There are a variety of reasons to deviate from the Standard American Diet (SAD), whether it’s to achieve better health, lose weight, or simply eat a diet that is more appropriate for the human species. Two lifestyle choices that are on the rise are the vegetarian diet and the very low carb or keto diet. At first glance, vegetarian and keto seem like they couldn’t be more different. After all, most keto adherents swear by steak, bacon, and other meats. However, it is entirely possible to eat both vegetarian and keto at the same time.
A vegetarian low carb diet doesn’t need to feel restrictive, and there are many ways you can get creative in the kitchen while hitting your macros. Some vegans even follow a keto diet! Yet it is no secret that plant-based keto isn’t as easy as traditional keto. That’s why many people end up comparing the vegetarian diet to the ketogenic diet and asking themselves which is the right choice.
Ultimately, it comes down to whether avoiding meat or avoiding carbs is more important to you. If the answer is that both are highly important, committing to vegetarian keto is an easy descision. If you are wavering between choosing a high carb vegetarian diet or a low-carb omnivorous diet, you’ll have to think about your health goals and your personal ethics and make an informed decision. This article is designed to guide you through your journey as you find the right diet!
Reasons to Be a Vegetarian
People choose to avoid meat and eat a plant-based diet for a variety of reasons. Many of these differ from the reasons to follow a ketogenic diet, so it’s not surprising if someone choosing between keto and vegetarianism feels conflicted. The main difference is that vegetarianism typically has ethical motives although an interest in being healthy may also be part of it.
Here are 5 of the most common reasons people become vegetarians:
- Taking a stand against animal cruelty: Compassion for animals may be the most common reason people go vegetarian or vegan. The details of factory farming are disturbing to many people, but “ethical meat” may be expensive and hard to find. Besides, some vegetarians have an aversion to eating animals even if the animal lived naturally in the wild.
- Concerns about sustainability and the environment: Animal welfare is not the only ethical concern that leads people to vegetarianism. Animal agriculture requires immense land, resulting in deforestation, and it also consumes excessive amounts of water and energy. As the population grows, there cannot be enough farmed meat to feed everyone. Animal agriculture also involves energy-intensive processes that may contribute to climate change.
- Avoiding processed meat and nitrates: Putting aside animal cruelty and the impact on the environment, many meat products contain additives that should probably be avoided. Processed meat in particular is hard to justify including in any healthy diet because has been deemed carcinogenic by the World Health Organization.
- Vegetarianism is non-restrictive: Compared to a vegan diet, being vegetarian is pretty non-restrictive, and there are many food options available. There are a lot of food choices available for vegans too. If you are very concerned about animal welfare or the environment, taking a stand through vegetarianism actually does not require much of a life change. The vast majority of restaurants have vegetarian options. Vegetarianism really only becomes difficult once you introduce another limiting factor to your diet such as eating ketogenically.
- A vegetarian diet may result in a longer lifespan: The Adventist Health Study suggested that vegetarians have a longer life expectancy than meat eaters as well as a lower risk of developing diseases like cancer and diabetes. It’s hard to say that being a vegetarian is inherently healthy. Some vegetarians may eat diets that are low in nutrients and high in foods like pizza, pasta, and ice cream, but others eat healthier plant-based diets that are focused on whole foods. Vegetarians may be more health-conscious in general, so it’s not necessarily true that not eating meat is what makes them healthy, but eating plants is probably still good for you.
Those are some of the reasons people choose to be vegetarian, and you can decide for yourself how they compare with the reasons to go keto.
Reasons to Follow a Keto Diet
People follow keto diets for many reasons, including but not limited to:
- Treating inflammation and specific health conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, and epilepsy
- Increased focus and mental clarity
- Treating mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, which could be linked to inflammation.
- Weight loss due to factors like reduced hunger while in ketosis and less water weight from carbohydrates
- The desire to follow a diet that is more species appropriate — humans didn’t eat bread for the majority of our evolution
A keto diet can force you to eat whole foods because suddenly a lot of the processed stuff on the SAD is off-limits. Plus, keto can include ethical choices like eating local food and humanely sourced meat. Still, if you are concerned about the environment and animal welfare, you may want to go a step further and be vegetarian or vegan.
Vegetarian Keto: Pros and Cons
Following a vegetarian keto diet can be extremely rewarding if you can pull it off. Many people who are vegetarians have gone without meat for a long time and aren’t likely to go back on that, no matter how much keto appeals to them, so they naturally decide to either do vegetarian keto or not do keto at all. Yet there are some people who start out with a traditional keto diet and decide they want to start eating less meat. Maybe they’ve always flirted with vegetarianism but have never stuck to it. Occasionally, someone posts on r/vegetarianketo that they’re tired of all the bacon, chicken, and beef they’re eating on the keto diet.
