Is a Vegan Ketogenic diet Possible ?

Your friend the vegan

Picture this. Your friend the vegan who’s always up on the latest plant-based superfood suddenly mentions wanting to try this thing called a ketogenic diet – more specifically, a vegan keto diet.

You’re told a ketogenic diet is super high in fat and very low in carbs. Because you’re a good friend, you think about what they’re saying, only to realize that vegan diets aren’t particularly fatty. Plants tend to store a lot of starch or sugar rather than fat.

You then ask “don’t those two diets sort of oppose each other? ”.

Your friend launches into listing all the plant foods that are high in fat, low in carbs and how a vegan ketogenic diet can totally work! After listening to this for a while you get bored, obviously, and don’t come away convinced this makes much sense or if it’s even feasible.

But you’re a curious cat so you wonder how one might construct a vegan keto diet if you had to. We answer this question here, but first let’s recap the basics features of both diets.

Before diving in those diets if you have questions related to keto and low carb, please visit our community

Keep in mind that when discussing the respective merits and demerits of a dietary approach here, we’re ignoring supplementation. This is done so that a diet is assessed on what’s available from its food alone, not its food + supplements.

We’ll skip to the punchline of this post which Dr.Dominic D’Agostino sums up nicely on Joe Rogan’s podcast, saying

there’s no way that you can hit the macronutrient ratios of a ketogenic diet that’s vegan unless it’s in a shake form

Recapping the vegan diet

A vegan diet splits food into the plant or animal categories, forbidding animals and permitting only plants.

A vegan is thus not allowed to eat animals like beef, salmon or shellfish or animal products like milk, cheese, butter or bone broth – and honey according to some vegans [1], apparently!

A vegan is allowed to eat plants like beans, potatoes or kale or plant products like tofu, sunflower oil or margarine.

A vegan diet is most commonly a high-carbohydrate one due to the higher starch and sugar content in plants than in animals. Veganism does not seem to have its roots in our evolutionary past [23].

Recapping the ketogenic diet

A ketogenic diet is based on the ratio of macronutrients, meaning how many calories come from protein versus fat versus carbs.

It is very high in fat and very low in carbs, typically around 70% fat, 20% protein and > 10% carbs.

Eating this way leads to your body turning a significant portion of its fat into energy-useful molecules called ketones (which you can measure at home!).

The calories from your  ketogenic diet can come mostly from animals or mostly from plants – the diet is agnostic about that.

The easiest way to kick-start a basic ketogenic diet is to eat mostly fatty animal foods and fibrous low-starch vegetables. A ketogenic diet does have roots in our evolutionary past and is traditionally rather high in animal foods [4, 5].

So, what is a vegan keto diet ?

A vegan keto diet needs to prioritize fatty plant foods and exclude those that are too starchy or sugary. This isn’t as straightforward as it seems.

There are two main reasons. First, there are fewer commercially available fatty plants than starchy or sugary ones.

This really restricts your selection of foods. Second, you’re already at a disadvantage trying to get enough quality protein on standard vegan fare, let alone on a vegan ketogenic diet.

Many of the best plant sources of protein will not be available to you due to their high starch content.

Given these constraints, what fatty plants would you want to include in your vegan keto diet? And what are the plants to avoid or minimize? What sources of plant protein can you chose whilst staying within ketogenic ratios?

Focus on getting fatty plant foods

We’re all thinking it, avocados. They’re about 77% fat, 19% carbs and 4% protein [6].

avocado vegan keto

Avocados are the darling peace-seeking diplomats of the food world. They’re one of the few foods accepted along most of the dietary spectrum, enabling fruitarians to low-carb high-fat dieters to get behind eating avocados.

Then we’ve got all sorts of nuts. For example, macadamia nuts are on the high-end of fatty, coming in at about 88% fat, 8% carbs and 4% protein [7].

Even the higher carb nuts have a modest carbcontent overall, like pistachios that come in around 67% fat, 20% carbs and 13% protein [8]. This is pretty close to a vegan ketogenic ratio.

Cacao nibs. Not the most popular snack. This is probably due to the fact that they has no digestible carbs and are very bitter. Nearly all of their calories come from fat [9]. Lets just say they’re an acquired taste.

cacao vegan keto

Pro tip: most people will find cacao nibs to be more palatable when mixed into a salad or some other dish with other flavors and taste to soften the bitterness. Get creative, give it a try.

