Ketogenic and vegan diets are popular nutritional approaches for losing weight, eating cleaner, and other benefits. But, like any other diet, each has its unique characteristics and pros and cons, which can ultimately affect your choice.
Before getting started, it’s important to learn the key differences between keto vs vegan and certain factors to consider. That way, you’ll know which of these plans will better support your goals and health.
The ketogenic or keto diet is a popular eating plan that limits carbohydrates to 20-50 grams per day and encourages a high intake of healthy fats from whole foods, such as fatty fish, fatty cuts of meat, eggs, and avocados (*).
Other keto diet foods include full-fat dairy, poultry, nuts, seeds, oils rich in healthy fats (olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil), and fresh herbs and spices. Beverages like plain coffee, tea, and sparkling water are fine too.
Sticking to this way of eating forces the body to enter a metabolic state of ketosis, in which you burn fat to supply energy to your brain and body, in addition to achieving fat loss (*).
At the same time, this diet keeps protein intake moderate, unless you choose to follow a high-protein version of keto, as there are many variations of the keto diet.
Remember to avoid or significantly limit your consumption of high-carb foods like starchy fruits and vegetables. Examples of these foods are rice, potatoes, corn, beets, honey, syrups, bananas, dates, and highly processed foods (like chips, soda, baked goods, etc.)
Overall, the traditional keto diet allows for both plants and animal products as long as they’re low in carbohydrates and are unprocessed or minimally processed.
The vegan diet focuses on meeting your nutritional requirements from plants and plant-based products. This excludes all animals and their by-products, such as eggs, cheese, milk, butter, and whey protein (*).
When it comes to macronutrient composition, vegan diets tend to be higher in carbohydrates, since plants are a significant source of carbs. (Carbohydrates provide structure to plant cells).
In addition, they tend to be lower in protein compared to other diets. One study revealed that vegan diets may cause you to be deficient in micronutrients, including vitamin B12, zinc, calcium, and selenium, which are abundant in animal foods (*).
However, take note that it’s entirely possible to get optimal protein as long as you consume vegan diet foods that provide protein in the right amounts. Examples are soybeans, seitan, beans, chickpeas, and lentils (*).
Individuals who choose a plant-based diet usually do so for ethical and environmental reasons. For instance, they’re against the idea of raising and slaughtering animals for food (*).
Now that you have a basic idea of how vegan and keto diets work, here’s why you might pick one over the other. Learn more about the differences between a plant-based diet vs keto diet below.
|Keto Diet||Vegan Diet|
|Reason for following the diet||
Having a wide variety of foods available plays a vital role in achieving optimal health. This is because different foods have different nutritional profiles, meaning that they have various amounts of key nutrients. Take, for example, 100 grams of salmon contains more iron than the same serving size of broccoli (*, *).
This is one of the reasons to rotate your foods so you won’t miss out on nutrients — on top of the fact that food variety keeps your diet fun and interesting.
Between vegan vs keto, the keto diet offers more food choices, since you can eat both animals and plants, whereas a vegan diet eliminates all forms of animal protein.
Reaching and maintaining nutritional ketosis can be more challenging on a vegan diet because plant-based foods are abundant in carbohydrates. In other words, while a keto diet is very low-carb, a vegan diet is naturally high-carb.
In fact, there are a ton of zero-carb options to choose from on a keto diet plan. Beef, pork, poultry, seafood, and eggs are technically carb-free, except for a few cuts that have a very small amount of carbs, like organ meats (*).
The vegan diet can be lower in fat and protein — macronutrients that are readily available in all animal foods on the keto diet. Not eating enough fat and protein leads to various health problems like vitamin deficiencies, a weakened immune system, hair loss, and muscle loss (*, *, *).
Since these macros are more challenging to meet on a plant-based diet, vegan dieters should take special care when planning their meals.
Reasons for following the diet
Vegan diets tend to appeal mostly to people who are concerned about the impact of their food choices on the environment. Plant-based advocates believe that eating less meat helps to save the environment due to the belief that meat production produces more greenhouse gases (*).
On the other hand, proponents of meat-only diets and diets that include meat (such as keto) support regenerative farming, which is a means of producing food that lowers environmental impact and may address climate change (*).
Plant-based diets can also be motivated by religion. According to a study, it was once believed that “killing another living being for food would have a brutal influence on one’s mind, negatively affecting one’s body and soul” (*).
