Veganism and keto go together like—wait, scratch that. The two plans couldn’t be more different: One focuses on mainly plant-based foods and the other, well, it wants you to eat lots of fat and encourages bacon.
But, despite their differences, both diets have been linked to weight loss (though, for the record, many people decide to go vegan for ethical and environmental reasons that have nothing to do with a number on the scale). So…if you are trying to lose weight, is one diet a better way to drop pounds than the other?
First things first: What is keto and what is vegan?
The keto diet (which is short for “ketogenic diet”) is an eating plan that focuses on minimizing your carb intake and upping your fats. The idea is to put your body in a state called ketosis, which means it’s using fat as a form of energy.
Everyone’s body and needs are slightly different, but that usually means getting 60 to 75 percent of your calories from fat, 15 to 30 percent of your calories from protein, and 5 to 10 percent of your calories from carbs. That also means fruit intake (and carb-heavy veggies like potatoes and squash) is scaled back too, since sugar (even when it’s naturally occurring sugar) = carbs.
A vegan diet, however, is pretty different—it basically eliminates all animal products from your diet, including meat, poultry, fish, and dairy. The diet focuses on plant-based foods and, frankly, doesn’t give a crap how many carbs you eat.
So, which diet is best for losing weight?
That depends. Whether you’re going to lose weight on either diet (and how much) has a lot to do with what you were eating before, says Jessica Cording, R.D.
On keto, for example: “if you’ve been eating a ton of carbs, especially simple carbs, and you make the shift to keto, overhaul how you eat, and your body goes into ketosis, it’s not uncommon that you’ll notice a lot of weight loss right away,” she says. “It’s likely because you’re cutting out a lot of problematic foods that you were getting excess calories from before.”
The same can be true if you go vegan and previously eat a lot of steak, burgers, and bacon, she says.
But if we’re talking about which diet has a better chance of helping you lose more weight, faster, keto comes out on top. “By replacing the majority of carbohydrates with proteins, some people often feel more satiated compared to other diets, including the vegan diet,” says Beth Warren, R.D., founder of Beth Warren Nutrition.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any weight-loss benefits to going vegan—”the vegan diet has still proven to be effective for weight loss in many individuals,” says Keene. If dropping pounds is your goal, it’s just important to focus on nutrient-dense foods. Opting for lots of produce, plant-based protein, and healthy grains, for example, will lead to better weight-loss results than, say, subsisting on vegan pizza and cookies.
Okay, well which diet should I try: keto or vegan?
Question: How do you feel about eating meat and animal products? If it’s not your thing, clearly keto isn’t for you.
Also, for the record, neither diet is guaranteed to help you lose weight (it’s a super body-specific thing!). While plenty of people have had success with keto, others, like Savannah Guthrie, have seen zero results. Ditto for a vegan diet—some people lose weight, while others may even gain weight.
It also depends on whether weight loss is your only goal, or if you’re trying to eat a more nutritious diet and become healthier overall. Again, keto, for example can “help you lose weight faster,” says Julie Upton, R.D., cofounder of nutrition website Appetite for Health, “but vegan is much healthier and can help you reach and sustain a healthy weight.”
Sustainability is another key factor: Keto is notoriously tough to maintain. “Keto does require a lot of planning, meal prep, and thinking ahead,” Cording says. People can also have gastrointestinal issues, which can be tough to deal with for the long-term—or may even make them quit the diet too soon before seeing any results. Though, if you don’t think you can live a life fully dependent on veggies, sustainability’s an issue with veganism, too.
The bottom line: Both diets can work for weight loss if done correctly; keto might be quicker, but veganism might be more sustainable. But ultimately, choosing which one should be based on your lifestyle and food preferences.
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