Vegetarian Keto: The Ultimate Low Carb Diet Guide for Vegetarians

vegetarian keto ultimate guide

This is the most comprehensive guide to the vegetarian keto diet on the internet.

You want to lose weight through vegetarian keto?

And you want it to actually taste good?

Welcome. You’ve come to the right place.

I wrote this with the intention for you never to have to read another guide like this again.

I hope the over 12,000 words (about 46 pages in Microsoft Word) live up to that expectation. I think they do.

Without further ado, I present:

Vegetarian Keto: The Ultimate Low Carb Diet Guide for Vegetarians

This guide is really comprehensive. It’s probably better to jump around than to read it all the way through, but you do you.

Part 1: An Introduction to the Vegetarian Keto Diet

Part 2: More Advanced Vegetarian Keto Topics

Part 3: Vegetarian Keto Food — Shopping Lists, Low Carb Alternatives, and Meal Plans

Conclusion, edit log, and last thoughts


Part 1: An Introduction to the Vegetarian Keto Diet

Preparation is essential for vegetarian keto - you need to understand the science and the challenges you’ll face on the diet.

This first part of the guide will tell you all of the essentials.


What is a vegetarian keto diet?

A vegetarian ketogenic diet simply joins vegetarianism with the keto lifestyle. A ketogenic diet consists of eating an extremely low number of carbs while eating high amounts of fats and protein in order to stimulate the metabolic process known as ketosis. The primary goal of keto is to lose weight, especially body fat.

Vegetarianism typically means you’re cutting out beef, fish, poultry, and all other meats from your meals, with some variation depending on the individual. Vegetarians generally have a variety of reasons that they have cut out meat, some of the top ones being concern for animal welfare, climate change, and health. 

Combined, a vegetarian keto diet features non-meat foods that are low carb, and high fat.

When I say "low carb," I mean less than 30g net carbs per day.

Yep.

What makes a vegetarian keto diet so difficult is that most vegetarians have an over-reliance on carbs. That said, there are many vegetarian-friendly foods that are great for keto. The plant-based diets are all different though. People choose to restrict themselves from different animal byproducts for different reasons.

What other foods are allowed depends on the specific type of vegetarianism that you follow. 

  • Ovo-lacto vegetarians allow themselves to eat both dairy and eggs

  • Ovo vegetarians consume eggs but not dairy

  • Lacto vegetarians consume dairy but not eggs

  • Vegans consume no animal products whatsoever, including eggs and dairy (and honey, and insect-derived dyes, and lots more).

There are so many diets that claim to be the best for weight loss. The advantage that gives keto the edge is the metabolic process known as ketosis. The benefits of vegetarian keto are nothing to sneeze at.

What are the benefits of a vegetarian keto diet?

Vegetarianism itself is powerful for your health and nutrition, but also for environmental friendliness. The vegetarian diet has been correlated with decreased risks of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, kidney/gall stones, osteoporosis, and more. Meanwhile, reducing your meat (and dairy) intake is the single strongest way to reduce your carbon footprint. Talk about an awesome lifestyle. These are just scraping the surface of the many reasons to adopt a vegetarian diet.

Unfortunately, vegetarianism often relies way too heavily on pasta and bread. Good luck getting into ketosis eating pasta for dinner every other night (no offense to the pasta lovers).

The benefits of a low-carb keto diet are also hard to pass up. It's one of, if not the strongest weight loss diet through ketosis. Keto may also improve acne, brain health, and seizure frequency, improve heart health, and combat type 2 diabetes, as well as assist with a host of other conditions. Others that adhere to the keto diet also self-report other benefits:

  • Increased energy

  • Better appetite control

  • Sharpened mental focus

  • Deeper sleep at night

and much, much more.

Why not combine both of these to get the best of both worlds?

benefits of the vegetarian keto diet, vegetarian diet, and keto diet

Here are some more snippets of benefits that /u/mrhappyoz on reddit talked about in their summary and writeup of keto:

The first few days of switching to a ketogenic diet sucks. You'll feel hunger pangs, cravings, grumpy and probably suffer flu-like symptoms. You may even feel light-headed, sometimes. There are a number of reasons for this, including changes in gut biota, as various colonies are "screaming at you" for food, but mainly as your body initially will be looking for a quick glucose energy source, before switching metabolic states and preferring ketones, instead. This takes some patience and discipline.

The upshot of getting through this sometimes unpleasant adaption stage is that once you are there, everything gets really, really easy afterwards. You have constant energy. You don't have food cravings all of the time. You're clear-headed and you'll probably find that unusual health/medical issues you may have been putting up with disappear.

If you're looking to lose weight, this is probably the easiest way to achieve that goal. In ketosis, you can maintain a large calorific deficit without feeling hungry all of the time, angry or stressed out, etc. It's brilliant.

What is ketosis?

When you eat carbs, your body ingests them and converts them into an energy form that it's able to use - glucose. Glucose is at the top of the pecking order for your body to use for energy, if available. Insulin is the hormone that carries glucose around the bloodstream. The more carbs you eat, the more glucose your body produces, and the more insulin your body produces.

Sugars and processed carbs have an interesting effect on your hunger. The sharp rise in blood glucose causes your body to release tons of insulin, causing your blood sugar to then dramatically drop. This "sugar crash" leaves your body telling you that you need more energy, since your blood sugar is low. Carbs make you hungrier. This leads to a very dangerous cycle of overeating that can lead to prediabetes and insulin resistance.

how carbs make you hungrier on vegetarian keto

By cutting out the carbs, your body has to find a different source for energy.

Ketosis is a process that your body starts when you have been eating less carbs than usual over a period of time. While in ketosis, the body produces ketones or ketone bodies that do the same job as glucose in your bloodstream.

The big difference between glucose and ketones is that instead of being made from carbohydrates, your liver uses fats, including your own body fat, to make ketones.

There are three types of ketones that your body can produce:

  1. Acetoacetate (AcAc)

  2. Beta-hydroxybutyric acid (BHB)

  3. Acetone

AcAc is the first ketone that is produced by fat when you haven’t consumed any glucose for a while. AcAc is then broken down into BHB, which is able to cross the blood-brain barrier into your central nervous system. BHB is really the ketone body that gives you the most energy. The breakdown of AcAc also causes some trace amounts of acetone to disperse throughout the body, but the science is mixed on whether the human body can metabolize the ketone. Most acetone is exhaled through the lungs, which is what causes “keto breath.”

These three magical substances are the key to burning body fat at a rate that's unrivaled by any other diet.

How many carbs should I eat to start and maintain ketosis?

Short answer: It depends, but generally less than 30g net carbs.

Long answer...

Well before any of that, there are some questions you may need answered while reading this section:

Important note: If you're trying to find out if you have ketones in your system, you can use urine testing strips or blood testing strips. These are the best, sure-fire way to know if you're in ketosis, but there are other ways of finding out.

Contrary to popular belief, the number of ketones in your body does not matter. The amount of ketones your body varies from hour to hour. So, even if you only have a small amount of ketones in your urine or bloodstream when you test, you are in ketosis.

Before attempting a vegetarian keto, make sure you have a food tracker like MyFitnessPal or Cronometer so that you can record all of your macro and micro nutrients. Cronometer has less breadth in food selection than MyFitnessPal, but is more adaptable with a keto diet. More on this topic below.

There are a two different methods to triggering ketosis, and you should choose whichever makes the most sense to you.

  1. Start with a very low number of carbs and slowly add more. For this method, start by eating a maximum of 15g net carbs per day. This is a very, very low number of carbs, even for most on keto. As you enter ketosis, you can slowly start adding more net carbs to see where your body's limit is. Once you eat a certain number of net carbs that causes you to exit ketosis, then you know what your net carb limit is!

  2. Start with a higher amount of net carbs, around 50g, and slowly dwindle your way down each day until you enter ketosis. Once you do, you'll know your body's net carb limit for keto. This is probably easier than the first method.

Most sources recommend capping yourself at 50 TOTAL carbs, even if all of them are net carbs. This number, however, depends largely on your activity levels and your body.

