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The Vegetarian Keto Diet: Pros, Cons, & A Sample Meal Plan

Elsbeth Riley
Author: Expert reviewer:
Updated on May 16, 2023
Elsbeth Riley
By Elsbeth Riley
mbg Contributor
Elsbeth Riley is a writer and editor living in Oakland, California. She is an ACE-certified personal trainer and holds a B.A. in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Abby Cannon, J.D., R.D., CDN
Expert review by
Abby Cannon, J.D., R.D., CDN
Registered Dietitian
Abby K. Cannon, JD, RD is an attorney turned dietitian who lives a very low waste lifestyle. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in psychology and received her law degree from Brooklyn Law School cum laude. She graduated from Queens College and became a registered dietitian in 2016.
Last updated on May 16, 2023
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When you think of the keto diet, your brain might picture a big slab of steak, or one of those ridiculous burgers that swaps out the bun for two meat patties. While it's true that a good number of people following this trendy high-fat, low-carb eating pattern love their meat (and lots of it), not everyone takes the carnivore approach.

This raises the question, can you successfully follow a ketogenic diet if you forgo the meat altogether? Some experts say yes, but you have to do your homework first. Here's what you need to know about the vegetarian keto diet.

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What is the vegetarian keto diet?

The vegetarian keto diet follows the same principles as a traditional low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein keto diet but restricts most animal products. Strict dieters are expected to get 80 to 90% of their daily calories from fat, 5 to 15% from protein, and 5 to 10% from carbs. When followed correctly, whether you are consuming animal products or not, the body will go into a state called ketosis1, which means the body is burning more calories from healthy fats and protein than from carbs.

While at first it may seem difficult to hit those macronutrient numbers without consuming meat, with careful planning the ketogenic diet is accessible for vegetarians.

"The conventional ketogenic diet can be extremely heavy in meat...not to mention, it can ostracize anyone who would rather follow a more plant-based diet," says Will Cole, D.C., IFMCP, functional medicine expert and author of the plant-based keto book Ketotarian.

A plant-based keto diet, on the other hand, leverages the benefits of eating a high-fat diet without the often-inflammatory effects of conventional, processed meats. "At their core, plant-based diets can lead to more environmentally friendly eating habits and can have intensive detoxification properties2 and also keep blood sugar under control3," says Cole. 


The keto diet is a diet with an emphasis on eating a high amount of fat, a moderate amount of protein, and a low amount of carbohydrates. The vegetarian version follows the same principles as the original diet, but it's entirely plant-based.
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Health benefits of a vegetarian keto diet

When followed correctly, the health benefits of a vegetarian keto diet can be the same as those of the standard keto diet. These include:


Weight loss

Weight loss is one of the most common benefits of a keto diet. In a meta-analysis of 14 studies, researchers found that participants who followed a very low carbohydrate ketogenic diet had greater long-term weight loss4 when compared to those who followed a low-fat diet. Scientists speculate that ketone bodies have appetite-suppressing effects5.

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Muscle preservation

The satiating effect of protein can also promote fat loss while maintaining muscle mass. Ketones also have a muscle-sparing effect6, helping those on the keto diet lose fat but not muscle.


Improved metabolic health

We have to mention the added benefits of following a vegetarian diet, too. A vegetarian dietary pattern is associated with lower energy and saturated fat intakes, along with lower body weight, LDL cholesterol, and blood pressure7. Diabetes prevalence has also been found to 1.6 to 2 times lower in vegetarians8 than in omnivores.

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Side effects of a vegetarian keto diet


It may be difficult to maintain

One thing to be aware of when considering a vegetarian keto diet is that it is likely a pretty big shift for the average vegetarian. If you're a vegetarian who tends to replace meat with high-carb alternatives like pasta, bread, and crackers, or higher-carb protein sources like beans and lentils, then the transition could be bumpy.

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It may not provide necessary vitamins and minerals

For a vegetarian who is looking to clean up their eating and cut out unhealthy, processed carbs, a keto diet is a great option. But it's not the only option. If you're sure you want to take the plant-based keto plunge, it's important to make a commitment to eating a wide variety of approved foods to make sure you don't experience any nutritional shortfalls.

