Keto vs Vegan: What’s the Difference?
Keto vs vegan remains the hottest debate in the nutrition community to date.
At first glance, keto and vegan appear to be polar opposites. Keto is a high-fat, low-carb diet that encourages you to eat plenty of animal products and red meat.
Veganism avoids animal sources entirely, and is typically a low-fat diet favoring only veggies and other plant foods.
Despite their differences, keto and veganism promise a lot of the same health benefits, including weight loss, decreased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and more.
Here’s a look at keto vs. vegan, how the two compare, and which one will best help you reach your health goals.
The keto diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that emphasizes plentiful fat intake from sources like coconut oil, avocado, olive oil, butter, cheese, wild fish, and red meat.
On keto, you eat moderate protein (usually animal protein) and very few carbs.
Veganism is exclusively plant-based. It usually favors green veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and squashes.
There are a few similarities between keto and vegan diets. Both emphasize whole foods and encourage you to get the highest-quality ingredients you can find.
In addition, both diets can improve your overall health, as long as you approach them properly.
However, keto and veganism work very differently. Here’s a look at each one.
How Does The Ketogenic Diet Work?
The ketogenic diet works by shifting your metabolism into a fat-burning state called ketosis.
On a standard diet, your body uses carbs as its main fuel source. Your digestive system breaks carbs down into sugar, which passes through your small intestine and into your bloodstream.
Your blood then carries sugar to hungry cells, providing them with the fuel to keep your body running.
But if you stop eating carbs — or reduce your carb intake to a bare minimum — your cells can no longer use sugar as fuel. After a few days (called the keto adaptation period), your body will stop trying to burn carbs, and will instead begin using fat as its primary source of energy.
When you’re burning fat for fuel, you’re in ketosis.
Ketosis is the goal of the keto diet, and it’s responsible for most of keto’s health benefits. You’ll read more about the benefits of keto below.
How Does the Vegan Diet Work?
Vegans eat only plant foods, many of which are nutrient-dense and low in calories. Vegan diets are usually low-fat and higher-carb and contain a diverse variety of vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
It’s possible to eat poorly as a vegan. Breads, cakes, sugary drinks, and other unhealthy fare can be made without animal products. However, most vegans focus on high-quality whole foods that are packed with micronutrients.
And because veggies and other plant foods are often low in calories, vegans can eat a lot of food while still meeting their weight loss goals — one of the benefits of veganism.
In the last few years, studies have found quite a few benefits to following a ketogenic diet.
Several studies have found that the keto diet is an excellent choice for weight loss.
- Obese people lost an average of 33 lbs. while following keto for six months[*].
- Soldiers who followed a keto diet lost an average of 16 lbs. in 3 months[*]. They also showed high adherence, meaning they didn’t give up on the diet. That’s a big deal — the hardest part of weight loss is keeping the weight off long-term.
- A meta-analysis of 13 studies found that a keto diet was better than a low-fat diet when it came to long-term weight loss[*].
Ketosis suppresses hunger and makes you feel full on less food[*]. Keto dieters often report that they can lose weight without feeling hungry, which may explain why keto has better long-term weight loss results than many other diets.
Blood Sugar Control and Type 2 Diabetes
Keto is an excellent choice for managing blood sugar and type 2 diabetes.
Because keto cuts out almost all carbs, keto dieters tend to have stable blood sugar levels, which leads to stable energy throughout the day.
In several studies, keto stabilized blood sugar so well that patients with type 2 diabetes could get off their insulin medication entirely[*][*].
Mental Clarity and Brain Function
Research on keto and mental performance is still fairly new, but several studies have found promising results.
- Keto may improve brain function and slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases[*][*]. Many neurodegenerative diseases impair glucose (sugar) metabolism, cutting off brain cells’ sources of fuel and causing them to die. Keto offers an alternative fuel source (ketones), which can improve brain function in glucose-impaired cells. Ketones are also neuroprotective[*].