Remember when acai berries were all the rage? Are they still God’s fit? In any case, they’re surprisingly fatty, coming in around 71% fat, 23% carbs and 6% protein [10].

Avoid or minimize starchy and sugary plant foods

This is difficult. Your priority will be to avoid fruit. It’s delicious, requires little to no preparation, it’s nearly always portable and so lends itself to snacking. Nearly all (commercially available) fruit will have thus have to be avoided due to its very high carb content.

For instance, (ripe) bananas are about 3% fat, 93% carbs and 4% protein [11]. They’re not a good fit for a vegan keto diet. Neither are mangos, since they’re about 3% fat, 94% carbs and 3% protein.

The protein problem

This is the big kahuna of health problems. Sure, vegan diets are also notorious for their micronutrient issues like imbalanced omega-6 to omega-3 ratios. However, not getting enough of the macronutrient protein is THE big problem. More specifically, getting enough bioavailable amino acids of the right kind (the building blocks of protein) is difficult if not impossible by food alone.

Is my plant protein bioavailable?

When we ask if this or that protein is bioavailable, we’re looking at how much of that plant protein can be usefully converted to protein in our body that can carry out its intended functions. There are multiple ways to measure this, such as Net protein Utilization, Protein Efficiency Ratio, Nitrogen Balance, Protein digestibility and Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score [12]. For now though, what is key to grasp is the overarching theme, that protein in plant form is generally poorly bioavailable when compared to protein from animals [13].

Leucine threshold

To maintain muscle mass or grow more of it, one thing you need to do is consume enough of the amino acid leucine. This is also known as the leucine threshold [14].Not only do you need enough leucine, you need enough of a few of the other 21 amino acids to then provide the building blocks for the actual building of muscle building. Reaching the leucine threshold with enough of the other bioavailable amino acids will be difficulting this with plant foods alone will require eating a ton of greens because.

Given all these issues, what do you do ? 

What plant sources of protein should I use on my vegan keto diet?

Try this. Despite it’s low total protein and high carb content, potatoes have a relatively complete amino acid (or protein) score, at about 1% fat, 97% carbs and 2% protein [15].

Same goes for quinoa, the plant-based darling pseudo-grain. It’s lower in carbs though, showing a more favorable profile compared to potatoes, with about 14% fat, 71% carbs and 15% protein [16].

Hemp seeds, possibly a neck-and-neck winner with quinoa, contains about 74% carbs, 4% carbs and 22% protein [17].

But no, soybeans may take the win! Soybeans are about 38% fat, 32% carbs and 30% protein and nearly as complete as potatoes and quinoa [18].

The trick may be to include mostly soybeans, hemp and quinoa for the protein content and completeness of amino acid score.

Keep in mind: when you see a ‘complete amino acid score’ for potatoes on a website like www.nutritiondata.self, remember that this does NOT take into account bioavailability factors.

To be clear, take one animal food and one plant food with identical protein content and amino acid profiles. You’ll have considerably more useable protein from the animal source.

Parents beware !

The importance of this cannot be overstated. Do NOT feed newborn infants or children younger than 18 years-old on vegan diets or vegan ketogenic diets.

The younger they are, the more likely they are to suffer life threatening mineral, vitamin, protein and fatty acid deficiencies given the paucity of those elements in a diet entirely devoid of animal foods.

One parent in Italy was forced by the court to feed their child meat at least once a week [19].

Another couple were jailed for 1 year because their 1 year-old infant was malnourished on their vegan diet [20].


If you’re going to try to mix veganism with a ketogenic diet, make sure you pay attention to

  • Getting enough protein
  • Avoiding sugary fruit or too many starchy plants
  • Getting enough calories without getting too many carbs (since your goal is ketosis)
  • Beware of mineral and vitamin deficiencies (supplement these)
  • Read a lot about nutrition because you’ll need the knowledge
  • Make it a short-term experiment, preferably

12 comments On Is a Vegan Ketogenic diet Possible ?

  • Hi Laurie, I wish it were true that the vegan option were viable, but it’s not, partially for the reasons detailed in this post and elsewhere. That statement you quote simply isn’t backed up by isotopic evidence, clinical evidence, our biochemistry or genetic setup. Remember that vegetarianism and down the road veganism, started off as a religion/philosophy, it dind’t flourish from a scientific hypothesis or suggestive data. That should be telling, right?

