In Categories: Practical Tips

Ketogenic and plant-based diets are by no means incompatible.

There are plenty of environmental, ethical, and religious reasons that people choose to not eat meat or reduce their meat consumption. A low carb approach can still work for those who avoid meat because a ketogenic diet only requires moderate protein intake. You can enter and remain in nutritional ketosis without increasing the amount of animal products you may currently eat. Your protein needs can be met with vegetarian or vegan sources, and your fat needs can easily be met with plant-based sources like olive oil.

*Because nutritional ketosis can lead to rapid decreases in blood sugar and blood pressure, Virta strongly recommends getting medical supervision before making any dietary changes if you are on medications for blood sugar or blood pressure. A physician can help you safely reduce your medications so that they don’t drive your blood sugar or blood pressure too low. Hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) and hypotensive (low blood pressure) episodes can be very dangerous.

Mineral and vitamin considerations

We recommend that you take a multivitamin if you are doing a plant-based ketogenic diet, as well as an omega-3 supplement like flaxseed oil. The vitamins and minerals you should ensure to get enough of are B12, omega 3, magnesium, potassium, and of course sodium.

Vegetarian and vegan protein sources

If you’re vegetarian or vegan and doing low carb, your protein sources can be:
*Items that are vegetarian but not vegan are starred.

  • Eggs*
  • Dairy*—cheese, unsweetened yogurt, heavy cream, cottage cheese, etc.
  • Lower carb tofu, seitan, and tempeh (more on this below)
  • Lower carb meat substitutes
  • Protein powders—be careful as these often are high in carbohydrate and many also are high in sugar alcohols.
  • Nuts, nut butters and seeds, although they cannot be your primary source of protein because they contain carbs
  • Nut-based vegan cheese and yogurts like Miyoko’s Kitchen vegan nut cheeses
  • Chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp hearts

A note about beans and lentils: Beans and lentils contain protein, but they also are high in carbohydrate content. Depending on your personal carbohydrate tolerance, you may be able to introduce some beans and lentils into your diet once you have adapted to nutritional ketosis and gained better blood glucose control. It’s best to keep your carbohydrate intake very low until your body adapts to ketosis, and then you can later experiment with adding foods like berries and a small amount of lentils or beans into your diet and tracking your blood sugar response to find your personal carbohydrate tolerance.

Dr. Stephen Phinney on plant-based low carb protein sources

We’ll go into detail on product recommendations below.

Tofu, Seitan and Tempeh

Tofu has roughly 1-2 grams of carbs per ounce. If you’re having trouble getting enough protein, we recommend buying a higher-protein variety such as the Wildwood brand. Tempeh is slightly higher-carb.

Tempeh, seitan and tofu are high-protein alternatives to meat that can be incorporated into your daily meals. Make sure to track your blood glucose/ketone response with these foods to ensure you’re staying under your personal carbohydrate tolerance.

Protein source Protein in 3 oz Carbs in 3 oz
Tofu 9g 3g
Tempeh 16g 10g (7 of which are fiber)
Seitan 21g 2-4g

Vegan and vegetarian meat alternatives

These days, there are plenty of high-protein meat substitutes available at grocery stores, and new varieties are popping up regularly. Some major brands include Beyond Meat, Gardein, Tofurkey, Impossible Foods and Quorn. Check the nutrition label on each of the products to ensure they are truly low carb.

Here are a few items with 8 grams of carbs or fewer per serving:

Name Brand Carbs per serving Protein per serving Fat per serving
The Beyond Burger Beyond Meat 6g 20g 22g
Beast Burger Beyond Meat 7g 23g 16g
Beyond Chicken Strips Beyond Meat 5g 20g 3.5g
Feisty Crumble Beyond Meat 1g 13g 3g
Tofurkey Hot Dogs Tofurkey 5g 11g 2g
Tofurkey Kielbasa Tofurkey 8g 26g 12g
Tofurkey Chik’n Tofurkey 8g 27g 9g
Impossible Burger Impossible Foods 5g 20g 13g
Meatless Chicken Strips Quorn 2g 10g 10g
Teriyaki Chick’n Strips Gardein 4g 14g 5g
Beefless Ground Gardein 8g 18g 2g

Protein powders

There are many low-carb, sugar-free protein powder options you can use to supplement your diet. *Items that are vegetarian but not vegan are starred.

Name Carbs per serving Protein per serving Fat per serving
Garden of Life Raw Organic Protein Powder 2g 22g 2.5g
Sunwarrior Classic Protein, Natural 2g 17g 0g
Isopure Zero Carb* 0g 25g .5g
Tera’s Organic Olain Whey Protein* 3g 22g 1.5g
Jay Robb Whey Protein Isolate* 1g 25-26g 0g

Vegan fat sources

Remember to avoid all trans fats and to focus on monounsaturated and saturated fats (i.e. limit polyunsaturated fats). Read more on fat here.

