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What is a Vegan Keto Diet? Why is the ketogenic diet so popular? Will it work with a vegan lifestyle?
Have you been hearing about this thing called the Keto Diet? Perhaps you're wondering how a vegan keto diet would work. The Ketogenic diet has been gaining popularity for a number of years now and the vegan community also continues to rapidly grow in 2018. It then makes sense for us to address a Vegan Keto diet, right? But can an overlap of these two really exist?
To do so would require extremely low carb vegan foods to induce ketosis, but also sources of sufficient vegan protein and essential oils. Furthermore, would this Vegan Keto Diet be Safe and what list of foods would you need to cut from your current diet? To answer this, we first need to look at the foundations of the Keto Diet.
The Keto Diet is a system of eating foods that will help put the body into a state of Ketosis whereby the body burns body fat for energy. The state of Ketosis is usually induced by a low carbohydrate and high fat diet, whereby ketones are produced in the liver to be used as energy. The reasoning for the low carb diet is that carbs are the most efficient energy sources for the body to use and are thus metabolised first after eating, while excess fat in the diet is then stored instead of being burned by the body. The issue is that carbs are a very energy dense food. People will end up eating more carbs than their bodies need at a given time. Some of these carbs can be stored in the liver as glycogen for later use. However, the liver can only hold up to 500g of glycogen at a time. As our bodies function extremely efficiently, we cannot waste the extra energy we consumed in our meal, so the rest is then turned into fat stores.
However, what happens in a low carb diet(like the keto diet) is that the body does not have enough carbs to metabolise for energy. The body will then enter a state of Ketosis whereby fat stores in the body will be converted to ketones by the pancreas. These ketones are then used as energy by the body to continue its regular functions. So the keto diet is basically a system of reducing carbs so the body instead converts fat into ketones for energy.
So why is everyone talking about the keto diet, and why are fitness enthusiasts and athletes like LeBron James jumping onto it. Well, the Keto Diet can provide many potential health benefits.
The Keto diet can be great for weight loss and shedding fat. If you're a person that has adopted a plant-based diet to lose weight, this could be for you. During ketosis, your body's fat is burned off for energy. Your blood sugar and insulin levels will also drop, which allows your fat stores to release their retained water. This loss of retained water will also help to tip the scale back a bit.
The keto diet can help to reduce food cravings. As a regular diet usually has a high carb content, this can cause your body's blood sugar levels to experience huge swings. These swings in blood sugar levels are what causes sudden bouts of hunger. On a ketogenic diet, the blood sugar levels are much better regulated and remain at a stable level. This can help people trying to lose weight who have a hard time staying in a caloric deficit.
Another effect of blood sugar swings is your mental focus. As the energy from carbohydrates isn't always consistent, you may have periods of cloudiness in thinking. A ketogenic diet utilises ketones for thinking power, which is a much more stable source than carbs. This helps you to stay focussed for longer periods of time.
Having a high blood pressure can result in risk of heart disease that can potentially be fatal. Studies have shown that reducing carbs in your diet could help to lower blood pressure levels. A high fat diet, although usually associated with heart disease can actually be beneficial to lowering blood pressure.
A Keto diet has also shown to increase your HDL cholesterol levels. While many may think that increased cholesterol is a bad thing, higher HDL cholesterol levels are shown to actually protect against heart disease. There are two types of cholesterol: HDL(good) and LDL(bad). While too much LDL may cause narrowing in the arteries, experts believe that HDL is responsible for carrying this LDL from the arteries back to the liver.
One of the causes of Type II Diabetes is high blood sugar levels. As the body's sugar levels rise, more insulin is produced by the body. At some point cells begin to develop an insulin resistance, causing Type II Diabetes. Since the Keto Diet is a low carb diet, this can help to regulate blood sugar levels and help to prevent Type II Diabetes or treat current diabetics.
A low carb diet has shown to be an effective non-drug treatment for people with epilepsy and who are prone to seizures. Because ketones are produced for energy consumption instead of carbohydrates, there are metabolic changes in the body. It is believed these metabolic changes are responsible for managing and preventing epileptic seizures.