For instance, if you eat a slice of bread right before you go running for 2 hours, chances are you will have burned off that sugar before it had a chance to store itself as body fat.

This does not necessarily mean that you should eat carbs before exercising -- it just means that every person's macro-nutrient needs are different.

There is a variation of keto known as the targeted ketogenic diet that calls for eating an amount of fast-acting carbs right before exercising. Targeted keto is good for those who would like to maintain higher intensity and build more muscle during their workout.

We calculate net carbs instead of gross or total carbs because not all carbs are created equal. Fiber, for instance, is a carb, but does not count toward net carbs since the body does not absorb them like it does for sugars or starch.

Author’s note: I do not recommend the use of BHB salts or exogenous ketones if your primary goal is weight loss. You can read more about that here.

How long does it take to enter ketosis?

In general, it takes about 2-3 days to enter ketosis, but again, everybody is different.  For some, it can take up to a week or more for your body to deplete its sugar stores and begin using ketones as its primary energy source.

If it takes much longer than a week to enter ketosis, you are likely underestimating the number of carbs you are eating. Make sure to keep meticulous track of the nutrients in your food.

Keep in mind that if you are in ketosis and you slip up, it might take another 2-3 days of keto dieting to return to ketosis.

Related to this:

What should my macro-nutrient ratio be on vegetarian keto?

The ideal carbs, fats, and proteins for vegetarian keto

The ideal macro nutrient ratio, as shown above, is 70% fats, 25% protein, and 5% carbs. Notice that you really don’t need that much protein, and that your food should be dominated mostly by fats.

Vegetarian diets naturally have more carbs from some more sugary vegetables or fruits. It's going to be harder to keep these ratios intact without eating meat, which usually has macro-nutritional levels extremely similar to this graph.

Related topics:

What challenges will I face on the vegetarian keto diet?

There are a ton, but here are some of the main ones.

1. Dining out and eating in social settings

As many vegetarians know, one of the biggest challenges of vegetarianism alone is going out to eat. The same is true, maybe doubly so, for vegetarian keto.

People are always going to ask you to go out to eat with them and be social, but the selection of restaurants that offer truly vegetarian keto items is shockingly small. When you go to parties or have potlucks at work, you may often find yourself unable to enjoy the foods provided.

This doesn't mean you should become a hermit.

A better alternative is to eat before going out, bring your own meals to work, or suggest local restaurants that you know have options for you. In order to avoid being super awkward, don’t stuff yourself before you go out, just eat enough to feel fulfilled, then you can order some side dishes/vegetables/salad or a single veggie burger without the bun. Most places are starting to adapt to the veg crowd, so you should be able to find at least something to nibble on, but always have a list of good places ready that you can defer to if asked. Indian restaurants are great for veg keto, same for Middle Eastern restaurants.

If you do find yourself in a restaurant, here are some options you can defer to:

  • Most large salads should be okay, and this will be the majority of your foods

  • Ask for a veggie burger (find a restaurant near you with the Impossible Burger, or get the Beyond Burger from T.G.I. Friday’s, Twin Peaks, or BurgerFi) with a lettuce bun (Jimmy John’s has the unwich that can be done up vegetarian)

  • Ask if you can replace fries or chips for some broccoli or a side salad

  • For breakfast, scrambles will be your best friend - try and go to restaurants that serve all day breakfast (Denny’s, Cracker Barrel, IHOP, etc.)

  • Indian cuisine has a lot of low carb options as well (anything with paneer: paneer tikka, butter paneer, cauliflower curry, lots of other options too)

  • Mexican food is doable as well: veggie fajitas without the tortilla (some places will let you sub lettuce as a wrap), taco salads, burrito bowls, huevos rancheros, cheese chili rellenos, rajas, queso fundido, etc., but skip the rice/beans/chips

  • Thai food: coconut curry, vegetable dishes with tofu subbed for meat, eggplant, tom kha tofu soup, etc., just make sure to ask for no fish sauce and to hold the rice (thai places also tend to up the sugar in their dishes too, unfortunately: go with garlic sauce over other sauces)

  • Itaian: vegetables in cream/Alfredo sauce, caprese salad, zucchini noodles (Noodles & Co. does this), eggplant parmesan, cheese platters, Alfredo (sub pasta for extra veggies)

  • Fast food: Chipotle/Qdoba (salad bowls with veggies/guacamole), Moe’s (salad bowls), Panera (Greek salad), Jimmy John’s (unwich vegetarian style)

This is going to be tough, but always ask your server for help. Usually they’ll be more than happy to help you find what you need (especially since they’re expecting a tip). Look out for side/garnishing sauces or glazes, many of which will contain a lot of sugar. Most restaurants have their nutritional information online somewhere, so take a look at their options online before you go or on your phone while you’re there.

Related: alcohol with vegetarian keto.

One solid piece of advice is to, no matter how tempting it is, try to avoid telling anyone that you've started vegetarian keto. I know many people use this as a tactic to publicly commit themselves to a diet, but a niche diet like this comes under a lot of ridicule. Having people intruding on and questioning your personal choices so much can be discouraging and frankly, annoying. Share at your own risk.

2. Getting enough nutrients and calories

Vegetarians are often harassed about protein and other nutrients that are primarily derived from meat. While vegetarians do often face a lack of nutrients, protein is not usually one of them. Dr. Heather Fields of the Mayo Clinic weighs in:

Vegans have not been shown to be deficient in protein intake or in any specific amino acids.

She also says that there are other nutrients that vegans tend to lack, which may or may not be true for vegetarians as well.

If you’re interested in finding out what nutrients you actually might be needing more of based on your age, body, activity levels, etc., check out this calculator from the US Department of Agriculture. However, vegetarians have been known to lack nutrients including but not limited to iron, vitamin B12, and vitamin D (read more about deficiencies below). While supplements for these deficiencies are fairly easy to get, you should check with a doctor to make sure you need them before purchasing.

With a diversification of foods from different sources, very rarely should you need to supplement your diet for vegetarian keto. If you know you need supplements, scroll down or click here to read more about which ones I recommend and why.

As far as calories are concerned, you will come to find that many of the high-carb foods you are cutting out were the same foods that contributed so many calories to your diet. A restriction in food groups naturally leads to a reduction in calories. Ketosis also suppresses appetite, however, so you really need to make sure you're bringing in enough calories to keep your body happy and healthy.

The best source of extra calories for the vegetarian ketogenic diet is through fats. Don't be afraid to add a little extra olive oil or coconut oil when you need more calories in a meal!

Another option to increase your calorie intake is to switch your regular coffee grounds with Bulletproof coffee. For those of you that aren't familiar with Bulletproof coffee, it is essentially these ingredients put into a blender:

  • 2 cups of coffee

  • 2 tbsp of unsalted butter

  • 1-2 tbsp of MCT oil

Alternatively, you can use Instamix powdered creamer to just add to your cup of coffee in the morning. Bulletproof coffee should help your energy levels and help you maintain your coffee drinking habits through your vegetarian keto journey.

3. Avoiding unexpected carbs

Unfortunately, carbs are secretly in everything. Once you start consistently reading the nutritional labels of your foods, you'll realize that food manufacturers are constantly trying to put sugar in the weirdest foods. Chili, peanut butter, fake meat, etc. sometimes have significant grams of sugar in them that could add up over the course of a day.

The best option is to, of course, read your nutrition labels thoroughly and track your nutrients using one of the apps mentioned here. For vegetables or foods that you pick up at the farmer's market or other food that lacks nutritional information, this spreadsheet covers the carb count for a huge number of foods and drinks. This spreadsheet will save you so much time.

4. Not feeling the greatest, especially near the beginning - keto flu

If you've never tried a keto diet before, then your body has been energizing itself from glucose for essentially your entire life. Around day 3 or 4 of starting keto you may find yourself having intense cravings for sugar or starches - this is when you know that your body is nearing ketosis. There are other symptoms that may come up too.

These feelings and symptoms are referred to as keto flu.