Vegetarians, and vegans especially, are at risk of a B12 vitamin deficiency9 since this active nutrient is only found in animal products. And because vegetarian keto is especially restrictive, it's important to make sure you're supplementing with the appropriate nutrients you think you may be lacking, or at the very least taking a high-quality multivitamin.

How to avoid this

Working with a registered dietitian can help you figure out how to formulate your vegetarian keto diet to avoid nutrient deficiencies. In addition to vitamin B12, some common supplement recommendations for vegetarians and vegans, in general, include vitamin D, omega-3s, and vitamin K2.

Vegetarian keto-friendly foods

Though animal protein may seem like a staple in the keto diet, it's important to remember that it's just a small piece of the puzzle. Ultimately what matters most is high-fat food.

Some of the vegetarian ketogenic diet rock stars include avocados (Carbs: 4 g, Fat: 8 g, per serving), coconut oil (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 13.5 g, per serving), olive oil (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 14 g, per serving), and eggs (Carbs: 0.4 g, Fat: 4.8 g, per serving).

Vegetarians often have to carefully look out for their protein sources, but plenty of that can be found in eggs, nuts and nut butters, dairy, seeds, and the like.

Here's a short list of vegetarian-friendly foods on the ketogenic diet (with nutrition information from the USDA Food Composition Database, a great resource if you ever need to look up the carb, fat, and protein content of foods not listed below):



We love you, vegans, but you might want to cover your ears for this part. Dairy products are a great keto option for those following a plant-based diet who still incorporate this animal product into their diet.

When selecting your dairy du jour, opt for the low-carb options, and avoid anything that adds unnecessary calories through flavoring or sugar. You'll also want to go for the highest quality dairy possible (think grass-fed fermented yogurt and kefir, cultured cottage cheese and cream cheese, and grass-fed butter and milk).

Listed in order of lowest to highest carb content per 1 oz. serving, the best dairy for the keto diet includes:

  • Butter (Carbs: 0 g, Fat: 22.7 g)
  • Goat cheese (Carbs: 0.2 g, Fat: 5.9 g)
  • Cheddar cheese (Carbs: 0.4 g, Fat: 9.3 g)
  • Cottage cheese (Carbs: 0.9 g, Fat: 1.2 g)
  • Cream cheese (Carbs: 1.1 g, Fat: 9.6 g)
  • Half and half (Carbs: 1.2 g, Fat: 3.2 g)
  • Plain, whole milk yogurt (Carbs: 1.3 g, Fat: 1 g)
  • Milk (Carbs: 1.5 g, Fat: 1 g)

Low-carb vegetables

Vegetables aren't anything to write home about in terms of fat content, but we don't know many vegetarians who can go a day without them. The main thing to keep in mind when selecting vegetables for your ketogenic diet is aiming for low-carb content. You'd be surprised by the number of veggies that pack a secret carby punch. Listed in order of lowest to highest carb content per raw 1-oz. serving, the best vegetables for the keto diet include:

  • Zucchini (Carbs: 0.9 g, Fat: 0.1 g)
  • Celery (Carbs: 1 g, Fat: 0 g)
  • Cucumber (Carbs: 1 g, Fat: 0 g)
  • Spinach (Carbs: 1 g, Fat: 0.1 g)
  • Asparagus (Carbs: 1.1 g, Fat: 0 g)
  • Cauliflower (Carbs: 1.5 g, Fat: 0 g)
  • Cabbage (Carbs: 1.6 g, Fat: 0 g)
  • Broccoli (Carbs: 1.9 g, Fat: 0.1 g)
  • Green beans (Carbs: 2 g, Fat: 0 g)
  • Brussels sprouts (Carbs: 2.5 g, Fat: 0.1 g)

Low-sugar fruits

One assumption about the ketogenic diet is that you're strictly forbidden to eat any sources of sugar, including fruits. While keto meal plans limit fruit to an extent, there are plenty of low-sugar, and thus low-carb, fruits worth including to ensure a balanced diet.

