- The keto diet, a popular high-fat, low-carb eating pattern, is designed to put your body in a state of ketosis to burn fat instead of sugar. Advocates say this leads to more energy, weight loss, and other health benefits.
- Plant-based eating, meanwhile, can be better for your heart and for the environment.
- The ketotarian diet combines the two, which means followers cut way back on carbs and eliminate meat.
- Here are some examples of what you can eat on the very restrictive plan, including plenty of avocados, eggs, and coconut oil.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.
Keto is a hot topic in eating trends these days. It’s based on an extremely low-carb diet, limiting foods like grains, cereals, bread, pasta, beans, starchy veggies like potatoes, most fruits, sugar and other sweeteners. Typically, this means eating a lot more red meat, butter, and cheese.
So which should you choose?
Maybe you don’t have to. Meet ketotarian eating, which “marries the best of both plant-based and ketogenic diets,” said Will Cole, a functional medicine doctor and author of “Ketotarian: The (Mostly) Plant-Based Plan to Burn Fat, Boost Your Energy, Crush Your Cravings, and Calm Inflammation.”
According to Cole and other ketotarian advocates, the diet provides the benefits of ketosis — transitioning the body to burning fat instead of sugar — but without the health and environmental risks of a lot of animal products.
So what can you eat? Avocados, olives, coconuts (and coconut oil), nuts, seeds, vegetables, wild-caught fish, fresh seafood, eggs, and ghee (clarified butter) are all options Cole recommends.
“You can really get all of your nutrients in with a ketotarian diet,” he said, adding that the basic principles are listening to your body (eating when you’re hungry until you’re satisfied) and combining healthy fats and non-starchy veggies.
But other health experts have said the diet is unnecessarily restrictive and not sustainable in the long term. “I worry that the guidelines are not clear enough and could cause unwanted anxiety around otherwise healthful foods like fruits and vegetables other than greens,” Sydney Greene, a nutritionist in New York City told Health.com.
Here’s what some typical ketotarian meals look like, and how healthy they really are.
A common, simple breakfast for ketotarians is an avocado, sliced in half, with a poached or baked egg in each half. Depending on the size of the ingredients, this is about 400 to 500 calories.
It’s nutrient-dense, with approximately 17 grams of protein, 34 grams of fat, and 13 grams of carbs.
Eggs are a good source of folate and potassium especially from free-range chickens, and pack B vitamins and lutein, which are good for your eyes.
Both eggs and avocados also have a lot of vitamin E, which is important for your immune system.
Cole’s recipe for ketotarian lunch calls for five cups of kale, sauteed in avocado oil with a can of coconut milk and some ground ginger.
Kale is well-known as a nutritional powerhouse, with loads of vitamin A, vitamin K, and vitamin C. It’s also high in fiber, which is good for your digestion and can help you feel fuller.
Coconut milk is high in potassium, which is essential to muscle health. It’s also high in iron, which is necessary for your red blood cells and associated with healthy energy levels.
All together, this dish is approximately 1,000 calories, mainly from the coconut milk and avocado oil. (Kale is only about 33 calories per cup.) It has about 23 grams of protein and 40 grams of carbs.
The dish also contains approximately 100 grams of fat, more than 75% of which is saturated fat. This amount can help followers get or stay in ketosis, and recent research has suggested saturated fat may be better for health that previously thought.
Still, too much saturated fat has long been associated with raising cholesterol levels. It can also cause a buildup of cholesterol in your arteries, increasing risk of heart disease.
Low-carb zucchini “noodles” provide a lot of vitamin C, which is important for immune system health. They can also can protect against heart disease and high blood pressure, according to Healthline.
Pesto, with basil, spinach, walnuts, and olive oil, is full of nutrients: calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and K.
This dish doesn’t have much protein, about 8 grams total, though that varies based on ingredients. It’s low carb, too, with approximately 15 grams of carbohydrates.