Here are some of the reported symptoms of keto flu:

  • aches and pains

  • low energy levels

  • fogginess of thought/dizziness

  • trouble sleeping

  • heart palpitations

So, what exactly causes keto flu? How do you cure keto flu? Interestingly, all of these symptoms come from the same problem: a lack of electrolytes. Let me explain.

Transitioning to keto makes you have to urinate more often. Because of this, electrolytes are constantly leaving your body through urine. This deficiency is what makes you feel so crappy.

Click here to see the writeup on the cure(s) to keto flu.

The above are just some of the challenges you might face on a vegetarian keto diet. Each person's body responds differently, so your mileage may vary.

Are there any potential deficiencies that are associated with the vegetarian keto diet?

The biggest thing to watch out for (aside from keto flu, which you should read about just above this section) when it comes to vegetarian keto is vitamin and other nutritional deficiencies. This is something that vegetarians and vegans are all too familiar with. Before getting any kind of vitamin supplement, make sure you consult with a doctor and have them check the vitamin levels in your bloodstream.

Common deficiencies on vegetarian keto:

  • Vitamin B12 - B12 is a vitamin required for red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis, so it is pretty important. Unfortunately, it is almost exclusively comes from animal products, so vegetarians might not get as much of it as they need. Vegans definitely will not. Interestingly, vitamin B12 is actually made by animals’ gut bacteria, so you can find vegan-friendly sources. Also interestingly, your body can store B12 for as long as 3 to 5 years before you become deficient, so it may take a while before symptoms show up.

    • Solution: Consume lots of dairy, eggs, and B12-fortified plant milks or nutritional yeast. A simpler solution is to simply take a supplement. They are readily available on Amazon, but this is my favorite supplement since it melts under the tongue and I can take it quickly as I leave for work.

      Side note: some algaes claim to have vitamin B12, but this has been proven wrong. The amounts of B12 that these algaes have are miniscule, and it has been shown that what we previously thought was B12 was simply a B12 analogue which actually impairs the absorption rate of the actual vitamin B12.

  • Vitamin D - Vitamin D is another essential vitamin for the body, which uses it for many tasks. Vitamin D is required to move your muscles, fire your neurons, and fight off foreign pathogens. It also helps the body absorb calcium, aiding in the strengthening of bones. Vitamin D might also help combat depression. Unfortunately, it is also nearly exclusively derived from animal products.

    • Solution: Cheese, egg yolks, mushrooms, soy beverages, milks, and other breakfast foods all provide a small amount of Vitamin D. Additionally, direct exposure (not through a window) to sunlight generates Vitamin D in the body. There is always the supplement option - this supplement is a delicious apple flavor and melts under the tongue, which is why I buy it.

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids - Your body uses omega-3 fatty acids for a variety of great purposes, and can help to lower inflammation in the body, lower blood fat (helping with heart disease), and can aid in mental illnesses like depression, ADHD, Alzheimer's, and dementia. Omega-3 fatty acids are primarily derived from fish oils, but not exclusively.

    • Solution: Walnuts, flaxseeds/flaxseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil all contain some amount of Omega-3 fatty acids. Like the other vitamins, a supplement like this vegetarian-specific one is the sure fire way to guarantee you get the nutrients you need.

  • Protein - It is well documented that vegetarians supposedly lack protein sources. It is also well documented that vegetarians and vegans usually aren't deficient in protein at all. It is true, however, that vegetarian keto restricts some of the usual sources of protein for vegetarians, like beans, for example (except for these 1g net carb black soybeans).

    • Solution: Eat lots of eggs and spinach. Alternatively, supplement with protein powder. Vega seems to be the go to brand for vegans and vegetarians, but it has some trace carbs. Isopure is great for keto, is vegan, and also supplements a ton of other great vitamins including Vitamin B12, zinc, and magnesium.

  • Iron - Iron is relatively hard to come by in vegetables, and can lead to deficiency in some vegetarians, especially women. Women are more susceptible to iron deficiency because of menstruation. Low iron leads to anemia, which can increase susceptibility to infection, slow cognitive development, and make you feel very cold.

    • Solution: Spinach, egg yolks, and iron-fortified foods. Interestingly, if you have a cast-iron skillet like this one, cooking with it actually transfers a good amount of iron into your food. There are also supplements. This supplement melts on your tongue and also contains Vitamin C, which helps your body absorb iron.

Most of these deficiencies come from the vegetarian side of the diet, not the keto side. Keto flu is pretty easy to cure with some electrolyte supplements that are mentioned above. This doesn't mean the keto side doesn't have any risks.

The keto diet is largely untested. It hasn't faced the scrutiny of any serious long-term studies. Its long term effect on health is more or less unknown. With that in mind, you should be cautious about your dietary habits, and listen to your body. Your body will send signals to tell you when things are wrong.

Which of the four main plant-based diets is best for keto?

Ovo-lacto vegetarianism is the most typical vegetarian diet and the easiest of the vegetarian diets to combine with keto. Here are the four major plant-based diets in order of easiest to hardest to combine with the ketogenic diet:

  1. ovo-lacto vegetarian (easiest)

  2. ovo vegetarian

  3. lacto vegetarian

  4. vegan (most difficult)

Side note: the pescatarian diet, while similar to vegetarianism, was not included in this list due to its inclusion of fish. That said, fish are an excellent source of both fat and protein. Pescatarians would find adopting a keto diet much easier than vegetarians, and would easily be at the top of this list.

Following the ovo-lacto vegetarians are the ovo vegetarians. In keto diets, and especially in vegetarian keto diets, eggs are a superfood. They have plenty of protein, lots of fat, and almost zero carbs! Meanwhile, milk, while often rich in fats, also has quite a bit of sugar in the form of lactose, which makes it not as keto-friendly. Cheeses, however, are a fantastic keto food that lacto vegetarians have access to.

With the combination of plant-based and keto, the difficulty lies in simply finding foods that are low carb and non-meat. As you cut out more animal-based foods, the keto options quickly diminish. If you think of the combination of keto and plant-based as a Venn diagram, it becomes much clearer.

vegetarian keto diet sample foods

Note: Many hard cheeses, including parmesan and romano, are not actually vegetarian, especially outside of the United States.

The middle section of the venn diagram shows foods that are suitable for a vegetarian keto diet. The first 3, however, are dairy and eggs, which are not allowed on a vegan diet. This is what makes vegan keto so difficult -- you are severely limited in the types of food you can consume, especially when considering that not all soy protein or "fake meat" is made vegan. It’s possible, it’s just really hard to do. If you’re feeling ambitious, here’s a short vegan keto guide that overviews some of the challenges and benchmarks for successfully doing vegan keto.

What should I include in my vegetarian keto starter pack?

For tracking your progress you’ll need

To start ketosis you’ll need

  • Coffee or tea for a flavorful drink to enjoy

  • A bunch of low/no carb meal ideas and snacks

For not dying during keto flu you’ll need

To replace your carb-heavy snacks you’ll need

To create awesome vegetarian keto meals, desserts, and drinks you’ll need


Part 2: More Advanced Vegetarian Keto Topics

From battling keto flu symptoms to figuring out keto-friendly nutritional details, this portion will explore some of the nuances that come up once you’ve started the diet.


Which app should I use to track my carbs?

So you've decided to take the plunge. Congratulations! The first thing you need to is to get an app so that you can closely count your carbs. There are a few to choose from. MyFitnessPal is certainly popular, and free, but there is also Cronometer, which is also popular, as well as some lesser known ones. Ultimately, the decision is personal preference.

MyFitnessPal is probably better if you're more casual about carb intake restrictions, since its database prioritizes breadth over depth.

Cronometer is probably better if you're looking to seriously and precisely track your carbs. It has a ketogenic mode and has options to filter for net carbs over total carbs, which MyFitnessPal does not.

A more in-depth analysis can be found here.

How do I calculate net carbs?

Net carbs are simply equal to the number of total carbs minus the number of carbs from fiber. Here's an example from a nutrition label just to make it clear:

 
how to calculate net carbs for vegetarian keto
 

You might be wondering why we calculate net carbs instead of total carbs. The reason is simply because our bodies don't transform fiber into sugar the way they do for other carbs. In actuality, some keto experts say that even having too many carbs from fiber can knock you out of ketosis. In order to get around the carb rules, some companies make keto food using sugar alcohols, which don't fall under the sugar or the dietary fiber categories.

