The ketogenic diet has received a lot of attention this year, probably because celebrities like Kourtney Kardashian, Megan Fox, and Adriana Lima are among its devoted followers. (Halle Berry even shared a rundown of her daily ketogenic meals with her Instagram followers). Many nutrition experts, wellness bloggers, and regular health-minded individuals have analyzed its benefits and downfalls, so to say it's simply "buzzy" would be an understatement. It would be more accurate to call it a dietary movement.
According to nutritionist Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, the ketogenic diet "is basically low-carb, high-fat, and moderate protein." Generally, it consists of 70% fat, 20% protein, and 10% carbohydrates. The goal of this diet is to put the body in a state of ketosis, which means your body burns fat as its main energy source—not carbs or protein. People say it could aid in healthy weight loss, decrease inflammation, and more. But what many people don't know is if it can pair with a vegetarian lifestyle since it so strictly emphasizes fat and protein over carbohydrate consumption. It's no secret that many followers of the keto diet load up on meat and fish, which makes the diet seem rather murky and unapproachable for vegetarians.
Long story short: It's totally possible to combine a vegetarian and ketogenic diet. You just need to know which plant-based foods you should fill up on and which ones you should avoid. Luckily, Smith has some expert tips and suggestions to steer us along the right path.
Eat Healthy Plant-Based Fats
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First things first: When you hear that the keto diet emphasizes consuming fats over carbs, that doesn't mean fats from drive-through fries or something of that sort (as sad as that may seem). It means consuming fats from things like avocado, eggs, nuts, seeds, ghee, and coconut oil. These healthy fats fuel your body's energy in replacement of carbohydrates, contributing to the aforementioned possible benefits of the diet. That's why these foods are a good place to start when talking about all things vegetarian and keto and can be considered as the building blocks of many healthy vegetarian/keto recipes.
Avoid Consuming Too Many Grains
This one's kind of sneaky and a little difficult too, depending on your current dietary preference. If you're vegetarian, it's likely that a large portion of your diet is attributed to grains and beans like quinoa, rice, and lentils. According to Smith, these foods contain too many carbohydrates and not enough protein to make them foundational foods for following a keto diet. So instead of eating a quinoa bowl or a stir-fry on a bed of white rice, try making a keto-friendly vegetarian lasagna.
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For many vegetarians, beans and grains constitute a large portion of their daily protein consumption, so limiting them means you'll need to supplement your diet with something else. Smith suggests looking to "organic dairy or a low-carb protein powder that's plant-based" for meeting healthy protein consumption standards. Perhaps you could try incorporating low-carb Greek yogurt, nut butter, or whole eggs into your daily diet.
Eat Your Vegetables
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As with any healthy diet plan, especially a vegetarian one, be sure you're consuming a diversity of plant-based whole foods like fruits and vegetables. Popular vegetables to eat as a part of the keto diet are green peppers, spinach, lettuce, green beans, and cabbage, among others. Try to avoid starchy and carb-heavy vegetables like potatoes. As for fruit, some people recommend avoiding too many berries or citrus fruits, which contain natural sugars (aka carbohydrates). However, this doesn't mean you should avoid them completely. As always, eating a colorful and varied diet, no matter the plan you're following, is key to maintaining good health and wellness.
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You should consult a professional before committing, like you would with any new diet, as it might not necessarily apply to extenuating health circumstances. It's also helpful to hear an expert's opinion firsthand. As for Smith, she's not entirely sold on the keto diet in the first place. "Some principles of the keto diet can be helpful," she says, such as few refined carbs and sugars. "When done right (more plant-based that is) it can be a great way to get some healthy fats in, but I don't find, especially for women, that it contributes to significant weight loss if that's a goal."
While we're on the topic, it's also possible that you might need supplementation to your diet to achieve utmost wellness. "This is case by case, but often, in general, vegans/vegetarians need iron, B complex, b12, extra protein, and potentially zinc and biotin as well," Smith tells us—just another reason consulting an expert can be so helpful.
This article was updated by Sarah Yang.