The popular ketogenic diet—a promising option for people seeking weight loss and relief from a variety of health conditions—calls for a significant portion of calories from fat, and many keto adherents choose most of their dietary fat from animal sources. But what if you’re a fan of plant-based eating? The solution is the eco-keto diet, which emphasizes plant-based fats.
The ketogenic diet is rooted in the principle of consuming so few carbohydrates that your body alters its metabolism to favor burning fat for energy instead.
The metabolic state this way of eating creates is called ketosis, because the breakdown of fat leads to the creation of compounds known as ketones, which the body ultimately uses as a fuel source.
The ketogenic diet was first introduced in the 1920s as a primary or alternative treatment option for epilepsy, a common neurological condition characterized by seizures. Although the exact reason a keto diet helps is not known, some scientists believe that the presence of ketones in the blood increases the stability of the nervous system, thus reducing seizure risk.
Safety first: The keto diet and diabetes
There are some concerns that individuals with diabetes who are taking either insulin or SGLT2 inhibitors may be at increased risk for a dangerous condition known as ketoacidosis. Individuals who fall into this category should seek guidance from their health care team before pursuing a ketogenic diet.
Tofu: friend or foe?
Soy-based products, including soy milk, tofu, tempeh, miso, and plant-based meat and cheese substitutes made from soy, are an important staple of many plant-based diets, including the eco-keto diet.
Tofu, of course, is made from soybeans. And there has been much controversy surrounding the environmental impact of soybean production, including large-scale deforestation. But while it’s true that a great deal of agricultural land is allotted to growing soybeans, a majority of global soy production is ultimately used to feed animals.
A recently published summary by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has given no credence to the suggestion that soy may be harmful to human health. The authors recommend consuming soy in its least processed forms, such as edamame, soy milk, tofu, tempeh, and miso.
Achieving ketosis—what are the benefits?
The primary step to achieving ketosis is consuming less than 10 percent of one’s caloric intake from carbohydrates. Unless following the diet as a treatment for epilepsy, there is no standardized amount of protein (from 10 to 35 percent) and fat (from 55 to 80 percent) to consume on a ketogenic diet. But fat should be the point of emphasis in order to maintain ketosis.
Although the ketogenic diet is far from a one-size-fits-all solution, it’s drawing
increasing interest from the medical community, including the acclaimed Journal of the American Medical Association, as a potential tool for those who are struggling with managing either weight or type 2 diabetes and have had little success with more conventional dietary strategies.
Why the eco-keto diet?
Although the ketogenic diet’s specifics vary widely from person to person, many popular representations of the diet involve a heavy emphasis on fats and proteins of animal origin. A standard ketogenic diet might include a significant number of calories from
- red meat
- bacon, sausages, and other processed meat
- high-fat cheeses
However, for those who prefer more plants in their diet, keto is still an option—and the environmental and health benefits can be significant.
A comprehensive 2010 report co-published by the United Nations Enviromental Programme and the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management concluded that consuming more plant-based foods is one of the single most impactful things an individual can choose to do to protect the environment, particularly if seasonal produce is prioritized.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the largest global network of nutrition professionals, states that diets that favor more plant-based selections “are more environmentally sustainable.”
The other benefit of a more plant-dense diet, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics? “Vegetarians and vegans are at reduced risk of certain health conditions, including ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer, and obesity.”
Enter the eco-keto diet, for those who want to garner the benefits of the ketogenic diet without giving up some of their favorite plant-based foods. An eco-keto diet is characterized by heavy calorie consumption from plant-based fat and protein sources, including
- low-carb nuts and seeds, such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds
- vegetable oils, especially extra-virgin olive oil
- tofu, tempeh, and miso
Feeling enamored of the eco-keto diet now that you know what it’s all about? It might be worth a try; I certainly support and recommend it!
Want more inspo? Check out this story on one woman’s experience using the ketogenic diet to help manage type 1 diabetes!