Do sugar alcohols count toward net carbs?

Sugar alcohols (also called polyols) like glycerin, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH) are all touted as zero carb sugar alternatives that are used in products.

Honestly, this was the one thing in this whole guide that I wanted to know the most. Are sugar alcohols just a free pass for keto? No source could give me a straight answer, so I bypassed them and went straight to the hardcore academic studies to find out.

If you'd like to remove all nuance from the answer, here's a rule of thumb for you: count only HALF of all carbohydrates from sugar alcohols toward your net carb count.

Here's the more complicated answer: each individual sugar alcohol has a different effect on a person's glycemic index, or blood sugar. Some powder-forms also have filler substances in them like maltodextrin that do have carbs as well. Sugar alcohols are less calories than sugars are in general, as shown by this table:

The amount of calories per gram of erythritol, mannitol, isomalt, lactitol, xylitol, sorbitol, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates, and maltitol.

(Source: The Diabetes Educator: A Search for Answers About Foods With Polyols (Sugar Alcohols), 1999)

Even more good news: sugar alcohols have a diminished effect on blood glucose compared to straight sugar. Here's what the science has to say on the subject:

In some studies, ingestion of sugar alcohols (∼50 g) by healthy and diabetic individuals has produced lower postprandial glucose responses than after ingestion of fructose, sucrose, or glucose.
(Source: American Diabetes Association, 2002)

That said, you must remember that all sugar alcohols will affect you in some way. Some will spike your blood sugar, others will cause your stomach to become upset (but not spike your blood sugar).

You must be careful with sugar alcohols while on ketosis because they are not a free pass to sweetness.

They CAN and they WILL kick you out of ketosis if you abuse them.

Here is a chart showing many of the sugar alcohols and their effect on blood sugar:

Sugar alcohol list for vegetarian keto - blood sugar response levels

(Source: Nutrition Research Reviews: Health potential of polyols as sugar replacers, with emphasis on low glycaemic properties, 2003)

In this study, each experiment that tested a sugar alcohol against glucose was collected and grouped in order to find an average consensus. Notice that glucose's glycemic index is 100, which makes for easy comparison (table sugar is about 63, for example). As an example of the comparison, look at the first line of the table. You can see that 4 studies compared erythritol with glucose, and the studies found that erythritol had a glycemic index response of zero, on average. This means that of all known studies up to 2003, erythritol did not cause any increase in blood sugar. Xylitol, however, did increase blood sugar, but only has a glycemic index of 13. It is clear that sugar alcohols have some effect on blood sugar, the extent to which is unclear.

You may have noticed that glycerin and HSH are both absent from this chart. In one 1990 study, researchers found that HSH corresponded to a glycemic increase that was 71% as strong as pure glucose. According to this website, the glycemic index for glycerin is only 5, which is significantly smaller than glucose's 100. Although the site doesn't cite a source, the table is a good guide for most sugars and sugar alcohols.

One would think that the glycemic index of sugar alcohols would correspond to what percentage of the carbohydrates one would count when consuming them. This might be a good rule of thumb to follow that would allow more free consumption of sugar alcohols, but the science is not yet complete. Your mileage may vary.

In summary, it is both safe and reasonable to consume sugar alcohols. If you're looking to buy sugar alcohols, try to prioritize finding ones that have a low glycemic index so that you don’t get kicked out of ketosis. Erythritol is available from multiple suppliers on Amazon. The next in the pecking order would be mannitol, but it's not widely available. Xylitol is another option on Amazon. Do some research on them and find the one that works best for you!

Do sweeteners like splenda, stevia, or allulose count toward net carbs?

Some do, and some don't. Similarly to sugar alcohols, different sweeteners have different glycemic indexes. Powdered versions of artificial sweeteners like splenda and even natural ones like stevia have added carbs that come from maltodextrin and other fillers, so stay away from those. Here are the best sweeteners to use while on vegetarian keto (all of them have a glycemic index of zero):

Stevia: Stevia has a glycemic index of zero, which makes it perfect for a keto diet. Additionally, it's not actually an artificial sweetener, it is a natural one. The liquid version is extremely strong which means that you don't have to use much to add the sweetness you need. Steer clear of any powdered version so as not to add extra carbs. The biggest issue with liquid stevia is that it can't be used in baking. That’s where allulose comes in!

Allulose: This sweetener is probably one of the best sugar substitutes for baking. It also boasts a glycemic index of zero, just like stevia. Allulose passes straight through the body since we are unable to digest it. If you're going to replace sugar with allulose, use about 1.5 times as much as one part of sugar would call for in a recipe.

Splenda (sucralose): Splenda in its liquid form is around 600 times sweeter than sugar. In the liquid form ONLY, its glycemic index is zero. The glycemic index of the powdered form is very high and not good for keto. This liquid sucralose sweetener can be used just like liquid stevia can, and tastes better than powder splenda to boot.

While there are others worth mentioning, these three are more than enough to get you through some tough pinches on keto. Feel free to mix these sweeteners and the sugar alcohols for some variation if you need it. If you want to read about some others, check out this article.

Some say to totally avoid sweeteners so that you don't get cravings for sugar and break your keto streak. If you’ve ever dieted, you know that giving up certain food groups can be a struggle. Personally, I believe that your willpower is stronger than the average keto attempter. Give these sweeteners a go.

How do I know if I'm in ketosis?

There are many symptoms that you may encounter as you enter ketosis for the first time, but everyone is different.

The best way to find out is to simply get some ketone testing strips. These are strips that you expose to urine to see how many ketones are in your system. They are inexpensive, one package will last you a long time, and you will be able to test whether certain items kick you out of ketosis. They're really invaluable.

Otherwise, you might be able to tell if you're in ketosis based on the side effects that come from what is known as keto flu (detailed below).

What are the symptoms of keto flu and how do I cure them?

This has been pretty well documented throughout this guide but here’s the quick and dirty.

Your body’s not going to be super thrilled with cutting out all carbs. It might rebel against you for a short period of time (about a week). Here are the warning signs:

  • brain fog

  • dizziness

  • cramps

  • difficulty concentrating or focusing

  • trouble sleeping

  • nausea/stomach irritation

  • heart palpitations

  • potentially more symptoms

Usually your body is lacking electrolytes when you experience these symptoms.

The easiest way to combat this loss of electrolytes is to add tons of salt to your food while making sure you're drinking plenty of water. I have also heard of people that take a "shot" of saltwater as a faster alternative. To do this, just take a pinch of salt and put it into a glass of water and chug it. It's not fun, but it gets the job done. If you want something a little more palatable, there is a drink that people like to make that they call “keto-aid.” Here’s what you do:

  1. Mix some lemon juice with water (with an optional sweetener like stevia) or other low carb drink like mio, or even sugar free koolaid. Whatever sounds like it would make a good, Gatorade-esque flavor.

  2. Mix some lite salt (reduced sodium salt) or a combination of NoSalt (a sodium-free salt alternative with more potassium) and table salt.

  3. Optional: Add some magnesium citrate powder. (Warning: magnesium can have a laxative effect if you take too much, so tread lightly)

You may have been told before that you should be careful about your salt intake, but if you have keto flu, you need to retain more water. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Note: iodized salt is better to combat keto flu than is non-iodized salt.

If you've upped your salt intake and you're still feeling groggy, order some magnesium or potassium supplements to help out. The unfortunate thing about potassium tablets in particular is that they usually have a really low dosage - NoSalt might be a better way to get the amount that you need. You usually have to go to specialty stores to find this stuff, which can be a bit intimidating, or you can order online. Keep in mind that keto flu is temporary and should pass after just a few days.

Note: when it comes to exogenous ketones or BHB salts, it is unclear whether they help keto flu symptoms at all.

If you are able to sweat it out (not literally), you’ll be back to normal in no time. You’ll also (probably) lose some weight!

Why does my breath smell and how do I fix it?

Your breath has started to smell? Does it smell faintly like nail polish remover?

