Is the Ketotarian Diet Better Than Classic Keto? A Nutritionist Answers
Here's what an RD really thinks about the plant-based approach to the ketogenic diet.
By now you’re probably pretty familiar with the ketogenic diet, the meal plan that hikes up fat intake while keeping protein consumption moderately low and carb consumption nearly nonexistent. The point? To send your body into ketosis, a state in which it’s forced to burn fat for fuel (instead of carbs), theoretically resulting in weight loss. But are you as familiar with keto’s buzzy new cousin, the ketotarian diet?
Popularized by functional medicine expert and Ketotarian author Will Cole, the meal plan essentially fuses a (mostly) vegetarian diet with a ketogenic diet, replacing the majority of animal fats with plant-based ones like avocados, olives, nuts, and coconut. The goal? To deliver the same benefits as the classic keto diet (think: fat loss, stable blood sugar levels, more energy) without loading up on potentially inflammatory animal foods like red meat and dairy.
This swap makes logical sense. “When comparing plant-based fats to animal-based fats, the literature shows that fats from plants are preferred as they contain less saturated fat, which has long been demonized,” explains Sydney Greene, RD, a nutritionist at Middleberg Nutrition in New York City.
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Yet even among plant-derived fats, a hierarchy exists. “Not all plant-based fats are created equal,” says Greene. “Less mass-produced and genetically modified plants such as walnuts and flaxseeds contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids that support heart health, healthy skin, and immunity, whereas canola, soy, and corn oils contain higher levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which can be linked to inflammation.”
In comparison to the keto diet, Cole’s ketotarian approach puts more of an emphasis on eating plants. That difference could potentially make up for some of the keto diet’s drawbacks. “Some of the negative nutritional side effects of the ketogenic diet are constipation, lethargy, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies due to the intense restriction on all carbohydrates, including the healthy ones that are high in fiber and nutrients,” says Greene. “Since the ketotarian diet promotes including more plants, I see it as the better option.”
But Greene isn’t sold on ketotarianism, either. “I’m wary of any diet that suggests leaning away from an entire food category,” she adds. “Even though the principles of the ketotarian diet seem to give more flexibility, I worry that the guidelines are not clear enough and could cause unwanted anxiety around otherwise healthful foods like fruits and vegetables other than greens.”
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If you are interested in following the ketotarian diet, try whipping up your own chia seed pudding loaded with ground flaxseeds and unsweetened shredded coconut for a breakfast filled with healthy, plant-derived fats. An avocado egg salad and a roasted sesame-ginger salmon with veggies could be ketotarian lunch and dinner options, says Greene.
Too stressed to prep your own keto snacks ahead of time? Brands are getting on board with the ketotarian diet too. Lavva makes dairy-free yogurts from ingredients like pili nuts, plantains, and coconut. Dang has also put out “keto-certified” bars made with almonds, cocoa butter, and sunflower and chia seeds.
But is the ketotarian diet better than a simple, whole foods approach to eating? “There is no comparison,” says Greene. “In my experience with clients, any time you put a label on a way of eating there tends to be some level of stress around food and some feeling of 'dieting' that sets in, even if it is subconsciously.”
Instead, Greene prefers to prescribe straightforward meal plans that are rooted in variety. “The more variety and the more plants, the better,” she says. “I suggest one to two servings of a healthy fat at every meal and snack, and while I lean towards plant-based fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olives, I do encourage animal-based fats like wild salmon, grass-fed beef, egg yolks, and full-fat, organic dairy. The key is rotation to guarantee nutrient variation and proper education on portions.” Now that’s our kind of "diet."