It’s not often that you hear someone say, “I’m on a vegan ketogenic diet!” Low carb diets are often scorned in the high carb low fat vegan community – after all, low carbers only eat meat, and carbs make the world turn round. So, a low carb vegan diet would seem impossible.
However, this isn’t the case at all! I was first introduced to the low carb world while vegan, and actually found it really easy to adapt my current diet to be low carb. Hopefully the following info helps you to do the same.
Determine Your Daily Carbs on a Vegan Ketogenic Diet
While conventional keto rules say to start at 20g of net carbs a day, vegan ketoers may find that 30g of net carbs is a little closer to an achievable goal. It really boils down to this – plant foods tend to all have a little carbohydrate in them, whereas animal products do not.
Yes, you can just pour oil into your mouth all day, every day. But…that’s really, really boring. It’s also not sustainable for most people in the long term. So, increasing the target number of carbs just a little bit can be pretty beneficial to your taste buds, and your sanity. I’ve worked with clients who can maintain ketosis while eating up to 50g of net carbs some days and a daily average of 30-40g. So, there’s certainly wiggle room.
Of course, it’s still possible to eat 20g of net carbohydrates per day (even without drinking oil), so if you really want to limit carbohydrates, you have an option there.
Don’t Count Too Much in the Beginning
This is counterintuitive, as carb counting seems integral to the whole process. But counting is really not necessary, especially when you’re first starting out and getting the hang of things. You’ll want to make sure you’re used to eating a good variety of foods, and that this is a sustainable and satisfying way of eating for you. So many people start a keto diet by jumping in head first, end up feeling terrible and craving all their favorite foods, and quitting before any real results can happen.
Instead, be kind and give yourself some time to adjust to a totally new way of eating. Focus on eating low carb foods and on making keto-friendly recipes, and see how you like everything. You could spend the first few days eating until you’re satisfied without counting carbs or calories too closely. Then, once you’ve settled into a meal rhythm, start counting (or not, if being fancy-free is working!).
Of course, if you are the type of person who needs more rigidity and structure, then this system won’t work quite as well for you. Eating plant-based keto is about listening to your body, and knowing what’s right for you. If you need lots of structure and know that you want to stick to a certain amount of carbs and calories per day, then careful tracking or use of a meal plan may benefit you more greatly than a looser way of doing things. Just do what feels right for you. 🙂
Oils and Fats
This is a vegan keto freebie. All oils are low in carbs and super fatty. You’ll definitely want to have a good quality bottle of olive oil on hand, and a jar of good quality coconut oil. Why the emphasis on quality? Lesser quality oils will have likely gone rancid on store shelves and can be damaging to your body. Be sure to purchase olive oil in a dark glass bottle or even a metal container. Coconut oil is more stable, but both should be extra virgin and cold pressed for the highest quality, and most nutrients.
And yes, oils contain vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals when they’re not processed to high heaven.
To go right to the source, and get more nutritional value, eating foods like coconut, avocado and olives are also great!
Get to Know Nuts & Seeds
If you’ve decided to embark on a vegan ketogenic diet, you’ll really want to familiarize yourself with nuts. Containing both fat and protein, nuts are filling and delicious. Plus, nuts are lower in carbs than many other plant-based foods.
Net carbs in nuts & seeds (g/oz)
- Flax seeds: .5g
- Pecans: 1.1g
- Brazil nuts: 1.3g
- Macadamia nuts: 1.5g
- Chia seeds: 1.7g
- Walnuts: 1.9g
- Coconut (dried): 2g
- Pumpkin seeds: 2.2g
- Hazelnuts: 2.3g
- Sesame seeds: 2.6g
- Almonds: 2.9g
- Sunflower seeds: 3.7g
- Peanuts: 3.8g
- Pistachios: 5.8g 🙁
- Cashews: 8.5g 🙁
And yes, I know peanuts are technically a legume, but they work here. Pistachios and cashews are pretty high in carbs for nuts, but I still included them because it’s good to know. Also, they’re both so tasty… Odds are, you’re going to want them sometime.
Low Carb Veggies – Get Your Greens!
While low carb dieters often go a bit lighter on the veggies, for fear of going over too much on carbs, there’s really no need! Greens are actually incredibly low in carbs, and their nutrients actually become more bioavailable when cooked, and consumed with fat. So, you basically have to sauté those collard greens in garlic and olive oil. For science.
Most greens will be between .2-.5g/cup when raw, so about 2-4g net carbs per cup when cooked. Not bad at all! Feel free to check out a more complete list of low carb veggies (and reasons to eat veggies), but here is a small sampling to get you started:
Carbs of Various Greens (grams of net carbs per cup):
- Mustard greens: .2g
- Raw Spinach: .2g
- Bok Choi: .4g
- Endive: .4g
- Lettuce: .4g
- Broccoli florets: 1.6g
- Cauliflower: 1.8g
- Cucumber: 2g
- Green cabbage: 2.2g
Can You Eat Fruit on Keto?
Of course you can! I mean, technically, you can eat anything that isn’t an animal product on a vegan ketogenic diet, but I know that’s not what you’re asking! Basically, fruits are pretty sugary, so you’ll want to steer clear of most and eat mainly berries. This is great anyway, as berries tend to be more nutrient dense. So, win-win.
There is plenty more information about eating fruit on keto, but hopefully, this short list provides a good start.