Congratulations! You’re probably in ketosis.

When you enter ketosis, your body starts producing ketones. One of these ketones, acetone, can linger on your breath during ketosis, making for a bad, metallic taste in your mouth and a bad smell for everyone else.

The good news is that keto breath will usually go away on its own once your body adjusts to the diet some more. If you’re looking to kick it a bit sooner, try these easy remedies:

  1. Increase your water intake. Your body flushes out ketones in two primary ways: through exhalation and through urination. If you’re having a lot of ketones come out of your breath, you may not be drinking enough water to have them be flushed out normally via urine.

  2. Decrease your protein intake. When you eat too much protein, it produces ammonia that can make your breath even worse. Swap out the protein bar for an avocado to try and avoid this. For vegetarian keto, this might not be as much of an issue. This is why it’s really important to follow the correct macro nutrient ratio.

  3. Brush, floss, mouthwash. Tried and true. These are things you should be doing every day regardless of your diet. Good oral hygiene is super important. Make sure you brush your tongue and floss between every tooth. I have had times where I needed to floss, and the bad breath wouldn’t go away until I did.

  4. Cover it up with a mint. If all else fails, grab some gum or mints (as long as they’re sugar-free) to hide the stench.

Should I take exogenous ketone supplements?

I do not recommend the use of BHB salts or exogenous ketones if your primary goal is weight loss.

Multiple studies have reported that an abundance of ketones in the bloodstream makes it so that your own body stops producing them as quickly, thereby inhibiting natural ketosis. Consider this quote from this study:

”Ketone bodies exert negative feedback on their own production by reducing hepatic FFA supply through βHB-mediated agonism of the PUMA-G receptor in adipose tissue, which suppresses lipolysis (Taggart et al., 2005). Exogenous ketones from either intravenous infusions (Balasse and Ooms, 1968; Mikkelsen et al., 2015) or ketone drinks, as studied here, inhibit adipose tissue lipolysis by the same mechanism, making the co-existence of low FFA and high βHB unique to exogenous ketosis.”

In other words, an excess of ketone bodies slow down your body’s own ketone production AND they slow down the process of your fat (“adipose tissue”) being turned into usable energy (“lipolysis”). Several other studies have come to similar conclusions on this.

Some say that exogenous ketones can help with keto flu symptoms, but those claims are unsubstantiated by science.

Should I do intermittent fasting with vegetarian keto?

There are several forms of intermittent fasting (IF) that are commonly coupled with the keto diet. Intermittent fasting can be a great way to aggressively tackle your weight loss if you’re not seeing the results you’d like. The idea of intermittent fasting is to space out the times you eat or consume calories to try and induce ketosis sooner.

A fast includes any period of time in which you consume 0 calories. This includes drinks, snacks, and all of that. In addition to water, coffee and tea are extremely common drinks that you can rely on during a fast. The two drinks’ caffeine works as an appetite suppressant while allowing consumption of some type during the fast. The key with drinking during a fast is to not include any milk, cream, or sugar (unless it’s one of the keto-friendly sugar alternatives and is calorie-free).

The tough part about intermittent fasting is the struggle to go be social and eat. But honestly, if you’re trying to do vegetarian keto, this is going to be something you’ll have to struggle with anyway.

Here are some of the different forms of intermittent fasting and some of the terminology you can look out for:

  • 16:8
    This is a form of intermittent fasting in which you fast for 16 hours a day (including sleep) and eat as you like during an 8-hour window of your choosing.

  • 18:4
    This IF style calls for 18 hours of fasting followed by a 4-hour eating window at a time of your choosing.

  • 23:1 or OMAD (One Meal A Day)
    This IF method is 23 hours of fasting with just a 1 hour period in which you are allowed to eat.

  • Alternate Day Fasting
    Some choose to do 24 hour fasts during a whole day and then eat normally or with some other IF technique the next day.

Fasting may sound crazy, but it has its benefits. Intermittent fasting makes it easier to restrict your calories by limiting the amount of time you have to eat. This also makes it tough to over-eat at meals since you have less meals to get to your macros, which will greatly aid you in your weight loss journey. Fasting can help you enter ketosis sooner, especially if your fasting window is large.

One of the coolest things that intermittent fasting does is trigger a phenomenon in your body called autophagy. Autophagy is a process in which your body recycles and consumes its own cells and proteins in a healthy manner. Often it means that damaged cells are turned into energy for your body, which is the equivalent of cleaning out the depths of your kitchen cupboards. For more on this check out this article.

What supplements do I need on vegetarian keto?

The answer to this depends on a lot of things. You may want to get blood work done by a doctor if you feel that you need to be supplementing your vegetarian keto diet with anything. Vegetarians typically suffer from a range of deficiencies, and the keto journey can also be aided by some supplements that will get rid of some nasty symptoms.

Supplements for the vegetarian front:

  • Vitamin B12, which is usually found in meat. It can also be found in some dairy and non-dairy fortified milks and eggs!

  • Vitamin D can be found in many breakfast foods, but it also can be gained by direct sunlight.

  • Protein, but you need to be careful because some protein powders contain substantial amounts of carbs. The linked protein supplement does not. It also happens to have some other nutrients that are beneficial during the keto diet!

  • Iron is usually found in meat as well. A deficiency in iron can lead to anemia. Also consider buying a cast-iron skillet to cook with - the iron from the pan naturally imbues your food with iron!

Supplements for the keto front:

With this short list of supplements, you should be well on your way to feeling top notch and healthy during your plant-based keto excursion.

What resources are there to help me along the way?

Websites, Pages, and Documents for Vegetarian Keto
These resources are, very helpful for a plant based keto diet. I used many of these sources to help in the writing of this guide.

Helpful Online Communities (group totals as of Oct 2, 2018) for Vegetarian Keto
There are tons of online communities that are related to this journey, many of them on Reddit:

  • /r/vegetarianketo - this subreddit community is all about vegetarian keto, about 26k subscribers

  • /r/veganketo - this subreddit only has around 12k subscribers, but is focused in on a vegan diet with keto

  • /r/xxketo - a subreddit for women to share their accomplishments as they relate to keto, 71k subscribers

  • /r/100DaysofKeto - this subreddit is for beginners trying to navigate keto for only 100 days, 12k subscribers

  • /r/keto - “a place to share thoughts, ideas, benefits, and experiences around eating within a ketogenic diet,” 824k subscribers

  • /r/IntermittentFasting - a community of intermittent fasters, 160k subscribers

  • /r/omad - the subset of intermittent fasting that only eats once per day, 22k subscribers

  • /r/loseit - the largest community on Reddit of people trying to lose weight, over a million subscribers

  • /r/KetoRecipes - some of these recipes posted have meat, but many are desserts and can be adapted to veg keto. 309k subscribers

  • /r/FrugalKeto - for keto advice for those on a budget, small community of about 10k subscribers

  • /r/KetoScience - for those that want the hard facts on their diet, 38k subscribers

  • /r/KetoDessert - last but not least, get your keto dessert fill, 11k subscribers

There are other subreddits of varying size that could be helpful, including for vegetarianism and veganism. Feel free to do your own searching and find some that fit your style. There are other groups too, specifically on Facebook:

I won’t bore you by posting every vegetarian and vegan Facebook group. There are TONS. Also feel free to do some Googling to find other forums, communities, or groups you could join!


Part 3: Vegetarian Keto Food — Shopping Lists, Low Carb Alternatives, Meal Plans

The most important aspect of vegetarian keto is, of course, the food. This final portion of the guide will cover vegetarian-keto-friendly snacks, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and a whole bunch of other stuff to help you make a vegetarian keto meal plan for yourself.


I live in a food desert, where can I find vegetarian keto food?

Americans in poverty and in low-income areas are finding themselves trapped in food deserts. A food desert is any area in which 33 percent of the census tract’s population resides more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (except for rural census tracts, where the distance must be greater than 10 miles).

According to recent estimates, over 23 million Americans live in a food desert, and maybe you’re one of those 23 million. It can be really difficult to get access to healthy vegetarian keto foods and ingredients, especially if you don’t have any form of transportation. Here are some potential solutions if you’re in that situation.

