The ketogenic diet may be the latest health trend to enter the limelight, but it’s actually been around for almost a century. In fact, since the 1920s, the ketogenic diet has been widely used as an effective natural treatment for epilepsy, especially in children. (1) Meanwhile, in recent years, interest in the therapeutic effects of the diet has spurred a slew of new studies, thus uncovering health benefits that range from increased weight loss to protection against chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. (2, 3)
The ketogenic diet was originally developed to mimic the effects of fasting by severely restricting carbohydrate intake, which puts the body into a metabolic state called ketosis. During ketosis, the body begins burning fat for energy, instead of relying on dietary carbohydrates for energy.
This process results in a number of positive effects on your health, with emerging evidence suggesting that the ketogenic diet could protect against certain neurological conditions, aid in regulating insulin levels to reduce symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome, and even help “starve” cancer cells to slow tumor growth. (3)
And, of course, there’s weight loss.
There are plenty of diets that recommend carb cutting, but increasing intake of fat and protein (to a lesser degree) as recommended by the keto diet, helps ensure that the diet is packed with essential nutrients while also promoting satiety and fullness. In fact, multiple studies have shown that eating more protein and fat can reduce appetite and levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, to a greater extent than just filling up on carbs. (4, 5)
So while triggering the body’s reliance on stored fat for energy and also decreasing your overall appetite by filling up on healthy fats and protein, you’re sure to drop those extra pounds that have been hanging around since the holidays.
To get into ketosis, you should aim for about 30-50 grams of net carbohydrates per day, which is calculated by subtracting the grams of fiber from the grams of total carbohydrates. Now, because many ketogenic diet resources highlight the consumption of animal products to supply extra fat and protein, there’s a common misconception that a ketogenic diet has to be laden with meat and dairy.
However, merging a plant-based diet with keto is totally possible by simply incorporating a few vegan-friendly sources of fat and protein.
How to Follow a Plant-Based Ketogenic Diet
So how exactly do you slip into ketosis without loading up on butter and bacon? And how can you ensure that your nutrient needs are still being met while following a plant-based ketogenic diet?
The key is to swap out your starchy veggies for low-carb alternatives while also filling your diet with plenty of plant-based fats and proteins. This can help you stay under your carbohydrate goal and provide your body with the important vitamins and minerals that it needs to stay healthy.
High-carb foods that should be limited in your diet include:
- High-Sugar Fruits (apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, etc.)
- Starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, peas, corn, etc.)
- Sugar (including honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, etc.)
- Legumes (beans, lentils, peas, etc.)
- Grains (wheat products, rice, quinoa, cereal, etc.)
Instead, be sure to include plenty of nutrient-rich, low-carb plant-based foods in your diet, such as:
- Fermented foods (tempeh, natto, etc.)
- Leafy greens (kale, chard, spinach, collard greens, etc.)
- Non-starchy vegetables (asparagus, carrots, cauliflower, onions, mushrooms, peppers, etc.)
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, etc.)
- Seeds (chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.)
- Low-sugar fruits (blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc.)
- Healthy fats (coconut oil, MCT oil, olive oil)
Including enough protein in your diet can be challenging on any plant-based diet, let alone a plant-based ketogenic diet. Fortunately, there are tons of healthy options that can provide the protein you need to keep you going.
A few examples of low-carb, plant-based proteins include:
- Nutritional Yeast
- High-quality, low-sugar plant-based protein powders
Similarly, nixing all dairy products from your diet can make it tricky to get in enough fat, but there are plenty of plant-based sources of fat available that can help you easily meet your needs.
Some of the healthiest plant-based fats include:
- Avocado Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Olive Oil
- MCT Oil
Note that you can easily swap these nutritious foods into your favorite recipes to make them completely plant-based and keto-friendly. Nutritional yeast, for example, makes a great substitute for cheese while tempeh can be crumbled and cooked like ground beef to make delicious veggie tacos or lettuce wraps.
Sample Meal Plan:
Wondering what exactly a plant-based ketogenic diet looks like? Here’s a one-day sample meal plan that you can follow to help get you started!
Gluten-free oatmeal (2 grams net carbs per serving)
Baked tempeh (3 grams net carbs per serving)
Cauliflower tabbouleh salad (6 grams net carbs per serving)
Olive oil vinaigrette (0 grams net carbs per serving)
Raw walnut tacos (4 grams net carbs per serving)
Super cilantro guacamole (5 grams net carbs per serving)
Keto smoothie with avocado, chia seeds & cacao (6.5 grams net carbs)
Almonds (2.5 grams net carbs per 1-oz serving)
Spicy roasted pumpkin seeds (10 grams carbs per 1-oz serving)
Daily Total: 39 grams net carbs
Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. He recently authored ‘Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and Five Surprising Steps to Cure It’ and he operates one of the world’s largest natural health websites at http://www.DrAxe.com. Follow him on Twitter @DRJoshAxe.