Vegetarian vs. Keto: How to Choose?
There is a lot of buzz on the internet about various weight loss methods. You may have already tried some of them or want to start but are uncertain about which one would work the best for you. Despite such a great variety of nutritional plans for weight loss, some are more popular than others.
Two of these more popular diets are the Vegetarian diet and the Keto diet. But which one of these two top nutritional plans is better? And is there one better, or are they equally effective? Is there any difference between vegetarian and keto weight loss? Stick around to find out!
What is the Vegetarian Diet?
There is no single place on this planet where people would not know what a vegetarian diet is. The main principle of this nutritional plan is to ban the consumption of meat, poultry, and fish. But that is not all there is to a vegetarian diet, since there are various types of this nutritional plan, each with its own requirements.
Here are the types of a vegetarian diet (13):
- Lacto-vegetarian diet restricts the consumption of meat, fish, poultry, and eggs, along with foods that contain them, but allows dairy products.
- Ovo-vegetarian diet bans meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy but allows eggs.
- Lacto-Ovo vegetarian diet limits meat, fish, and poultry but allows dairy products and eggs.
- Pescatarian diet forbids the consumption of meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs but allows fish.
- Vegan diet is one of the strictest since it bans any animal food, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, honey, and foods that contain these products.
- Semi-vegetarian diet or flexitarian diet is mostly a plant-based nutritional plan but it allows the occasional consumption of meat, dairy, eggs, poultry, and fish in small portions.
Like with any other nutritional plan, there are different reasons why people start following a vegetarian diet. Some of the main reasons are health improvement, ethical and religious beliefs, safety concerns due to the use of chemicals such as antibiotics and hormones in livestock, or they simply prefer plant food and use it as a weight-loss tool. For some people, a mainly vegetarian diet is simply the only one they can afford (1).
Risks of the Vegetarian Diet
Although previously most studies on vegetarian diet were targeted on its potentially harmful effects, such as nutritional deficiencies, these days more studies prove certain health benefits of avoiding meat. Now a plant-based diet is considered to be quite nutritionally sufficient and even effective at helping you reduce the risk of various serious diseases.
But despite its potential benefits, the vegetarian diet also has its risks. The main downside of this nutritional plan is the possible lack of certain nutrients that are present mainly in animal foods, such as:
Vitamin B12 is very important since the lack of it can lead to neurological problems and pernicious anemia. This micronutrient is present only in animal products, including dairy and eggs, so those who follow a vegan diet, which bans them, may need to eat up on foods that are fortified with this vitamin or take vitamin B12 supplements (18).
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Although people can obtain the same amount of iron from plant-based food as from animal products, these are different types of iron. The iron that people get from meat, especially red meat, absorbs better than the nonheme iron present in plant foods. Although vitamin C and other acids from vegetables and fruits may boost the absorption of nonheme iron, consumption of phytic acid from whole grains, beans, legumes, seeds, and nuts may slow down the process of absorption (1).
Omega-3 fatty acids
Diets that ban fish or eggs are low in EPA and DHA. And although our bodies can convert ALA in plant foods to EPA and DHA, this process is not very effective (1).
Protein is extremely important for your body, and usually, the main source of this component in a regular diet is meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. Lack of protein is very dangerous and may occur if a person who follows a vegetarian diet doesn’t eat enough plant-based protein-rich foods such as legumes, nuts, and seeds (4).
How Does Vegetarian Diet Work?
To be able to obtain all the essential nutrients from food while following a vegetarian diet, you need to carefully plan your meals, so that they would include a great variety of healthy plant-based foods, such as veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. You should also reduce your consumption of such unhealthy foods as sugary drinks, saturated and trans fats, and refined grains (13).
If you are determined to become vegetarian, it is recommended that you do so gradually, starting with a couple of meat-free meals each week and slowly progressing into a plant-based diet by substituting meat components in your dishes with plant products. If you are dying to shed a couple of pounds, then reduce your daily caloric intake and add some workouts to your routine.
Here are the recommendations that may help you make a safe and gradual transition from your regular diet to being a vegetarian (20):
- Learn more about nutrition, what nutrients you require, and how to obtain all the essential nutrients when your diet excludes meat.
- Find some recommendations and vegetarian recipes on specific websites, at a local health food shop, or by consulting a specialist.
- Plan your meals beforehand, and create weekly shopping and meal plans.
- Make sure that your meals provide you with plenty of complete protein.
- Don’t rush and make a gradual transition. This process can take over a month or more if needed.
