Although a traditional keto diet includes a wide variety of foods, provided that they’re low in carbohydrates, it’s totally possible to follow a vegetarian keto diet.
This approach emphasizes plant-based foods such as leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and berries. But while a keto vegetarian diet avoids meat and seafood, it allows for eggs and dairy products.
Here’s what you need to know about keto for vegetarians, its health benefits, what to eat and avoid, a sample meal plan, and some downsides to consider.
The vegetarian keto diet is a plant-based diet where you eat mostly plants that are non-starchy. Additionally, you can meet your protein and fat requirements by eating eggs and full-fat dairy, which increase the quality of your diet since they provide important micronutrients like potassium, calcium, iron, zinc, and B vitamins (* , *).
Unlike a typical vegetarian diet, a keto vegetarian approach is very low in carbohydrates. You’re allowed to consume only 20-50 grams of net carbs per day, which then forces your body to enter a fat-burning state of ketosis.
That said, vegetarian keto foods exclude high-carb plants such as grains, potatoes, beets, corn, and high-sugar fruits (apples, mangoes, bananas, and grapes).
Both a vegetarian diet and a keto diet help you to achieve good health and reach certain goals. When combined, you get the best of both worlds. You’ll find some vegetarian keto diet benefits below with studies to back them up.
1. Improves Your Weight Loss
Studies have demonstrated that the vegetarian diet and the ketogenic diet both aid weight loss. Fiber, which is found in plants, helps you feel full on fewer calories (*). Keto-friendly foods, including low-carb vegetables and meats, promote greater fat loss by lowering blood glucose and insulin levels (*).
Optimizing your protein intake on vegetarian keto will also boost your metabolism while consuming healthy fats, such as medium-chain triglycerides, can regulate your appetite and help you stay satiated (* , *).
2. Helps Control Blood Sugar Levels
Research has found that a vegetarian diet doesn’t only promote a healthy weight, but also makes your body become more responsive to insulin (*).
This is probably because a vegetarian diet reduces energy intake, which leads to weight loss, which then improves glycemic control (*). Another explanation is that dietary fiber slows glucose absorption from the intestine, reducing blood sugar spikes (*).
On the other hand, achieving nutritional ketosis through a keto diet can improve HbA1c (your average blood sugar over the past 2-3 months) in as little as 3 weeks. In fact, a keto diet can reverse type 2 diabetes and eliminate diabetic medications (* , *).
3. Reduces Your Risk of Chronic Disease
Another potential benefit of a keto diet for vegetarians is that it lowers your risk of chronic health conditions. Examples of these conditions are obesity, heart disease, diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and Alzheimer’s disease.
Ketogenic diets work by reducing chronic inflammation. The ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), produced by your liver during ketosis, suppresses the NLRP3 inflammasome, which is involved in the development of diseases (* , *).
Being a keto vegetarian also means removing foods that trigger inflammation, such as refined carbohydrates, high-fructose corn syrup, processed animal products, and vegetable and seed oils with high amounts of omega-6.
4. Increases Your Gut Microbiome Diversity
Studies reveal that a diverse gut microbiome (the microorganisms in your digestive tract) benefits your health (*).
One of the ways to improve gut bacteria is to eat a variety of foods, which includes plants (*).
When on a keto vegetarian diet, make it your goal to consume as many types of low-carb vegetables and fruits as possible. In addition, eat fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, plain yogurt, and unflavored kombucha (*). As long as you stick to unflavored varieties and watch your serving size, these options should be fine on keto.
5. May Lower Your Cancer Risk
Vegetarian and keto diets have been associated with a reduced risk of cancer. Both diets reduce excess body weight — an important factor in many cancers (*).
Research also suggests that a keto diet helps to prevent or treat cancer by starving cancer cells since cancer cells need lots of glucose for energy (*). While treating diabetic patients with cancer in 1921, A. Braunstein noted the disappearance of glucose from the patients’ urine (*).
That said, cancer patients may benefit from a vegetarian keto diet, in addition to receiving treatment from their healthcare provider.
Fill your weekly shopping list with these low-carb foods for vegetarian keto. All these foods are healthy sources of fat and protein, and will help with your goals:
- Non-starchy vegetables: cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bok choy, brussels sprouts, kale), green beans, salad greens (lettuce, spinach), tomatoes, mushrooms
- Low-carb fruits: avocado, lemons, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and cantaloupe
- Plant-based fats: olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, MCT oil
- Protein: eggs, tofu, nutritional yeast, spinach, keto-friendly vegetarian protein powder
- Dairy products: cheese, heavy cream, butter, sour cream, yogurt
- Nuts: almonds, pecans, macadamias, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts
- Seeds: chia seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseeds
- Beverages: plain coffee, plain tea, almond milk, coconut milk, cashew milk, sparkling water
- Sweeteners: stevia, monk fruit
Keto vegetarians should stay away from high-carb foods and drinks, including plant-based meats since these are highly processed. See the list below:
- Starchy vegetables: corn, white and sweet potatoes, butternut squash, beets
- High-sugar fruits: mangoes, grapes, cherries, bananas, oranges, apples
- Grains: barley, corn, oats, rice, durum, quinoa
- All unprocessed and processed meat: beef, pork, veal, chicken, turkey, fish, shellfish
- Plant-based meat: Beyond Meat burgers, sausages, meatballs
- Sugary beverages: fruit juice, soda, sweetened tea, and sweetened coffee
- High-carb alcoholic drinks: regular beer, margarita, bloody mary
Try these meals whenever you’re ready to go vegetarian keto. Instead of meat, we’re using cruciferous veggies and cheese to make them taste wonderful.
