Lifestyle choices that support long term well-being are as much a passion for me as great tasting and sustainably produced food. This is why I write on topics such as the Fasting Mimicking Diet and Exercise Snacking. During study for a degree in Nutritional Therapy I intend to write more about diet and healthy lifestyles whilst being aware of my own layperson limits and being careful not to repeat misinformation or make improper claims.
Right now I am happy to introduce a guest post on the topic of the Ketogenic or ‘Keto’ and Vegan diets. Both these diets have experienced fantastic growth in popularity in recent years but the spike of interest in keto is phenomenal.
What do the diets involve? Why adopt them? What benefits and risks do they offer? Some answers to these questions are offered by Sofia of Kiss My Keto.
Kiss My Keto is a brand dedicated to the ketogenic lifestyle. Co Founders Michael and Alex struggled to find honest to goodness products to support the proper keto diethey created a brand committed to serve and educate customers in a practical way and integrate in their lifestyle.
Kiss My Keto are a commercial brand and run an affiliate program which I am not joining. Instead I share this guest post due to common interest and appreciation for their well prepared educational material including a KetoAcademy.
I followed a vegan diet for five years before being diagnosed coeliac and still strongly favour plant-based eating. So too I have experience with ‘nutritional ketosis’ and am keen to experiment with a full ketogenic diet. As you read imagine we are sitting reading together with a pot of green tea and several servings of a keto friendly vegan coconut brownie. The dense, fudgy type of course, yes.
Keto vs Vegan Diets Introduced
What keto and the vegan diet have in common is that both diets exclude specific foods. Both diets are also lifestyles that require commitment to make a difference and they also provide a host of the same health benefits, just one of which is weight loss. For those interested in these two diets purely for health purposes however making the right choice can be tricky. In this article we compare these two diets to help you decide for yourself which diet is healthier: keto vs vegan.
What is the Keto Diet?
The ketogenic (keto) diet a diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates. This diet puts the body in a metabolic state known as ketosis where fats become the primary source of energy. The keto diet is often based on animal products such as meat (beef, chicken, and pork), dairy (cream, butter, and cheese), eggs, and fat-rich plant food such as avocados and coconut oil. The diet excludes food high in carbs and starch such as grains, legumes, potatoes, and corn as well as most fruits.
What is a Vegan Diet?
A vegan diet is an entirely plant-based diet. The diet excludes all food of animal origins such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and honey and includes plant foods such as grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, algae, mushrooms, and yeast. It is not to be confused with a vegetarian diet which is a plant-based diet but that often includes dairy, eggs, and honey.
There are different variations of the vegan diet such as the raw vegan diet that involves eating mostly raw fruits and vegetables and a fruitarian vegan diet that’s based on fruit.
An important thing to note about the vegan diet is its relation to veganism. The vegan diet is a diet based exclusively on plant foods and that excludes all animal foods. Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty including using animals for making clothes and performing medical tests on animals for example. Veganism therefore includes a vegan diet but it is possible to follow a vegan diet without being a vegan.
As you may have guessed from this there are other factors that make motivate people to become vegan other than health and weight loss. Many follow the vegan diet first for ethical and environmental purposes rather than their personal health.
Keto vs. Vegan: Which Diet is Healthier?
The keto diet and the vegan diet can both lead to either positive or negative health outcomes depending on the person’s overall health and diet quality. A one-size-fits-all approach does not work when it comes to healthful eating strategies. Trying each diet and seeing for yourself may also not be the best way of making dietary decisions because, most of the time, you won’t notice the diet’s impact on your health until after much time has passed. It’s best to learn as much as you can about a diet before making the switch as well as speaking to your doctor if you suffer any health problems.
Below is a side-by-side comparison to help you get started.
Keto Diet Benefits
Because keto is a high-fat diet, many assume it is bad for cardiovascular health. This thinking comes from the long-standing lipid hypothesis, which claims that a diet high in fat raises bad cholesterol. Surprisingly, studies show that keto actually leads to a favorable blood lipids profile, i.e. it raises good (HDL) cholesterol, lowers triglycerides, and reduces LDL particle size. Researchers believe that many people can benefit from eating fewer carbs. Below are some just some of the health highlights of keto.