  1. Order from Amazon or elsewhere online
    Amazon will deliver to almost anywhere in the contiguous United States, and the selection of vegetarian keto friendly foods on Amazon is increasing every day. By way of example, here is a pound of riced cauliflower which would go great with some soy sauce and some soy “just like chicken” strips.

    Scroll through the search “vegetarian keto food” to see what I’m talking about.

    Note: If you live in an area that does Amazon Fresh (many of the large cities, New York, Boston, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc.), you can get some of the really high quality vegetarian keto items that are usually found in the refrigerator aisle.

    There are also specific sites that provide keto-friendly alternatives to things like bagels, crackers, and sweets. ThinSlim Foods is one of those places.

  2. Start a garden
    What better way to take control of your food access than to grow it yourself? At least for a few months in the year you could have peppers, vegetables, and spices right in your backyard.

    Cornell has an awesome guide on growing a large variety of vegetables.

    As an bonus to this tip, consider starting a community garden, or look online to see if your area has one!

  3. Double check your local convenience stores
    In Minneapolis, Minnesota, a survey revealed that 94 percent of residents would be willing to buy more fresh produce if it were stocked at local corner stores. In response to this, the city launched the Minneapolis Healthy Corner Store Program that requires convenience stores to stock fresh produce. This trend might be spreading to other areas in the coming years

    In addition, forage into the depths of the convenience store even if it doesn’t have fresh produce visibly available. Many stores will have fresh produce and other vegetarian keto friendly foods hidden in the store. Don’t be afraid to ask!

  4. Find a carpool buddy
    In the vein of not being afraid to ask: connect with someone (a friend, neighbor, family member, coworker, etc.) that has a vehicle and ask to tag along on their grocery trips. They get to have a friend with you while you shop and you get a ride to the store, so it’s a win-win all around. People are eager and willing to help out, they just need to know how first!

For some more tips, check out this short article from Michigan State University.

What am I allowed to drink on vegetarian keto?

On vegetarian keto, you might be tempted with sugary or non-sugary drinks. If your limit is 30 carbs, one 12 oz can of coke is going to put you over that (39g of carbs). There is no wiggle room. Here are some tips that should get you to your liquid fix, whatever it may be:

Without a doubt, water is always your best choice for a drink. Zero calories, zero carbs, and it most directly helps your body function on ketosis, which uses up more water than with a standard diet. If you’re feeling sick or different than usual, water could be exactly what you need.

If you’re not into water on its own and need some flavor, this stevia-based water sweetener has rave reviews, and is vegetarian keto friendly! Flavored water like Propel water uses sucralose to flavor itself, so it should be fair game as well.

Recall that the liquid versions of stevia and sucralose do not trigger a glycemic response within your body, so all of these drinks shouldn’t knock you out of ketosis.

Sparkling waters and seltzers like La Croix and bubly are both good for vegetarian keto as well.

One thing you can rejoice about are hot drinks like coffee and tea. Both coffee and tea do not inherently have any sugar if made from scratch. Even coffee and tea K-cups tend not to have any sugar in them (and are, in fact, calorie free), but the other flavors of K-cups do. You can even order a black coffee at Starbucks or an Americano, which has only 3 carbs. Take a look at Starbucks’ menu organized by nutritional information too.

Looking for some cream or milk to lighten your coffee? Heavy whipping cream, coconut milk, almond milk, or any other nut milk are all great alternatives to traditional sweetened creamers. Just make sure you check the carb content of your favorite cream or milk.

This was mentioned just recently, but deserves some more spotlight. Nut milks are great for vegetarian keto. Dairy milk is more carb-heavy than many drinks, and should not be your first choice if you’re going for milk due to the lactose. Nut milks are especially good if you’re trying to accomplish vegan keto. Just make sure to avoid the sweetened versions - they contain sugar!

What about diet soda or sugar free energy drinks? Well, considering these drinks use non-sugar sweeteners, they shouldn’t, in theory, knock you out of ketosis. Always check the nutrition label to make sure you’re not accidentally taking in some sugar. In addition to this, some experts predict that these sweeteners may increase your cravings for other sweets. Technically, though, these drinks should be fine for keto consumption. Let the buyer beware.

Warning: energy drinks tend to have taurine in them, which is an amino acid found in meat, fish, and dairy. This is not a vegetarian product. If you need energy, stick to caffeine.

If you’re old enough wherever you are, you might be wondering if you’ll be able to enjoy your favorite alcoholic drinks on vegetarian keto. The first thing you have to remember is that alcohol is a diuretic, which means that the more alcohol you drink, the more dehydrated you will get. This is generally bad news for ketosis. Maintain switching drinks from water to alcohol as you drink, if you choose to.

The carb content of different alcoholic drinks and mixers:

  • The average can of beer: 13g carbs
    (but you can find some as low as 2g per bottle and as high as 14g)

  • 1 glass of champagne: 1g carbs

  • 1 glass of red wine: 2g carbs

  • 1 glass of white wine: 2g carbs

  • 1 shot of vodka: 0g carbs

  • 1 shot of whiskey: 0g carbs

  • 1 shot of rum: 0g carbs

  • 1 shot of gin: 0g carbs

  • 1 shot of tequila: 0g carbs

  • 1 can of tonic water: 32g carbs

  • 1 fl. oz of sour mix: 8g carbs

  • 1 shot of brandy: 0g carbs

  • 1 bloody mary: 7g carbs

  • 1 short margarita: 8g carbs

  • 1 cosmopolitan: 13g carbs

  • 1 white russian: 17g carbs

  • 1 serving of soda or juice: don’t even think about it

For vegans and vegetarians specifically, alcohol might not fly either. Some companies use animal products in their alcoholic drinks, specifically beer and wine. For instance, Ableforth’s Christmas Mulled Cup claims to use “animal, egg, and dairy products” in their base wines. The linked site, Barnivore, is great for finding out whether your favorite alcohol brands are vegan and vegetarian friendly.

What are the best vegetarian keto snacks?

Dealing with snack foods might be the most difficult food replacement to find. In world of chips, cookies, and packaged meats, the vegetarian keto journeyer is bound to run into frustration. Here are some vegetarian keto snacks that can help tide you over:

  • Special vegetarian keto products - There are tons of non-meat snack options on Amazon like keto cookies, cheese bars, protein bars, etc. Be careful - the search results aren’t perfect, so some Paleo options might show up that aren’t supposed to or some non-vegetarian items might show up that aren’t supposed to. Almost every product has nutritional information, so make sure to consult it before making any purchases.

  • Quest chips - A special subset of “special vegetarian keto products” that are too good to not list on their own. Several different varieties, only about 4g net carbs per bag, and they’re super delicious. They pretty much have a keto replacement for Doritos, so… ‘nuff said.

  • Blue Diamond nut varieties - Blue Diamond nuts are notoriously low in carbs. Their typical salted almonds only have 2g net carbs per 24 nuts! Even their dark chocolate almonds only have 6g net carbs per serving. They have tons of other flavors as well, which makes for awesome variety in your snacking (a big problem for keto-goers) - you won’t get bored of this stuff.

  • Literally anything cheese related - Okay not everything cheese related, mostly because you’ve got to watch out for rennet in cheeses like parmesan, but also because some of them sneak carbs in their products. Here are some great cheese snacks and ideas:

  • Avocado - Yes, the millennial favorite. Remove the pit, sprinkle some salt and pepper, and eat like yogurt. Alternatively, you could add some dressing like ranch into the pit for some variety. Or, you could make guacamole!

  • ChocZero’s Keto Bark - This chocolate bar is an awesome blend of sweet and salty and is pretty much guaranteed to satisfy any craving that tries to hit you.

  • Keto protein bars - Normally I wouldn’t recommend these, since many protein bars are really not as low carb as they need to be for an intensive vegetarian low carb diet. However, Quest bars and ONE bars are both pretty good for this, with Quest bars generally hovering below 5g net carbs and ONE bars being below 10g net carbs. These add up very quickly though, so use sparingly!

