Have you narrowed down your search for the perfect diet to a keto vs. vegan diet? Great call—these two diets are very different, but they consistently deliver results (though those results themselves might also look very different!)
To help you make your decision, we’ve compiled a detailed guide to the most crucial differences between a keto diet and a vegan diet. Let’s get started with a quick breakdown of the basics.
Vegan vs. keto: A quick look at how the diets compare
The key differences between a keto diet and a vegan diet all stem from one main factor: While a keto diet restricts food based on certain nutrients, a vegan diet restricts food based on the source of the food. In practice, this means a keto diet allows for a certain amount of carbs (typically 20 to 50 grams per day), but a vegan diet simply allows for any food that isn’t an animal product.
So, in theory, you could eat whatever types of food you want on a keto diet, as long as what you eat fulfills the specific amounts of fats and proteins you need to eat—and stays within the carb limits a keto diet calls for.
Meanwhile, on a plant-based diet, you could eat fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and legumes to your heart’s desire. Strictly speaking, veganism doesn’t call for the measurements or planning that keto does. As long as you don’t eat any animal products, you’re following a plant-based diet to a t.
As a result of this fundamental difference, choosing between a keto vs. a vegan diet will be easy—as long as you know what you want to achieve with whichever diet you choose.
Either way, we’ve compiled a much more detailed explanation of keto and vegan diets. Read on for further insight into what makes these two diets so different so you can be sure to choose the right one for your goals.
What is a vegan diet?
Now that we have a quick answer, let’s lay some crucial groundwork for a more detailed look into how veganism and a keto diet differ. So, what exactly does it mean to be vegan? Following a vegan diet means you don’t eat any animal products. That means you don’t eat any dairy, eggs, fish, pork, beef, poultry, or lamb. Strict vegans also cut honey out of their diets. Some vegans cut animal products out of their lifestyles, too, which means they avoid leather, silk, wool, and products that are tested on animals.
That said, most vegans you meet are following plant-based diets without adhering to the lifestyle restrictions that strict veganism encompasses. So, for our purposes in comparing vegan vs. keto, we’ll focus just on the dietary changes that being a vegan entails.
What is a keto diet?
In contrast to a vegan diet, a keto diet controls for the amounts of certain nutrients you should consume in a day. Crucially, a keto diet limits carbs to very low levels. It also increases intake of healthy fats and maintains moderate protein intake. There are a variety of approaches to how you can set these specific intake amounts for carbs, fats, and proteins for your keto diet. The standard keto diet consists of 70% fats, 20% proteins, and 10% carbs.
The keto diet was designed to jolt your body into the state of ketosis. Ketosis happens when your carb intake doesn’t fulfill your body’s energy needs, and your body becomes hyper-efficient at burning fat cells for energy. When your body burns fat cells instead of carbs for energy, it creates ketone bodies—thus the name “ketosis” and the name for the ketogenic diet.
On a keto diet, you don’t necessarily have to quit any specific type of food. That said, given the intense carb restriction, enjoying a sandwich, pasta dish, or any similar carbo-laden feast won’t be possible on a strict keto diet.
To get a more practical picture of what a keto diet looks like, check out the following foods are staples for those who follow a keto diet :
- Fish and seafood
- Low-carb veggies
- Nuts, seeds and healthful oils
- Plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese
- Unsweetened coffee and tea
- Dark chocolate and cocoa powder
Key differences between vegan and keto diets
Starting to see the huge difference between going vegan and going keto? In fact, based on the diets’ basic definitions they’re about as different as two health-centric diets can be. There’s even more to see here. Beyond the fundamental differences between keto and vegan diets, there are seven very specific ways they differ that you should know before diving into either.
A keto diet usually includes animal products—and lots of them
As you learned from the list in the previous section, a typical keto diet relies heavily on animal products. Foods like yogurt, cheese, eggs, fish, and chicken are the foundations of a keto diet because protein and fat make up 90% of its daily nutrient profile.
If you’re big on dairy, eggs, and meat, keto is the obvious best choice for you. That said, if you rarely eat animal products—or you want to eat them less on a day-to-day basis—then adopting a plant-based diet might be a better option for you.
A vegan diet has a wider impact
It’s also worth knowing that many people become vegan for reasons beyond the health benefits and weight loss it offers. Many vegans adopt a plant-based diet because it’s the single biggest way to reduce their environmental footprint. Others choose to go vegan simply because they think it’s morally wrong to raise and kill animals for food.
