The keto diet and bacon go hand-in-hand. It is almost like you can’t be keto without having bacon.
Or can you..?
The vegetarian diet can be beneficial in many ways. There’s evidence that vegetarians have a lower risk for cardiac events like heart attacks, and death from cardiac causes. Research has shown that, on average, vegetarians tend to have lower body weight, healthier cholesterol levels, and lower risk of developing cancer.
On the other hand, then ketogenic diet also has many health benefits (in addition to the weight-loss benefits people experience). It helps with appetite control, improves your mental focus, gives you more energy, helps fight Type II diabetes, increases levels of HDL Cholesterol, and can lower blood pressure.
Many vegetarians follow a vegetarian diet for reasons other than for the health benefits. Many do it for moral or ethical reasons. And others do it for environmental reasons. (Or even a combination of these.)
There is no one diet that works for everyone (although the one common theme throughout popular, healthy diets is the large proportion of low-carb vegetables in relation to other foods).
So, what if there was a way to combine the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, with the health benefits of a ketogenic diet (and still lose weight)?
At first, I didn’t think it was possible. But after some research, I discovered there is a way to make it work.
What is a Vegetarian Diet?
Before we dive in, it is important to first get a clear idea on what a vegetarian diet entails.
There is often some confusion as to what is and isn’t allowed to be eaten on a vegetarian diet. Additionally, there are other terms used that further define the different types of a vegetarian diet.
A vegetarian is essentially someone that does not eat the flesh of a living animal. It is often defined as someone who does not eat meat – but this can be confusing, as some people then consider chicken and fish as ‘vegetarian’.
There are different terms used for different types of vegetarianism (ranging from fairly liberal, to very strict), which makes it easier to understand.
The different Types of Vegetarian
Pescetarian: They do not eat meat and poultry. They do eat fish, eggs, and dairy.
Lacto-ovo vegetarian: They do not eat meat, fish, poultry. They do eat eggs and dairy.
Lacto vegetarian: They do not eat meat, fish, poultry, and eggs. They do eat dairy.
Vegan: The strictest form, they do not eat meat, fish, poultry, eggs, or dairy. They will often also not use products that were made from animals, such as leather or wool.
The Vegetarian Ketogenic Diet: 4 Easy Steps
The more liberal the vegetarian diet, the easier it is to adapt it to being keto. Pescetarian and lacto-ovo vegetarian can be adapted fairly easily, as you can incorporate eggs and fish.
However, veganism and keto do not go well together.
So what, then, is the Vegetarian Keto diet? It can best be described as a diet that does not include meat, fish, and fowl flesh, and restricts carbohydrates.
Step 1: Cut the Carbs
This is a tough one for many, as a lot of vegetarian favorites are high in carbs – especially vegetarian protein sources such as quinoa, buckwheat, legumes, and pulses. Aim to keep your net carbs under 35g per day, and under 20 if possible.
Also, avoid low-fat dairy products (go for full-fat instead), and skip the milk (you can use cream, instead). You will need to avoid starchy vegetables, as well as most fruit (with the exception of berries).
If you’re starting to panic that most of your food sources have been cut down – don’t fear! The next steps will show you what you can add and give you a few meal ideas.
Step 2: Fill Up on Low-Carb Vegetables
With so many delicious low-carb vegetable options, you might not even get a chance to miss the starchy, high-carb veggies you are going to cut out.
You will still get your fiber and micronutrients from these low-carb vegetables.
Top low-carb vegetables for the ketogenic diet (the net carbs in brackets are per 100g weight):
- Spinach (1g) – chock-full of vitamins and minerals, and very versatile
- Asparagus (2g) – nutritious, and so simple to cook (my favorite is pan-fried in butter)
- Avocado (2g) – ok, so technically a fruit, but used more like a vegetable. Extremely versatile – can be used in so many different ways, from guacamole to chocolate dessert.
- Zucchini (3g) – its neutral flavour makes it a good replacement for pasta (zoodles, anyone?) and fries.
- Cabbage (3g) – usually not the most popular veggie, but once you learn how to cook it properly it will quickly become a staple!
- Cauliflower (4g) – cauli mash, cauli rice, cauli pizza base – this classic low-carb veggie is continuously being used in new ways.
- Broccoli (4g) – high in Vitamin C and other nutrients – broccoli is also a very versatile and nutrition-packed low-carb option.
- Kale (4g) – hardier than spinach, but just as nutritious. Great in salads!
- Green beans (4g) – cooked, or eaten raw in a salad – there are many ways to eat green beans.
- Brussels sprouts (5g) – the bane of many children growing up due to its strong flavor, brussels sprouts has a rich, nutty flavor that is very tasty when roasted in olive oil and garlic.
Step 3: Add Quality Vegetarian Protein
Now that you have your veggies sorted, the next step is to add high-quality vegetarian protein.
Luckily, there are many excellent sources of protein that also happen to be vegetarian (although – if you are vegetarian you already know this!). The important element here is that the protein must be high quality. And ideally, whole foods, rather than processed meat replacements, protein bars and protein shakes.
Top vegetarian protein options:
- Hemp seeds
- Greek yoghurt (often labeled as ‘double cream’)
- Cottage cheese (skip the low-fat options)
- Nut butter
- Hard/Semi hard Cheeses (parmesan, swiss, feta, and cheddar)
- Soft Cheeses (brie, Monterrey jack, mozzarella, and blue)
Where’s the tofu?
I have not included any processed soy protein options, as the research is too inconclusive at this point. I have rather stuck to minimally processed or unprocessed protein sources.
Step 4: Add Healthy Fats
The fun part! (Or is that just me?)
Again – the focus is on healthy fats, rather than just any fat source.
What makes a fat healthy? Ones that have not been highly processed.
When it comes to oils, this means you should avoid highly processed vegetable and seed oils such as canola, corn, safflower and sunflower oils. These are created by chemical extraction.
Oils that are generally fairly easy to be extracted by grinding or crushing are much healthier. Examples are almond oil, avocado oil, ghee, peanut oil, pure olive oil, and sesame oil.
Other vegetarian fat sources are butter, heavy cream, coconut butter, and cocoa butter. You will also get healthy fats from consuming avocados and nut butters (mentioned above, under ‘Protein Sources’).
Vegetarian Keto Meal Ideas
It can take a period of adjustment for any big diet change, but if you take into account the steps listed above, you will be able to create delicious, low-carb vegetarian meals quite easily.
Here are three meal ideas to get you started. (And for more ideas – check out our vegetarian keto recipe ideas!)
Vegetarian Keto Pizza
Make a keto pizza base, and top with cheese and your favorite low-carb veggies (mushrooms and bell peppers are always delicious on pizza!)
Zoodle Pasta with Sauce
Slice your zucchini into ribbons, spirals, or any way you prefer, and serve with a fresh, creamy sauce. You can use avocado cream or coconut cream as a base for your sauce.
Take a sturdy leaf such as collard and stuff with low-carb vegetables and cheese.