Vegetarian/plant-based diets have long been a focus of clinical research, with findings suggesting there are many benefits to cutting out meat.
Naturally then, it’s arguable that a vegetarian keto diet would be the optimal way of eating for longevity and wellness, but how can you make it work?
Where will you get your protein from if you can’t eat meat and high-protein carb sources – like beans – can only be eaten in small amounts on keto?
In reality, a vegetarian ketogenic diet is absolutely possible with some simple adjustments. This article will show you how to do it right!
Table of Contents
Going Plant-Based: The Health Benefits
Even if you already follow a vegetarian (plant-based) diet, you might not be fully aware of the abundant clinical evidence supporting its health benefits. After all, most people follow a vegetarian diet for the ethical and eco-conscious aspects (which are just as, if not more important).
Regardless, the health benefits are nothing short of compelling when you peruse all the research and literature on plant-based dieting. Here are some of the most enthralling evidence-based health benefits of a vegetarian diet:
Improves cardiovascular function
A research review of five studies, which comprised over 75,000 males and females, reveals that vegetarians are at approximately 26% lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) than routine meat eaters. The reduced risk of CVD remained consistent even after adjustments for body mass index (BMI) and lifestyle factors (e.g. smoking, alcohol consumption, exercise habits, etc.) were made.
The same research review used statistical outcomes to estimate that lifelong plant-based dieters are at a 57% lower risk of CVD than someone who regularly consumes meat throughout their entire lifespan. (Note that CVD is consistently in the top three causes of death in many countries, particularly the U.S.)
Promotes healthier blood pressure, blood lipid, and cholesterol levels
A vast body of research demonstrates the blood pressure-reducing benefits of consuming between 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.  Blood lipid profiles and cholesterol also are consistently healthier in those who follow a plant-based diet as opposed to meat eaters.
It is shown that eating modest amounts of soy (which is generally a staple of plant-based diets) reduces LDL (aka “bad”) cholesterol and the risk of CVD. Hence, we recommend those on the vegetarian keto diet consume adequate soy, fibrous fruits, and greens.
May decrease the risk of type-2 diabetes
A large cohort study of females demonstrated that the the relative risk of developing type-2 diabetes nearly doubled in women who ate three servings of meat per day.
Moreover, it’s well-established that higher consumption of legumes, nuts, and vegetables is associated with a substantially reduced risk of insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes.
This further reinforces the potential health benefits of the vegetarian ketogenic diet, due to the strong focus on eating nuts, vegetables, and (some) legumes.
May reduce the risk of cancer
Epidemiological research consistently shows that ample fruits, vegetables, and fiber in the diet are all strongly correlated with reductions in the risk of cancer (even tobacco-related cancers).
For females especially, the vegetarian ketogenic diet appears to be a great way to decrease the risk of breast cancer, due to emphasis of soy consumption. Furthermore, one study revealed that women who regularly consumed 100 grams of meat per day were at a 50-60% greater risk of developing breast cancer than those who didn’t eat meat.
Issues to Address on the Vegetarian Ketogenic Diet
While the vegetarian keto diet plan might seem the like best way to eat for longevity and health purposes, there are a few issues to work around.
Monitor Your Calcium, Vitamin D, and Protein Intake
Naturally, you won’t be eating much dairy (or any meat) on the vegetarian ketogenic diet. This leaves you in a predicament of potentially lacking healthy vitamin D and calcium status, as well as under-eating protein. Vitamin D, calcium and amino acids from protein are all necessary for healthy tissue repair, especially skin and bone.
Research demonstrates that vegetarians have substantially lower bone density than non-vegetarians, and this is associated with nominal calcium and protein intake. Vegetarians also seem to consistently lack vitamin D.
As such, you should eat plenty of micronutrient-rich vegetables, fibrous fruits, protein, and soy products on the vegetarian keto diet; such food will ensure you get the calcium, vitamin D, and amino acids necessary to encourage bone health and lean tissue maintenance.
