You may have heard of the term keto or ketogenic diet before, especially if you are interested in the topic of weight loss. But what does it really mean? Can you do keto if you are vegan? What are the benefits of eating a vegan keto diet? Is it safe long-term? Is there any science behind this way of eating? In this article, I am going to explain the basics of a vegan keto diet and bust some myths surrounding the ketogenic lifestyle.
What is Keto?
A ketogenic diet is very low in carbohydrate intake (20-50g net), with moderate protein and high fat. When you eat more than 100g net carbs per day (a regular diet), your body will store excess carbs as glycogen. This glycogen (basically glucose molecules) is used to fuel the brain and muscles.
When carbohydrate intake is restricted, the liver will metabolise ketones (acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate) from fat to fuel the brain and cells instead. In other words, it switches from using glucose (from carbs) as fuel to using fat and ketones as fuel.
This is a natural metabolic state and is very beneficial for health, fitness, weight loss and maintenance. Everyone has ketones present in their body. But when carbohydrate intake is restricted, ketone levels increase.
As the body becomes more adept at using ketones as energy instead of glycogen, the amount of ketones it requires reduce. When that happens, it begins using fat as energy instead. This is a process that takes around 3 weeks on average and is known as becoming ‘fat-adapted’.
What Keto Is Not
Keto is not dangerous, extreme or unsustainable. Eating a vegan ketogenic diet doesn’t mean that you don’t eat any carbs whatsoever. That would be near impossible on a vegan keto diet as most of the vegan protein sources contain carbs. It also isn’t healthy to cut out an entire food group completely. Your body does need a small amount of glucose.
Every Body is Different
It is not a cookie-cutter approach to diet or weight loss. Because every body is different, we all have varying carb tolerance levels. The number of grams of carbs that you can tolerate before you get kicked out of ketosis will differ to mine. I will guide you through how to discover your carb tolerance in a subsequent article.
Because we have different lifestyles, bodies, levels of activity, etc, our carb count is personal to us. Someone who is very active may feel better on a higher net carb intake. Someone who is sedentary, or smaller in size, may need to consume less net carbs to stay in ketosis.
Keto is also not ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis is a dangerous condition resulting from high blood glucose level and low levels of insulin that occurs in type one diabetics. Nutritional ketosis has nothing to do with this condition at all.
Not a List of Foods
A keto diet isn’t restricted to a list of ‘allowed’ foods. It is the consumption of a specific number of net carbs per day. This is the amount that keeps you in ketosis. What you choose to eat to make up your daily net carbs is up to you. Foods that are high in carbohydrates are not usually chosen on a keto diet because they use up most, all, or more than your daily net carb count.
However, it is important to stress that this is a lifestyle, not a ‘fad diet’. Therefore a certain level of flexibility should be practiced for balance and joy. If you choose to eat a food that is high in carbs, that’s totally fine, enjoy it and just get back on to your daily net carb count asap. You can even do a short 12-16 hour fast (including sleeping time) to deplete your body of the accumulated glucose. You will re-enter ketosis quickly when you are fat-adapted and have increased your metabolic flexibility.
The Benefits of a Vegan Keto Diet
There are so many benefits to a vegan ketogenic diet. Here are some of the most important ones:
- Effortless, sustainable weight loss and weight maintenance
- Protein is easily transformed into muscle when training
- Increased metabolic flexibility (the body’s ability to switch between using different fuel sources)
- Increased and sustained energy levels throughout the day (no carb crashes)
- Reduced hunger (increased satiety)
- Little to no food cravings (carb cravings WILL disappear)
- Massive reduction in water retention
- Increased stamina for exercise and daily life
- Anti-inflammatory effects (less joint pain, reduced risk of disease)
- Improved cholesterol (increased HDL and decreased LDL)
- Lower blood glucose and insulin levels (higher insulin sensitivity)
- Improved brain function and neuroprotection (positive for Alzheimer’s Parkinson’s and migraine sufferers)
- Improved digestive function (reduction in bloating)
- Some ketoers report improved sleep quality and duration
- Reduction in abdominal and visceral fat (fat around the internal organs, very dangerous)
- Can be used to address issues such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, neurological conditions and epilepsy
Omni Keto vs Vegan Keto Diet
If you have ever tried the Atkins Diet then you have tested out a ketogenic diet for yourself. The first phase is an example of an omni keto diet. Yes, it is certainly possible to lose weight on this type of omni keto diet, and many people have. However, with the elevated consumption of meat, dairy, saturated animal fats and cholesterol, I don’t consider it healthy or sustainable.
The World Health Organisation has classified processed meat as a group 1 carcinogen and red meat as a group 2 carcinogen. There are also undeniable links between the consumption of dairy products and hormone-related cancers. T. Colin Campbell PhD explains this in his 2005 book ‘The China Study’. Researchers discovered that by increasing or reducing the amount of casein (milk protein), they could turn cancer cells on or off.
The World Health Organisation has also published a fact sheet on Dioxins, a group of chemical compounds classified as POPs (persistent environmental pollutants). These highly toxic chemicals are known to cause cancer as well as a whole host of other diseases. These include reproductive issues, immune system damage, developmental problems and hormone disruption. Over 90% of human dioxin exposure is through meat, fish and dairy consumption as it accumulates in the fatty tissues of animals.
Dangers of Seafood
Think fish and seafood is a healthy option for your keto diet? Think again. These animals are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. They also contain POPs, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), microplastics, radioactive elements, and high levels of mercury. Yuck. Interestingly, new research is showing that they do not provide eaters the levels of omega-3 they are led to believe. So even omnivores who DO eat the recommended 3-4 portions of fish a week can still develop omega-3 deficiency.
These are just a few examples of solid research demonstrating that meat, fish and dairy consumption is hazardous to human health. So basing the main bulk of a diet around these foods is not a good idea for long-term health.
Vegan is the Answer!
Yet, with the vegan keto diet, you are not consuming any animal products, dairy, saturated animal fats or cholesterol. You are receiving all the benefits of a ketogenic or low-carb diet, without the risks of animal product consumption. You are also not contributing to industries that promote animal suffering and cruelty, world hunger, water shortage and environmental destruction. Win-Win!
Losing Body Fat on a Vegan Keto Diet
There are several reasons fat loss is easier on a vegan keto diet:
- Eating food higher in fat leads to satiety and therefore a lower overall caloric intake
- Keto diets result in low insulin levels and the body is able to use fat as fuel (consumed and stored)
- The body stores excess carbs (especially sugar) as fat – not a problem on a keto diet
- Little to no food cravings, so ‘cheating’ isn’t usually an issue
- Sustained energy throughout the day means you are more likely to exercise
- Better sleep means better hormone regulation (less hungry) and less risk of carb-stuffing for quick energy
- Ketoers are more likely to make food from scratch resulting in less processed junk food consumed
- The body can easily utilise protein consumed, and transform it into muscle, increasing metabolic rate
The Vegan Keto Diet is Healthy and Sustainable
A vegan keto (or low carb) diet, properly planned, is one of the healthiest ways of eating. It avoids all the health risks associated with meat, fish, dairy and high carbohydrate consumption. A vegan keto diet aids in weight loss and maintenance, has neuroprotective and anti-carcinogenic properties. It can lower your risk of several diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, immune system and neurological illnesses. A vegan keto diet isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, and should be adapted to suit the individuals nutritional and lifestyle needs.
If you have any questions related to the vegan keto diet, simply add a comment under this post and I will get back to you asap. You can also contact me via the contact form, or via instagram @ nat_heath.