First of all, a disclaimer: I am not a physician. I am not a nutritionist. I’ll admit to having an academic understanding of biochemistry, and the human body, but I wont delve into it too much for brevity. This is anecdotal single trial human experimentation. For me, this is a temporary experiment, and not something I’d consider as a permanent lifestyle change. I’m also not encouraging this or discouraging it. This is my experience so far. Your millage may vary.
I’ve spent the last 7 days doing a Vegan Keto style diet with JC’s brother. He has been doing a non-veg keto for around a year now, and I’ve been curious about how it would work veganized. Like most low carb, high fat, high protein diets, at first glance, it doesn’t really look very vegan friendly. I enjoy the occasional challenge, and I’ve been feeling stuck in a rut with my food choices lately. I felt like I could use some dramatic food changes in my life, so this week, I’ve done that pretty successfully.
I’m not really one for “going on a diet”, but I am and have been very curious to see how this one would feel and what changes I would experience. I think one of the major benefits of doing it vegan style is the complete elimination of cholesterol, one of the cited issues people mention with low-carb diets. The con of doing it vegan style is that a suddenly a not-so-limited diet (plant based), becomes a lot more limited, and it becomes really essential to make your own food (something that is admittedly easier with a standard keto diet.)
What is the premise of a ketogenic diet/benefits?
As far as I can tell, a ketogenic diet is used by two main groups of people. Those looking to lose weight or people with refractory epilepsy. The latter is the one I found most fascinating when researching this diet, but if you’d like to learn more, you can read more about that on the epilepsy foundation website, pubmed, or on wikipedia (which can lead you to even more information – sources!.) There is also an organization called The Charlie Foundation that promotes the diet to treat childhood epilepsy.
Ketogenic diets “work” because by completely restricting carbohydrates to a small fraction of your daily caloric consumption your body goes into ketosis, where it burns its own fat for fuel rather than relying on carbohydrates for fuel. Since I’m currently in ketosis, my body is currently using ketone bodies for energy – the result of fatty acids broken down in my liver. There are two main ketone bodies, acetoacetate and 3-beta-hydroxybutyrate, that are used for energy (especially during the diet,) while acetone is the third, and is primarily excreted through your skin and urine during ketosis.
The diet generally consists of a ratio where 65% of daily calories come from fat, 30% Protein, and 5% carbohydrates. More info is available here in a quick and easy guide that I had nothing to do with.
Other things of interest:
Reddit: /r/Keto: Frequently Asked Questions list. The /r/Keto board is generally not vegan or vegetarian friendly, but the F.A.Q is like a nice reasonable friend that can answer any of your question. /r/vegetarianketo and /r/veganketo are other sources of information.
Potential Long Term Risks or Claimed Risks or general side effects
- Just going into ketosis is considered a risk. Some people/doctors/etc consider it an unhealthy metabolic state. There is also the potential to smell or taste like acetone.
- Kidney Issues: High protein diets can put a strain on the kidneys, cause kidney stones (from both the ketones and the protein), and kidney failure. (But there are also various studies showing the exact opposite – Dietary Protein and Renal Function – Nutrition & Metabolism (2005), Reversal of diabetic nephropathy by a ketogenic diet – PLOS one. (2011))
- Long-term maintenance on a ketogenic diet was shown to stimulate the development of non alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and systemic glucose intolerance in mice.
- Ketosis actually changes brain homeostasis (which is why it is used as a treatment for epilepsy, and may have protective effects in neurological injury). This isn’t necessarily an immediate risk, but is something to be aware of. I found this bit extra fascinating.
- The lack of sweet delicious fruit, like nectarines and peaches. Also, it brings the question… where do you get your vitamins and minerals? While it’s possible to include some fruits (mostly berries) in the diet, as it stands the ratios of the diet tend to discourage it. I’ve been taking berry extract and vitamins to reduce any possible issues.
- High Cholesterol. I’m interested on the effects it would have in vegan keto where no additional cholesterol is taken in. Saturated fats have been shown to raise blood cholesterol level more than other types of food even when it is food that’s cholesterol free. And as I’ve found out while tracking my food intake, coconut oil is rather high in saturated fat. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I couldn’t find any real studies on vegans with high cholesterol and the reasons behind it, but I did find the “Eco-Atkins” diet research showing that “a low-carbohydrate plant-based diet has lipid-lowering advantages over a high-carbohydrate, low-fat weight-loss diet in improving heart disease risk factors not seen with conventional low-fat diets with animal products.”
How I’ve been doing it:
A vegan keto diet would be really easy to do consuming only shakes consisting of water, protein powder, and coconut oil (or coconut cream/milk), but I still like food a bit too much to let that stand. That said, I have still been supplementing my days with regular protein shakes made with a Hemp/Pea/Rice protein powder I put together on True Nutriton.
I’ve been using My Fitness Pal to track my recipes and caloric intake, and Fitocracy to track my physical activity (as usual). I converted My Fitness Pal to calculate the numbers I was looking for with a chrome extension and the steps covered here: http://cavemanketo.com/
Almost everyday: Kale Chips. Washed kale, massaged with (approximately 1tbsp) coconut oil, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, and salt. I baked it at 450 F for 5-7 minutes. I usually turn off the oven at this point and let the kale sit inside for another 5-10 minutes. (recipe: Low Carb, Slow Carb, Urban Vegan’s No-Fail Kale Chips, and so many more are available from nearly every vegan ever.) You might need to use a significantly lower temperature than I did, as some people have found that their kale gets burned at the 450 F. The recipes I’ve linked to mostly use 350 F with a longer baking time (around 12-18 minutes). Your oven may vary!