Eat Modest Amounts of Soy, Eggs, Walnuts, and Flaxseed
Your body requires essential fatty acids (EFAs) for proper function and to protect vital organs, especially the heart, brain, and liver. Unfortunately for plant-based dieters, two particularly crucial EFAs – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – are found mainly in fish. However, eggs are a also a decent source these two EFAs.
ALA (another EFA) helps your body convert DHA to EPA. As such, walnuts, soy and flaxseed (which have a relatively large amount of ALA) should be part of your daily vegetarian keto diet.
Supplement with Vitamin C to Ensure Healthy Iron and Zinc Absorption
Both iron and zinc are commonly low in plant-based dieters, and this appears to be connected to phytates (primarily found in nuts, beans, and legumes) reducing the bioavailability of these key minerals. A simple way to circumvent this issue is to supplement with pure vitamin C (ascorbic acid), which reduces the inhibitory action of phytates on iron and zinc.
Protein and Fat Sources for the Vegetarian Ketogenic Diet Plan
This section lists the most crucial protein and fat sources for the vegetarian ketogenic diet. We recommend consuming several servings of food from each category daily, as they will help your body avoid nutrient deficiencies that were addressed in the previous section.
Vegetarian Ketogenic Diet Food List
Vegetarian Protein Sources
*Also count as fat sources
- Full-fat cheese products*
- Tempeh (be careful as this contains carbs)
- Greek yogurt (plain)
- Protein powders (whey, pea, soy, rice, etc.)
Vegetarian Fat Sources
- Whole olives (black, green)
- Sesame seed oil
- Whole nuts and seeds
- Nut butter (macadamia, peanut, soy nut, almond, etc.)
- Macadamia nut oil
- MCT oil
- Grass-fed Butter
- Flaxseed oil
- Olive oil (extra-virgin)
- Coconut oil
- Coconut milk
Vegetarian Keto Diet: Key Takeaways
It’s safe to say that the vegetarian ketogenic diet is both practical and beneficial (especially for females) once you get a grasp of which foods to eat. Extrapolating from the extant research, benefits of the vegetarian keto diet may include:
- Support for weight loss
- Enhanced cognitive function
- Improve blood pressure, blood glucose, and blood lipid levels
- Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes
- Reduce the risk of cancer (especially breast cancer)
- Potential ethical and eco-conscious benefits of a plant-based diet, which are not to be understated
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- Liu, R.H. Health benefits of fruits and vegetables are from additive and synergistic combinations of phytochemicals. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003; 78: 517S–520S
- Fraser, G.E. Diet, Life Expectancy, and Chronic Disease (Studies of Seventh-day Adventists and Other Vegetarians). Oxford University Press, New York, NY; 2003
- Sirtori, C.R., Eberini, I., and Arnoldi, A. Hypocholesterolaemic effects of soya proteins: Results of recent studies are predictable from the Anderson meta-analysis data. Br J Nutr. 2007; 97: 816–822
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- Béliveau, R. and Gingras, D. Role of nutrition in preventing cancer. Can Fam Physician. 2007; 53: 1905–1911
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- New, S.A. Do vegetarians have a normal bone mass?. Osteoporos Int. 2004; 15: 679–688
- Outila, T.A., Kärkkäinen, M.U., Seppanen, R.H., and Lamberg-Allardt, C.J. Dietary intake of vitamin D in premenopausal, healthy vegans was insufficient to maintain concentrations of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D and intact parathyroid hormone within normal ranges during the winter in Finland. J Am Diet Assoc. 2000; 100: 434–441
- Williams, C.M. and Burdge, G. Long-chain n-3 PUFA: plant v. marine sources. Proc Nutr Soc. 2006;65: 42–50
- Hunt, J.R. Bioavailability of iron, zinc, and other trace minerals from vegetarian diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003; 78: 633S–639S
- Hunt, J.R. and Roughead, Z.K. Adaptation of iron absorption in men consuming diets with high or low iron bioavailability. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000; 71: 94–102