While making the switch to keto does involve some significant dietary changes, with a macronutrient breakdown of roughly 70% fat, 20% protein, and 10% carbohydrates, it’s generally not viewed as a highly restrictive diet.
For vegetarians looking at keto, their first impression would probably be that it’s a diet that relies heavily on meat and fish to meet the high-fat requirements, which isn’t exactly an unreasonable evaluation, however, there is a way to approach the keto diet as a vegetarian to get the best of both worlds.
While being vegetarian is known to be one of the healthiest diets you can follow, regardless of your ethical beliefs, it’s still not perfect.
Combining the two diets can have some incredible results.
In this article:
We’ll look at the ways you can still get all of the protein and fat you need from plant-based sources while cutting out the vegetarian staples that are overloaded with carbs.
On top of that, you’ll find some delicious meal ideas to get you started on your way to ketosis.
This is an area that most vegetarians are already familiar with, as they’re used to sourcing protein from alternative sources of meat. Although meat is protein-dense, eggs and dairy are still enough to help you hit your daily protein requirements.
If you’re not vegetarian but still care about the ethical treatment of animals, you’ll want to avoid most supermarket products and search for those from sustainably-raised animals.
Unfortunately, labels like “cage-free” aren’t a guarantee that the animal has been raised in ideal conditions, so it’s worth trying out local farmers markets and whole food stores.
You can find a number of excellent delivery options online so that you can get nutritious, ethically-sourced produced delivered straight to your doorstep. You probably won’t want to get all of your protein from eggs and dairy, however, so its best to have some protein-rich alternatives on hand.
Tofu and Tempeh
Tofu is extremely cheap and easy to get a hold of and, being made of soybeans, it’s a great source of both protein and calcium.
- Tofu’s highly versatile and you can use it as a straight meat substitute, marinate it with your favorite flavors, or even change its texture by freezing and pressing it.
- Tempeh is another excellent soy-based meat substitute you can easily get a hold of, and it’s the perfect substitute for ground beef and even bacon.
Nuts and Seeds
When it comes to protein, you shouldn’t forget the benefit of turning to nuts and seeds when snacking. Picking the right ones is vital because many are also carb-heavy, so while pumpkin seeds may boast a whopping 30 grams of protein out of every hundred, you’re also getting a ketosis-killing 54 grams of carbohydrates.
Balance is key, so a moderate portion of almonds (21 grams of protein and 22 grams of carbs) or sunflower seeds (19 grams of protein and 20 grams of carbs) are much more suited to the keto diet.
Finally, you can always turn to vegetarian-friendly protein powder to help you over the line—it’s simple to add to sauces and flours or to add a scoop to one of your favorite low-carb smoothies.
Lowering your carb intake is normally the biggest challenge vegetarians face when they start on the keto diet, as many of their staple foods are carb-heavy.
The vegetarian diet relies heavily on grains like rice, cereal, wheat, and corn, and tends to include a lot of fruit.
It also relies on legumes and starchy vegetables, like potatoes, as a primary energy source, which could easily take you over your daily carb limit in just one serving. On the bright side, the whole purpose of the keto diet is to start using fat instead of carbs as fuel, so our reliance on carbs isn’t as high as it would be in the regular vegetarian diet.
It’s also worth mentioning that not all carbs are the same, and most people tend to split them between “good” or “bad”.
While the scientific reality is not quite as simple as that, as a rule of thumb you should aim for more natural sources, such as milk and honey, as refined sugars are stripped of their minerals, vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants.
In terms of acceptable sources of carbohydrates, you’ll generally get enough from the alternative meat sources mentioned above.
In addition to tofu and tempeh, you can also check out seitan, which is a meat substitute made from wheat gluten, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and seaweed.
You’re bound to see a lot of meat alternatives around as you shop around for new ingredients, just make sure you check their labels and do your research before grabbing one, or you could end up with something carb heavy or lacking nutritional value.
Leafy greens are another keto-friendly source of carbohydrates, and spinach, kale, collard greens, and cabbage are all excellent choices. The best thing about these types of vegetables is that they’re superb for hitting your daily requirements for most of your essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants .
As with protein, dairy will be your go-to fat source on keto, so you’ll want to make sure you have a range of keto-friendly choices.
To start with, you should stock up on butter, because at 11 grams of fat per tablespoon and zero carbs it’s going to be the easiest way to get the fat you need.
Cheese and yogurt
Cheese is next on the list, and almost all varieties are perfectly suitable for the keto diet. If you suffer from lactose intolerance, you may want to stick to harder cheeses, and if this is too much, then there are lots of dairy-free options you can try.
Natural yogurt and cottage cheese are another two tasty dairy foods to try, and they’ll also help you get the right amount of protein in your diet.
While you’ll be able to get a significant portion of your fat needs from dairy and eggs, with keto, you’ll want to boost your intake by turning to more sources. To start with, you can switch up your usual cooking oils with those that are packed with healthy fats and start using them more liberally where appropriate.
Extra-virgin olive oil is the first to get hold of, as it’s one of the healthiest cooking oils you can buy. You can use it boost the flavor and fat content of your meals, and it’s applications are diverse, whether you fry with it or add it to salad dressings.
Coconut oil is another you should be adding to your pantry, as it’s full of the medium chain fatty acids that are ideal for keto, they can also reduce your appetite  to give you more control over what you eat, and increase your metabolic rate.
You won’t want to use it as an everyday cooking oil substitute, but it’s excellent for cooking and baking desserts.
