Can Vegetarians Get Into Ketosis?
By Nabanita Dutt
One of the main concerns people have when they consider going on a Vegetarian Keto diet for weight loss is this: can Vegetarians get into Ketosis at all?
The short answer is yes, they absolutely can. And not just that. Vegetarians can be almost as successful in burning fat at a very rapid rate on a Ketogenic diet as non-Vegetarians.
But they have to do it right.
The real reason why the majority of Vegetarians fail to achieve Ketosis on a plant-based Keto diet is they have not been educated on the basic strategy they need to `trick’ their body into a state of Ketosis.
And unless they can truly understand this proven, science-backed strategy and make it the foundational building block of their diet plan, no amount of superficial-level tips, tricks and advice on the internet, or Keto Vegetarian recipes for that matter, can help them be successful.
In this article, we’re going to share this foundational strategy for Vegetarians and Vegans that will finally get you into Ketosis, and teach you how to maintain it for the long-term, for sustained weight loss.
So, keep reading because all the information we present here will not only help you understand Ketosis and avoid all the common Keto mistakes, but the well-proven science of Vegetarianism that will be a valuable health and wellness resource for you for the rest of your life.
What Is Ketosis?
Ketosis is a natural metabolic state that occurs when your body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates to burn for energy.
The human body primarily uses glucose, which it derives by breaking down carbs, to make energy. But if the carb supply is cut off for some reason (during a Keto diet, for example), the body has no choice but to break down its secondary resource – stored fat – into ketones and use that for energy instead.
This, in a nutshell, is the process that is known as Ketosis.
As the body uses up its fat stores, we start losing weight, which is why triggering Ketosis is considered to be one of the fastest ways to slim down on any diet plan.
Why Is It So Difficult For Vegetarians To Get Into Ketosis?
The answer to this question is a very interesting one, and goes back to the early days of human history, when people were mostly rudimentary crop cultivators or cave-dwelling hunter gatherers.
For these early people, there was no surety about when their next meal would come. Long periods of starvation caused by famines, floods and other natural events were commonplace and the human body simply had to adjust to deprivation in order to survive.
In such circumstances, holding onto fat, quite logically, became the body’s best defense strategy against starvation and death. It used up whatever food source was available at the time to make energy, but was reluctant to dip into its precious fat store, which could prove to be life-saving in an emergency situation.
This compulsion became a part of our cellular memory, and like many other involuntary human responses that have carried over from the past, holding onto fat is just the body’s way of ensuring we stay alive, no matter that food is plentiful these days and we are unlikely to starve.
Attaining the fat-burning state of Ketosis can be hard for just this reason. When we’re trying to go against a reflex body behavior that is deeply ingrained, it is only by triggering a false sense of emergency (by restricting carbs) that we can trick our bodies into starting to burn fat.
4 Things Vegetarians Must Do In Order To Get Into Ketosis
As we said earlier, we have a strategy for Vegetarians to get into Ketosis. But in order to be successful, this strategy has to be followed correctly to stop the body’s default behavior from kicking in and slowing down your fat loss rate.
Read the infographic below for a quick overview, before moving forward.
# 1: Understand The Importance Of `Complete’ Proteins
‘Complete’ proteins are foods that offer the full spectrum of 9 essential amino acids which the body cannot produce on its own, and therefore has to source from what we eat.
These 9 amino acids are the essential building blocks of muscles. The more muscles you have, the more fat and calories you will burn, but that’s not all. In the absence of carbs, these amino acids also help stop the body from cannibalizing its own muscle mass instead of fat stores to make energy.
Animal-based foods like meat, fish and eggs are complete proteins and have all 9 amino acids. Unfortunately for Vegetarians, plant-based foods are not.
So it is necessary to eat the right mix of plant-based proteins (like soy, quinoa and buckwheat) to make up for the shortfall.
Choose a variety of high protein, Vegetarian foods as part of your daily diet to make sure you are getting the full spectrum of all 9 amino acids that are necessary for Ketosis.
# 2: You May Not Be Eating As Much Protein As You Think
Another problem with plant protein is that it is not as digestible or bioavailable as animal protein. Not by a long shot.
A very common Keto mistake that Vegetarians make is this: even if you think you are eating enough protein to get you into Ketosis, much of that protein is not being absorbed by the body and therefore being wasted.
Given the limited bioavailability of plant-based proteins, the best way to ensure you’ll get into Ketosis is to increase the amount of protein you consume per day.