There are plenty of vegan and vegetarian oils and fats you can incorporate into your meals. You can have:

  • Olive oil
  • Vegan butter – you can even make your own (nutritional yeast contains about 5 grams of carbs per quarter cup)
  • Coconut oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Canola oil
  • High oleic safflower oil
  • Coconut milk
  • Coconut cream (also makes a great coffee creamer)
  • Coconut butter

If you’d like some ready-made dressings, spreads and butters, here are a few low carb options:

Eating out

Eating out with multiple dietary restrictions can be difficult. Some of the easiest restaurants for keto vegan or vegetarian food tend to be salad restaurants, Thai places, and Indian restaurants. Make sure to ask about hidden sugars or carbs in sauces and dressings to ensure these dishes are truly low carb. Vegetarians can have creamy paneer dishes at Indian restaurants, and vegetarians and vegans alike can enjoy coconutty Thai curries with tofu and vegetables, rich Indian vegetable dishes like eggplant curries, or a spicy Tom Kha soup. Just make sure to skip the rice and bread!

Vegetarian and vegan recipes

Download our vegan and vegetarian recipe book below to get delicious plant-based recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert.

Some other recipes we like include:
Items that are vegetarian but not vegan are starred. *

Breakfast:
Shakshuka*
Tofu scramble
Coconut flour pancakes

Lunch or Dinner:
Miso and ginger tofu steak
Curried cauliflower soup
Thai coconut red curry
Palak paneer*

Snacks:
Celery and almond butter
Sliced avocado drizzled with olive oil
Vegetables dipped in guacamole
Roasted seeds or nuts
Kale chips

Have a question we haven’t answered here? Check out our Nutritional Ketosis FAQ.

27 Comments

  1. Avatar

    How many carbs per day are you considering in this vegetarian/vegan diet to be considered Keto option? I can have 20g for the rest of my life is it posible?
    Is it posible to get to 60g of protein with 20g of carbs in a vegan diet?

    In my country there’s no tofu, if it exist is imported from Japan as it is the one I usually get I don’t think is sustainable for the planet, like it cost me 3 dollars but is costing more to the environment to transport it 5000 km than to simply eat local fish for protein.

    If it is not sustainable is it really ethical?

    All the other protein options of fake meat you proposed I can’t get them here and the options have many carbs, I have already checked them. Have you heard of Monsanto and soy production?

    Also I have an allergy to nuts and milk intolerance.

    How a vegan Keto Menu of 20g a day would look like that? Because I doubt that is posible.

    thank you for your attention.

    Reply

    1. Avatar

      Thanks for your comment! It’s definitely much harder to do a vegan ketogenic diet if you have a nut allergy and aren’t able to get tofu. Nutritional yeast, chia seeds, hemp/pumpkin/sunflower seeds are all good protein options. You may want to incorporate a vegan protein powder into your diet or explore the option of adding eggs. Best of luck!

      Reply

    2. Avatar

      Hey, Dalia 🙂 If you’re a vegan for a couple of years and you’re alive and healthy, you’re probably consuming enough protein with your current diet. So you need just find a way to replace its carbs with fats. You’ll start to get low-carbs benefits even without complete movement into ketosis, e.g. if you combine intermittent fasting with “slow carbs”. And then you’ll see if you want to go further into this direction. Btw, it’s not so hard to cook tofu at home, you can cook it for a month and just freeze.

      Reply

  2. Avatar

    Why are ingredients such as canola oil and soy sauce used in the recipes? Sub for soy sauce is coconut aminos or even gluten free soy sauce, but Canola Oil? Why not use coconut oil for the frying? For people just starting out on Keto this could be very confusing.

    Reply

    1. Avatar

      Hello! We allow soy sauce for our patients (as long as they don’t have celiac disease), and here’s Dr. Phinney’s take on canola oil: https://blog.virtahealth.com/canola-oil-keto/

      Reply

  3. Avatar

    Thank you for the clarification. This is the first time I have seen canola oil noted as a good oil to use. And I do think of Dr. Phinney as the ultimate “go to” for the best information on the ketogenic diet!

    Reply

  4. Avatar

    Hi! i have a big doubt, i´ve heard that protein powder rises insulin levels, or at least the whey protein, wich you recommend a type of whey in the protein suplemmentation section. So, what about that? arent we trying to get closer attention to our insulin spikes? wouldnt it be harmful? should we consume it in addition to other food so to avoid the spike?

    Reply

    1. Avatar

      Dr. Phinney wrote up an answer for you on this topic here: https://blog.virtahealth.com/whey-protein-keto/

      Reply

    2. Avatar

      There may be difference in insulin spiking between drinking it as a shake and consuming it with a lot of fiber, e.g. adding to salads

      Reply

  5. Avatar

    I have already started keto 8 days ago, but struggling to get all my nutrients. I do not like meat subs, as a I do not like the texture of meat. Do you have meal plans at around 20g carbs?

    Reply

    1. Avatar

      We have several recipes that we’ve posted on our blog. We’d recommend using the blog search function and searching for “recipe.” That should give you a good start. Our article on a well-formed ketogenic diet might be good background for you as well. https://blog.virtahealth.com/well-formulated-ketogenic-diet/

      Reply

  6. Avatar

    Hello,

    I have thyroid disease and I noticed that tofu, which is soy, is mentioned as a replacement for meat. Other than this what else can I eat? I actually like some tofu, but noticed I felt bad after eating eat.