- Breakfast: mini peppers stuffed with cheese and plain coffee
- Lunch: broccoli and parmesan cheese vegetarian meatballs
- Dinner: vegetarian casserole made with cauliflower rice, heavy cream, marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, and oregano
- Breakfast: low-carb pancakes made with almond flour, cream cheese, and eggs
- Lunch: veggie salad bowl with purple cabbage, zucchini, lettuce leaves, walnuts, and apple cider vinegar
- Dinner: creamy mushroom pasta using shirataki noodles
- Breakfast: egg muffins made with eggs, cherry tomatoes, and feta cheese
- Lunch: berry bowl with frozen mixed berries, coconut cream, avocado, nuts, almond milk, and coconut flakes
- Dinner: cauliflower mac and cheese
- Breakfast: scrambled eggs and cheese slices
- Lunch: greek yogurt topped with crushed walnuts and almond nuts
- Dinner: zucchini noodles with pesto
- Breakfast: keto oatmeal made with almond flour, chia seeds, coconut flakes, monk fruit, and milk
- Lunch: broccoli, cauliflower, and cheese frittata
- Dinner: roasted asparagus with garlic and parmesan cheese
While vegetarian keto offers many benefits, it may present certain risks if you follow it incorrectly.
1. You May Experience the Keto Flu
To combat symptoms such as headache, low energy, brain fog, and digestive issues, be sure to get plenty of electrolytes and eat enough fat. Healthy plant-based fats include avocados, almonds, and flaxseeds.
2. Possible Nutritional Deficiencies
Keto and vegetarian diets require careful planning to prevent nutritional deficiencies that result from removing food groups. A keto plant-based diet eliminates whole grains, starchy vegetables, meat, poultry, and seafood — which are sources of important vitamins and minerals.
Boosting your nutrient intake can be done by making sure you rotate low-carb plants, eggs, and dairy in your diet. Consider taking a vitamin B12 supplement as well, on top of getting it from cheese and eggs, since vitamin B12 is scarce in plant foods (*).
3. Some May Find the Diet Restrictive
People who enjoy eating a wide variety of foods may not like the idea of removing meat from their meals. This includes those who have already adapted to a traditional keto diet.
It takes a lot of time to change your eating habits. If a vegetarian keto diet seems too extreme, then it’s probably best for you to stay on a standard keto diet or a vegetarian diet.
4. You Must Work Hard to Get Extra Protein
Animal proteins are considered “complete proteins” since they contain all essential amino acids — whereas most plant proteins lack at least one essential amino acid (*). These essential amino acids have vital functions, such as making brain neurotransmitters and growth hormones, digestion, and absorbing minerals (*).
One thing you can do to get all essential amino acids is to combine different plant protein sources. Fortunately, there are lots of keto-friendly vegetarian protein foods to enjoy. Go for eggs, full-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, and organic tempeh.
5. Plants Contain Antinutrients
Antinutrients are compounds in plants that interfere with the absorption of nutrients in your body. In other words, antinutrients reduce nutrient intake. Examples of antinutrients are lectins, phytates, oxalates, and tannins (*).
While it’s possible to reduce antinutrients in plants and improve their nutritional value through soaking, boiling, and fermentation, some people would rather avoid plants or eat more meat.
Below are answers to common questions on the vegetarian keto diet:
Is vegetarian keto better than regular keto?
While a vegetarian keto diet is healthy, it’s not necessarily better than regular keto. In fact, a vegetarian keto diet can be more restrictive in that it eliminates animal foods (except for eggs and dairy) on top of cutting carbohydrates. With proper planning, a keto vegetarian can avoid nutrient deficiencies and maximize this diet’s benefits.
Can vegetarians get into ketosis?
Yes, they can. To enter nutritional ketosis, they need to watch their carb intake and make sure that they only eat 20-50 grams of net carbs per day. This is possible by focusing on non-starchy plants like broccoli, cauliflower, and salad greens. These are lower in carbohydrates.
How many carbs can you have on a vegetarian keto diet?
Like a standard keto diet, a vegetarian keto diet allows for up to 50 grams of net carbs in a day. The best sources of carbs include non-starchy fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and full-fat dairy.
If you’re planning to start a keto vegetarian diet, know that it can require a lot of thought and preparation.
But with the tips discussed above, such as rotating keto vegetarian diet foods, eating healthy fats, taking electrolytes, and paying attention to your protein intake — you can relieve keto flu symptoms, prevent nutrient deficiencies, and avoid problems related to amino acid deficiency.
In summary, this diet may help your body in many ways. Keto vegetarian diet benefits include weight loss, reduced risk of chronic disease, improved blood sugar levels, and increased gut microbiome diversity. It may also help people with cancer by improving outcomes or reducing the risk of cancer.
Find yourself in need of vegetarian keto recipes? Perfect Keto has plenty of options for you. Check out these delicious meatless recipes.
Miketinas D et al. Fiber Intake Predicts Weight Loss and Dietary Adherence in Adults Consuming Calorie-Restricted Diets: The POUNDS Lost (Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies) Study. 2019 June 7
Goss A et al. Effects of weight loss during a very low carbohydrate diet on specific adipose tissue depots and insulin sensitivity in older adults with obesity: a randomized clinical trial. 2020 August 12