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September 4, 2018

Vegan Vs. Ketogenic Diet: Which Side Are You On? Can You Be Both?

Of all the current diet plans out there, probably the two most popular would have to be a ketogenic diet and a vegan diet.

A vegan diet means that you do not eat any food coming from animals. This means abstaining from meat, dairy, eggs and even honey. A ketogenic diet, on the other hand, is a low-carbohydrate, moderate-protein and high-fat diet, in which the body produces ketones. If you are not producing ketones, or in ketosis, then you are not on a ketogenic diet; you are just on a low-carb, high-fat diet.

A ketogenic diet means being in a state of ketosis, in which the main fuel is fat.  The body has consequently turned on the fat-burning switch, thus promoting weight loss.  However, a ketogenic diet is not just for weight loss, it has also been shown to help with epilepsy and diabetes.  Similar to the ketogenic diet is the Paleo diet, which although less strict, is also a low-carb, high-fat diet. The Low-Carb vs. Low-Fat debate is nothing new and comes from the times of Atkins and Pritikin.  One side says fat (or meat) and animal products are the cause of all disease (Pritikin), while the other says carbohydrates are the main culprit (Atkins).  So, who is right?  In this piece, we will analyze both diets, looking at the pros and cons for each. Then we will look at whether or not you can fit into both.

 

Nutritional Benefits of a Vegan Diet

Many people choose to be vegan for ethical reasons, and we think that that’s great. However, we aren’t going to talk about those today. It’s outside our scope as nutritionists. We’re not here to tell you how to live your life, rather just help you do it as healthy as possible. Anyway, here is our simplified list of the benefits of being a vegan.

  • No dairy-The majority of the population cannot digest the mother’s milk of another species. Meaning it causes digestive upset, irritation and inflammation.
  • No Processed Meats-Processed meats are listed as a “class 1 carcinogen” (same as cigarettes), as declared by the WHO (World Health Organization), due to the additive sodium nitrite.
  • More fiber-Grains, beans and legumes, as powerful plant protein sources, contain high amounts of fiber, much moreso than animal protein sources, thus promoting bowel movements.
  • More vegetables – By default, fewer animal products usually means more vegetables,and consuming more vegetables means more nutrients, fiber and water.
  • Less processed food and take-out food -As vegan-friendly food are less-readily available, you will need to prepare more food at home, which is always a healthier option
  • An excess amount of animal foods increases inflammation. Inflammation being the root cause of all chronic illnesses
  • An excess amount of animal foods increases uric acid production – causing joint pain and gout
  • A plant-based diet has been shown to reverse heart , as discovered by Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. T Colin Campbell

 

Drawbacks of Veganism

  • There are some unhealthy foods that are considered vegan, e.g. oreo cookies, french fries
  • Choices are minimized and consuming too much of one food, especially soy and wheat, can inflame the digestive tract.
  • High carbohydrate consumption can lead to weight gain and blood sugar issues.
  • More attention is needed to protein sources (we need to consume complete proteins with each meal)
  • Unbalanced meals can leave you unsatisfied and can cause cravings
  • Vitamin B12 and Iron deficiency are more likely
  • Deprivation in one area can cause indulgence in the other, e.g. one may replace meat with more sugar

If you are already vegan or are dead-set on becoming one, don’t let my list discourage you. All it really requires is a bit more meal planning, a little creativity, and some professional nutritional guidance. Contact us about our healthy vegan nutrition program today.  Also check out our new low-carb vegan program discussed below.

Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet

  • Stable blood sugar
  • Stable energy levels
  • Stable mood
  • Helps control seizures in people with epilepsy
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Improves brain function, due to consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and stable blood sugar
  • Reduces inflammation, due to omega-3 fatty acid consumption

 

Drawbacks of Ketogenic

  • Very restrictive
  • Requires strict adherence and careful calculation of macronutrients
  • Symptoms may arise when entering into ketosis (may feel ill, dehydration, headaches)
  • Excessive consumption of meat and dairy may cause inflammation and excess uric acid
  • Excess dairy may cause digestive issues
  • Constipation, this is a problem, as trying to stay healthy without proper bowel movements is like trying to keep your house clean, but never taking out the trash
  • Consumption of processed meats, which are a carcinogen

 

Finding Your Balance

 

So, what’s the answer?  Do animal products cause all our health problems, or do carbohydrates and grains?  The answer, in my opinion is both or neither. There is one other food group that we forgot to mention in this whole meat-vs.-grains debate, and that’s vegetables and fruits. Regardless of whether you are vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or flexitarian, paleo or ketogenic, you won’t be healthy unless you eat a lot of vegetables. So, before you go about defining your diet, start with this: Eat more vegetables.

