The keto diet for vegetarians may seem like a misnomer — why would people that don’t eat meat want to cut other protein sources from their diet as well? Isn’t a vegetarian diet automatically low in calories?
Yes, it can be — with special care to limit overly processed foods.
But there may be other alternative reasons to explore a low carb lifestyle:
- The keto diet may be important when addressing other health-related issues such as diabetes, inflammation, or heart disease. Any time you have elevated blood sugar that’s related to carbohydrate intake, the keto diet can be used to limit sugar intake.
- Or maybe you have a passion where animal rights and the environment are concerned, but still want to be lean, active, and healthy.
- You may want to eat whole foods that are subject to less alteration and processing.
So, let’s talk keto!
When you commit to a keto diet, you are consuming 75% of your macronutrients in healthy fats, 20% in protein, and 5% in carbohydrates.
That means cutting carbohydrates to around 20 grams per day (and fats to about 165 grams, protein to 75 grams).
The good news is with the keto diet you are counting net carbs. Net carbs take the total carbs and subtract any dietary fiber and sugar alcohol carbs to arrive at a net number.
For example, if you are looking at a serving of nut granola with total carbs of 11 grams, but 4 grams of dietary fiber and 4 grams of sugar alcohols, your net carb count will be 3 net carbs (11–4–4 = 3).
Eating as a Vegetarian or Vegan in a Processed Food World
So often, when you choose vegetarian and vegan foods, they are highly processed and can be exceedingly high in carbs.
From breads to crackers, beans to quinoa, carbs in the form of grains, beans, and legumes, can make up the lion’s share of a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Even plant-based meat and dairy can be processed to an unhealthy level.
We’re sure you’re thinking that if you take out traditional carbs used in a vegetarian or vegan diet, you’ll be left with nothing but lettuce and avocados. Not true!
We’ll show you what you can eat and, while our suggestions are geared for a vegetarian keto diet plan, we also note some keto diet ideas for vegans as well.
First, Let’s Talk Tofu
While soybeans, like other beans and legumes, are not recommended on a keto diet, tofu (especially firm tofu) is a welcome protein addition.
One cup of firm tofu has the following macro nutrient count making it a great addition for everyone:
- Fat — 5 grams
- Protein — 6 grams
- Carbs — 3 grams (2.3 of which is dietary fiber), making the net carb count <1 gram
Vegetables are a staple for the keto diet for vegans and vegetarians. But there are some things to consider when choosing which vegetables to incorporate into your eating plan.
On the keto diet, there are no starchy vegetables allowed — no potatoes, beets, yams, peas, beans or legumes, or corn.
But there are tons of flavorful veggies that include:
- Non-starchy veggies that grow above ground — cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, cucumbers, asparagus, artichokes, celery, radishes, cabbage, onion, jicama, and spaghetti squash
- Greens — lettuce, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy, mustard greens
- Nightshade family — tomatoes, peppers, eggplant
- Avocado (technically a fruit, but then so are tomatoes), mushrooms
The possibilities are endless, but you will need to be mindful of your overall carb count. Try them in smoothies, in soups and salads, or steamed, roasted, or air fried.
You can always switch things up with a variety keto options like mushroom jerky for a great snack that isn’t overly processed.
And cauliflower which can be made into pizza crusts, wraps for sandwiches, and risotto.
There are many dairy options on the keto diet for vegetarians and most have a vegan counterpart.
Keep your dairy choices low carb with healthy full fat options that are sourced from grass-fed, organic livestock if at all possible. Options include:
- Grass-fed butter and Ghee
- Hard cheeses like Swiss, parmesan, gouda, blue, feta, and cheddar
- Heavy cream
- Cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
- Sour cream
- Skyr (Icelandic cheese)
Avoid milk and sweetened dairy products, such as fruit-flavored yogurt, ice cream, pudding, non-dairy creamers, and condensed milk.
Also, kefir, a yogurt-like probiotic drink that’s high in carbohydrates.
You can substitute unsweetened nut or seed milks, like almond milk, hemp milk, macadamia nut milk, or cashew milk.
Also try unsweetened coconut milk or another plant-based dairy whenever possible.
If you want a great snack, try coconut milk ice cream. It’s smooth, creamy, and delicious.
Or organic dairy-free sour cream in a vegan mushroom stroganoff. Try your stroganoff on either cauliflower ‘noodles,’ spaghetti squash, or zucchini swirls for a noodle substitute.
There are also tons of recipes online for noodles using mozzarella cheese and egg yolks (or an egg substitute for vegans) to make keto noodles.
Today’s plant-based egg substitutes are so flavorful and close to the real thing that we should all try to incorporate them into our keto diets.
But whether you use plant-based egg substitutes or the real thing, they are perfect for a keto diet for vegetarians.
They are great alone in scrambled eggs or fried eggs.
Hard-boiled eggs make a perfect snack food. And they work great in frittatas, quiches, omelets, or to make keto bread or biscuits.
Plus, you get 7 grams of ultra-high quality protein and 5 grams of fat.
Speaking of fats, when you have a keto diet lifestyle, 75% to 80% of your calories will come from healthy fats.
We know that seems like a lot, but you will soon adapt to finding ways to get fats into your diet. Concentrate on these fats (most of which show up in other categories, but have to be mentioned here for their fat content):
- Avocados and avocado oil — versatile and heart-healthy, avocados may be the perfect food. They work in salads, smoothies, desserts and baking, and guacamole. Avocado oil has a higher smoke point (over 40⁰⁰) than most any other oil and is perfect for cooking at high temperatures.
- Olives and olive oil — just the best healthy fat around!
- Nut oils — walnut, almond, pistachio, cashew, and pecan oils add tons of flavor to salads and cooked dishes.
- Coconuts, coconut oil, and MCT oil — a natural source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) that is easily absorbed and used by your body.
Nuts & Nut Butters
Whether you eat these nuts as whole nuts, as ground nut butter, or in bowls or smoothies, pecans, almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, and hazelnuts are a great source of healthy fats.
They also make a handy, portable snack option.
Seeds and seed butters also bring tons of options for the keto diet for vegans and vegetarians. Full of nutrients, protein, and healthy fats, try:
Protein powders can be a great addition to get some added protein into your keto diet and can be a supplement or a full meal replacement.
Protein additions for vegetarians can be made from whey, casein, or egg whites, and plant-based powders for vegans usually have protein extracted or derived from soy, pea, almond, pumpkin seeds, or chia seeds.
Berries should be your go-to fruit, but even berries have a lot of net carbs (from 5 to 12 per serving).
Melons, lemons, and peaches and other stone fruit usually have single digit net carbs.
Beyond those limited options, you are getting into fruit sugars that are too much for the vegetarian keto diet plan.
If you are into baking, try almond flour, coconut flour, or other nut flours as a substitute for traditional wheat or grain flours.
Or better yet, try easy, self-contained bread mixes that have yeast included — a few simple ingredients, 15 minutes to knead, and let rise for 6 hours, then just pop in the oven and your whole house smells like fresh bread for 2 net grams per slice.
To Sum Up
Vegetarians and vegans can live the keto lifestyle without meat, plus cut out processed carbohydrates with these simple tips and ideas.
Read more about the keto lifestyle, keto diet, and our products at NuTrail.com.