1. Weight loss
Weight loss is a common symptom of ketosis, and it happens because the body is burning more fat during this metabolic state induced by a keto diet. Studies comparing the keto diet to low-calorie and other diets also found it to be more effective, resulting in greater weight loss. The diet also helps with weight loss by lowering blood glucose and insulin levels. There’s even evidence that it suppresses appetite.
2. Reduced diabetes risk
Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes accounting for 90% of all cases. While genes may play a big part in this disorder, being overweight and sedentary increases your risk of developing this condition. Keto reduces diabetes risk by helping you maintain a normal weight but also by lowering blood glucose levels and improving insulin sensitivity. Studies on diabetes patients even found that many are able to stop using their medication after adopting this diet.
3. Improved brain health
The ketogenic diet was originally designed to treat epilepsy, which is a brain disorder. The diet increases the brain’s reliance on ketones for energy, and ketones seem to be neuroprotective. They provide more energy per fewer units of oxygen, which reduces oxidative stress in the brain. They also improve mitochondrial health and functioning in brain cells. You can feel this directly as better mental functioning, greater focusing ability, and improved mood. Your risk of neurodegenerative disorders also drops on this diet.
4. Reduced CVD risk
Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are the leading cause of death worldwide. They’re caused by a combination of factors such as poor diet, inactivity, high blood pressure, chronic stress, and so on. The ketogenic diet can help reduce CVD by helping people maintain a healthy weight, lowering triglyceride levels, raising good (HDL) cholesterol, and reducing inflammation. The diet also helps tackle health issues such as diabetes, which is another risk factor for CVD.
5. Reduced cancer risk
The ketogenic diet is promising in the prevention and even treatment of several types of cancer, including brain cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. Researchers know that many cancer cells use glucose to grow but cannot use ketones. This means that being in ketosis can starve cancer cells. Keto may also reduce your risk of cancer indirectly by improving your overall health and reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, all risk factors for cancer.
Keto Diet Drawbacks
Of course no diet is perfect and keto is no exception. The diet comes with some major drawbacks that you need to know about before even considering this diet.
1. Difficult to follow
Most people will find the ketogenic diet difficult to follow. The diet differs drastically from what most people are used to eating. Just take a look at its macronutrient ratio:
- 5-10% calories from carbohydrates
- 20-25% calories from protein
- 65-80% calories from fat
This is essential in order for you to reach ketosis. The relative lack of carbs on this diet leaves many people craving them, suffering hunger pangs, and feeling miserable.
2. Nutrient deficiencies
If you don’t follow this diet correctly, you run the risk of nutrient deficiencies. The greatest risks seem to be with magnesium, vitamin C, and potassium, all nutrients commonly found in plant foods. Poor fiber intake is another problem on this diet when not followed correctly.
3. The keto flu
The keto flu refers to symptoms keto dieters experience when initiating this diet. These symptoms include a headache, muscle pain, nausea, brain fog, and fatigue. The symptoms are a result of fluid and electrolyte imbalances that can happen in the first days of going keto. Another probable cause is hypoglycemia.
4. Performance may suffer
If you’re an athlete chances are your performance will take a hit when beginning a keto diet. There’s an adaptation window on a keto diet, typically lasting 3-4 weeks, and in which all your organs are still adjusting to utilizing ketones for fuel. That’s the main reason short-term studies on keto and its effects on athletic performance show discouraging results. On the other hand, keto-adapted athletes were found to perform just as good, if not better, than athletes on other diets.
Vegan Diet Benefits
Plant-based diets such as the vegan diet are proven to be more effective for weight management than animal-based diets. However, weight maintenance is not the only benefit of forgoing animal products completely. Below are some major health benefits of being vegan beyond weight loss.