- In rats, keto strengthens mitochondria — the power plants that produce energy to fuel your brain cells[*].
- In rats, keto also increases antioxidant production, which protects the brain from inflammation and aging[*].
You can read our guide to the biggest keto benefits for a full breakdown of how keto can improve your overall health.
Veganism also comes with several potential health benefits.
Vegans are typically thinner than omnivores[*], and several studies have found that plant-based diets help obese people lose weight[*].
One possible reason is that many staple vegan foods — veggies, fruits, legumes, and so on — are low in calories, so you can eat a lot of them and still lose weight.
If you’re a volume eater trying to lose weight, veganism may be a good choice.
Heart Disease and Cardiovascular Disease
Observational studies have found that vegans have a lower than average incidence of cardiovascular disease[*].
Vegan diets are also linked to a decreased risk of clogged arteries, heart attack, and stroke[*].
Case studies (studies of single people) have also found that veganism may reverse blocked arteries[*] — although there needs to be more research before dietitians and researchers can make a definitive statement about veganism and arterial blockage.
When it comes to any diet, the single most important question is: can you stick to it?
As a general rule, people struggle to follow diets long-term[*]. Nutrition is quite personal, and the best diet for you is the one that you can eat for months or years.
How do the keto diet and the vegan diet stack up when it comes to long-term adherence?
At first glance, keto may seem like a hard diet to follow. It’s more restrictive than other low-carb diets like the paleo diet and Atkins — both of which allow for more carbs.
However, research suggests that adherence to keto is actually quite good, even over long periods[*][*].
One explanation is keto’s effect on hunger. Ketosis suppresses appetite, which makes it easier to lose weight over time[*] — you don’t feel constantly hungry, even when you’re in a calorie deficit.
In addition, if you struggle with sugar or carb cravings, you may find it easier to stop eating them altogether instead of simply moderating yourself. Many people report that their sugar and carb cravings go away after a few weeks on keto.
That said, keto isn’t necessarily for everyone. If you struggle to give up carbs, you may want to try a modified version of keto, like cyclical keto or targeted keto.
Research suggests that veganism is no easier or harder to follow than other common diets.
A 2015 study found that, over a six-month period, people could stick to a vegan diet as easily as they could an omnivore diet[*].
Other studies have also found that adherence rates are similar for veganism and other diets[*].
If you’re going to try veganism, keep a few things in mind.
- Eat quality food. Cutting out animal products isn’t enough to get healthy. You likely won’t see results if you’re eating cakes, cookies, pasta, bread, Impossible Burgers, and other unhealthy foods that happen to be plant-based. Instead, focus on fresh fruits and veggies, legumes, grains, and other whole foods.
- Prioritize protein. Inadequate protein is a common complaint on a vegan diet, but if you plan your meals well, it’s possible to meet your protein needs without eating animal products. Prioritize high-protein foods like from beans, grains, quinoa, soy, and peanuts.
- Take a B12 supplement. Vegans are also at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency because the vitamin is found almost exclusively in animal-based foods.
- Take a DHA/EPA omega-3 supplement. Plant foods contain ALA, a form of omega-3fatty acid that humans struggle to absorb. Your body only converts and absorbs about 5% of ALA[*]. Take a DHA/EPA omega-3 supplement derived from algae — one of the only vegan sources of DHA/EPA in the world.
If you’re going to eat vegan long-term, make sure that you take B12 and omega-3 supplements every day. Both are essential, and if you don’t get enough of them, you may run into nutrient deficiencies and health issues down the line.
However, as long as you follow the guidelines above, veganism can be a healthy diet.
When it comes to the best diet, there’s no one answer. What matters most is which diet feels sustainable to you.
The best way to find a diet that works is to experiment. Try several different diets until you come across one that feels good and helps you reach your goals.
If you want to try a keto diet, our simple beginner’s guide to keto has everything you need to get started today.