Vegetarian and ketogenic diets have been studied extensively for their health benefits.
The ketogenic, or keto, diet is a high-fat, low-carb diet that has become especially popular in recent years. Although it usually contains animal products like meat, fish, and poultry, it’s possible to adapt it to fit a vegetarian diet.
This article tells you everything you need to know about the vegetarian keto diet.
What is the vegetarian keto diet?
The vegetarian keto diet is an eating plan that combines aspects of vegetarianism and keto dieting.
Most vegetarians eat animal products like eggs and dairy but avoid meat and fish.
Meanwhile, the ketogenic diet is a high-fat diet that limits carb intake to 20–50 grams per day. This ultra-low-carb intake prompts ketosis, a metabolic state in which your body starts burning fat for fuel instead of glucose.
On a traditional ketogenic diet, around 70% of your total daily calories should come from fat, including sources like oils, meat, fish, and full-fat dairy.
However, the vegetarian keto diet eliminates meat and fish, relying instead on other healthy fats, such as coconut oil, eggs, avocados, nuts, and seeds.
Summary: The vegetarian keto diet is a high-fat, low-carb eating pattern that eliminates meat and fish.
Health benefits of the vegetarian keto diet
Although no studies examine the specific benefits of the vegetarian keto diet, plenty of research exists on the two parent diets.
Promotes weight loss
Both vegetarian and ketogenic diets are associated with weight loss.
One large review of 12 studies showed that those following a vegetarian diet lost an average of 4.5 pounds (2 kg) more than non-vegetarians over 18 weeks.
Also, in a 6-month study of 74 people with type 2 diabetes, vegetarian diets promoted both fat and weight loss more effectively than traditional low-calorie diets.
Similarly, a 6-month study of 83 people with obesity found that a keto diet resulted in significant reductions in weight and body mass index (BMI), with an average weight loss of 31 pounds (14 kg).
This diet’s high amount of healthy fats may also keep you feeling fuller for longer to reduce hunger and appetite.
Protects against chronic diseases
Vegetarian diets have been linked to a reduced risk of several chronic conditions.
Studies tie them to a lower risk of cancer and improved levels of several heart disease risk factors, including BMI, cholesterol, and blood pressure.
The keto diet has also been studied for its effects on disease prevention.
In a 56-week study in 66 people, the keto diet led to significant reductions in body weight, total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar, all of which are risk factors for heart disease.
Other studies suggest that this diet may safeguard brain health and help treat Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Animal and test-tube studies likewise note that the keto diet may reduce the growth of cancerous tumors. However, more research is needed.
Supports blood sugar control
Vegetarian and keto diets each support blood sugar control.
A review of six studies linked vegetarian diets to a significant reduction in levels of HbA1c, a marker of long-term blood sugar control.
What’s more, a 5-year study of 2,918 people determined that switching to a vegetarian diet reduced diabetes risk by 53%.
Meanwhile, the keto diet may improve your body’s blood sugar regulation and increase its insulin sensitivity, a hormone involved in blood sugar control.
In a 4-month study in 21 people, following a keto diet lowered levels of HbA1c by 16%. Impressively, 81% of participants were able to reduce or discontinue their diabetes medications by the end of the study.
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Summary: Both vegetarian and keto diets have been shown to increase weight loss, support blood sugar control, and protect against several chronic illnesses. Keep in mind that no studies examine the vegetarian keto diet specifically.
Potential downsides of the vegetarian keto diet
The vegetarian keto diet has a few drawbacks to consider as well.
May increase your risk of nutritional deficiencies
Vegetarian diets require proper planning to ensure that you’re meeting your nutritional needs.
Studies show that these eating patterns tend to be low in important nutrients, including vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and protein.
The vegetarian keto diet is even more restrictive because it limits several nutrient-dense food groups, such as fruits, legumes, and whole grains — further increasing your risk of nutritional deficiencies.
Monitoring nutrient intake carefully and eating a variety of healthy, whole foods can help ensure that you’re getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs.
Taking supplements may also help — especially for nutrients often lacking in a vegetarian diet, such as vitamin B12.
Can cause flu-like symptoms
Transitioning into ketosis can cause numerous side effects, sometimes referred to as the keto flu.
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- difficulty sleeping
- muscle cramps
- mood changes
Notably, these side effects typically clear up within a few days. Getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated, and exercising regularly can help ease your symptoms.
Not suitable for certain populations
Because the vegetarian keto diet is highly restrictive, it may not be a good option for everyone.
In particular, children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid it, as it can limit several nutrients vital for proper growth and development.
It may also not be appropriate for athletes, those with a history of eating disorders, or people with type 1 diabetes.
Suggested read: The vegetarian diet: A beginner's guide and meal plan
If you have any underlying health conditions or are taking any medications, talk to your healthcare practitioner before starting this diet.