The chart below should give you some helpful guidelines on how much protein to consume by height:
- Under 5’4″ : 105g for men and 90g for women.
- 5’4″ to 5’7″ : 110g for men and 100g for women.
- 5’8″ to 5’10” : 120g for men and 110g for women.
- 5’11” to 6’2″ : 130g for men and 120g for women.
- Over 6’2″ : 140g for men and 130g for women.
Now, it is really hard to exactly measure the bioavailability of most foods. The best resource we have is a grading system known as PDCAAS (Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score) that gives you the most telling clues.
The chart below should be very helpful in illustrating this.
# 3: Be Wary Of `Hidden’ Carbs
It is common knowledge by now that most Vegetarians depend heavily on high-carb foods. This dependence is hard to avoid when your options are limited to plant-based ingredients only, so it is no surprise if your normal diet has always consisted of wheat flour, rice and corn for example, and tasty veggies like potatoes and peas.
The first thing Vegetarians do when they start on a Keto diet is cut out the obvious carbs. But there is still more…
Even foods that are known to be nutrient-rich and good for health can have `hidden’ carbs. Like lentils and nuts.
Being mindful of this when you’re calculating your daily macros is very necessary because if you’re not taking these hidden carbohydrates into account, your math will be off, you’ll consume way more carbs than 20g-50g per day (depending on your plan), and find it really difficult to get into Ketosis.
# 4: Don’t Take Meat Substitutes At Face Value
Meat substitutes, or mock meats are nothing new. In fact, the practice of `faking’ meat was popular centuries ago among Buddhist monks who would make fake roast goose, fake duck etc. with things like wheat gluten, tofu and mushrooms to help meat-eating disciples transition to a Vegetarian / vegan way of life with minimal discomfort.
Those fake meats were made with natural, plant-based ingredients. The worry with the shelves full of Vegetarian / vegan burgers, hotdogs and other meat substitutes we see at grocery stores these days is that they are highly processed, with additives that may not hold up too well upon close scrutiny.
The purpose is mainly to mimic the texture and mouthfeel of real meat. The presence of highly absorbable proteins and other nutrients is not the driving factor.
This is very important to know when you’re tempted to choose more meat substitute products for your daily diet than is suitable to get into a state of Ketosis.
16 Vegetarian Foods You Should Eat To Get Into Ketosis
If eggs are allowed in the kind of Vegetarian diet you follow, then they are one of the best sources of complete protein for you. Low in carbs, but high in healthy fats and protein, eggs will help you feel satiated and promote Ketogenesis.
Nutritional value in 1 hard boiled egg:
Carbs: 0.6 g
Protein: 6.3 g
Total fat: 5.3 g
Saturated fat: 1.6 g
Monounsaturated fat: 2.0 g
Cholesterol: 212 mg
2. Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds are an excellent way for Vegans and Vegetarians to get into Ketosis. They’re a good source of protein and healthy fats, and this combo helps to promote satiety, which is key when you’re trying to stick to a Ketogenic diet.
Additionally, hemp seeds are a good source of fiber. This helps to keep you regular, which is important on any diet but especially when you’re trying to get your body into Ketosis.
Finally, hemp seeds contain a compound called GLA (gamma-linolenic acid). This has been shown to aid weight loss and management by helping to decrease inflammation and promoting insulin sensitivity.
Nutritional value in 30 gms (3 tbsp) of hemp seeds:
Fat: 14.6 g
Protein: 9.47 g
Carbohydrates: 2.6 g
Sugar: 0.45 g
Fiber: 1.2 g
3. Greek Yoghurt
This creamy and flavorful food is packed with protein and healthy fats, making it the perfect choice for a Keto-friendly snack or meal. Greek yogurt also contains probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that can improve gut health. In addition, Greek yogurt is a good source of calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. All of these nutrients are essential for maintaining bone health.
Nutritional value in 100 g of Greek yogurt:
Total Carbs: 3.6g
Total Fat: 0.4g
When people think of tofu, they often think of it as a bland and tasteless food. However, tofu is a versatile ingredient and a great source of protein for Vegans and Vegetarians on a Keto diet.
Nutritional value in 100 g of tofu:
Total Carbs: 1.9g
Total Fat: 4.8g
Dietary Fiber: 0.3g
One of the best things about the Keto lifestyle is that it opens up a whole new world of food options. In the past, restrictive diets meant saying goodbye to many delicious dishes for Vegetarians, but there are so many culturally ethnic ingredients crossing over into the United States these days that there are more new ingredients to discover and creative recipes to explore than ever before.
