If you’d asked me a year ago about my diet I’d have declared myself a high carb vegan. As an ethical vegan I definitely indulged in as much rice, and grains as I cared to. Honestly I still feel that for many this is a great diet. However, things changed back in December and a study led me down the path of a vegan keto diet. Initially I was skeptical, but having lived it for 3 months I figured I’d share my experience. Disclaimer: Links in this post may be affiliate links.
Why did I decide to try vegan keto?
I’m gonna be 100% honest and say that a year ago, there is no way I would have tried a keto diet. Vegan or otherwise. My high carb life was suiting me just fine. However, I attended a webinar about the study on Keto and Polycystic Kidney disease (which I have) and the results were encouraging.
Eager for more information I joined a couple of facebook groups for vegan keto. And one, specifically for Keto diet and PKD. These people shared their results before and after keto and it seemed amazing. After reading the research papers, and seeing the great results of others I decided it was worth a try. After all, all I had to change was my diet!
At this time, I had been intermittent fasting for 4 months (already part of keto protocols) and feeling good. Ironically I’d also begun craving more nuts, seeds, and avocados in the months leading up to the switch. Was my body already telling me what to do? After clearing this experiment with my nephrologist, I began switching to a vegan keto diet.
So what is vegan keto?
Firstly I want to clear up the misconception that keto involves a lot of animal products. It doesn’t have to. It is not paleo! Keto is simply having high fat diet, moderate protein and low carbs. A typical keto macro breakdown is 75% fat, 15% protein and 10% carbs. Pretty much the reverse of what I had been eating!
Obviously as an ethical vegan, eating meat was out of the question. Thankfully armed with a good cook book, some recommended websites/recipes, and a few new friends in my facebook groups I was ready to start. In December I started to experiment with recipes, and gradually reduce my carb intake. Later, on January 1st, I made the switch to vegan keto.
The first week of January I invested in a 6 month subscription to Cronometer so I could accurately track my macros. This, is by far one of the biggest tips I’d recommend for anyone venturing into following a keto diet. Tracking the NET carbs via an app. At least initially. There are so many hidden carbs in unsuspecting foods. It’s pretty scary actually.
How do you know you’re in ketosis?
The way I see it is you can either just assume you are in ketosis by tracking your macros (see above). Or you can use some method of testing. Whether that’s blood, breath, or urine is up to you. I chose to get some urine test strips and was surprised to find that after just a week in I was in the early stages of ketosis.
Using the strips I was able to juggle my macro’s and find that 12% net carbs is the sweet spot for my body to be in ketosis. YMMV. Using Cronometer I discovered I feel the best around 10% carbs. On a typical day for me that’s around 30-35g net carbs. For those wondering there’s around 30g of carbs in a banana!
What changed in my diet?
Basically EVERYTHING changed. My favorite foods pre-keto were anything with potatoes, rice, quinoa and tortillas. All of which were out on this new diet plan. I initially kept my carbs to 15% and reduced down once I got things a little more figured out.
Gone were lunches of burritos, rice and beans, quinoa salads and nachos. Instead, I was loading up on coconut cream curry, chia pudding, chocolate, and fat bombs. One thing that really surprised me is how many vegetables I was still eating on vegan keto. Especially cauliflower and cabbage. I think I’ve eaten more cabbage since January, than I have the whole of my life prior to the switch! And you know what? I’ve really enjoyed it!
One other MAJOR change in my diet was adding salt to food. As someone with kidney disease sodium had been something I avoided like the plague. Now, because keto depletes your electrolytes I found I needed to ADD salt to my food. What new World was this?
Struggles + keto flu?
For anyone that researches going keto, the first thing you find is references to the dreaded “keto flu”. Basically flu like symptoms caused by changes in your body due the new diet. My personal experience with keto flu is limited as I really only dealt with headaches occasionally and that was when I realized I had to add sodium to balance my electrolytes. Once I added that into my diet, I was totally fine. But I also didn’t cut carbs cold turkey, but reduced down in December. Then, I reduced more in January. Before settling at 10% net carbs.
One negative thing I will say about vegan keto, is that it’s difficult to eat out. At the end of January we spent a week at Disney World, and boy was that a challenge. Thankfully, we stayed at the Fort Wilderness Cabins so we could self cater. But eating out was a rarity, and/or required a lot of planning. The diet in general requires planning. No longer can you just come home, grab a sandwich and go.
Benefits I saw following vegan keto
As I mentioned, I was skeptical about keto. Honestly everything I’d read seemed to fly in the face of all the things I’d learned during my nutrition coaching. However, I was surprised to find that the benefits of keto are very real.
I’d always prescribed to calories in, calories out. However, the first week of keto blew that theory out the water. As I said, I was tracking ALL my food. My calorie intake did not change. I lost 4lbs the first week. Over the course of 3 weeks I lost a total of 8lbs. This was when I realized I’d have to adjust my calorie intake, because weight loss was NOT my goal. I’d dropped down to 116 lbs at week three and didn’t want to go any further. Making a small daily adjustment I plateau’d and managed to maintain my weight.
Weight loss would be easy on this diet! Why? The high fat intake keeps you satiated. Doing intermittent fasting I was used to not eating till lunch. I simply wasn’t hungry. The other major benefit was WHERE this weight loss happened. The belly bloat disappeared. And, for the first time in my life, I had a waist! Although I’d been slim, I had an athletic build with no ‘curves’ at the waist. Now I had a definite dip in at my waistline! Wow!
How did it affect my PKD?
This one is where things get difficult. My initial plan was to follow the diet for three months. Have new lab work, and compare to my results from August 2019. I’d be my own lab rat. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 has made me cautious about going to the doctors office and risk exposing myself unnecessarily. Because of this, I’m extending the experiment and continuing until I can safely get my labs done. I will report back with results and an update at a later date. Once the World get back to “normal”. Whatever that will look like.
I feel great! In the three months of this experiment, I had three days when I felt terrible with my kidneys. And, that was at the end of January. While on our trip to Florida. I was struggling to keep my fat intake up, and succumbed to having some carbs, and diet soda during the trip. I’m pretty sure the soda was culprit for my crappy health during those three days. It’s happened before. And, it seems a lesson I’m destined to learn repeatedly.
One interesting thing I noted about 6 weeks into this experiment is that my kidneys felt “softer’. My left kidney was particularly noticeable as I can palpate it easily due to it’s size and position. Previously it felt hard and uncomfortable when pressed. Now, it feels more pliable. There is also less pressure and discomfort. Promising!
Conclusion – would I continue the diet?
When we were locked down and I realized that me getting bloodwork done was risky I had a choice. Do I give up, and waste the last 3 months work? Or do I continue and just wait it out? I decided to continue and wait it out.
While waiting it out, I became aware that the laboratory that did the initial PKD & keto diet study was looking for case studies. I immediately signed up. And I’m now a part of that research group. This gives me a purpose to keep at the diet and hopefully help provide clarity on whether this diet will help patients with PKD.
In all this experiment has shown me that I was clouded in my judgement about the keto diet. I was also unaware of the prevalence of sugar in all our foods. If I get a boost in my kidney function, or a decrease in the size I’d be over the moon. However, I think the biggest difference is in how I feel. Which without the belly bloat is really good.
Would I recommend it? If you’re doing it for health reasons absolutely. But be aware that it takes research, work and lots of preparation. Personally for me the health benefits are worth the trade off. Your mileage may vary.
- Have you tried keto before?
- Are you following any specific diet for health reasons?
- Are you interested in vegan keto recipes?