  • Raw veggies - One of my favorite snacks is celery dipped in peanut butter, which I can happily recreate using low carb peanut butter (2g carbs per tbsp) or almond butter (also 2g carbs per tbsp). Broccoli in ranch, bell peppers in guacamole, mushrooms in cheese dip, cucumber in italian dressing…. I could go on, but you get the idea.

  • Imitation meats - Louisville Vegan Jerky. Admittedly, one bag has 15-20 net carbs. This snack is meant to suppress a craving or just get a little something into your mouth, not be wolfed down in one sitting. Primal Strips might be better since they are individually packaged, coming in at 7g net carbs per package.

What are the best vegetarian keto breakfast foods?

Look no further than eggs!! Seriously, eggs are THE vegetarian keto superfood.

The vegetarian keto superfood: eggs

They’re high in fats and protein while having virtually zero carbs. Hell yeah. Scramble them in some butter with some chopped vegetables, maybe some fake sausage or bacon, and you’re set.

Miss pancakes? These low carb vegan pancakes by Meat Free Keto are surprisingly easy and look super tasty as well. They could be done with eggs as well, making them vegetarian.

The best list of sweeter breakfast food ideas including shakes, yogurts, smoothies, and “oatmeals” that I have found is here. With this list (shoutout to Clean Keto), you should be able to find inspiration for almost any keto breakfast.

Are you an on the go breakfast kind of person? Here are some options:

  • You can meal plan egg breakfasts for the week. They’re egg muffins, basically. The linked recipe uses some meat, but don’t include it if you’re going the veg route.

  • Browse the keto breakfast bar selection on Amazon. Most of these are vegetarian, but not all are vegan.

  • Morningstar sausage patties are wonderful. Only 2g net carbs per patty and you can microwave them in 2 minutes. Also super tasty.

  • Don’t be afraid to walk into the wonderful world of keto smoothies!

You’ve probably also heard a lot about bulletproof coffee. This stuff is not for everyone, but you’re certainly welcome to give it a go. It replaces an entire breakfast. Here’s the official recipe.

What are the best vegetarian keto lunch and dinner foods?

Outside of just giving you straight up recipes, there are a few staples of the vegetarian keto diet that you should be aware of:

  • Butter, whether vegan or vegetarian, margarine or true butter, it is rich in fats and has zero carbs. You can include it in almost any dish without it being weird (that’s not a challenge, mind you). Most non-vegetables should be cooked in butter over oil.

  • Seasonings. One of the biggest complaints for people on vegetarian keto is the lack of variety. If you’re having eggs for breakfast every day, this is pretty understandable. If you pick up and experiment with different seasonings, you can create a lot of variety for yourself with the same foods. By way of example, the other day I made an egg scramble, but I added chili powder, cumin, and garlic to give it a southwestern feel.

    Here are some spices and seasonings you should ALWAYS have on hand:

    • Salt and pepper

    • Soy sauce

    • Chili powder

    • Cumin

    • Paprika

    • Garlic (cloves, powdered, or minced)

    • Seasoning salt

    • Red pepper flakes (for spice)

    • Basil

    • Oregano

    • Rosemary

    With these spices, you can make spice blends that mimic tons of different cuisines.

  • Olive oil or coconut oil. Contrary to butter, most vegetables should be cooked in oil. Different oils can be good for different situations though. For instance, if you’re making some Asian food, sesame oil gives a better flavor profile than olive oil would. A lot of this is just following recipes, and over time it will become more intuitive.

  • Fresh vegetables. Veggies are full of fiber and nutrients, so if you enjoy them, your keto journey will be much easier. Some vegetables have tons of versatility, like cauliflower, which can be blended into a rice alternative, cut up and baked as fake wings, mashed to make “mashed potatoes,” etc. Other great veggies for keto are mushrooms, romaine lettuce, spaghetti squash, and broccoli. Paired with the seasonings and ingredients above, you can make some awesome meals.

  • Meat substitutes. Meat substitutes are often the punching bag of vegetarians and vegans, and I’m not really sure why. Some say that soy is a poison that gives you cancer and disrupts your hormones and things like that, but the science says otherwise. Meat substitutes are healthy, good for you, and a godsend for vegetarian keto. Gardein, MorningStar, Quorn, Boca, Beyond Meat, Lightlife, almost all of them are GREAT for low carb, high fat, high protein meals. I would not be able to do vegetarian keto without fake meat products.

    All of these brands have nutritional info on their websites and store locators! Here are some of my favorite fake meats:

    Quorn’s meatless fillets, beef-style strips, and chicken-style strips are some of my favorites.

    MorningStar Farms has the best sausage patties, and they also have good chik’n strips and their veggie dogs are pretty good too.

    Lightlife has the best beef-style grounds, hands down. Replace any recipe with these and you’ll be good to go. They’re a smidge on the high side for net carbs though. Their veggie meatballs are also pretty stellar as well as their Italian sausages.

    Outside of the branded meat substitutes, don’t forget about things like tofu, seitan, tempeh, and nutritional yeast. All of these are good low carb options. They are also potentially cheaper to buy than the meat substitute products, but they take a bit more prep work.

    Here’s a great buying guide to tofu if you’re unfamiliar with tofu and what the different kinds are.

    Here is a guide on how to make your own low carb seitan (it’s pretty simple, you just need some vital wheat gluten and nutritional yeast). Note that seitan is practically entirely gluten, so avoid it if you’re gluten-sensitive!

    Here is a guide to tempeh which covers pretty much everything you will ever need to know about it. Tempeh is essentially a more firm and thick version of tofu that makes for a good meat replacement.

Use all of these to meal plan some vegetarian keto recipes! Be creative with your meal plans. As far as recipes go, try to re-imagine the foods you used to eat with a low carb perspective. This can go a long way. Instead of nachos, make a taco salad with some meat substitute grounds. Make a pizza using cauliflower crust. Make a grilled cheese using a keto bread recipe. The possibilities are endless once you get on board.

Looking for vegan keto grub? Here are 13 foods (many of which appear above) you can eat on vegan keto.

As an addition, here are some of my favorite recipe roundups that include breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even some dessert foods:

What are the best vegetarian keto dessert foods?

In a world of sugar alcohols, alternative sweeteners, keto chocolate, and almond flour, you can recreate A LOT of desserts in keto fashion. If you’re boring, you can look in your local grocery store or on Amazon for some keto desserts (most of these are going to be vegetarian from the get go, but maybe not vegan), or, you could make your own!

A huge one I’ve seen a lot of people make are fat bombs. These cookie dough keto fat bombs were literally indistinguishable from real cookie dough. I am salivating thinking about those right now. Here’s a list of like 12 different fat bomb recipes, by the way. You’re welcome.

Comb through these articles/lists and see what fits your taste:

Price and prep: how do I stretch my dollar to make food cheap with limited time?

There are a few ways that you can tackle this that would all be effective, especially in different combinations.

  1. Go to cheap grocers.
    Listen, I love Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods as much as the next guy. The simple fact is that all of their food is much higher priced than your average Walmart or Aldi. Aldi in particular is a great place to get all your staples since there are not many extras you can spend your money on. Their produce is spotty at times, but good at other times. Learn how to make good judgments about the freshness of produce and take the plunge. I have seen avocados at Aldi in the midwest for $1 per avocado. These prices really just can’t be beat. Also, Aldi has recently started carrying more meat substitutes like soy protein burgers, soy “meatballs,” veggie burgers, and more. Each store likely has different stocks. There are also rumors that this is a temporary thing, so your mileage may vary.

    That said, meat substitutes are easily the most expensive buys on vegetarian keto. Check your local superstore or health food market’s prices, compare to Amazon’s selections and prices, and make a decision that best fits your lifestyle. ALWAYS make sure to double check the carb count too - some of the substitutes have added sugars and carbs while others do not.

  2. Buy in bulk.
    One of the best ways to get cheap groceries is to get a lot of them at once. Keep in mind this only works for some foods, like things that are easily frozen or don’t spoil quickly. Usually there will be deals that look like 10 for $10 or something to that effect. For deals like this, you do not have to buy 10 items to get the discount. This is a marketing trick (an effective one at that) that is used to get you to buy more than you need.