1. Reduced heart disease risk
A diet that’s high in carbs and high in animal fats is considered to be the worst for heart health. A vegan diet removes all animal fats and increases a person’s intake of heart-healthy fats such as monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which reduce heart disease risk.
2. Reduces colorectal cancer risk
Plant-based diets are linked to a lower risk of colorectal cancer. Most likely because these diets tend to be high in fiber, which feeds good gut bacteria, increases stool bulk, speeds up digestion, and lowers inflammation in the gut. Vegan diets are also high in plant antioxidants, which are also known to fight cancer.
3. Better kidney health
Animal-based diets tend to be too high in protein. Excess protein intake can put you at risk of kidney stones and other kidney problems. Well-planned vegan diets provide enough protein to help maintain health, and most vegan protein sources are not as easy to digest and absorb, which means that protein overloading is less likely.
4. Reduced arthritis pain
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder that can be treated with a vegan diet. In fact, one study found the diet to be effective in reducing inflammation and pain in patients with RA. Researchers believe this effect is due to the diet eliminating many foods that could produce an immune reaction.
5. More Support from Professionals
Plant-based diets generally receive more support in the scientific and medical communities than animal and fat-based diets. But where vegan diets, in particular, are concerned, you are likely to get more support from health professionals with encouragement of sufficient intakes of key micronutrients and protein.
Plant foods are generally less costly than animal products. Following a purely plant-based diet can cost you less on a regular basis than diets that are heavily based on animal products. There are many exceptions to this – for example vegan diets based on costly branded products – so it the actual cost depends on the way you choose to follow the diet.
Vegan Diet Drawbacks
Vegan diets may be some of the healthiest and most ethical on the planet. But they still come with drawbacks that can make sticking to these diets difficult if not dangerous.
1. Difficult to obtain protein
A vegan diet including various sources of plant proteins should help you get your daily dose of all 9 essential amino acids. However most plant sources of protein are difficult for the body to break down and use relative to animal sources. Exceptions to this are legumes such as soy.
2. Fear of stigma
A lot of people who would like to go vegan don’t do so because they are afraid of negative reactions from friends and family. In other words, they’re afraid of the stigma associated with veganism. This phenomenon has been shown within research studies.
3. Nutrient deficiencies
Just like keto a poorly planned vegan diet can put you at risk of deficiencies. Omega-3 fatty acids are difficult to obtain from plant sources as is vitamin B12. That’s why many vegans benefit from supplementing their diet or going for vegan sources of these nutrients like algae or fortified plant milk.
Vegan AND Keto?
There are many versions of the keto and vegan diets out there. One approach that seeks to combine the benefits of both diets is Eco Atkins. The diet has a similar macronutrient ratio as the original Atkins diet but it replaces animal proteins with those sourced from plants like legumes, nuts, seeds, and some grains. There is some study evidence that Eco Atkins can support weight loss and improvement in cardiovascular disease risk factors.
However there is also the caveat that Eco Atkins and similar approaches are even more restrictive than the regular keto and vegan diets. The more foods that are excluded the greater the risk of nutrient deficiencies. Many health and nutrition professionals strongly advise in favour of diverse and inclusive diets and against highly restricted diets for holistic health outcomes.
Both the ketogenic diet and the vegan diet can be good for health if followed well. This includes eating a variety of real foods to meet all your nutritional needs and avoid deficiencies. These diets do however impact health in different ways and through different mechanisms. Keto through the metabolic state of ketosis and vegan diets through emphasis on eating foods strongly associated with diverse health benefits including those from high fibre leafy vegetables, legumes and rainbows of phytonutrient rich fruits.
The vegan diet may have the additional advantage of being easier to follow than keto. Plant-based diets generally also receive greater support from the medical and science community.
A bottom line is that the health outcomes from both of these diets is strongly influenced on the how they are followed with food diversity and quality being key. Junk food keto diets and unbalanced vegan diets can be as bad for health as any other unhealthy diet. Following both correctly and with special attention to nutrient balances is the way to go when better health is your main objective.
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