A keto diet has also shown to be beneficial for treating Alzheimer’s Disease. Alzheimers is a progressive and irreversible brain disorder that occurs in older people which impairs thinking and memory. Studies have shown a low carb diet could help to prevent the onset of Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's sufferers have shown a resistance to insulin in the brain and are unable to use glucose properly, similar to that shown in diabetes. By utilising ketones for brain energy it is believed, could help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Parkinson's Disease an irreversible condition whereby brain can no longer properly produce well coordinated movements in the body. Symptoms incloude tremors, imbalance, rigidity or slow awkward movements. It is caused due to insufficient dopamine levels in the brain. The reasons why a keto diet provides therapeutic benefits to Parkinson's sufferers is still not conclusive, but studies do show that it can help.
Polycystic ovary syndrome, also known as Stein-Leventhal syndrome is a condition that causes enlarged ovaries where produce multiple cysts are developed. If left untreated, PCOS can cause high cholesterol levels, cardiovascular disease, endometrial cancer, type 2 diabetes or infertility. PCOS cannot be cured, but it can be treated. Studies have shown that a low carb diet may help women with PCOS.
Now that you know about some of the benefits of a keto diet, you may be wondering how you’d be able to adopt a keto diet with a vegan lifestyle. Unfortunately most of the keto diet guides out there are very meat/dairy heavy as the keto diet focuses mainly on proteins and fats. This obviously won’t work for us cruelty free folks, so what sorts of keto friendly foods would a vegan eat instead?
The basic structure of a keto diet is approximately: 70% fats, 25% proteins, 5% carbs. Because the keto diet is very restrictive on carbs and involves the consumption of large amounts of fat, the first step is to ditch all carb heavy foods from your diet. The keto diet usually limits daily carb intake to 20g-50g, but the amounts will vary for different people. The main point is to keep your body in ketosis, so if you are able enter ketosis with 70g of carbs a day it should be fine to consume this amount.
The energy from your diet will come from fats and oils, so you will be consuming different amounts depending on how active you are. The protein requirements for your body should remain the same. For a sedentary individual this would be approximately 0.4g per pound of bodyweight. If you live an active lifestyle this will need to be increased, especially for muscle building purposes. If you are a fitness fanatic, we trust you're well aware of your protein macros already.
The catch with a Vegan Keto diet is that you will need to find protein sources that are extremely low in carbohydrates. This means no more soybeans etc. Here are some foods that are ok to eat.
Low Carb Fruits - Avocado, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries etc
Nuts and Seeds - Almonds, Macadamia, Pecans, Chia Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Flaxseed, Hemp Seed
Dairy Substitutes - Almond Milk, Coconut Milk, Coconut Cream, Vegan Cheese
Meat Substitutes - Tofu, Tempeh, Seitan etc
Low Carb Vegetables - Broccoli, Cauliflower, Asparagus, Zucchini etc
Dark Green Leafy Vegetables - Kale, Spinach, Collard Greens, Swiss Chard
Fermented Food - Sauerkraut, Kim Chi, Natto etc
Sea Vegetables - Kelp, dulse, bladderwack etc
Vegetable Oils - Olive Oil, Sesame Oil, Avocado Oil, Coconut Oil etc
Sweeteners - Stevia, Erythritol etc
Mushrooms - Most mushrooms are very low carb and healthy
Grains - Wheat, Barley, Corn Rice, Ceral, Quinoa etc
Legumes - Beans, Lentils, Chickpeas etc
Fruit - Banana, Apple, Oranges etc
Tubers - Potato, Kumara, Yam, Parsnip, Carrot etc
Sugar - Maple Syrup, Corn Syrup, Agave, Brown Sugar etc
Although protein is easily obtained in a regular plant-based diet, it gets a bit more challenging on a keto diet as you have to watch your carb intake at the same time. Protein rich foods such as legumes are not to be eaten on a vegan keto diet due to their carb content. Foods such as nuts and seeds are protein dense, but even eating too many of these will take your carb levels over the limit. We advise you to check the carb contents of any foods that you are eating to ensure that you are able to remain in ketosis.
If you are concerned about getting your protein requirements, you may want to use a vegan protein powder to supplement. Protein powders are extremely protein dense with minimal carb content. Many of the low carb protein powders will consist of peas, hemp, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and flaxseeds. You can have a protein shake with your meals as a protein supplement, or even mix the powder into your cooking.