Again, there’s a lot of saturated fat here from the olive oil and nuts, which is something to be mindful of if you’re at risk of heart problems.
Roasted cauliflower with hot sauce, olives, and lemons
Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable chock-full of fiber, vitamin C, and B vitamins. It also contains choline, an important nutrient for brain health.
Olives (and olive oil) are high in unsaturated fat, which can be good for your heart because it decreases LDL or “bad” cholesterol, registered dietitian Kris Sollid, senior director of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council Foundation, previously told Insider.
Olives are more calorie-dense, at about 59 calories per 10 olives. They also have calcium and sodium, which are important electrolytes for bone, muscle, and nerve function, according to Healthline.
Overall, though, the recipe is still low in calories, with about 150 to 200 calories a head, so it probably won’t suffice as a meal in itself.
Veggie frittata or scramble
Eggs are common to many keto diets, and ketotarian is no exception, since they’re a healthy, versatile way to meld different combinations of veggies into a meal.
But eggs are also high in cholesterol. Nutritional studies have shown eggs can raise levels of bad cholesterol if you eat too many, according to Healthline, which recommends no more than three eggs per day.
As for veggies, nearly any keto-friendly options — zucchini, greens, olives, broccoli, peppers, for example — will go well with eggs.
Cole recommends asparagus, bell peppers, and nut cheese, or spinach and olives.
Cucumber radish snap pea salad
Radishes are a spicy, low-carb root vegetable with lots of vitamin C and fiber, and small amounts of many other nutrients, Healthline says.
Mixed with cucumbers, snow peas, avocado, oil, and vinegar, they make a flavorful lunch salad that’s high in fiber.
Cucumber, while mostly water, have some potassium and vitamin C as well.
Snow peas are also bring vitamin K, B1, B2, and B3 to the meal, along with folate, which are good for your blood.
Although the veggies are mostly low-calorie, the avocado and oil help fill out the salad so you’re getting enough to eat.
Cole also recommends adding coconut aminos — an alternate to soy sauce with a sweet and salty flavor, made from aged sap from coconuts mixed with salt. It contains amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein.
According to the wellness blog at the University of California, Berkeley, it’s fine to use coconut aminos if you like the taste, but it doesn’t confer any major health benefits.
Fasting is the opposite of eating a meal, but Cole suggests including it as part of “thrifty keto.”
There is some evidence to suggest intermittent fasting— limiting meals to a specific period of time during the day — could have health benefits. It can help reduce the risk of long-term health problems like diabetes, high-cholesterol, and obesity.
But going keto can already make people’s energy dip as their metabolisms transition from relying on sugars to fats. So fasting, which also affects energy and metabolism, can be especially risky on the diet.
Plus, despite the potential benefits of fasting, it should be implemented with the supervision of a doctor as part of a carefully planned regimen, not to save on groceries.
“If you start fasting for too long you destroy your immune system. You become very susceptible to infection. So fasting is not a trivial thing. It’s good to fast, but you cannot starve yourself,” Dr. Miriam Merad, director of the Precision Immunology Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, previously told Insider.
Overall, ketotarian can be healthy, but requires some careful planning and might be tricky for some.
Most ketotarian meals have a lot of nutrients and can be very healthy.
As with any diet, however, people trying a ketotarian eating plan should be careful to get enough calories, since too few calories can be bad for your health, causing fatigue, increasing risk of injury, and impairing your metabolism.
If you’re fasting, it’s important to do so with the advice of a medical or nutrition professional.
The diet can be high in saturated fat, people with a high risk of heart disease may want to watch their intake.
Cole recommends that people try ketotarian for 60 days to assess how they feel, then consider adding in grass-fed beef. People can also opt to do keto seasonally, he added. While Cole considers it a sustainable eating plan, others have disagreed.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Sarah Marjoram previously told Insider that following any diet plan that eliminates or severely limits entire food groups is generally not advised for optimal health.
And ketotarian is even more restrictive that keto, making it ever harder to stick to in the long-term.