  • My colleagues and I have been on a vegan diet for decades and are all in perfect health, which is more than we can say for family members who eat the Standard American Diet. My physician at Kaiser Permanente just advised me that Kaiser is promoting a whole food plant-based diet as optimal for human health, not only preventing chronic diseases but often reversing them.

  • Michael Greger, M.D. was on PBS this past Tuesday to share information from his book “How Not To Die.” He referred to his recommended whole food plant-based diet as an “evidence-based diet” because it relies solely on scientific nutritional studies rather than a philosophical or ethical foundation. (See his website

  • I’ve been a vegan for almost 8 years now and my health has never been better. In fact, I made the switch from vegetarianism to veganism because of my health. Even though there are many misconceptions about vegan diet (I wrote about some of them here: I believe that with the proper planning and effort you can get all you need on a vegan diet. Let’s face it – you can be (un)healthy on any diet. But it’s up to you to tweak plant-based diet to suit your needs, and this type of diet might be great to try out. Thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Ashley,

      Thanks for your comment. My default position is to believe people when they tell me they’re healthy, for the sake of conversation (even though that’s certainly not true for most people). So lets assume you are in fact healthy. I would say you’re healthy *despite* your vegan diet, not because of it.

      And yes you can be unhealthy on any diet. But not all diets are equally likely to be conducive to health. Veganism is one of the least conducive to diets in my opinion given its amino acid inadequacy, lack of essential fatty acids and overall evolutionarily inappropriate framework. Lets not forget it doesn’t come from a scientific hypothesis but a religious/moral view.

      I wish you the best of luck and health.

      • Raphael Sirtoli,
        You are WRONG. The research is out there, the blood panels are out there, which substantiate that a well-balanced vegan diet IS superior to an omnivorous/carnivorous diet for humans.
        The “protein” deficiency that everyone is so concerned about is a myth, and has been debunked time and time again! The ONLY time ANY protein deficiency occurs is by complete starvation.
        We can (and DO) get ALL of our necessary nutrients from plant based sources (including fatty acids (ever hear of flax seeds?) There are also nuts, seeds, and avocados (if you’re truly concerned about “fats”).
        Leafy greens, kale, spinach for calcium, lentils for iron (the list goes on and on and on)…
        I’m not a religious person, and don’t base my choice (to be vegan) on religion. I went vegan because of health issues (ALL of which cleared up after going vegan). I’m thriving! In the best health of my LIFE! Doctors are telling me to keep up what I’m doing! (Wow!)
        I recommend the following reading materials:
        The Starch Solution – by John MacDougall
        Eat to Live – by Joel Furhman
        Also, subscribe to “Mic the Vegan” on YouTube. (He regularly cites research, and shares the facts with his audience (all of which can be researched/substantiated yourself)!~
        Good luck! And I hope to see you on the green side of the livestock fence, soon!

  • why are pregnant women, with fragile developing babies, to avoid cheese, raw fish, undercooked meats, deli meats, unpasteurized milks? and can you speak to what other omnivores take similar precautions during gestation while then eating said products after birth and/or feeding them to the baby?

    other question: what other animals have to cook their meat to eat it safely?

  • Vegan diets have been unanimously agreed upon by the larger scientific community as an effective and healthy alternative to eating animal products (any Google search with “vegan diet health effects scholarly articles” in the search bar will tell you this). Why are you so adamantly against the vegan diet, and why does this article sound so biased against the health benefits of it, without accounting for any of the research?

  • Some of the sources are from Wikipedia lol i cant even use rhem as a source for my college re papers. This article just lost any amoumt of credibility, but thanks for the read.

  • The writer of this article can’t even construct a proper sentence – did you notice the number of grammar errors, lol? There are far too many studies and individuals to name in this post that crush her unsubstantial claims about veganism. It’s the most healthy diet on the planet. Read the China Study. People are dying here due to overconsumption of animal protein. There has been no scientifically documented case of protein deficiency in the Western World in recent history. She needs to stop scaring parents too. Every single parents I know feeds their children a vegan diet and they have never had an issue.

  • Was this article sponsored by the Meat Marketing Board or something?

  • The source that you cited pertaining to the bioavailability of plant protein mentions absolutely nothing about plants being worse sources of protein than meat. It only talks about different types of testing for nitrogen and amino acids in rats vs humans. That throws your whole argument out the window by citing an incorrect source.

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