    Reply

    1. Avatar

      We have other meat alternatives listed in the post like seitan and tempeh. You can also have eggs and dairy and nuts. Check out the tables above!

      Reply

  7. Avatar

    To get more vegetarian/vegan protein, I’ve been roasting pecans in my oven with butter and spices. Yum! Such a great high-fat snack at work. I also use Isopure protein powder every day to get another 20 grams or so, and I often make a big batch of chia pudding for breakfast for the week.

    Reply

  8. Avatar

    Any reason why chia seeds were included as a good protein source, but flax seeds were not?

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      Thank you for pointing that out. We will update the post to include flax! One important thing to note about flax is that it needs to be ground before consumption in order for it to be readily digested and absorbed.

      Reply

  9. Avatar

    This a very useful post emphasizing the careful balance required of a vegetarian Keto-er. The list of food suggestions is handy.

    Reply

  10. Avatar

    I wanted to follow along and allow you to know how much I cherished discovering your website today.
    I would consider it the honor to operate at my company and be able to use the tips provided on your
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    Reply

  11. Avatar

    Thanks for the article. I am trying to follow Lent, and also cut the carbs (my own offshoot of regular keto doesn’t worry about macro ratios, but does avoid any food that taste sweet if possible, and eat bitter). Articles like this are useful. Basic Lent goes Vegan. With myself finding I have issues with gluten also, revealed after I lost weight, Seitan is out. I press on. Again. thanks for the article.

    Reply

  12. Avatar

    At 16 I was put on a dietician supervised diet to gain weight and instead of gaining weight became diabetic as per a glucose tolerance test.I managed by cutting back on carbs but control was not very good. I served in the US Army in the 1960s and still was okay. In 1970 My doctor set up a glucose tolerance test that showed diabetes and he prescribed medication.I quit the medication in less than a year and went back to diet and exercise.Things went well from that point on .A little more than a year ago my doctor prescribed a statin for my slightly high cholesterol and immediately my blood sugar made an upward jump. I made changes to my diet by cutting carbs and reported to my doctor who did not change anything because my blood sugar and A1c were normal. Last month I explained that to my new doctor and he told me I am not diabetic and took me off the statin.My blood sugar has come down by 8% in that time.On my next visit I will be certain to tell the doctor and show him the improved glucose readings.Any thoughts?

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      Unfortunately, we are unable to provide specific medial advice via this forum, however this response from Dr. Phinney to a previous question about statins and increasing the risk for type 2 diabetes may help shed some light on your recent experience.

      There is strong evidence from multiple epidemiological and prospective studies that statin drugs as a class raise the risk for developing type 2 diabetes. There is a lot of speculation as to one statin carrying more risk than another, but this remains subject to debate. There is also great interest in the mechanism for this effect (i.e., what statins do to make this happen), and there is some emerging evidence that it involves epigenetic triggering of genes associated with diabetes risk.

      At this point, most experts agree that the reduced risk of developing heart disease with statin use in people judged to be at high risk far outweighs the diabetes risk associated with statin use. In addition, although we have not formally studied this in our research here at Virta, it appears that statin use by people on the Virta Treatment does not interfere with the many metabolic benefits of nutritional ketosis, including reversal of type 2 diabetes. In fact, in a 6-week long study, Dr. Volek’s team recruited a group of patients who were already taking a statin and had them follow a well-formulated ketogenic diet. Despite being on the statin, these patients showed significant improvements in blood pressure, insulin and triglycerides (ref below).

      Kevin D.Ballard Erin E.Quann Brian R.Kupchak Brittanie M.Volk Diana M.Kawiecki Maria Luz Fernandez Richard L.Seip Carl M.Maresh William J.Kraemer Jeff S.Volek. Dietary carbohydrate restriction improves insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, microvascular function, and cellular adhesion markers in individuals taking statins. Nutrition Research. 2013; 33:905-912

      Reply

  13. Avatar

    Thanks for the response

    Reply

  14. Avatar
    Carrie K Howard March 26, 2019 at 7:31 pm

    Many Keto exercise experts claim the the vegan diet does not provide complete proteins/amino acids. Do you feel it’s a problem to try to lose weight/ gain muscle using a vegan protein meal replacement shake (made with whole foods) and a large salad with tofu and pumpkin seeds as my meals? Should I supplement with essential amino acid powder?

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      It is going to depend on the type of protein powder and how many carbs it contains. Two, low carb options listed in this post are https://www.gardenoflife.com/raw-organic-protein-original-powder-658010114158 and https://sunwarrior.com/collections/all/products/classic-protein?variant=8171172692013

      Reply

  15. Avatar

    Thanks for all the info! Long time vegan who’s been wanting to jump on the Keto bandwagon but felt too lazy to figure it all out. I hugely appreciated the brand name things, because let’s get real – sometimes it’s all about convenience!

    Reply

    1. Virta Health

      You’re so welcome!

      Reply

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