- Start with plant-based dishes that were already a part of your regular diet, and slowly increase their amount until they substitute all the meat dishes in your meal plan.
What Do Vegetarians Eat?
Now that you know how to start a vegetarian diet, it is time to take a closer look at what vegetarians eat. It is necessary to know all the essential nutrients and make sure that you get enough of each to avoid any nutrient deficiencies.
Here are some of the main nutrients and the foods that provide them (20):
- Iron: Beans and legumes (including pulses, chickpeas, green peas, lentils, and tofu), leafy greens, and cashew nuts
- Calcium: Dairy (yogurt, milk, cheese), tofu, fortified orange juice, kale, turnip greens, and broccoli
- Protein: Eggs, dairy, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, and whole grains
- Vitamin D: Exposure to sunlight, dairy, and fortified foods
- Vitamin B-12: Eggs, dairy, nutritional yeast, and fortified foods
- Zinc: Dairy products, fortified cereals, dried beans, nuts, and soy products
- Iodine: Seaweed, dairy products, enriched bread and macaroni, prunes, lima beans, apple juice, green peas, and bananas.
What is the Keto Diet?
In the second part of the Vegetarian vs. Keto comparison, the keto diet is a nutritional plan, which focuses on the release of ketones into the bloodstream. This diet is based on the reduced consumption of carbs, with most calories coming from fat and partially protein. It demands that you keep easily digested carbs, such as sugar, pastries, and white bread at bay (19).
Risks of the Keto Diet
Although people mostly follow a Keto diet to slim down, it can also be effective at helping you manage certain medical conditions. Research shows the short-term effectiveness of this diet, but more studies are needed to determine its long-term effects.
Like with a vegetarian diet, besides benefits, there are some risks to the Keto diet, which include:
Following this nutritional plan may lead to a couple of unpleasant short-term side effects, including nausea, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, vomiting, insomnia, constipation, and others.
People with diabetes that take insulin or oral hypoglycemic agents may suffer from hypoglycemia if their medications were not adjusted before they started to follow a keto diet.
Harmful for people with certain conditions
Not everyone is allowed to follow this nutritional plan since it is contraindicated for people who suffer from medical conditions such as pancreatitis, liver failure, disorders of fat metabolism, primary carnitine deficiency, carnitine palmitoyltransferase deficiency, carnitine translocase deficiency, porphyrias, or pyruvate kinase deficiency (7).
Research shows that following a very low-carb diet can lead to a lack of nutrients since it provides enough of only 12 out of the 27 essential micronutrients, thus leading to various nutrient deficiencies, which in turn cause other health problems.
How Does Keto Diet Work?
As you already know, the keto diet is low in carbs but rich in fat. It also allows you to consume moderate amounts of protein. The main goal of this diet is to induce and maintain ketosis. During this process, your body stops using sugar as its primary energy source and switches to burning fat (10).
Reaching ketosis where your liver produces ketones can be difficult. To enter the state of ketosis, you need to limit your consumption of carbs to fewer than 20-50 grams a day. Usually, the process of transition into ketosis lasts a few days and may be interfered by the increased consumption of protein (10).
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What to Eat When on a Keto Diet?
To be able to successfully enter and maintain ketosis, you should first learn what foods you can eat. You need to carefully plan your meals on a keto diet since it requires a great number of fats and a very low amount of carbs, which, if over consumed, can kick you out of ketosis.
Here are the foods that you should include in your Keto meal plan:
- Seafood (wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, shrimp, crab, tuna, mussels, and cod)
- Low-carb vegetables (arugula, spinach, eggplant, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, bell peppers, fennel, cabbage, celery, brussels sprouts, and kale)
- Low-sugar fruits (tomatoes, avocado, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, coconut, lemon, and limes)
- Meat, poultry, and eggs
- Nuts and seeds (macadamia nuts, flaxseed, Brazil nuts, chia seeds, walnuts, pecans, hemp seeds, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and almonds)
- Dairy products (cheese, cottage cheese, plain Greek yogurt, cream, and butter)
- Oils (extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, nut oils, coconut butter, and MCT oil)
Vegetarian vs. Keto: Health Benefits
To be able to properly compare the Vegetarian vs. Keto diet, you should know their health benefits, as well as their risks. Keep in mind that in order to experience these benefits, you may need to follow these diets for a long time.
Here are the benefits of these two diets that may help you determine which one is better:
Lower cholesterol levels
Research shows that following a vegetarian diet may positively affect your heart health by reducing levels of all types of cholesterol.