Day One – Cauliflower, almond, tofu crust pizza.
Cauliflower, almond flour, tofu, and Vegg crust. Topped with a fresh basil pesto, kale and spicy red pepper flakes.
Blended 1 head of cauliflower, 1/4 cup almond flour, 1/4 block of tofu, 2 tsp coconut oil, 1tsp of nutritional yeast, and 1tsp of prepared Vegg powder with water in a blender. Layered it on to a pizza pan, baked at 475 degrees F for 15 minutes.
While the crust was baking I took around 1 cup of fresh basil leaves, 1tsp coconut oil, salt, added 1/8 block of tofu, nutritional yeast, blended them in the blender in preparation for the crust. Once the crust was done, I painted on the pesto, and tried to leave an even layer all along the pizza. Topped with a few leaves of kale, sprinkled with red pepper flakes, and threw it back in the oven for another 10 minutes.
It turned out with a very quiche-like consistency, it looked too green, and I was really missing the colourful food experience. I could have gotten away with adding some red or yellow pepper or tofu on top, but I didn’t. Other improvements: Pine nuts or macadamias blended into the pesto.
Total Daily Fat/Protein/Carb Ratio: 64/30/6
Day two – Spicy Peanut Stir-Fry
Lunch/Dinner: Spicy peanut sauce stir fry. With Tofu, Spinach, broccoli, garlic, and cilantro. Topped with green onions and crushed cashews. No real recipe besides what I put into my food diary. Everything goes in a pot, except the cashews and cilantro.
This is the day the headache’s started. But that seems to be consistent with the regular keto experience, and general dehydration. I’ve since upped my water intake, and no further problems with head pain or discomfort occurred.
Daily Fat/Protein/Carb Ratio: 64/29/7
Day Three – Cauliflower Sushi Rice
Lunch/Dinner: Cauliflower sushi rice.
This was the most fun because I made this with JC.
Ingredients: 4 Nori Sheets. 1 steamed head of cauliflower. 1 avocado. half a cucumber. Sriracha. 1 tsp sugar free, salt free rice vinegar. Crispy tofu fried in coconut oil. 3 Tbsp Veganaise
I steamed the head of cauliflower until it was fresh crisp, drained it, and then riced it with my whisk in the same pot. Threw in the 1 tsp rice vinegar and Veganaise and mixed well with the same whisk. Voila rice!
I did four different combinations: cucumber and avocado, cucumber, avocado, and cucumber, avocado, & sriracha. I was going to add the crispy tofu, especially to the sriracha one, but we ended up snacking on it in the kitchen instead.
For more information on putting together a sushi roll here’s a great illustrated guide. 1 cup of my cauliflower rice was enough to fill the nori roll to semi standard maki size rolls. To cut the roll after you’re done, make sure you have a sharp sharp knife. It makes a HUGE difference.
Daily Fat/Protein/Carb Ratio: 74/21/5
Day Four – Stuffed Pepper with Eggplant Spinach Curry
Another day, another high fat curry. But stuffed and baked in a small red pepper (which definitely ups the carb count.), but not enough to go over.
Daily Fat/Protein/Carb Ratio: 69/26/5
Day Five – Tofurkey Tofu Beer Sausage and Tofu Puffs
If you’ve never seen these in your grocery store, you’re missing out. They are pretty fantastic, just puffed, no carbs, all fat and protein.
This is also the first day I had alcohol while in ketosis, and let me tell you, it’s not the usual drinking experience. Alcohol is metabolized first in the grande scheme of things (plus it’s a poison so of course) and I experienced this unpleasant hot creeping feeling after drinking.
Daily Fat/Protein/Carb Ratio: 65/31/4
Day Six – Fresh Restaurant (Vegan keto outside!) – Big Salad with Tahini Dressing
Daily Fat/Protein/Carb Ratio:66/28/6
Day Seven - Vegan Laksa(ish) MeShell Style and Disgraceland Brunch
Ingredients: 2 cups of coconut milk, 1 head of broccoli (around 3 cups), 1 red pepper, curry powders, mushrooms, tofu puffs, coconut oil.
Daily Fat/Protein/Carb Ratio: 77/15/8
- It can be hard to find high fat, low carb, moderate protein foods. Peanut butter, some brands of Tofu, and coconut oil/milk/cream are options for high fat, low carb foods. Blending them all together has resulted in pretty delicious results. Blending high fat foods with high protein foods has been the most successful in terms of reaching the ratio goals.
- Remembering to eat. Since starting this experiment, eating is unexciting and isn’t interesting to me, I’m not hungry, and if I don’t schedule a meal, I forget to eat. This isn’t necessarily unusual for me even during a normal day, but it’s more pronounced now than ever before.
- Recovery time post weightlifting seems to have decreased. Muscle soreness seems reduced.
- My skin isn’t dry, but it isn’t oily either. There is this nice consistent smoothness even when I don’t moisturize (which I don’t do most of the time anyway.)
- Weight loss. 7% of my body weight just gone. Certainly it’s mostly water, but an unexpected and dramatic drop in the first week. This is neither good nor bad, but it has made chin ups slightly easier (or that might just be psychosomatic.)
So this marks the end of Week One. I’m looking forward to next Monday when JC and I will go out for vegan dim sum or eat a bowl of coronation grapes or a banana. I think the main influence this diet will have on me in the long term is that I will slightly increase my intake of fats and protein, and get fewer of my daily calories from carbohydrates than I was doing before. The keto ratio (65/30/5) is not sustainable for me in the long term (or more accurately, I’m not willing or interested in maintaining the effort it takes to make it work.)