If you’re looking for a third addition to your oil collection, you can’t go wrong with avocado oil. It’s got a high monounsaturated fat content, as well as the highest smoke contact of any oil, so it’s certainly versatile. You can use it for cooking, drizzling over a tasty salad or even deep-frying.
Avocado oil is excellent for meeting your keto fat requirements, but avocados themselves are also an ideal keto food due to their high fat and low carb count, with a regular avocado containing a mere 3 grams of net carbs compared to a massive 29 grams of fat.
They’re also full of fiber which is crucial for a healthy digestive system, along with plenty of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants . They’re not just for salads either—you can easily add avocado to desserts or smoothies to get your fill at any time of day.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are going to be your other primary source of healthy fats while on keto, and as long as you keep an eye on their carb levels, you’ll find lots of great options.
When it comes to fat, macadamia nuts are by far the best choice because they have the highest level of monounsaturated fats and the lowest level of omega 6 fats, which can cause inflammation.
An ounce serving of macadamia nuts contains 22 grams of fat and just 2 grams of net carbs, while walnuts are another good pick with 18 grams of fat and 2 grams of net carbs. Brazil nuts are another popular high-fat low carb option, but be wary of cashews as, next to pistachios, they tend to have the highest carbohydrate content.
It’s fine knowing which vegetarian foods are appropriate for keto, but the hardest part is putting everything into practice.
The key is preparation!
As long as you take the right steps, it won’t be hard for you to start on your journey to ketosis.
Plan your meals
Meal planning is the most significant thing you can do to ensure your keto diet starts and stays on track. When you know exactly what you’re going to eat each day, it’s far easier to breakdown the calories and macros for your meals to manage your intake.
Not only is meal planning great for ensuring you meet your targets, but it will also save you time and money in the long run.
Preparing meals in advance means you can allow for leftovers later in the week to cut down on ingredient costs and cooking time, and you’re less likely to spend time buying unnecessary food in the grocery store.
In general, it’s best to plan meals that will make you feel full for longer to avoid the need for snacking, but as long as you make allowances for small snacks and stick to keto-friendly foods like nuts and seeds, you won’t have a problem.
For days when you’re struggling to reach your macro goals, it’s a good idea to keep some keto-desserts on hand that can help you get there.
Use a keto calculator and a carb counting guide as you create your diet plan, and spend some time researching the hundreds of delicious vegetarian-friendly keto recipes online, and you’ll have a solid outline in no time.
The final thing to bear in mind is that, while the vegetarian keto diet isn’t dramatically restrictive, there are some crucial nutrients to which you’ll need to pay more attention. Vitamin B12 is critical to keeping our nerve and blood cells healthy, as well as contributing to the creation of DNA but, unfortunately, it can’t be found in plant-derived foods.
You will find it in dairy products though, and if this isn’t sufficient, it’s always worth talking to a professional about taking a daily Vitamin B12 supplement.
Iron is another mineral that is usually sourced from meat and is important for avoiding anemia. Again, supplements are available, and you can also find a healthy amount in tofu and dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale.
Meal Ideas: Get Cooking!
You’ll find no shortage of vegetarian-friendly keto meal ideas online, but here are a few to get you started:
Breakfast is extremely important on keto, as you want to make sure you’re eating enough to feel full until lunchtime while hitting enough of your macros.
You can’t go wrong with buttermilk pancakes—you can use coconut flour as a substitute for regular carb-loaded flour, and a scoop of protein powder in the mix means you’ll be well on your way to your daily requirement.
Recipe: The Ultimate Keto Pancake Recipe
Spiced pumpkin bread french toast is another favorite that is guaranteed to fill you up. You can even get hold of keto maple syrup for a delicious topping.
For lunch, a wholesome salad can go a long way, especially if you add some tasty goat cheese, vegetables like mushrooms and bell peppers, and garnish it with nuts. Salads are also a great way to use avocado for a fat source and to experiment with your new oils.
If you’re short on time but still need to make sure you’re getting a proper meal, you can whip up a simple lasagne in a cup by layering thinly sliced vegetables, like zucchini, with marinara sauce and cheeses, like ricotta and mozzarella. Pop it in the microwave for a few minutes, and you’re ready to go!
For dinner, you can turn to creamy, vegetable-filled soups. Cauliflower, broccoli, bell peppers, and mushrooms can be great for this, and you can experiment with as many herbs and spices as you like. For that extra fat boost, make sure to sprinkle some cheese on top.
The keto diet doesn’t mean you have to miss out on pizza either. While regular dough bases might be out of the questions, you can make your own, using egg, parmesan cheese, and cauliflower or psyllium husk, with minimum fuss.
Once the base is done, you can try out any number of keto-friendly topping combinations to keep things interesting.
For the final course, you’ll be pleased to know that there are plenty of desserts that can satisfy your sweet tooth without the carbs. First, you’ll want to stock up on some alternative keto baking ingredients so you can make your own batches of low-carb cookies, brownies, and cupcakes.
When you want to cool down, you should find one of the many keto-friendly ice cream recipes to follow. For this, you’ll want to find erythritol, a natural sweetener, which will come in handy as a regular substitute while you’re on the keto diet.
Hopefully, if you were ever skeptical about the viability of the keto diet as a vegetarian, this guide has put your mind at ease. Everyone faces a relatively steep learning curve when they approach a new diet, but if you’ve been able to adapt to the vegetarian lifestyle successfully, it’s unlikely you’ll have a problem combining it with keto.
There are plenty of options available for you to hit all your macros while remaining meat-free, and there’s enough variety for you to truly love what you eat. With the right preparation, food choices, and attitude, you’ll be able to achieve ketosis in no time.
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