Although first documented in the 1920’s, "Keto" diets have gained much attention recently with promises of quick weight loss, less inflammation and improvements to cardiovascular health, energy and blood sugar balance.
The basic premise of a healthy "keto" diet is that by reducing the intake of carbohydrates and replacing them with quality proteins and fats, the body begins to train itself to use fat as a primary fuel source instead of sugar or glucose.
Since most modern western diets are loaded with simple carbohydrates in the form of refined grains and processed packaged foods, most people have become insensitive to insulin, meaning their bodies are only accustomed to running on sugar.
In addition, the constant reliance on three meals per day plus snacks in between, means that there is always an availability of glucose in the blood stream for the body to burn and so it never needs to tap into stored fat for fuel.
This causes a phenomenon known as metabolic inflexibility, whereby the body has virtually no ability to switch between sugar and fat fuel sources efficiently - and this is why so many people struggle to lose weight and why we have an obesity epidemic, not to mention diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome and a host of other inflammatory conditions.
The Problem With Regular Keto Diets
The problem with most keto diets, is that they advocate a heavy reliance on protein from meat and animal fats, which can cause digestive problems and toxicity in the body that may eventually lead to cancer. Of course, there are ethical considerations as well.
Thankfully, with rising levels of consciousness about the food we eat, the organic movement, sustainability and animal welfare, more and more people are moving towards heavily plant-based diets.
With this in mind, here we explain how you can get the benefits of "keto", without the unwanted side-effects that can come eating an abundance of meat and animal products.
We also reveal 10 of the top plant based "keto" friendly foods that you should base your diet around, if you want to experiment with this way of eating as a lifestyle.
What Is Ketosis?
A natural state of ketosis is achieved when the body starts using fat as its primary source of energy, instead of sugar or glucose.
Unfortunately, most people's bodies only know how to run on sugar because insulin is constantly elevated due to regular meals and carbohydrate rich diets, which have become evolutionary practices rather than an ideal form of eating.
Ketosis normally takes place after a period of fasting or by greatly restricting the intake of calories, particularly carbohydrates. This ensures there are much lower levels of insulin and glucose in the blood stream, which forces your body to tap into an alternative source of fuel for energy i.e. fat!
This is why many Keto advocates are also big proponents of intermittent fasting.
It's because when you intertwine a "keto" diet with regular intermittent fasting or time restricted eating, you essentially "train" your body to become very proficient at burning fat, enabling you to get faster results and greater benefits.
The prefix “keto” refers to “ketones” which are tiny molecules produced by the liver from fat, which are utilised by the body and brain as a very efficient source of fuel when there is an absence of available glucose in the blood stream.
What Is A Keto Diet?
Ketogenic diets consist of foods which are low in carbohydrates, high in fat and generally a moderate amount of protein.
This combination helps keep insulin levels lower so that the body can naturally move into a state of ketosis or natural fat-burning.
Many of the lifestyle diseases of today can be attributed to excess sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed packaged foods. True keto represents a step away from this type of eating, towards more of a hunter-gatherer type diet that is primarily sourced from the land, however with very little emphasis placed on grains and high glycemic fruits.
The problem is that most of today's keto diet plans feature way too much meat and animal products, which can place stress on the body and carry additional health risks.
It is well known that eating large amounts of saturated fat, meat and animal products, which can eventually lead to:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
Of course, your body definitely needs a certain amount of fat to function optimally and not all animal fats are bad, so it's more a question of moderation and the type of fats that are predominate in your diet.
Learn more in our blog Good Fats Versus Bad Fats
Today's Science about the Ketogenic Diet
Because of how ketosis affects the body’s metabolism, keto has become very popular due to the significant health benefits associated with:
- Weight loss & weight management
- Healthy blood sugar balance
- Managing type 2 Diabetes
- Lowering cholesterol
- Easing inflammatory skin conditions
The healthiest way to embrace a Ketogenic diet over the long-term, is to focus on low glycemic plant foods and fats that are packed with vitamins, minerals, fibres, enzymes and phytonutrients. These foods also powerfully benefit the brain, digestive system and help protect against age-related cognitive decline.
Keto Diet Possible Side-Effects
Similar to fasting, getting used to a radically different diet can cause your body and emotions to react in some uncomfortable ways during the early stages.
In traditional Keto diets, which rely heavily on meat and animal products, there is a phenomenon known as the "keto flu" that may include any number of the following discomforts:
- Muscle cramps
- Joint pain
- Sleeping issues
These symptoms are less likely on a plant-based Keto diet, but if they do occur, the best thing to do is to increase your intake of water and take it easy until your body gets used to the transition of being powered by ketones instead of glucose.
So that your body can become metabolically flexible and agile, you want it to become adept at switching between sugar and fat as a fuel source.
In other words, a strict keto diet is not something that should be followed every single day. Rather, for best results and to keep your body guessing, it's best to embrace a process known as "keto cycling".
For example, you could choose to go strict keto for 3-4 days per week and include intermittent fasting on these days, but be more laid back with your diet for the remaining days of the week.
Particularly when you combine this approach with regular moderate exercise, it can have a very positive impact on your metabolism, energy and your body's ability to burn fat and stay in great shape, because your body is always adjusting and adapting.
10 Best Plant-Based Ketogenic Foods
The following plant-based whole foods and oils are all suitable for a ketogenic diet because they’re rich in healthy fats, low in fast sugars and several of them contain protein for muscle growth and repair.
As an added bonus, like all plant foods, they also possess individual qualities that target the health of the anatomy, making them doubly beneficial for you.
