You’re interested in adopting the ketogenic diet as a way of life, but the idea of eating typical keto food like cheese, bacon, and beef every day isn’t your idea of a healthy diet.
Are you destined to fail? Nope!
A growing number of devotees are branching off into a different type of keto that puts plants first: The ketotarian diet.
What is the Ketotarian Diet?
Functional medicine expert Dr. Will Cole developed the plant-centric ketotarian diet — essentially the love child of the keto and vegetarian diets — to address the unhealthy aspects of both. He details the diet in his book, Ketotarian: The (Mostly) Plant-Based Plan to Burn Fat, Boost Your Energy, Crush Your Craving, and Calm Inflammation).
“Many people who decide to go vegan or vegetarian end up either being more carbatarian, loading up on grains, soy, and legumes that are hard on the digestive system,” he told MyDomaine.
On the other hand, those who follow a traditional keto eating plan tend to load up on high-fat dairy and meat, “both of which can be inflammatory and unhealthy in high amounts for long periods of time.”
Chronic inflammation is shown to be a factor that contributes to cancer development, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, high blood sugar, and more. He also says that eating too many animal products may not be good for everyone and actually cause weight-loss resistance.
Instead of meat, the ketotarian diet is a meal plan that focuses on getting healthy fats and moderate protein from plant foods that are naturally low-carb like olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, chia seeds, and veggies (like cauliflower, leafy greens, and zucchini).
Is Any Meat Allowed on the Ketotarian Diet?
The ketotarian diet is a plant-based version of the diet that’s popular with celebrities, but that doesn’t mean you have to eschew all meat and dairy to achieve ketosis.
“I designed ketotarian to be done 100% vegan keto if you choose, but I also added many keto-vegetarian options, with organic eggs and ghee, as well as keto-pescatarian (or ‘vegequarian’ as I call it in the book) options,” Cole told the website.
The reason: Meats are a great source of protein and fat — the key is moderation.
“Wild-caught fish is a fantastic source of omega-3 fats, which are great nutrients for a healthy brain, heart and hormones,” he added.
How Many Carbs Do You Eat on the Ketotarian Diet?
While the traditional keto diet recommends keeping net carbs — or the number of carbohydrates in a food minus its dietary fiber — to a strict minimum amount.
“I see many people following a traditional keto diet greatly limiting their vegetables for fear of going over their carb count. This leaves people missing a variety of much-needed nutrients their body needs,” he added.
Instead of focusing on the exact number of carbs you eat, the ketotarian diet recommends not counting carbs from non-starchy vegetables and avocados at all. The reason: They’re already love in carbs and high in fiber, so the number of net carbs is almost zero anyway. You should count the carbs of fruits and starchy vegetables, like sweet potatoes.
As for the exact number, Cole recommends eating 20 to 40 net carbs per day on the ketotarian diet to help kick your body into ketosis.
The ultimate goal of following the ketotarian diet is to not count carbs at all. As you get used to the diet, you will start to intuitively know how many carbs you should eat a day, according to Cole.
Can You Eat Fruit on the Ketotarian Diet?
Fruit isn’t completely off-limits on this plant-based keto diet.
In his book, Cole recommends limiting fruit to a max of two “handfuls” a day while in the first eight weeks of the keto diet — and those handfuls should come from low-fructose fruits, like grapefruit, blueberries and raspberries.
“Some people can tolerate several handfuls of fruit a day and still get all the benefits of ketosis, while others who are more carb-sensitive will have to limit their fruit intake as their body becomes fat-adapted,” Cole told Livestrong.
This means you can still have a fruit smoothie, you just have to avoid going over that two-handful guideline during the first phase.
Will You Get Enough Protein on the Ketotarian Diet?
You can technically eat fish on the ketotarian diet if you’d like, but protein-rich options are slim on a true plant-based keto diet because you aren’t supposed eat beans (because of the carb content). This can be a problem, especially since protein is one of the essential macronutrients we have to eat every day.
The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) says that the average man needs 56 grams of protein per day, while the average woman needs 46. This is the bare minimum, meaning most of need to eat more than that a day in order to grow and maintain muscle mass.
One option for protein on the ketotarian diet? Eat protein-rich vegetables, like spinach (2.9 grams of protein per 100 grams), asparagus (2.2 grams of program per 100 grams) and watercress (2.3 grams of protein per 100 grams).
You can also go for more non-traditional sources of protein for their health benefits, including:
- Nutritional yeast (5 grams of protein per tablespoon)
- Tempeh (31 grams of protein per cup)
- Spirulina (4 grams of protein per tablespoon)
- Hemp seeds or hemp hearts (40 grams of protein per cup)
How to Tell If You’re in Ketosis on the Ketotarian Diet
Keto devotees often use their urine to tell if they’re in ketosis (thanks to test strips like these by Perfect Keto).
These strips check the number of ketones in the pee — the marker of whether a person is in ketosis or not.
However, you don’t have to go that far to tell if you’re there.
Your best bet? Go off how you feel. If you feel more energetic, have increased energy and clearer thoughts, then you’re probably in ketosis on the ketotarian diet. Weight loss is (obviously) another big factor.
How Long Should You Stay on the Ketotarian Diet?
While many people view the keto diet as a lifestyle, Cole doesn’t view the ketotarian diet as a long-term diet.
“I suggest going plant-based keto for at least eight weeks to give your body time to shift from sugar-burning to fat-burning,” he told Goop. Then, reevaluate how you feel.
“If you like where you are, you don’t need to change anything,” he said. You’re eating some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.”
However, he doesn’t necessarily think people need to keep dieting unless it’s medically necessary.
“After those two months, I typically suggest spending varying times out of ketosis by increasing your healthy carbs and paying close attention to how you feel,” he added.
Or possibly start adding more meat and dairy back into your diet.
Is the Ketotarian Diet Dangerous?
“Ketotarian is a nutrient-dense diet of primarily whole, real foods, with lots of healthy plant and omega fats, clean protein, lots of non-starchy vegetables and low fructose fruits,” Cole told Well + Good. “This is not radical or dangerous.”
That said, you should always talk to your doctor before following a new diet, especially if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.