Reduced risk of cancer
A 2014 study found that people who stick to a vegetarian diet have a lower risk of cancer overall, and especially female-specific cancer. It also claims that vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy have a lower risk of gastrointestinal cancers compared to people who follow a regular diet that includes meat.
Decreased risk of diabetes
There is evidence that following a vegetarian diet can help reduce the risk of and manage diabetes. That is why, sometimes, this diet may be recommended for people with pre-diabetes.
Improved heart health
A study conducted in India showed a link between following a vegetarian diet and reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases. These results are supported by studies in western countries.
Reduced consumption of carbohydrates can be very beneficial for shedding pounds. Besides that, there are also other benefits to Keto diets, such as the following:
- Reduces seizures
The Keto diet was used as a method of treatment for intractable epilepsy for almost a century now. It was considered to have similar beneficial effects on fasting, which was also used as a dietary treatment method. A 2019 review suggests that the Keto diet and its variations can be used as a non-surgical method of treatment in pharmacoresistant patients who suffer from epilepsy.
Improved heart health
A 2017 review shows that following a Keto diet may cause a significant reduction in levels of total and bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein (LDL)) and an increase in good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein (HDL)). Since increased levels of cholesterol lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases, sticking to a keto diet can improve your heart health. However, it is important to consume higher amounts of healthy unsaturated fats and avoid unhealthy trans and saturated fats, otherwise, it may only harm your health.
Keto vs. Vegetarian Weight Loss
As you know, both vegetarian and keto diets are often used as weight loss tools. They claim to help you successfully reach your weight goals and maintain the results. But which one is better when it comes to shedding pounds?
Vegetarian diet weight loss
Research shows that compared to people who follow a regular diet, vegetarians consume overall fewer calories and thus weigh less and have less body fat. This is the result of the consumption of plenty of foods that are packed with fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, and whole grains. Eating up on fiber can prolong your feeling of fullness, thus reducing the chance of overeating and lowering your caloric intake. If you accompany your vegetarian diet with exercise and create an adequate caloric deficit, you are sure to burn a couple of inches of unwanted fat.
A 2016 study showed that people who stick to a vegetarian diet show greater weight loss results than those who follow a regular diet. These results also vary depending on the type of vegetarian diet. For example, those who followed a vegan diet showed better results than those who went on a Lacto-Ovo vegetarian diet.
Keto diet weight loss
Low-carb diets, like the Keto diet, are often used as a method to slim down a couple of sizes since it may boost weight loss by improving your metabolism and reducing appetite.
A 2013 review found that people who followed a Keto diet shed 2 pounds (1 kg) more compared to those who followed low-fat nutritional plans.
The Vegetarian Keto Diet
If the choice of vegetarian vs. Keto still seems impossible to you, there is a compromise, which is a nutritional plan that combines both these diets – the vegetarian keto diet.
The vegetarian keto diet is based on the principles of both vegetarian and keto diets since they don’t contradict each other and can be combined. Although it is possible to stick to the rules of this diet, it may be quite difficult. In such a case it is better to choose the less limiting types of a vegetarian diet that allows a greater variety of foods, such as the Ovo-, Lacto-, pescatarian, flexitarian, or Lacto-ovo diets.
Since these types of vegetarian diets allow the consumption of eggs, dairy, or fish, it is a lot easier to comply with the high-fat requirements of the keto diet while sticking to them as a part of the vegetarian keto diet. Some of the great plant sources of fat that should be included in your meal plan if you follow a stricter version of the vegetarian keto diet include avocados, nuts and seeds, coconut oil, olive oil, and others.
The Bottom Line: Which is Better for You, Vegetarian vs. Keto diet?
Although both these diets are effective at helping you melt fat, certain aspects differ and should be taken into consideration when you choose the diet that would work the best for you. Since your health is the most important thing, you need to weigh all pros and cons in the form of risks and health benefits of vegetarian vs. keto. Both these diets may cause nutrient deficiencies and require careful planning. You may also try to follow a combination of these diets, but keep in mind that it has an even higher risk of nutrient deficiencies and is even more difficult to stick to.
Both vegetarian and keto diets have a couple of health benefits to offer, but they may not last if you only follow them for a short period. Since a sustainable diet is the one that turns into your lifestyle, it is important to choose a nutritional plan that you like the most and feel like you will be able to stick to for a long time, without harming your health or giving up halfway through. Remember that before starting any new dietary plan, it is crucial that you consult with a health professional.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
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