Tempeh is one such ingredient. (Read our Tempeh guide next, to learn about this incredible, soy-based, protein superfood and how to cook it.)
Nutritional value in 84 grams (3 oz) of tempeh:
Protein: 15 grams
Carbohydrates: 9 grams
Total Fat: 9 grams
Sodium: 9 mg
Natto is a fermented soybean dish that is popular in Japan. It is made by soaking soybeans in water, then adding bacteria and allowing the mixture to ferment. Natto is high in protein and fiber, but what makes it particularly interesting is its effect on Ketosis.
When you eat natto, the bacteria in the dish release enzymes that convert the soybeans into ketones. These ketones are then absorbed into the bloodstream, where they are used for energy.
As a result, natto can help you get into Ketosis more quickly and maintain it for longer. In addition, the vitamins and minerals in natto also help newbies manage symptoms of Keto Flu, a feeling of unwellness that is sometimes experienced by people who are starting out on the Keto diet.
Nutritional value in 100 grams of natto:
Protein: 18 grams
Total Carbohydrates: 14 grams
Total Fat: 11 grams
Dietary Fiber: 5 grams
Sodium: 7 mg
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Edamame is a type of green soybean full of healthy fats that is often used in Japanese cuisine. It’s a good source of both protein and fiber, and it’s also low in carbs, making it an ideal food for those on a Ketogenic diet. Additionally, edamame is a good source of the polyphenol epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which has been shown to boost metabolism and promote Ketosis for weight loss.
Nutritional value in 100 grams of edamame:
Protein: 11 grams
Total Carbohydrates: 10 grams
Total Fat: 5 grams
Dietary Fiber: 5 grams
Sodium: 6 mg
Spinach is a good source of vitamins A, C and K, as well as iron and calcium. Low in carbohydrates, this green leafy vegetable should be a staple in a vegan or Vegetarian diet if you want to get into Ketosis.
Adoption of spinach is easy as it’s such a versatile vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked. Add to salads, soup, sandwiches or eat as a side dish.
Nutritional value in 1 cup of raw spinach:
Protein: 0.86 grams
Total Carbohydrates: 1.09 grams
Total Fat: 0.12 grams
Dietary Fiber: 0.66 grams
Sodium: 23.7 mg
Thanks to its low carb content, zucchini is an excellent choice for those on the Keto diet. It is a good source of dietary fiber, which can help keep you feeling fuller for longer. It is also a good source of certain vitamins and minerals, including potassium and magnesium, which are essential for keeping the body in Ketosis.
Nutritional value in 100gms of zucchini:
Protein: 1.21 grams
Total Carbohydrates: 3.35 grams
Total Fat: 0.18 grams
Dietary Fiber: 1.1 grams
Sodium: 10 mg
High amounts of healthy monounsaturated fats in avocado make it one of the top foods in a Vegetarian Ketogenic diet. Its application in pretty much everything, from smoothies and shakes to Keto snacks and meals, is a delicious option you should totally go to town on (within prescribed macro limitations, of course).
Nutritional value in 100gms (one half) of avocado:
Protein: 2 grams
Total Carbohydrates: 38.5 grams
Total Fat: 14.7 grams
Dietary Fiber: 6.7 grams
11. Brussels Sprouts
When it comes to Ketosis, there are a lot of misconceptions out there. One of the biggest myths is that you have to eliminate all carbohydrates from your diet in order to achieve Ketosis.
However, this simply isn’t true. In fact, there are certain types of carbs that can actually help you get into Ketosis.
One of these so-called “good” carbs is Brussels sprouts. They contain a compound called sulforaphane, which has been shown to boost ketone levels.
Nutritional value in 1 cup of Brussels sprouts:
Protein: 4 grams
Total Carbohydrates: 11 grams
Total Fat: 0 grams
Dietary Fiber: 4 grams
Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable that is low in carbohydrates and high in fiber. This makes it an ideal food for people following a Ketogenic diet, as it can help you to feel fuller for longer and prevent blood sugar spikes. In addition, cauliflower is a good source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium and magnesium. It also contains antioxidants that can help to protect your cells from damage.
When cooked, cauliflower has a mild, nutty flavor that makes it a versatile ingredient for Keto-friendly recipes. Whether you roast it, puree it into soup or use it as a pizza crust, cauliflower is a delicious way to help you reach your nutritional goals.
