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Vegan Keto: Why a Plant-Based Keto Diet Isn’t Good for You

By: Dave Asprey
November 5, 2018

Vegan Keto: Why a Plant-Based Keto Diet Isn’t Good for You

  • More and more vegans are learning about the benefits of a high-fat diet, and lately there’s been a rise in vegan keto: all plant-based food, with lots of fat and almost no carbs.
  • Vegan keto is not a good long-term diet. It makes it almost impossible to get a balance of good fats, and it removes most of the protein sources that non-keto vegans can use to get complete protein.
  • If you want to do a plant-based keto diet, go vegetarian. You can make vegetarian keto work with a little planning. Read on to find out how.

The word is spreading about high-fat and keto diets, and as more people learn about the many benefits of eating more fat, new keto diet variations are starting to pop up. One of the latest ones is a vegan keto diet. It’s pretty self-explanatory: all plant-based food, with lots of fat and almost no carbs.

When it comes to performance, a keto vegan diet is a step above a low-fat vegan diet. That said, you’ll still run into a lot of the problems that come up when you cut out animal fat and protein. A vegan diet just isn’t good for you, no matter how you rearrange it. A keto vegetarian diet is better, and is probably doable with a little work, but it’s still going to be a challenge.

Here’s why a vegan keto diet isn’t good for you, and what you should watch out for if you decide to try plant-based keto.

A vegan keto diet makes it hard to get good fats

vegan keto diet fat sourcesOne of the biggest issues with vegan diets is that you don’t have access to the right fats, especially omega-3s. A lot of vegans talk about how you can get omega-3s from nuts and seeds. What they don’t realize is that those omega-3s are in the wrong form. Plants store omega-3s as ALA, a type of omega-3 that humans can’t really use. When you eat ALA, your body only uses about 6-8 percent of it.[1]

When you hear about all the awesome benefits of omega-3s, you’re hearing about EPA and DHA, the omega-3s that come from animal sources like wild fish and grass-fed meat. Plant-based omega-3s don’t actually do much for you, and if you’re eating a vegan diet, you’re going to end up deficient in omega-3 fatty acids.[2]

A vegan keto diet makes your fat intake even more problematic. Plants don’t have the right kind of omega-3s, and they’re high in omega-6s, the inflammatory counterpart of omega-3s.

Your body needs omega-6 fats to function. Omega-6 fats help with brain function, muscle growth, and hormone production. However, they also cause inflammation, which is why you don’t need a lot of them. Unfortunately, most Americans are getting way too many.

The average American has about a 12:1 omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.[3] That’s way too many omega-6s. You want a ratio of 4:1, or even 2:1.[4] The best way to get the right ratio is by eating plenty of wild fish and grass-fed meat and limiting things like nuts and plant oils, which are usually high in omega-6.

Related: How to Get the Right Ratio of Omega 3 vs. Omega 6 Fats

On a vegan keto diet, you want 70-80 percent of your calories to come from fat, and unless you’re only eating spoonfuls of coconut oil, you’re inevitably going to get too many omega-6s and not enough omega-3s.

A vegan keto diet makes it hard to get protein, too

vegan keto diet protein sourcesThe other challenge on a vegan keto diet is getting complete protein. Proteins are made up of amino acids, and a complete protein has all nine “essential” amino acids. They’re the ones that your body can’t make, meaning you have to get them from food.

Eating grains and legumes together — such as rice and beans or rice and lentils — is the standard way to get a complete protein on a vegan diet. There are also a few complete plant proteins, like quinoa and soy.

If you’re doing keto vegan, all of these sources are off the table because they’re too high in carbs. Even if you got all of your protein from relatively low-carb tofu and you’re okay dealing with the downsides of soy, you’ll still have trouble getting enough protein and enough veggies without going over your carb limit and falling out of ketosis. The most realistic option is to drink four or five vegan protein shakes a day, but at that point you’re not even really eating.

And because almost every system in your body uses proteins built from amino acids, an amino acid deficiency will cause all kinds of drops in your performance:

  • Depression. Tryptophan is an essential acid that your body uses to make serotonin, the brain chemical that regulates your mood. Tryptophan deficiency causes rapid-onset depression that reverses as soon as you reintroduce tryptophan to your diet.[5]
  • Inflammation. You’re more susceptible to chronic inflammation, especially brain inflammation, when you don’t get enough amino acids.[6]
  • Immunity. Your immune system relies on essential amino acids, too. You’re more susceptible to infection and disease if you don’t get enough complete protein.[7][8]
  •  Fertility. Female rats deficient in essential amino acids stop getting their period.[9] Several essential amino acids are integral to sperm quality as well.[10]
  • Aging hair and skin. Hair and skin both rely on proteins to stay strong. Amino acid deficiency causes limp, thin hair, and eventually hair loss.[11] Your skin’s collagen and elastin production depend on amino acids from your diet as well.[12]

Your body doesn’t run well without high-quality protein, and it’s hard enough to get enough protein on a normal vegan diet. A keto vegan diet makes things even harder, to the point where it’s not really realistic.

Vegetarian keto is better than vegan keto

vegetarian keto vs vegan ketoIf you don’t eat meat and you want to do plant-based keto, vegetarian is the way to go:

  • Eat lots of pastured eggs for protein, fat, and dense nutrition
  • Use grass-fed butter and fish oil for omega-3s
  • Drink Bulletproof Coffee for energy and calories
  • Drizzle Brain Octane Oil (supercharged MCT oil) on all your veggies

Eating high-quality meat and fish will still upgrade your performance, but with access to non-meat animal foods and a little planning, you can deal with the challenges of being vegetarian and feel pretty good.

Check out this guide to going Bulletproof for vegetarians for a complete list of supplements and foods to include in a keto vegetarian diet. Thanks for reading!

Read Next: The Keto Diet: A Complete Beginners’ Guide to Keto

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