The focus should always be on health and not on following the latest trend. However, this doesn’t mean we should discount both diets as fads and go back to eating our burger and fries. We just need to approach them from a more balanced perspective and take the good parts of each. From the vegan side: eat vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes and fruits, and from the Ketogenic side: keep blood sugar stable by eating healthy fats and avoiding refined carbohydrates. And if you want to stay true to one, you most certainly can; you just need to be smart about it.

But can you be both vegan and ketogenic? The short answer is no, not without a lot of work and some supplementation. However, we have taken the best of both worlds to create two new revolutionary diet plans.

One is for the aspiring Ketogenic looking to get the benefits of plant-based diet, particularly plant-based fats. The other is for the vegan looking to keep their blood sugar balanced and lose weight. Both follow a high-fat low-carb paradigm. Here are the details below:

Low-Carb Vegan

Are you vegan or aspiring vegan, but you feel tired all the time? Perhaps you have sugar cravings, or are experiencing mood swings?  I’m sure your friends are family are telling you, that it’s because you need meat and have low iron. Chances are however, that it has nothing to do with iron levels, or being vegan and everything to do with blood sugar.  What do diabetes, pre-diabetes, weight gain, anxiety, depression, fatigue and mood swings all have in common?  They all have to do with blood sugar irregularities. If any of these pertain to you, and you are vegan, then you may want to try our low-carb, high-fat vegan diet. Although you won’t be entering into ketosis, you will still get to reap some of the benefits of a ketogenic diet, while still staying true to your plant-based lifestyle. All while enjoying delicious low-carb, plant-based foods, such as avocado pudding, cauliflower “mac and cheese” and hemp protein pancakes.

Plant-Based Ketogenic

While plant-based ketogenic does not mean purely plant-based, the main source of fats in the diet will be from plants. Plant-based fats are easier to digest. They also contain the correct ratios of unsaturated and saturated fats. The focus will be on foods high in omega-3 fatty acids to boost brain health and ease inflammation. Meat will be used as a protein source and not a fat source. Yes, you can still have your bacon (if you must), just switch it out for a more natural brand and have it less often. Instead of solely focusing on meat as a fat and protein source, we will be borrowing some recipes from the vegans to bring you some plant-based power including coconut oil fudge, guacamole and nut cheeses. We also help you manage your macronutrient ratios and track your progress. Finally, we have included steps so that you slowly enter into ketosis and allow your body to adjust.  This more-balanced approach to ketogenic will get you results faster and make you feel great while doing it.

So where do I fit in, you may ask? For anyone who has been to our clinic, or attended one of our talks, you probably know that my colleague Eileen is a vegan.

But what about me? Well, I spent many years as a vegan and vegetarian, mostly in my teens and early twenties. Then when I started having issues with gluten, I moved to a more paleo/keto style diet. However, eating no grains at all really didn’t work for me, especially when trying to feed a family (that’s a lot of grass-fed beef and almond flour!).

Finally, I feel I have found my balance. I follow a gluten-free, dairy-free, high-fat, low-moderate-carb, mostly plant-based diet. I know it doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely as “vegan”, but it works for me and fits into my life. If you are like me and don’t feel like to you fit into one diet, then I can help you find “your balance”.

So, in the end, the question is not, Which diet is right? It’s more about, What diet is right for you?  And remember, balance is essential!

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Kirsten Colella is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist and the busy mother of a 7-year-old and 18-month-old. She found her healthy food balance and enjoys creating and trying new recipes in her self-determined gluten-free, dairy-free, high-fat space. You can find her recipes and food ideas on our Instagram page at @essentialbalanceholistic.  Kirsten is a strong believer in families supporting one another and coming together over good food! 

 

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