Thanks to its high quality fat content, nutritional density and low sugar content, coconuts and coconut products are popular staples in most ketogenic diets.
Raw coconut is a wonderful raw snack, or for grating onto smoothies and raw deserts, or adding to homemade keto granola.
Coconut oil is widely used in keto diets and can be enjoyed:
- For baking, frying and sauteéing vegetables
- As a nutritional boost to smoothies and raw desserts
- As a topping on organic coconut yogurt with raw nuts
- As an addition to black coffee to help stimulate ketone production
Learn more in our blog What’s The Difference Between MCT Oil & Coconut Oil?
2. Cold Pressed Plant Oils
In addition to coconut oil and MCT oil, the following cold-pressed plant oils are also keto-friendly and health promoting:
- Olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Nut oils e.g. almond oil, walnut and macadamia oils
Use them as dressings or mix in to any of your other keto culinary creations to increase the fat content.
3. Nuts & Seeds
Aside from being nutritional powerhouses, many nuts and seeds have a much higher proportion of fat compared to carbohydrate content, meaning they make a valuable contribution to any keto diet.
Some of the best choices are:
- Macadamia Nuts
- Brazil nuts
- Hemp seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
By the same token, nut and seed butters are also great inclusions as part of a plant-based keto lifestyle, such as:
- Almond butter
- Cashew butter
- Peanut butter
- Macadamia Butter
4. Non-Starchy Vegetables & Legumes
The best types of vegetables to eat as part of a plant-based keto lifestyle, are the lower glycemic, leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables.
Some of the best include:
- Brussel sprouts
Legumes that are much lower on the glycemic index that won't spike insulin, you should also include are:
- Kidney Beans
5. Organic Tofu
Containing less than 2 grams of carbohydrates in a typical serving makes this soy-based protein source a keto friendly food.
The best part is that organic tofu makes a great substitute for meat and is really versatile in terms of how you can prepare it.
Available in either hard or soft varieties, you can eat it raw or fry it up with one of the plant oils mentioned above.
In fact a quick google search for plant-based keto recipes will find you many delicious ways to use tofu as a staple ingredient in your cooking.
6. Organic Tempeh
With a grainier and firmer texture than regular tofu, tempeh is a fermented form of soy that is very low in carbohydrates and high in protein.
Easy to prepare by either slicing, dicing or blending, it can be eaten raw or cooked with other ingredients, and as a bonus, it has gut-healthy probiotic benefits as well!
Learn more in our blog Probiotics: Health Benefits & 7 Powerful Food Sources
Sometimes referred to as “nature’s butter” this mega healthy superfood is mostly comprised of “good fats” and protein with a small proportion of carbohydrates.
Enjoyed on their own or with other ingredients, avocados are a true keto staple food with so many health benefits.
Chop fresh ripe avocado chunks onto a bowl of greens and sprinkle with a handful of raw walnuts or almonds as a base for a delightful, satisfying keto salad. You can add many other of your favourite salad ingredients and dress with lemon juice and olive oil.
Alternatively, prepare your own guacamole by mashing ripe avocado into a bowl, then mixing in other keto-friendly plants, such as finely chopped tomatoes, capsicum and fresh coriander. Squeeze in fresh lime or lemon juice and pinch or fresh cayenne and sea salt. Dip with keto crackers or sticks or celery.
Learn more in our blog The Health Wonders Of The Avocado
Even though they have a slightly higher carbohydrate content than most of the other foods on this list, they are considered "low glycemic" (a slower sugar release fruit).
Berries are also delicious and are packed with natural immune-boosting health benefits that should not be overlooked in any type of diet, including keto.
Choose your berries locally and seasonally. When they're abundant, be sure to freeze extras and store them for smoothies, salads and desserts for when the season ends.
Specific berries that fit into a keto lifestyle include:
Learn more in our blog Why Berries Are Nature’s True Vaccines
9. Lemon Juice
Since most keto diets are heavy in animal products, they are very acid-forming and known to cause imbalances in the body's pH which can lead to disease.
This is where ingredients like fresh lemon juice can help.
Although in its natural state lemon juice is acidic, once inside the stomach, it actually helps to boost the digestive process and alkalise the body.
Starting the day with a big glass of lemon water, including a good pinch of nature-made salt, will not only help to boost your metabolism but also keep your digestive system clean and in good working order.
Also, add lemon juice to salad dressings and home made guacamole and dips.
10. Herbs & Condiments
Being on a keto diet doesn’t mean you need to skimp on flavour.
Include the following low glycemic herbs and spices to your meals regularly to add taste and additional health benefits:
- Fresh herbs such as coriander, basil and parsley
- Fresh Garlic
- Sea Salt
- Ground Black Pepper
- Nutritional yeast
- Tamari Sauce
- Keto Mayonnaise
- Garlic Sauce
You can find some wonderful keto-friendly recipes online for homemade condiments, dips and sauces, which can be easily prepared DIY at home with a good blender or food processor.
The Main Takeaway
If you want to experience the benefits of a keto diet, but without the potential problems that come with consuming lots of meat or animal products, why not try plant-based keto.
Think of it as another great way to clean up your diet, to eat less refined grains, less sugar and less processed food - with the added benefits of extra fat burning and less inflammation in your body.
Even if you continue to consume a certain amount of high quality, sustainably sourced animal products, by being conscious of the keto-friendly foods mentioned here, you can lean your keto diet more towards plants which your body and health will thank you for.
Tolman Self Care.