Originally implemented to treat epilepsy in the 1920s, the ketogenic (keto) diet is now a well-studied weight management solution with plenty of other advantages 1http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1528-1167.2008.01821.x/full.
Vegan’s do not eat animal products, but vegans following a ketogenic diet can get all of the same benefits. In fact, may be advantages to the vegan ketogenic diet not found in the “normal” version.
So What Are The Benefits of a Vegan Ketogenic Diet?
#1 Burn Fat And Maintain A Healthy Weight
Many people have adopted the ketogenic diet as an effective and relatively simple way to manage their weight. By adopting a low carb high fat diet your body will enter a perpetual state of ketosis, forcing your body to burn fat until you reach a healthy weight. It even happens without intensive exercise, as the diet forces the body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates for its energy.
There is extensive evidence of the effectiveness of the ketogenic diet for weight loss 2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499830/. For many dieters, this shift alone triggers significant weight loss in a brief period of time 3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2716748/. Importantly, abdominal fat (which is traditionally very tough to lose) seems to disappear much faster in ketosis than when on a “normal” high carb diet 4https://nutritionandmetabolism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1743-7075-1-13.
#2 Have More Energy (And Less Hunger Cravings)
When you are on a carb heavy diet your body is constantly going through a cycle of converting carbs into glucose, elevating your blood sugar levels. This is especially true when eating simple carbohydrates such as sugars and processed foods 5https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/. The result is a surge of initial energy, and then the energy spike ends and you feel depleted meaning you feel hungry and crave more carbs to bring your energy levels back up.
Here’s Where Keto Differs:
Being in ketosis is like burning wood logs instead of kindling on the fire. When burning kindling (carbs) the fire burns hot for a brief period of time and then disappears. When burning logs (fats) they burn steadily for a long time. On keto people find they have more consistent energy levels without the energy spikes, and don’t feel the same cravings that they have with carbs6https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3139783/.
#3 Reduce Symptoms Of Epilepsy
Despite the fact that it has only recently become “Internet famous,” the ketogenic diet has been in use in the medical community for more than ninety years 7https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2367001/#R46. It was developed in the 1920s as a way to mimic the biochemical process that happens during fasting or starvation. The ketogenic diet is an established and effective therapy for difficult-to-treat and medicine-resistant forms of epilepsy.
#4 Protect And Nourish The Brain
There is mounting evidence that the ketogenic diet has disease-modifying and neuroprotective qualities that researchers believe may be able to help prevent a host of neurodegenerative disorders8https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/the-fat-fueled-brain-unnatural-or-advantageous/. These include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, headaches, and sleep disorders9http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221345301630135510https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15728303.
There is also evidence that a high-fat, low-carb diet may even protect the brain in traumatic brain injuries and stroke 11https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK209323/.
#5 Reduce The Risk Of Diabetes
When you consume carbs you blood sugar (glucose) levels rise rapidly. This causes the pancreas to produce insulin which it uses to carry the glucose to your cells and either start storing it in the cells or burning it for fuel 12https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/.
When you eat too many carbs (particularly processed carbs) your blood sugar and insulin levels are constantly spiking and this can cause a whole host of problems, potentially leading to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and obesity 13http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/problems-from-high-blood-sugar-levels14https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes/prediabetes-insulin-resistance.
When on a ketogenic (low carb) diet you primarily consume fat which does not affect blood sugar and does not cause insulin to rise, potentially reducing risks associated with high blood sugar. Many type 2 diabetics are able to reduce or even discontinue diabetes medication after adopting a ketogenic diet 15https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1325029/.
#6 Reduce The Possibility Of Metabolic Syndrome
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute defines metabolic syndrome as “group of risk factors that raises your risk for heart disease and other health problems, such as diabetes and stroke” 16https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/ms.
If you have 3 out of the 5 following metabolic risk factors you will be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.
- Increased blood pressure.
- High blood sugar.
- Abdominal obesity 17https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obesity.
- Low HDL (good) cholesterol.
