, and vegan keto sweeteners (maple syrup is not keto-friendly, FYI). With any “style” of ketogenic eating, the important thing is to pay attention to food quality and macronutrients. Although it may be a bit more challenging to embark on a vegan/vegetarian keto journey, it is very doable and delicious, especially with the help of these cookbooks. Regardless, whenever starting a new diet, it’s important to consult your primary care physician or a dietitian who can help you figure out the best meal plan or high-fat diet plan that works for you and your health.