Eating a vegetarian diet can be quite healthy. You probably know this already (yet only about 12½ million Americans are vegetarian).
There’s ample scientific research to support the benefits of following a vegetarian diet. Vegetarians on average are slimmer, have fewer chronic conditions (think: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even a lower risk of cancer), and have better nutrition than their omnivore counterparts. They also tend to live longer.
Then there’s the ketogenic diet. Chances are you’ve heard of it—as it's exploded in popularity in the last couple of years. And industry trend predictors say ‘keto’ will continue to grow its market share over the next five years. Even U.S. News & World Report gave it the green light when they ranked it as the #2 diet in their Best Fast Weight-Loss Diets category for 2019.
Clearly this is a market segment that food formulators and marketers should be paying attention to!
But What is the Keto Diet?
Keto is a very low carbohydrate diet. When someone is eating keto, only about 5 percent of their calories come from carbs. The majority of calories (60 to 70 percent) come from fat. The remaining 25 to 35 percent comes from protein. If your future customer is thinking about eating keto, their goal is to put their body into a state called ketosis—and in ketosis they burn fat for energy. As long as someone stays in ketosis, they will lose weight. In fact, a 2013 study of studies (called a meta-analysis), showed that a very low carb ketogenic diet was more effective for quick weight loss for people with diabetes than other popular diets. And there are other similar studies, too, in people who didn’t have diabetes.
Can you combine these two eating patterns, Keto and Vegetarian?
Because keto is a predominately fat-based diet and comes with a decent-sized side of protein, pairing it with a vegetarian diet seems like a mis-match. However, Google Trends shows us that there's been a substantial uptick over the last few years in the number of searches for 'vegetarian keto.' And major food sites are producing content for vegetarian keto dieters.
The short answer is yes, it’s do-able to eat both vegetarian and keto. That said, combining keto and vegetarian is challenging. That’s because many of the staples of a vegetarian diet are high in carbs. Take for example foods like beans, lentils, and whole grains—vegetarians lean heavily on them for their plant-based protein, but also they deliver a fair amount of carbs (for example, it might be surprising to know that a ½ cup of beans or lentils delivers about 20 grams of carbohydrate, sometimes more).
Another challenge is that vegetarians need to be mindful of falling short on important and essential nutrients, such as vitamins B12 and D, iron, zinc, calcium, omega-3s, and even protein. When you then pair it with a restrictive diet like keto, getting those key nutrients can be that much harder.
Is a Vegetarian Keto Diet Healthy?
Search a scientific research database for “vegetarian keto” and you won’t find much. One noteworthy study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine looked at the safety of low-carb diets. Using data from the (highly-respected) Nurses’ Health Study, researchers found that following a diet low in carbs and high in fat and protein didn’t raise women’s risk of heart disease—and, in fact, if the protein and fat came from plant sources, the women actually lowered their risk of heart disease. These findings are promising, but it’s important to note that the diet was low-carb and not fully keto.
Still, vegetarian keto is do-able. It just requires more planning than most diets. And first, your potential customer will need to familiarize themselves with what they can and cannot eat. Here’s a list of what one can eat on a vegetarian keto diet.
What do Consumers Eat Today on a Vegetarian Keto Diet?
Plant-based fats. Hemp seed oil, avocado and its oil, coconut and its oil (steer clear of any sweetened coconut though), olives and their oil.
Plant-based proteins. Hemp hearts, tofu, seitan, tempeh. If faux meat burgers, bacon, etc., are on the menu, it’s important to read the ingredient list and nutrition label as they may contain a higher-than-expected source of carbs or deliver some sugar.
Seeds. All seeds are a good choice as they’re fatty (full of healthy fats), fairly low in carbs, and often full of fiber, which brings your net carb count down.
Nuts. All nuts are a worthy choice, but pecans, hazelnuts, and macadamias are a particularly worthy choice because they’re higher in fat and lower in carbohydrates than others.
Low-carb veggies. Cauliflower, zucchini, Swiss chard, mushrooms, asparagus, celery, spinach, bok choy, broccoli rabe, cabbage, broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, and lettuces (arugula, green and red leaf, endive, romaine, etc.).
Berries. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries. They aren’t actually low-carb, but they’re packed with fiber so your net carbs are low. Skip blueberries—a single cup can contain an entire day worth of carbs if you’re on a keto diet.
Dairy.* Full-fat plain yogurt and plain cottage cheese (nothing flavored. That’s sugar.), and other dairy; hard cheeses; butter. Keep in mind, though, that dairy delivers carbohydrates (1 cup whole milk has nearly 13 grams carbohydrate), but choosing fuller-fat will help you up your fat count.
Eggs.* A complete protein, plus a nice dose of fat and practically no carbs.
*Depending on the type of vegetarian diet you are following, dairy and eggs may not fit into your eating plan.
It’s also equally important for your potential customers to be mindful of what they can’t eat. After all, if they’re going to go through the trouble of getting their body into ketosis, they want to stay in ketosis. Here’s what to limit or avoid: beans and lentils, grains, all varieties of potatoes, and most fruit (with some berries, as outlined above, being an exception).
The Bottom Line on the Vegetarian Keto Diet
Eating a vegetarian keto diet is feasible, and can yield some desirable health outcomes. But it’s also a challenging diet to follow and requires planning for it to be nutritionally balanced. As a result, it’s a diet that’s better in the short-term, and not one to follow for an extended time period.
Formulating a Vegetarian Keto Food Product
If you’re looking to produce a protein-focused, plant-based food product to market with a vegetarian keto twist, Victory Hemp Food's V-70™ Hemp Heart Protein and V-ONE™ Hemp Heart Oil are easy to formulate with, allow you to have a short ingredient deck without long, sciency-sounding ingredients, and also feature a neutral flavor and (for V-70™) an attractive texture that doesn’t distract from your desired eating experience.
Are you a food formulator interested in how you can develop a vegetarian keto food product? Reach out and let's chat!