- High triglyceride (a type of fat) levels.
In the USA about one quarter of the population have metabolic syndrome 18https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3756561/.
If high triglyceride levels are a metabolic risk factor, wouldn’t a high fat diet be bad for you?
But the fact is a low carb ketogenic diet changes the way your body processes fats and has been shown to actually reduce abdominal fat as well as triglycerides when compared to a low fat diet 19https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19641727.
It has also been shown to reduce blood sugar, decrease LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol, meaning the ketogenic diet reduces the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and therefore not only diabetes but heart disease, stroke and other health problems associated with obesity 20https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19641727.
#7 Increase Athletic Endurance Performance
Ben Greenfield is one of the 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness 21http://greatist.com/live/most-influential-health-fitness-people-2014. He is a biohacker, Ironman triathlete, brain performance coach and author of the New York Times Bestseller “Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health and Life”. In 2014, Greenfield participated in the FASTER study at the University of Connecticut 22https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2014/05/how-much-fat-can-you-burn-2/. The purpose of the study was to find out how a high-fat, low-carb diet (referred to as fat-adapted keto-adapted athletes) impacts performance.
Greenfield adopted a keto diet in the months leading up to the study, then went through a ferocious battery of physical challenges in the UCONN Human Performance Laboratory. These included blood tests, saliva swabs, stool tests, urine analysis, and the extraction and analysis of Greenfield’s thigh muscle tissue.
The conclusion of the FASTER study was consistent with what every keto dieter hopes to learn 23http://www.metabolismjournal.com/article/S0026-0495(15)00334-0/fulltext?mobileUi=0
“Compared to highly trained ultra-endurance athletes consuming an HC diet, long-term keto-adaptation results in extraordinarily high rates of fat oxidation, whereas muscle glycogen utilization and repletion patterns during and after a 3 hour run are similar.”
The bottom line?
Fat oxidation is the process of breaking fat (or fat lipids) down into smaller chunks so they can be converted to energy. The conclusion at which the UConn researchers arrived is that long-term use of the ketogenic diet helps highly-trained ultra-endurance athletes increase the amount of fat that can be broken down and burned.
As a participant in the study, greenfield offered four key takeaways from his experience24https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2014/05/how-much-fat-can-you-burn-2/:
- Eating a high fat diet doesn’t make you fat.
- Eating a high fat diet can increase the amount of fat you burn as fuel at both rest and during exercise.
- Eating a high fat diet can allow you to exercise or function for longer periods of time while eating relatively few calories.
- Avoiding high carbohydrate intake improves health but doesn’t limit performance.
#8 Reduced Risk Of Cancer
It may or may not be surprising to you that the World Health Organization has recently classified processed meats group 1 carcinogen 25http://www.who.int/features/qa/cancer-red-meat/en/.
In their own words:
“This category is used when there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. In other words, there is convincing evidence that the agent causes cancer.”
They also identified red meat in all forms as group 2A – probably carcinogenic to humans.
“In the case of red meat, the classification is based on limited evidence from epidemiological studies showing positive associations between eating red meat and developing colorectal cancer as well as strong mechanistic evidence.”
A vegan diet of any form is clearly meat free, so the risk of gaining cancer from processed or red meat is eliminated.
With proven benefits such as weight loss (in particular around the abdominal cavity), blood sugar control, improved energy, improved endurance performance it’s no wonder why people all over the world are beginning to implement a ketogenic diet into their life.
The vegan ketogenic diet is similar except it removes animal products from the ketogenic diet, potentially combining the positive effects of both vegan and ketogenic diets and reducing the risk of cancer from processed meat and red meat. That said, there are almost no studies on a vegan ketogenic diet in particular and while there is anecdotal evidence from people thriving on the diet (the vegan keto reddit has some great stories) the long term effects have yet to be studied.
Kane is the founder of Veganatheart.org. The vegan ketogenic diet has helped him to personally lose weight as well as improve his mood and overall health.
He is passionate about helping others achieve the same benefits by showing that keto does not have to involve animal products.