    If you’re interested in receiving more coupons from the store you usually go to, make sure you sign up for their rewards program or at the very least you should use the same credit or debit card every time you pay. Kind of creepy, but they track your purchases based on your card number. I have started getting tons of meat substitute coupons since I pay with the same card and consistently buy them.

    Another part of this is opting for frozen or canned foods over fresh. The frozen and canned options are going to last a lot longer than the fresh options, giving your more versatility if you accidentally make an impulse buy of something you don’t end up using before it goes bad. This goes against a lot of the popular culture right now, but it’s an underrated strategy of saving money

  3. Cut out the excessive and expensive stuff.
    You thought since you were dieting that you were already doing this, but nope. Far too often I have seen people make all their dinners and foods assuming that they need a plate full of sides of vegetables and colors and things like that. I don’t really think this is a great use of your calories or nutrients. While it is important to have a varied diet, you can survive without having asparagus as a side for your meal, only using pink Himalayan sea salt, or without squeezing fresh lime juice onto your fajitas. These small things add a pretty large amount to your shopping bill over the long term. Would it be ideal to have a highly diverse diet? Of course! If you have the means, go for it, but just be aware of your shopping expenses and how they might be adding up.

  4. Meal planning.
    There is nothing worse than having a bunch of groceries and ingredients that don’t make any discernible meal. Setting up your own vegetarian keto meal plan is a great way to make sure that doesn’t happen, but is also a good way to cut costs. Here is a quick guide to keto meal planning for vegetarians:

    1. Before you go grocery shopping, plan out some meals that you know you would be cool with eating constantly.

    2. Grab a 7-set of cheap meal prep containers. Create a huge batch of your favorite vegetarian keto meal.

    3. This is now your breakfast or lunch or dinner for every day this week. Repeat as needed for meals you want to prep.

    You can usually be a little bit more loose on the dinners, since you have more time, although this will change based on your personal schedule. Meal planning should also help you to avoid going out to eat, although there’s almost zero way to do that on vegetarian keto anyhow. It’s not fun, but it gets the job done. In the vein of not being fun but getting the job done…

  5. Try intermittent fasting.

    What better way to cut costs than to literally stop eating?

    Okay, I kid, but seriously. I have been skipping breakfast for as long as I can remember. I really only eat it on special occasions, if ever. It makes my calorie goals much easier to attain, and my body is totally cool with it. I don’t often wake up hungry. If you think you could handle waiting until noon to eat for the first time, give intermittent fasting a try. Even harder is to only do one meal a day, OMAD. This isn’t for everyone, especially if you get really hangry really quickly, but it is a great way to cut costs.

    Also, there is also some rumored ketosis benefit to IF. Look into it.

  6. Be conscientious.
    Simply being aware of the prices can make a huge difference in your consumption habits. Use a spending tracker to try and cut costs wherever you can. Plan out your meals when you have time and make them all at once.

    ”If you fail to plan then you are planning to fail.” - Benjamin Franklin
    (quote stolen from these aforementioned cheap meal prep containers)

Are low fat/fat free foods good for vegetarian keto?

As a bit of clarification, “low fat” products refer to processed or packaged foods that are advertised as “low fat.” Naturally occurring low fat foods like meat substitutes, vegetables, etc. are fine to eat. It’s when the manufacturer of the product tinkers with the fat and sugar levels that you can get into trouble.

The answer to this question may vary from product to product, but generally the answer is no, “low fat” products are not keto-friendly. Here’s why:

First off, ketosis involves bringing your fat intake HIGHER, not cutting it down. Fats and proteins need to be balanced to grant you energy most efficiently.

Secondly, usually when a company creates a low-fat alternative for a product, they compensate for the loss of flavor by adding more sugar. Start looking at the fat free options a bit more to see what I’m talking about. Fat free isn’t compatible with keto.

There’s a ton of reading out there on the topic of fat and how is has been mischaracterized for several decades. The best article I have seen that summarizes a lot of the issues is this one: 6 Graphs That Show Why The “War” on Fat Was a Huge Mistake.


Any good vegetarian keto meal replacement shakes that you recommend?

There are two standouts that could be good for different people.

One is Keto Chow, who have their own subreddit (which is surprisingly active). This supplement is really great for keto, but it may or may not be vegetarian. The company sources their Vitamin D3 from the coats of sheep, their K2 from microorganisms, their protein powder from dairy, and potentially their Omega 3s from fish oil. If you’re less strict on vegetarianism, this meal replacement is GREAT at a low .5g net carbs per scoop. There are also a ton of different flavors you can try.

The second option is LyfeFuel, which is a vegan meal replacement that also happens to be pretty keto friendly. One scoop has 4g net carbs. The downside to this is the increased carb count and the lack of variety. That said, it is decidedly vegan, so would be fine for vegans to consume, unlike with Keto Chow.

Ultimately, a meal replacement can be a great way to set up an effective vegetarian keto meal plan, especially for those that are very much on the go.

Are there any surprising NOT keto-friendly foods to look out for?

I’m glad you asked. Yes, there are some trouble foods that will try and trick you.

  • Roots or root vegetables. Carrots, beets, potatoes, some squash, sweet potatoes, etc. are all a bit too high in carbs for a keto diet. Even vegetables like onions are a little high in carbs, but can be enjoyed in moderation.

  • Legumes or beans. Beans, one of the staples of vegetarian and vegan diets, unfortunately does not live up to the keto threshold. This is one of the most difficult things to cope with on a vegetarian keto diet. You are always welcome to use black soybeans with only 1g net carbs!

  • Quinoa. This is often cited as THE best replacement for rice. Stick with cauliflower rice if you want an alternative, because quinoa packs in the carbs pretty heavily.

  • Most fruits. Bananas, apples, oranges, mangoes, and grapes, some of the healthiest sweet foods nature provides, are chock full of sugar. If it’s really sweet, it’s probably not keto-friendly. Don’t get me wrong, fruits are great for you - they have tons of nutrients. They’re just not for this diet.

  • Some nuts. While almonds are okay, nuts like cashews, chestnuts, pistachios, and peanuts (which are actually a legume) are pretty carb-heavy. Stay away from these, but enjoy other nuts responsibly.

It’s always best to stay on the safe side. Look at nutritional info. If there isn’t a label, look it up on MyFitnessPal or Cronometer.




Conclusion, edit log, and last thoughts

I hope I’ve shown you that you can have a lot of fun exploring the ins and outs of vegetarian keto. There are tons of good foods and recipes out there just waiting to be tried. Shop local if you can, supporting local farmers is great for the environment. Don’t be afraid of meat substitutes. Go crazy with the cheese. Listen to your body. Most people, upon switching off from keto, say they feel sick after eating carbs, even once they reach their goal weight. Don’t get down if you mess up, just get back on the horse.

If you’ve read through this entire guide, bravo. It’s huge, much bigger than I ever intended, actually. I’m really passionate about both vegetarianism and the ketogenic diet, so I honestly had a lot of fun producing all this information for you. I hope it was helpful, that you learned something, and that you feel better equipped to take on this mash-up diet.

I want to say a quick thank you to those on /r/vegetarianketo that gave me feedback before releasing the final version of this. You guys rock!

Now, get out there and eat!

Author: Nate from Vegetatio

Edit 1: 11/17/2018: I removed claims that exogenous ketones can help with keto flu symptoms after finding research that suggested that they have no effect. I also removed any mention of exogenous ketones after discovering that there are mixed effects in their use to lose weight. A section on this topic was added.

I also removed information about kidney problems that are associated with protein because very few individuals will have an issue with “overdosing” on protein.

Edit 2: 1/2/2019: I made the intro a bit shorter as well as the title, and tried to make the post more Google-friendly.

Important disclaimer: Throughout this article, I have linked to various products and ingredients that I have tried or used. Purchases made through some of these links provide me a small kickback which is used to produce more awesome articles like this one….and to fuel my stevia & meat substitute addictions. That said, all endorsements are truly my own and are what I personally recommend. Thanks for your support!