Carb Count of Selected Fruits and Berries (grams net carbs per 1/4 cup):
- Raspberries: 1.5g
- Strawberries: 1.8g
- Blackberries: 2.1g
- Watermelon: 2.6g
- Pineapple: 3.8g
- Blueberries: 4.1g
- Cherries: 4.2g
Low Carb Protein Sources for a Vegan Ketogenic Diet
“But, where do you get your pro–” I’m going to stop you right there. If you’ve been vegetarian or vegan for any reasonable amount of time, you’ve probably realized that there’s protein in basically everything. So, getting enough protein on a vegan ketogenic diet isn’t really a big deal.
If you’re looking to consume a little bit more protein than the average vegan keto bear, there are plenty of low carb vegan protein powders on the market (I’m obsessed with Vega, and talk in more detail about other low carb plant-based protein powders here. You can also find a variety of low carb meat substitutes at most grocery stores that are very keto-friendly, and contain a hearty amount of protein.
For now though, we’ll talk about whole food low carb plant sources of some extra protein. Aside from nuts and seeds (which tend to have between 2-7g per serving), your choices are a little more limited than with other food categories. Protein tends to come packaged with carbs in nature. However, the protein you get from vegetables throughout the day does actually amount to something! Plus, adding nutritional yeast to your meals can certainly give an added protein boost. Depending on the brand, nutritional yeast contains around 3g of protein per tablespoon and is very low carb.
Below, I’ve listed the protein and carb counts for the most protein-dense whole foods.
Low Carb Plant-Based Protein Sources (g protein | g net carbs | serving size):
- Hemp Seeds (hulled) | 10g | 0g | 3 tbsp)
- Tofu: 10g | 1.9g | 1/2 cup cubes
- Soybeans (mature, yellow): 14g | 3.5g | 1/2 cup
- Soybeans (edamame, green): 11g | 6g | 1/2 cup
- Peas: 5g | 9g | 2/3 cup
- Soybeans (dry roasted): 17g | 10.5g | 1/2 cup
- Spinach (frozen): 4g | 1g | 1 cup
- Almonds | 6g | 2.5g | 1/4 cup
- Sunflower Seeds | 7.3g | 4g | 1/4 cup
- Pumpkin Seeds | 8.8g | 2.3g | 1/4 cup
- Peanut Butter | 6g | 4g | 2 tbsp
- Lupins (lupini beans) | 26g | 11.4g | 1 cup
Pretty much all greens and mushrooms contain large proportions of protein and are relatively low in carbs. So, this is another great place to look for some extra protein on a vegan ketogenic diet.
Low Carb Vegan Desserts
This is the site for you! Basically, take a look at the low carb vegan recipe archives here, to find keto-friendly plant-based dessert recipes without eggs, dairy, honey or any other animal products. Win!
How you want to incorporate desserts is really up to you. Some people prefer to forego any sort of “sweet” (keto or not) for the first month or so, while they work on eliminating sugar cravings. Others (like me) need that crutch to bridge the gap between higher carb eating and low carb.
When I first started eating a plant-based keto diet a few years ago, I would make this easy keto fudge at pretty much every opportunity, because I was so used to eating a ton of sugar throughout the day that I really needed to have something sweet tasting to with pretty much every meal. Over time, that’s evolved, and now I probably make one dessert recipe per week (instead of per day!).
Another easy way to enjoy dessert on keto is to enjoy some berries topped with coconut cream after dinner. It’s pretty minimal in carbs (raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries are all pretty low carb), and will certainly satisfy that sweet craving. You’ll be surprised at how sweet berries and plain coconut cream will taste after you’ve been in ketosis for a while. In fact, you’ll be surprised at how sweet a lot of foods begin to taste once you are no longer consuming loads of sugar.
My final way of sneaking those dessert-like foods into my day is fat bombs. Fat bombs are basically super low in carbs and protein, but high in fat. They’re typically made with coconut oil and nut butter and some other flavoring, and sweetened with stevia. I like keeping a batch of fat bombs in my freezer all the time so I can grab one if I’m feeling the need for something sweet, but don’t necessarily want to bake anything. My favorite fat bomb recipes are listed here.
The one thing I would say in caution of eating a lot of keto desserts is that they’re often very calorically dense, and easy to overeat. While you may stay within your carb limits, you could end up going way over on calories. While this is totally fine every once in a while, making it a daily habit could derail any weight loss progress you’ve made so far. To combat this, I like to make a batch of something and then store it in the freezer so that I have to thaw whatever it is before I eat it. This helps me portion things better and doesn’t leave anything up to willpower. After all, you really only have so much willpower to give, and by the end of the day when you want that brownie, it’s probably been tested quite a bit!
What Supplements Do I Need on a Plant-Based Keto Diet?
As a vegan, there are a few vitamins and minerals that just need to be supplemented. B12* and vitamin D are the two that immediately come to mind. In fact, most people would benefit from supplementing vitamin D, especially in the winter months. Of course, you could also choose to supplement electrolytes, probiotics and a few other things if you’d like. For more details on supplements on a low carb vegan or vegetarian diet, check out this post.
For more information on vegan keto diets, as well as meal plans and recipes, check out my ebook!
* There is enough conflicting evidence about plant-based sources of B12 that I feel more comfortable taking some in my multi!