When you think of a keto diet, in addition to lots of fats, you often think of animal-rich protein sources like beef, chicken, pork, fatty fish and eggs. But did you know that you can follow this high-fat, low-carb diet and still eat plant-based? This is where the vegan ketogenic diet comes in. Long time vegans Whitney Lauritsen and Nicole Derseweh recently put together The Vegan Ketogenic Diet Cookbook, which includes “75 satisfying high-fat, low-carb, dairy-free recipes.” And Parade.com caught up with the duo to hear about the benefits of eating vegan—and ketogenic—and how exactly you do it.
What inspired you both to turn to a vegan keto diet?
Whitney: I’ve been vegan since 2003 and experimented with a lot of different variations of the vegan diet. I struggled a lot with my weight and my digestion, so I decided to try a vegan version of the keto diet in August 2018 and have since felt amazing.
Nicole: I’m an O+ blood type and when I went plant-based at first, I had low iron. I did some research about my blood type and found out that O+ does really great with a high-iron, high-fat, low-grain diet. And I started making some adjustments and eating lots of lentils, dark leafy greens and really great plant-based fats like avocados and nuts. This drove my iron levels up. I was able to donate blood again and I noticed reduced inflammation in my body, reduction of the dark circles under my eyes. And I just had a lot of energy. My brain felt like it was super-charged, like I was in college again. Whitney and I had been buddies for a while and she came to me with this book concept and I started tweaking the diet that I had and experimenting with keto. And I felt really great.
Walk us through the vegan keto diet basics.
Nicole: Our plan is a 75/20/5 ratio of fats, protein and carbohydrates. So 75% fat, 20% protein, 5% carbohydrate is the approximate ratio of the average keto diet and that’s what you want to shoot for. And 50 net carbs per day is the maximum that’s recommended. A lot of people go down to a lower amount of 20 net carbs per day. We encourage people to experiment to see what feels good for them and to also test their ketones. You can do a urine test, a breath test or a blood test to see if you’ve reached ketosis or not. And we also encourage people to go to the doctor and have regular checkups on their blood levels to make sure this diet is right for their body.
Whitney: Everybody is slightly different. So without the support of a doctor who can actually do these medical tests on you, it’s really hard to tell if it’s working. Our aim is to give some guidelines to encourage people to try it out, but ultimately each person’s going to have to work with a medical professional and adjust it to see if it’s working for them.
What kinds of fats do you eat on vegan keto?
Whitney: We’re huge believers in avocados. Nuts are really great. Macadamia nuts are wonderful. Coconut oil is another big one. And what’s great about these different types of fat is those are things that people eat, whether they’re vegan or not.
There are apps that will help you plug in the amount of fat, protein and carbs that you’re eating each day. My personal favorite is Lifesum. There’s a free version or paid version. There’s also a very popular free app called My Fitness Pal. It’s an online calorie counter. We actually used that throughout the book to help us calculate the nutrition facts and macro ratios just to make sure that everything was on track.
What are some signs you’re in ketosis?
Whitney: A lot of people feel an increase in energy and a change in their digestion. Another thing that’s common for people when they initially go into ketosis is something that’s referred to as the keto flu. Usually this could be a temporary lack of energy, brain fog, headaches, different variations of hunger, changes in mood. And basically what’s happening here is the body is going through a short-term detox because it’s switching from burning sugar for fuel to burning fat for fuel. So those can feel like uncomfortable symptoms, but they are actually a good sign that your body is going into ketosis. We have tips throughout the book to help people lessen those effects. The number one thing is to stay hydrated. You can also help minimize these effects by making sure to exercise regularly and get plenty of rest. And if you’re making sure that you’re getting enough minerals and nutrients from your food, then you’re less likely to experience those symptoms. Or at least you can decrease them and don’t experience them for too long.
What are some good vegan keto meals?
Nicole: Today Whitney and I had a chia seed pudding with coconut cream, nutmeg and cinnamon—topped with blackberries—and it was delicious. We have another breakfast that we also tried this morning, which was a coffee smoothie with half an avocado and keto vegan protein powder. For snacks, we like to make these really fun avocado boats stuffed with a tomato bruschetta and eat them with flax crackers. For dinners, we have stuffed bell peppers, noodles carbonara, rainbow kebabs, keto pizza. We love to make keto tacos. So it’s literally all the comfort foods that people are used to making and then we give them a whole foods low-carb upgrade. But you can just adapt some really classic recipes. You can do a Cobb salad, for instance, and make a few small adjustments like swap out the animal products for things like extra avocado to help it to adhere to the meal plan.
What are the health benefits of vegan keto?
Nicole: So for me personally, an increase in energy for sure. An increase in brain function, a decrease in inflammation in my body. Less sugar cravings for sure. And then one thing specifically that I noticed with my workouts with a faster recovery time.
Whitney: You can also reduce the risk of major diseases. One of the benefits of doing vegan and keto combined is that there’s a lot of clinical trials that have shown that things like Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or reversed through not only a plant-based diet, but the ketogenic diet as well. There are some studies that have shown that the keto and or vegan diets can lower the risk of cancer, heart disease, neurological illnesses. So that’s really exciting to us too—the long-term health benefits in addition to the short term.
What types of carbs can you have on a vegan keto diet?
Whitney: A lot of people think that keto means that you’re not eating any carbs, but it’s actually a low-carb diet. And we’re not saying that carbohydrates are bad at all. We’re just saying that you should aim to reduce your total net carbohydrates. And for clarity’s sake, net carbs mean total carbohydrates minus the fiber. And one of the big parts of eating a plant-based diet is plant-based foods are loaded with fiber. So actually your net carbohydrates in a lot of foods tend to be quite low. And it’s also about your daily ratios. So some days you might be eating higher amounts of carbs simply because you ate a lot of fat and proteins to balance it out. And some of the dishes are going to be higher carbohydrates. So maybe you splurge and have a higher carbohydrate dinner. But that’s because your breakfast and lunch were lower in carbs. We’re very passionate about whole foods, as we’ve said. So we know a lot of people love things like sweet potatoes, brown rice, black beans, they’re all very nutritious foods, but we’re really promoting the benefits of a fat-burning diet. So we recommend keeping foods like that at the minimum, at least for the first few months of keto.
Nicole: In some of the recipe development, recipes that maybe traditionally would have sweet potatoes or something like that, I would swap that out in many cases for something like squash, which is lower in carbohydrates and higher in enzymes and it’s really great for the body. So you’re still being very satiated with these dishes and feeling very full and happy and really getting yourself a nutritional boost.
Anything else we should know about vegan keto?
Nicole: Our aim with this book is two-fold. One is that we want to show people that you can be vegan and keto and this is especially important for people that are already doing the keto diet and might be eating more processed animal foods. So we’re encouraging them to eat more plants.
The second side of it is that there are a lot of vegans out there who are interested in doing keto, and are thinking of pausing their vegan diet so that they can try keto because they heard all these great things about it. And they are willing to start eating animal products again because they don’t even realize you can do the two together. So we’re kind of merging, in our opinion, the best of both worlds so that you can boost your health and wellness and also do something better for the environment. Right now, we’re in such a pivotal time with sustainability and the importance of being eco-conscious. One of the things that we list out as a benefit in the book is that you can actually reduce your impact on the planet simply by switching to a plant-based diet. So if you’re already keto, you can be more eco-friendly by doing vegan and keto together.
Learn about the pegan diet, a mix of Paleo and vegan.