Summary: The vegetarian keto diet may cause short-term side effects, lack important nutrients, and be unsuitable for kids and pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Foods to eat when following the vegetarian keto diet
A healthy vegetarian keto diet should include a variety of non-starchy vegetables, healthy fats, and protein sources, such as:
- Non-starchy vegetables: spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, kale, cauliflower, zucchini, and bell peppers
- Healthy fats: olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, MCT oil, and avocado oil
- Nuts: almonds, walnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, pistachios, and Brazil nuts
- Seeds: chia, hemp, flax, and pumpkin seeds
- Nut butter: almond, peanut, pecan, and hazelnut butter
- Full-fat dairy products: milk, yogurt, and cheese
- Protein: eggs, tofu, tempeh, spirulina, natto, and nutritional yeast
- Low-carb fruits (in moderation): berries, lemons, and limes
- Herbs and seasonings: basil, paprika, pepper, turmeric, salt, oregano, rosemary, and thyme
Summary: A vegetarian keto diet should include plenty of healthy fats, non-starchy vegetables, and plant protein.
Foods to avoid when following the vegetarian keto diet
On a vegetarian keto diet, you should avoid all meat and seafood.
High-carb foods like grains, legumes, fruits, and starchy vegetables are permitted only in small amounts, as long as they fit into your daily carb allotment.
You should eliminate the following foods:
- Meat: beef, pork, lamb, goat, and veal
- Poultry: chicken, turkey, duck, and goose
- Fish and shellfish: salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies, and lobster
Here are some foods that you should limit:
- Starchy vegetables: potatoes, yams, beets, parsnips, carrots, and sweet potatoes
- Sugar-sweetened beverages: soda, sweet tea, sports drinks, juice, and energy drinks
- Grains: bread, rice, quinoa, oats, millet, rye, barley, buckwheat, and pasta
- Legumes: beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas
- Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, berries, melon, apricots, plums, and peaches
- Condiments: barbecue sauce, honey mustard, ketchup, marinades, and sweetened salad dressings
- Processed foods: breakfast cereals, granola, chips, cookies, crackers, and baked goods
- Sweeteners: brown sugar, white sugar, honey, maple syrup, and agave nectar
- Alcoholic beverages: beer, wine, and sweetened cocktails
Summary: A vegetarian keto diet eliminates all meat while limiting high-carb foods like starchy vegetables, sugary drinks, grains, and fruits.
Sample meal plan for the vegetarian keto diet
This five-day sample meal plan can help kickstart a vegetarian keto diet.
Suggested read: No-carb diet: Benefits, downsides, and foods list
- Breakfast: smoothie with full-fat milk, spinach, peanut butter, MCT oil, and chocolate whey protein powder
- Lunch: zucchini noodles with tempeh meatballs and creamy avocado sauce
- Dinner: coconut curry made with olive oil, mixed veggies, and tofu
- Breakfast: omelet made with coconut oil, cheese, tomatoes, garlic, and onions
- Lunch: cauliflower-crust pizza with cheese, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, olive oil, and spinach
- Dinner: salad with mixed greens, tofu, avocados, tomatoes, and bell peppers
- Breakfast: tofu scramble with olive oil, mixed veggies, and cheese
- Lunch: cauliflower mac and cheese with avocado oil, broccoli, and tempeh bacon
- Dinner: frittata with coconut oil, spinach, asparagus, tomatoes, and feta
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt topped with walnuts and chia seeds
- Lunch: taco lettuce wraps with walnut-mushroom meat, avocados, tomatoes, cilantro, sour cream, and cheese
- Dinner: zucchini pizza boats with olive oil, marinara, cheese, spinach, and garlic
- Breakfast: keto oatmeal with hemp seeds, flax seeds, heavy cream, cinnamon, and peanut butter
- Lunch: baked egg-avocado boats topped with chives, coconut bacon, and paprika
- Dinner: cauliflower fried rice made with coconut oil, veggies, and tofu
Vegetarian keto snacks
Here are a few simple snacks that you can enjoy between meals:
- zucchini chips
- celery with peanut butter
- roasted pumpkin seeds
- flax crackers with sliced cheese
- mixed nuts
- chia seed pudding topped with unsweetened coconut
- carrots with guacamole
- whipped cream with blackberries
- full-fat cottage cheese with black pepper
- full-fat Greek yogurt with walnuts
Summary: The sample menu above provides several ideas for simple meals and snacks that you can enjoy on the vegetarian keto diet.
The vegetarian keto diet is a high-fat, low-carb eating pattern that eliminates meat and seafood.
Independently, vegetarian and keto diets may promote blood sugar control, weight loss, and several other benefits.
Nonetheless, this diet may increase your risk of nutritional deficiencies and hasn’t been studied on its own.
Still, if you are vegetarian and interested in trying keto — or already following keto and curious about going meat-free — it’s definitely possible to combine both.