Ketotarian: Keto Without the Meat
What Is the Ketotarian Diet?
The ketotarian diet is pretty much what it sounds like: keto gone vegetarian. More specifically, it’s a high-fat, low-carb plan that – unlike a stereotypical keto diet that’s heavy on beef and butter – includes plenty of (non-starchy) vegetables and relies on plant sources like walnuts and olive oil for fat. It doesn’t involve calorie-counting, but rather dictates that you get 60 to 75 percent of your calories from healthy (read: non-saturated) fats. You can follow a vegan, vegetarian or pescatarian version of the plan, so there’s room for animal foods like eggs and seafood if you so choose.
“The cool thing about ketotarian is that most people can get behind eating more vegetables and most people can get behind the idea that olives are good; nuts and seeds are good,” says Will Cole, a functional medicine doctor based in Pittsburgh and author of the 2018 book, “Ketotarian: The (Mostly) Plant-Based Plan to Burn Fat, Boost Your Energy, Crush Your Cravings, and Calm Inflammation,” on which the diet is based.
Proponents say that entering ketosis – a state in which your body burns fat instead of sugar for energy – by eating nutrient-rich plant-based foods, allows followers to benefit from both lifestyles, including the fat loss and energy promised on keto and the longevity and disease prevention associated with plant-based eating. But nutrition experts caution that the plan is still restrictive and unstudied.
“We know plant-based foods can have many positive health benefits and the keto diet has shown some interesting research and (potential) benefits,” says Vandana Sheth, a registered dietitian near Los Angeles and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “I look forward to seeing studies that show the combination of the two.”
Is the Ketotarian Diet Safe?
Following a keto diet, whether a plant-based or meat-heavy variety, is a leap of faith since the very high-fat, low-carb plan is only well-researched as a treatment for some people with epilepsy. And while ongoing research shows keto may be beneficial in areas including short-term weight loss and even heart health, research has also revealed risks including muscle mass loss, kidney stones and low blood sugar among people with diabetes. A new study to be presented at an American College of Cardiology conference found that people who got less than 45 percent of their day’s calories from carbs had an 18 percent higher risk of atrial fibrillation than those who got 45 to 52 percent of their calories from carbs, Sheth reports.
That’s why it’s important to talk to a health professional before starting any restrictive plan, especially if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, a child or have a chronic health condition, Sheth says. “Go in with curiosity, and go in with a bit of caution,” she says. If you’re following a vegan version of the ketotarian, too, you risk missing out on important nutrients, namely, vitamin B12, so you should talk with your doctor or a dietitian about ways to supplement or fortify.
You’ll also need to consider your tolerance for, well, misery: “The keto flu is for real,” says Sheth, referring to the cluster of symptoms – which may include crankiness, constipation, dizziness, cramps, headaches, difficulty sleeping and fatigue – that can strike when your body first enters ketosis. That’s assuming you even do enter ketosis, which doesn’t allow much room for error when it comes to how few carbohydrates you can eat to stay in it. “You can fall off ketosis really quickly, so then you might have to start from scratch,” Sheth says.
Shopping and meal-planning will require your attention too, so be honest with yourself about how much time and effort you’re willing and able to spend. “I did feel a little overwhelmed (at first) because I had to buy all of these pantry staples,” says Rush, whose diet used to be a reasonable mix of what was available and appealing – maybe peanut butter on toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, tacos for dinner and fruit and yogurt for snacks. Once she grasped and practiced the overarching concepts of the ketotarian diet, though, meals became easier and more enjoyable to prepare.
“Any time you start a new diet,” Sheth says, “think about it in terms of your overall life, how it fits in and your ‘why.’ That will help you get through it.”