Berries, specifically, have the highest levels of antioxidants10 of all fruits and can even help stabilize blood sugar11 levels due to their high fiber content. Listed in order of lowest to highest carb content per 100 grams (typically, around a half-cup), keto-approved fruits include:

  • Strawberries (Carbs: 7.7 g, Fat: 0.3 g)
  • Grapefruit (Carbs: 8.4 g, Fat: 0.1 g)
  • Blackberries (Carbs: 10.2 g, Fat: 0.5 g)
  • Raspberries (Carbs: 11.9 g, Fat: 0.7 g)
  • Blueberries (Carbs: 14.5 g, Fat: 0.3 g)
  • Coconut (Carbs: 15.2 g, Fat: 33.5 g)

Nuts and seeds

One thing you don't have to worry about as a vegetarian embarking on a keto diet is healthy fats. The holy grail when it comes to keto, high-fat vegetarian foods are easy to come by, especially in the form of nuts and seeds. These crunchy, healthy12 vegetarian staples are a great addition to any salad or as an afternoon snack.

The thing to always keep in mind with the keto diet is that you're looking specifically for low-carb, high-fat foods. Certain nuts and seeds meet this criterion. Listed in order of lowest to highest carb content per 1 oz. serving, the best nuts and seeds for the vegetarian keto diet include:

  • Walnuts (Carbs: 2.8 g, Fat: 16.5 g)
  • Brazil nuts (Carbs: 3.3 g, Fat: 19 g)
  • Pine nuts (Carbs: 3.7 g, Fat: 19.1 g)
  • Macadamia nuts (Carbs: 3.7 g, Fat: 21.5 g)
  • Pumpkin seeds (Carbs: 3.8 g, Fat: 11.8 g)
  • Pecans (Carbs: 3.8 g, Fat: 20.8 g) 
  • Peanuts (Carbs: 6 g, Fat: 13.9 g)
  • Almonds (Carbs: 6.1 g, Fat: 14 g)
  • Sesame seeds (Carbs: 6.6 g, Fat: 13.9 g)
  • Sunflower seeds (Carbs: 6.7 g, Fat: 13.9 g)
  • Flaxseeds (Carbs: 8 g, Fat: 6 g)
  • Chia seeds (Carbs: 12.3 g, Fat: 8.6 g)

Foods to limit or avoid

The ketogenic diet is considered a low-carbohydrate diet, which means that many of the foods that are typically eaten as part of a vegetarian diet should be avoided.

Beans are a popular and beneficial source of protein in vegetarian diets. However, beans contain carbohydrates, which are limited in this diet plan. One example is chickpeas—a cup of chickpeas contains 45 grams of carbohydrates13.

Other foods to limit or avoid would be sources of carbohydrates that come from foods like rice and bread. Popular substitutes for traditional flour on the vegetarian keto diet include almond flour and coconut flour.

Here's a quick list of some foods to limit on this diet:

  • Chickpeas
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Pretzels
  • Pasta
  • White bread
  • Cereal
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Bananas
  • Red meat
  • Chicken
  • High-carb alcohols like beer

Sample vegetarian keto meal plan

Use this three-day meal plan as a baseline that you can build upon. Once you have a good grasp on what is (and isn't) considered an appropriate vegetarian ketogenic food, start experimenting with your own vegetarian keto meal and snack plan.

Day 1:

  • Breakfast: Zucchini egg nests with sliced avocado
  • Snack: Macadamia nuts
  • Lunch: Cobb salad with mixed greens, hard-boiled egg, tomato, cucumber, cheese, and oil-and-vinegar dressing
  • Dinner: Cauliflower-crust pizza with tomato sauce, mushrooms, peppers, basil, and other keto-friendly toppings

Day 2:

  • Breakfast: Frittata "pizza" with spinach, olives, and cheese
  • Snack: Cottage cheese or plain yogurt with berries and walnuts
  • Lunch: Spaghetti squash with spinach, artichoke, and cheese
  • Dinner: Grilled cauliflower steak

Day 3:

The takeaway

The ketogenic diet can be accessible for vegetarians. While you might have to work a little harder to plan your meals and find keto-friendly animal-free foods, there's no reason someone who doesn't eat animal proteins should feel like keto is not for them. Curious about other variations of standard keto? Check out the "lazy" keto diet or the Mediterranean keto diet.

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Elsbeth Riley author page.
Elsbeth Riley

Elsbeth Riley is a writer and editor living in Oakland, California. She is an ACE certified personal trainer, and holds a B.A. in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz. As a content creator specifically in the health and wellness space, she enjoys living the values of the articles she puts together. She's a marathoner (running cures her writer's block) and a hiker (she summited Mount Kilimanjaro in December 2018). She's also on a life-long hunt to find the world's best hot tub.