If you’re looking for a diet that will have a wide impact radius, then veganism should be your go-to choice. That said, if you want a diet that will improve your health, the health benefits of veganism are still notable enough that you shouldn’t rule out a plant-based diet.
A keto diet requires more measuring—and more explaining
Another key difference to consider when choosing between keto vs. vegan? The logistics. While a vegan diet is easily delineated, a keto diet is often in flux. As a result, a keto diet can require more measuring, planning, and explaining than a vegan diet.
To be sure, veganism isn’t necessarily easy in this realm, either. That said, because a vegan diet has such a clear definition—no animal products—more and more people are understanding the limitations, and more and more places are offering clearly labeled vegan options.
Keto diets, on the other hand, require a lot of personal measuring, regulation and improvising. If you decide to go keto, get ready to order a lot of things “without the bun.” Dinner parties will also require some creative thinking, and you’ll need to come up with your own personal approach to explaining your keto restrictions to whoever is hosting you.
A keto diet often requires fewer specialty foods
On the other hand, a typical keto diet will involve fewer specialty foods than a typical vegan diet. A keto shopping list looks a lot like a generic healthy shopping list, minus the carbs and double everything else.
Though a vegan diet by no means requires fake cheese, imitation meat, or dairy-free treats, many vegans end up incorporating them into their diet so they can enjoy their favorite flavors from their pre-vegan days. As a result, the average vegan diet can often end up being more expensive than the average keto diet—and might require trips to special grocery stores or restaurants.
A vegan diet might not lead to weight loss
Because every vegan can have a different approach to a plant-based diet, there’s no strict guarantee that going vegan will lead you to lose weight. Like we mentioned, there are a lot of fun vegan substitutes for tasty treats—and they’re not necessarily healthy just because they don’t contain animal products.
A keto diet, on the other hand, limits carbs in a way that a vegan diet doesn’t. As a result, if you follow a keto diet to a t, weight loss is more likely than it would be if you simply quit eating animal products.
A keto diet can help with specific health conditions
Though both diets can improve general health outcomes, there’s evidence that a keto diet can also help with very specific neurological conditions that veganism can’t. Namely, a keto diet has been found to improve cognition and memory in people with Alzheimer’s Disease. Studies have also found that a keto diet led to improved cognitive function and reduced seizure frequencies for those with epilepsy.
But a vegan diet has less risky side effects
Finally, it’s also important to note that overall, a keto diet can lead to more intrusive and risky side effects than a vegan diet. Both diets can lead to vitamin deficiencies, but a keto diet can also lead to several serious health issues. Though the “keto flu” isn’t a symptom formally recognized in medicine, many people who newly adopt the diet experience it as serious nausea, insomnia, headaches, fatigue, and irritability about a week in.
More seriously, a keto diet can lead to kidney stones and can even lead to a serious condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, which occurs when someone with diabetes reaches a state of producing too many ketones in their body.
Can you be vegan and keto at the same time?
If you got to this point and you’re determined not to choose between a keto diet and a vegan diet, you might be wondering if you can do them both. Though a vegan keto diet has been done before, it doesn’t necessarily get the most glowing reviews from nutritionists. Though you might be eager to adopt both diets so you can reap the benefits of both, keep in mind that adopting both diets means you also have to deal with the downsides and restrictions of both.
To be fair, there’s nothing that is by definition mutually exclusive about keto and vegan diets. But the overlap of available foods to eat is so limited that you’d be hard pressed to pull this crossover off while getting the nutrients your body needs to be healthy.
How to choose between a vegan or a keto diet
Now that you know the key differences between a vegan and keto diet—and the importance of actually choosing between the two—you’re equipped to choose the best diet for your needs and goals. Depending on your current lifestyle, your diet goals, and your overall health needs, you know your next best step.
- History | The Vegan Society
- Ketogenic diets: Boon or bane?
- Ketosis: Definition, Keto Diet, Symptoms, and Side Effects
- Ketones: Blood or Urine Tests and Treatments
- Complete Keto Diet Food List: What You Can and Cannot Eat If You’re on a Ketogenic Diet | EatingWell
- Diabetic Ketoacidosis
- What is a Ketogenic Diet?
- Implementing a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to manage type 2 diabetes mellitus
- Ketogenic Diet and Epilepsy
- Ketogenic diet in cancer therapy
- Ketogenic Diet in Alzheimer’s Disease
- Low glycemic index vegan or low-calorie weight loss diets for women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized controlled feasibility study
- Effects of a ketogenic diet in overweight women with polycystic ovary syndrome
- What is keto flu? – Harvard Health
- Kidney stones and the ketogenic diet: risk factors and prevention