If you’re currently eating meat, you have to decide whether it’s worth it to stop. A modified vegetarian diet such as a pescatarian or flexitarian diet may be ideal if you don’t want to go all the way. These options could also be good if you’re currently a vegetarian but think keto would be easier with fewer restrictions.
- A pescatarian diet includes eggs, dairy, and fish but not meat. (Related Reading: 5 Reasons to Follow a Pescatarian Keto Diet)
- A flexitarian diet does not completely avoid meat but includes more vegetarian or vegan meals than the Standard American Diet (SAD).
Pros of Following a Vegetarian Keto Diet
While vegetarian or vegan keto may seem restrictive, there are plenty of positive aspects of plant-based low carb diets to consider.
Eating a healthy and ethical diet
With vegetarian and vegan keto, you get all the benefits of keto without the drawbacks of meat such as ethical concerns. It’s the best of both worlds.
Plant based low carb diets aren’t bad if you love to cook
If you are creative in the kitchen, you may find the vegetarian keto diet to be a rewarding challenge. Some cuisines–Indian in particular–are extremely easy to adapt. Many Indian dishes are vegetarian and can easily be made keto-friendly by using cauliflower rice and other veggies in place of traditional rice. There are plenty of dishes you can make that are vegetarian or vegan and keto. For ideas, follow @pescatarian.keto on Instagram or check out some of these cookbooks on Amazon:
Eating out isn’t actually impossible
While this may surprise you a bit, it’s not impossible to eat out while following a vegetarian keto diet! Check out my post on what to order at Chipotle and Pancheros as a keto vegetarian. You can also typically get omelettes at any diner. Salads are generally a safe option as well, provided the restaurant offers a vegetarian protein option.
Raise your carb limit, and it gets even easier
Vegetarian and vegan keto seem a bit difficult when following a strict diet with 20g net carbs per day. However, it’s not that big of a deal if you have a higher carb limit such as 30g carbs per day, especially if you fast or exercise. Vegetable carbs can add up, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should limit the amount of nutritious vegetables you eat. You’re still likely to see good results from eating a whole food plant-based diet even if you’re not in deep ketosis. You can always modify the diet to make it more sustainable to follow in the long term, and you’ll still be doing better than most people on the SAD.
Drawbacks of Following a Meat-Free Keto Diet
On the other side of the coin, there are a few reasons that people may not enjoy following a vegetarian keto diet.
Very limited options when you eat out
There are some minor exceptions, such as any salad you can order with vegetarian protein and places like Chipotle and Pancheros that have vegetarian keto options, but this diet really works best if you can cook. However, if you practice intermittent fasting or OMAD, this may be less of a concern because you can time your meals so that you only eat when you can prepare them yourself.
Potential boredom with options even if you do cook
On a vegetarian keto diet, your primary proteins will be tofu, eggs, milk, cheese, and meat substitutes. If you aren’t especially creative in the kitchen, you’re likely to end up eating constant omelettes, and that can get tiring.
Higher risk of eating too many carbs
Lots of plant-based proteins contain carbs, and there are fewer zero carb options available for vegetarians whereas meat eaters can just eat meat to satiety without worrying. Overall, it can be hard to get in your calories without eating too many carbs, especially if you don’t have access to specialty ingredients.
Risk of over-reliance on “keto junk food”
While the traditional keto diet tends to feature copious meat, most keto-friendly convenience food is vegetarian. With fewer dietary options, you may find yourself relying heavily on products like Quest bars and Atkins bars. Fat bomb recipes also tend to be vegetarian, and it’s easy to see how someone struggling to get enough calories on a limited diet could end up eating too many. Ultimately, many people who subscribe to keto prefer to eat a diet that consists mainly of whole foods, and this is harder as a vegetarian, especially if you are busy.
If none of these things sound like they’d be problems for you, then go for it and try vegetarian keto! Just make sure you’re getting adequate nutrition. Also keep in mind you can find a middle ground like pescatarian keto or flexitarian keto to make things a bit less restrictive.
If you find vegetarian keto to be too restrictive, you may need to end up choosing between being a vegetarian or eating ketogenically. Ultimately, it comes down to your reasons for avoiding meat or carbs and which is more important to you. It also depends how strongly held your convictions are about either diet. If you are willing to be flexible, there are modifications you can make to the vegetarian keto diet in either direction.
This can enable you to get the health benefits of keto as well as vegetarian while addressing the ethical concerns. Modifying your diet is a great way to keep it sustainable for your own life and hopefully as sustainable as possible for the planet too!