Nutritional value in 100 grams of cauliflower:
Protein: 1.9 grams
Total Carbohydrates: 5 grams
Total Fat: 0 grams
Dietary Fiber: 2 grams
Cholesterol: 0 mg
13. Swiss Chard
Spinach is not the only leafy green out there that’s good for you. Swiss chard is an often overlooked veggie that offers a host of health benefits. Swiss chard is a great source of vitamins A, C and K as well as magnesium, potassium and iron.
It’s also low in calories and high in fiber. Perhaps most importantly for those on a Ketogenic diet, Swiss chard is a great way to get into Ketosis. The veggie is loaded with healthy fats and very few carbs and can be included in a variety of recipes.
Nutritional value in 1 cup of Swiss chard:
Protein: 0.65 grams
Total Carbohydrates: 1.35 grams
Total Fat: 0.07 grams
Dietary Fiber: 0.6 grams
14. Almond Flour
Almond flour is a popular Keto-friendly flour made from blanched almonds that have had their skins removed. It’s a great source of healthy fats, fiber and protein, and it has a slightly nutty flavor that goes well in baked goods and savory dishes alike. Plus, almond flour is easy to find in most supermarkets and online retailers.
When it comes to Ketosis, almond flour can be a very helpful ingredient. Because it’s high in healthy fats and low in carbs, it can help Vegetarians get into Ketosis faster and stay there longer. Additionally, the fiber in almond flour can help to keep you feeling fuller for longer, which can help to prevent cravings and overeating.
Nutritional value in 2 tbsp (14g) of almond flour:
Protein: 3 grams
Total Carbohydrates: 3 grams
Total Fat: 7 grams
Dietary Fiber: 2 grams
15. Coconut Flour
Coconut flour is a healthy alternative to wheat flour that can help you get into Ketosis. It is made from the pulp of the coconut, which is rich in fiber and low in carbohydrates and many Vegan and Vegetarian dieters prefer it to almond flour to get into Ketosis.
It helps to keep your blood sugar levels stable and prevents cravings. In addition, coconut flour is a good source of healthy fats that help promote weight loss. It is also gluten-free, which makes it a suitable option for those with celiac disease or other gluten sensitivities.
Nutritional value in ¼ cup (28g) of coconut flour:
Protein: 6 grams
Total Carbohydrates: 18 grams
Total Fat: 3 grams
Dietary Fiber: 10 grams
Sugar: 6 grams
16. Nutritional Supplements
Given the restrictions of a Vegan or Vegetarian diet, it is important to be aware that you may not be getting the full spectrum of nutrients you need to get into Ketosis from your food alone.
In such circumstances, the intake of the right supplements becomes very important for Ketogenic health and well being.
Here are 6 supplements that you should consider: Taurine, Omega-3 fatty acids, Creatine, MCT Oil, Carnosine and B Vitamins like thiamine, niacin and B12.
How Intermittent Fasting Can Help Vegetarians Get Into Ketosis
In order to enter a state of Ketosis, the body needs to be in a carb deficit. This means that you need to be consuming fewer carbs and calories than you are burning. When in a calorie deficit, the body will begin to break down stored body fat for energy.
Intermittent fasting can help to create a calorie deficit in a few different ways. First, when you fast, you are naturally consuming fewer calories. Second, fasting can help to increase your metabolism, which can lead to more calories being burned.
There are a few different intermittent fasting schedules that you can follow.
The most popular is the 16/8 method, which involves fasting for 16 hours and eating during an 8-hour window. This schedule is often easiest for people to follow, as it doesn’t require any major changes to your eating patterns.
Another option is the 5:2 method, which involves eating normally for 5 days of the week and restricting your calories to 500-600 on two days of the week.
This method can be more difficult to follow, as it requires a bit more planning and effort.
If you’re interested in trying intermittent fasting to get into Ketosis, be sure to talk to your doctor first. This eating pattern may not be right for everyone. Also, once you start, be sure to listen to your body and make adjustments as needed.
Conclusion: Can Vegetarians Get Into Ketosis?
As the various topics discussed above have made abundantly clear, it is possible for Vegans and Vegetarians to get into Ketosis – and stay there for sustained weight loss.
The lack of animal protein does present some obstacles, but they can be surmounted with the right information and advice.
The knowledge about food groups and nutrition that you will gather on this weight loss journey is priceless in how you approach your health and wellness in the future, so the effort will definitely be worth it.