The fat in a keto diet will make up approximately 70% of your food and calorie intake, so most of the food consumed will consist of fats. The amount of fats that you require will really depend on how much energy you're expending in the day. A sedentary woman requires about 1600-2000 calories a day and men require\ about 2000-2600 calories a day to maintain their current weight. If your goal is to lose weight, you will need to consume less calories than your maintenance levels to be in a caloric deficit.
Nuts and seeds like almonds or macadamia nuts are high in fat, which is great but you should eat these in moderation as the carb content does build up. Fruits such as avocados and olives are also great sources of fat. You can add additional fats \ into your diet by supplementing meals with oils such as avocado oil, sunflower oil, olive oil etc. A great way to add extra fat into your meals is by adding delicious sauces and dressings.
Because a vegan keto diet is so restrictive, there may be a risk of becoming deficient in certain vitamins and minerals which are essential for normal bodily functions. Vitamin B12 supplements are mandatory and all vegans should be taking these regularly. However, other minerals/vitamins such Vitamin A, D & K2, iron, zinc, calcium and fatty acids such as EPA and DHA do run a risk of being deficient. To ensure that you obtain these essential nutrients without the overstepping the limits of a keto diet, we advise you to have supplements handy. Multivitamins are a good way to ensure that you are getting the essential nutrients.
To help keep track of the nutritional requirements and restrictions of a keto diet, you may want to use a keto calculator. This will help to track the carbohydrates in your diet so that you do not go over the limit and break ketosis.
Before going on a vegan keto diet, you may be wondering how you'll actually know when you're experiencing ketosis. A number of natural signs will be: increased mental focus, decreased appetite, fruity breath, weight loss and short term fatigue. A more accurate way to tell is to use a ketone meter to measure the amount of ketones in your blood. You can purchase a ketone meter for quite cheap here on Amazon.
Most people do not perpetually stay on a ketogenic diet, but rather come on and off the diet for different periods. Some may stay on the diet for as long as 6 months or as short as a few weeks. How long you stay on your vegan keto diet for will depend on your reasons for adopting this diet and what your goals are. However it is important to note that there have been no studies on subjects adopting a regular keto diet for any longer than 6 months straight, let alone a vegan keto diet. The diet itself is not designed for the long term and you should be taking breaks from it now and again.
Yes, that's right, you don't have to give up your carbs forever!
As mentioned earlier, when your body enters ketosis you may experience a loss of retained water in your system. Your body will be using up the stored glucose in your liver and muscles. Later as your insulin levels drop, your kidneys will excrete excess sodium, which may also trigger increased urination.
Not everybody will react to a vegan keto diet in the same way and you may experience some short and long term side effects. If you are not used to entering ketosis, it may come as a bit of a shock to your body. Some people may experience what is known as Keto Flu, which is your body's response to these dramatic changes. Symptoms include fatigue, and/or drowsiness. These effects are temporary and should subside within a couple of weeks.
After adopting a keto diet, some people may develop a condition called "Keto Rash". This is a rare condition where a person develops a red/brown/pink lesion on the skin due to ketosis. It can feel uncomfortable and itchy but is by no means dangerous. Keto Rash may last from a couple of weeks up to several months depending on the individual. The exact causes of the rash are not known, but it does correlate to ketone production, excessive fasting and a low carb diet. If you happen to experience a stubborn Keto Rash that has still not disappeared for several weeks, try to increase your carbohydrate intake. Sweat may also be a trigger for Keto Rash, so if you're quite an active person be sure to manage your sweating properly if you are experiencing rashes.
All in all the Keto Diet can be compatible with a vegan lifestyle, so no you won't have to miss out on the benefits. Having said that, the Keto Diet is not really designed for the long term - especially a vegan one. It is advised to take a break from it if you are thinking of adopting this diet. Also keep in mind that if you are seeking to lose weight from the keto diet, you are still required to be in a caloric deficit. Simply adopting a ketogenic diet will not automcatically melt your bodyfat away. Different people will react differently to this diet, and we do advise you to seek a medical professional before committing to drastic changes in your diet. Negative side effects do also exist so the Keto Diet is not necessarily for everyone. However, if you do think this diet is right for you and would like to try it, we have a number of keto friendly recipes available to help you along.