Contrastingly, the keto diet appeals mostly to those looking who are to lose weight (by burning their stored fat for fuel, through ketosis). In addition, they want to experience therapeutic benefits like glycemic control and diabetes reversal, improvement in cholesterol, seizure control, and the reduction of cancer risk and progression (*, *).
Both dietary approaches have shared benefits on health and they promote eating whole or minimally processed foods. What’s also enticing about vegan and keto diets is that they can be followed in different ways depending on your personal preference.
|Keto Diet||Vegan Diet|
|Food Quality||Promotes whole or minimally processed foods||Promotes whole or minimally processed foods|
|Health Benefits||Improves weight loss and other positive health effects||Improves weight loss and other positive health effects|
|Diet Variations||Different variations to choose from||Different variations to choose from|
Both the keto diet and vegan diet prioritize eating whole foods and minimizing processed foods.
For keto dieters, these processed keto diet foods to limit include processed cheese and processed meats (sausages, hot dogs, pork rinds, and bunless fast-food burgers). For vegan dieters, processed foods to limit include bleached flour, refined sugars, and plant-based meat products.
Focusing on nutritious foods supports your long-term health and reduces your risk of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and certain cancers (*).
That’s why people who want to want to make more mindful food choices may turn to vegan or keto diets.
Another key similarity between keto and vegan diets is that they both can help you lose weight and improve your health.
Multiple studies have found keto diet benefits which include weight loss, decreased appetite, reduced blood glucose levels, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and improved fatty liver in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) (*, *).
Regarding vegan diet benefits, one of them is weight loss, since they’re lower in calories. And as you may already know, being in a calorie deficit increases weight loss — which can then lead to improvements in blood sugar and blood pressure (*, *, *).
When it comes to keto vs. vegan for weight loss, a low-carb diet (keto diet) is more effective for losing weight in a short period than a low-fat diet (which is vegan). We dive into the details of low-carb vs low-fat in a separate article.
Additionally, vegan diets also provide antioxidants — these are organic molecules or enzymes that scavenge and neutralize free radicals in the body (*). Examples of antioxidants include vitamins C and E.
If you try to do some research, you’ll find different variations of the keto diet and vegan diet. We’ve covered a standard keto diet and vegan diet in this article; however, you may follow these diets in ways that meet your needs.
For example, keto diet types include but are not limited to targeted keto, cyclical keto, pescatarian keto, Mediterranean keto, carnivore keto, and even plant-based keto. Meanwhile, vegan diet types include raw vegan, gluten-free vegan, fruitarian vegan, and more.
Regardless of the diet you’re interested in, perhaps the most important consideration is whether you can follow it with ease. Can you stick to it long-term? Are you able to eat this way for months or years?
Another factor is lifestyle and convenience. If you love eating a variety of foods (especially meat), a vegan diet isn’t the best option for you. However, if you enjoy fruits, veggies, and dairy alternatives and don’t find this eating plan restrictive, a vegan diet may likely work.
Consider your fitness goals and any current health issues you’re dealing with. For instance, if you’re struggling to control your blood sugar levels, a keto diet may suit you well. Also, don’t forget to seek advice from a knowledgeable and experienced healthcare professional.
Below are answers to common questions on keto vs vegan diets:
Is vegan healthier than keto?
Eliminating all meat isn’t necessarily healthier than a diet that allows for more variety, especially if nutrients come from mostly whole foods. So, vegan isn’t better than a keto diet. Moreover, you won’t see positive results if you’re often eating pasta, Impossible Burger, and other processed items, even if these foods are plant-based.
Both keto and vegan diets result in weight loss. A keto diet helps you lose body fat by restricting carbs and using ketones for fuel while keeping you satiated. Meanwhile, a vegan diet helps with weight loss through a reduction in calories, especially if you’re coming from a previous diet that’s full of added sugars and unhealthy fats.
Can you do keto if you are vegan?
Yes, it’s possible to follow a ketogenic version of a vegan diet. To enter ketosis, you’ll need to focus on plant-based foods that are lower in carbs and higher in fat.
Everyone has their own idea of the best diet. Ultimately, it comes down to what works for you based on your current understanding of the diet, health and fitness goals, lifestyle, and sustainability.
Sometimes, it helps to try a diet and stick to it long enough to know if it’s helping you or not. More importantly, keep in mind that there are no diet shortcuts when it comes to lasting health and weight loss.
Strubl S et al. Ketogenic dietary interventions in autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease—a retrospective case series study: first insights into feasibility, safety and effects. 2021 September 13