The low-carb, high-fat keto diet has never been hotter. But does going keto mean you have to live off of bacon and butter? On the contrary. Despite your meat-filled Instagram feed, a healthy keto diet still incorporates plenty of plants. Here’s everything you need to know about the benefits of being both keto and plant-based—and how to pull it off.
The Keto Basics
As you’re probably already aware, the point of a ketogenic diet is to shift your metabolism into ketosis, a state in which it burns fat for energy instead of sugar. To get there, you typically eat 75 percent of your calories from fat, 20 percent from protein, and five percent carbohydrates.
Keto Gone Wrong
To ramp up their fat intake, many keto eaters think they can just cook everything in butter, eat bacon every morning, and top every meal with cheese. After all, the diet hinges on eating three quarters of your calories from fats—so you have to do what you have to do, right? Not so much.
Many keto dieters end up eating a diet focused on dairy, processed meats, and conventional proteins—and although these foods technically fit into the keto framework, they shouldn’t be its foundation. Not only do they leave you wanting for vitamins and minerals, but research has also linked them to inflammation, digestive issues, and even cancer.
The Flipside: Plant-Based Diets
While plant-based diets can include plenty of healthy fats, like those found in avocados, olives, and nuts, they also tend to be high in carbs. Even just a serving of legumes, whole grains, or certain fruits can pack enough carbs to pull you out of ketosis.
Although carbs are necessary for energy and a balanced diet, high-carb diets have been associated with health issues long-term. Plus, with animal products out of the picture, plant-based eaters can fall short on vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
Still, plant-based diets are often lauded for their health benefits, from reducing inflammation and supporting a healthy gut, to lowering high blood pressure and reducing the risk for chronic illnesses.
Ketotarian: The Best Of Both Worlds
Since keto and plant-based diets can both be nutritious, why not combine the best of each into one super-powered diet?
Enter the concept of a ‘ketotarian’ diet, a plant-centric way of eating low-carb, high-fat. Coined by functional medicine practitioner Will Cole, I.F.M.C.P., D.C., author of Ketotarian: The (Mostly) Plant-Based Plan to Burn Fat, Boost Your Energy, Crush Your Cravings, and Calm Inflammation, the diet involves eating 60 to 75 percent fat, 15 to 30 percent protein, and five to 15 percent carbs. According to Cole, this macro breakdown is still low-carb enough for you to achieve ketosis, but allows more flexibility to incorporate plant-based foods.
“After seeing what worked and what didn’t work in thousands of patient cases and my own, I felt the best when reaching a state of ketosis through plant-based healthy fats and low-starch vegetables,” says Cole.
What Plant-Based Keto Dieters Eat
Ketotarians eat a diet that emphasizes healthy fats like avocado and olive oil, nuts and seeds, pasture-raised eggs, plant proteins like tempeh, hemp seeds, peas, a wide variety of vegetables, and low-fructose fruits like berries. They may also incorporate wild-caught fatty fish (for omega-3 fatty acids) and eventually some grass-fed meat from time to time.
Like traditional keto eaters, ketotarians avoid high-fructose fruits like apples and bananas, all grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables like potatoes.
Since the idea of a plant-based keto diet emphasizes eating a clean, whole-foods diet, artificial sweeteners, alcohol, unhealthy fats like canola oil, and dairy (except for ghee) are off the table.
Trying Plant-Based Keto
If you’re into the idea of a plant-based ketogenic diet, Cole recommends giving it a try for eight weeks.
If you’re used to eating a higher-carb diet, start out by eating between 25 and 55 grams of net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) a day, and whittling carbs down gradually. This gives the body ample time to slowly transition from burning sugar to burning fat.
What One Day of Plant-Based Keto Eating Looks Like
Not sure what one actually eats to achieve ketosis on a diet of mostly plants? Here’s a day of eats, straight out of Cole’s book.
The macronutrient breakdown:
- Protein: 59 grams
- Net carbs: 27 grams
- Fats: 175 grams
Breakfast: Matcha Latte with Dairy-Free Yogurt and Berries
For the matcha latte, you’ll need:
- ½ cup full-fat coconut milk
- ½ cup water
- 1 tsp matcha powder
- 1 Tbsp virgin coconut oil
- 2-4 drops liquid stevia (optional)
In a small saucepan, combine the coconut milk and water. Heat over medium heat until (but not boiling). Pour into the container of a heat-proof blender and add the matcha and coconut oil. Cover and blend until frothy. Sweeten to taste with liquid stevia, if desired. Pour into a mug and serve.
For the yogurt, start with a serving of unsweetened nut or coconut yogurt and mix in one tablespoon of plant protein powder.
Top it with:
- ¼ cup fresh blueberries
- ¼ cup fresh raspberries
- 2 Tbsp toasted shredded coconut
- 1 Tbsp hemp seeds
Lunch: Tomato-Olive Salad
For your salad base, mix:
- 1 cup of fresh spinach
- ½ cup grape tomatoes
- ¼ cup chopped cucumber
- ¼ cup fresh basil
- ¼ cup chopped kalamata olives
- 2 Tbsp toasted pine nuts
- 1 Tbsp thinly sliced green onion tops
For your dressing, whisk together:
Drizzle your dressing on top of your salad, and finish off with two ounces of canned albacore tuna.
Snack: Coconut Almond Balls
In a medium bowl, combine
- ⅓ cup all-natural sugar-free creamy almond butter
- ¼ cup melted virgin coconut oil
- 1 Tbsp cacao nibs
- ¼ tsp vanilla
Cover the mixture and refrigerate until firm enough to handle (about 30 to 40 minutes). Split the mixture into eight portions and roll into balls. Roll the balls in shredded unsweetened coconut and store in the fridge.
Dinner: Grilled Romaine and Avocado Caesar Salad with Eggs
For the salad, you’ll need:
- 1 heart romaine lettuce
- 1 large avocado
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 ½ cups cherry tomatoes
- 2 tsp ghee
- 2 large pasture-raised eggs
- Sea salt and pepper, to taste
Cut the romaine heart in half and brush the cut sides with half a tablespoon of olive oil. Then, slice your avocado in half and brush the cut sides with another half a tablespoon of oil. Next, toss cherry tomatoes in the rest of the oil and thread onto skewers.
Place the romaine hearts, avocado, and tomato skewers on the grill. Grill until lightly charred (about two to three minutes for the romaine and avocado, and four to six minutes for the tomatoes).
Meanwhile, put the ghee in a medium skillet over medium heat. Fry the eggs, flipping and topping with sea salt and pepper, if desired.
Then, mix up your dressing with the following ingredients:
- 2 tsp finely chopped anchovies
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
On a cutting board, mash the anchovies, garlic, and salt into a paste using the side of a chef’s knife. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add lemon juice and Dijon mustard, and whisk. As you whisk, slowly add the olive oil until the dressing thicken and well combined.
Divide the romaine, avocado, and tomatoes between two serving plates. Top each with a fried egg and dressing. Sprinkle more black pepper and fresh chives
Reprinted from Ketotarian by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2018, Will Cole