Plant-Based Diet vs. Ketogenic Diet

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Written by Brenda Peralta, Registered Dietitian and medically reviewed by Abby Courtenay

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There are several diets when it comes to weight loss. Two of the most popular nowadays are plant-based and ketogenic. Although they have different approaches, they are very similar in the results they can make someone obtain. So, is going low-carb, or is going meatless the solution for weight loss?

This article will compare the plant-based diet and the keto diet. Learn what it means to follow a plant-based diet and what the similarities and differences are with keto. See benefits and side effects you might get from either one, compare the foods allowed and not allowed, and consider the costs and which is the healthiest overall.


What is a plant-based diet?

A plant-based diet means eating most of your foods from plants instead of animals. It focuses more on fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and nuts and seeds.

Meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy are reduced or eliminated. The amount of animal protein consumed depends on each person: some people cut them out completely, others eat them in small amounts. Either way, the majority of your food comes from plants.

What’s the difference between plant-based, vegetarian, and vegan lifestyles? They all prefer natural plant foods over animal products, but they do have some differences.

  • Plant-based. Focuses on eating mostly natural and plant-based foods but allows eating animal products. It is a very flexible term. While some people add animal products often, others make a limitation.
  • Vegetarian. Mostly plant-based meals, but includes eggs and dairy. No meat, poultry, fish, or seafood.
  • Vegan. Exclude all animal products — meat, eggs, dairy, and even honey or gelatin. This can go beyond diet to everyday products that come from animals (like leather).

It’s worth noting that how strict you are with your diet is up to you. Some people eat vegetarian or vegan just a few days a week, and this helps you eat more healthy plant foods. Even just one plant-based meal a week can make a healthy difference.

You can also combine a plant-based approach with a low-carb high-fat diet, such as the ketogenic one. Again, how far you go is up to you. You can have a few meals per week that are meatless, or go vegan and keto at the same time.


Similarities between plant-based and keto diets

Although they might seem quite different, they have several similarities.

Keto and plant-based on weight loss

Both are great options when it comes to weight loss. Each one of them has several studies backing up their weight loss capacities. Weight loss will occur when you're taking in fewer calories than you need.

However, when it comes to the initial loss of weight, the ketogenic one might have a more significant advantage. You might lose more weight in the beginning due to water loss. This can help motivate you to keep going.

Since each person follows a plant-based diet to their own degree, it’s difficult to measure the exact effect. Eating more fruits and vegetables is certainly good for weight loss, but not all foods without animal products are healthy. Potato chips, white bread, cookies, and sugar are animal-free, but they will work against you, not only because they are energy dense, but also because they are devoid of healthy nutrients.

Heart disease

Both meal patterns can have results when it comes to heart disease. Several studies have shown that both these diets help decrease cholesterol levels, which leads to better heart health. Additionally, they can help you lower your blood pressure.

Again, it depends on what you choose to eat, even within the limitations of the diet. Stay away from sugars, saturated fats, and high amounts of sodium. Limit processed meats like bacon, sausage, and lunch meat. For plant-based, reduce your consumption of added sugars, flavored yogurts, baked goods, white rice, white bread, and french fries.

Plant-based and keto for type 2 diabetes

Finally, they can both be excellent options for those that are looking to handle their type 2 diabetes. In both cases, studies have shown that both diets can increase insulin sensitivity and can lower glucose levels, when the correct food choices are made.

In some cases, patients have been able to stop using medications due to their diabetes being controlled through diet. However, remember to always consult your healthcare provider when making any big decisions.


Differences between both diets

Although they have some similarities, they also have several differences.


The macronutrients in each one vary a little bit. In a ketogenic diet, you decrease your carb intake significantly, to 5-10% of your total calories.

On the other hand, a plant-based approach can have a higher carb intake, often reaching 50-60% of your total calories.

Remember that a plant approach is flexible. This means that although 50-60% is the average, there are some cases that this might be lower or higher.

Keto is not as flexible. You have to be mindful about keeping your carb count low so you can get into ketosis and start burning more fat.

Plant-based vs. keto on muscle gain

It might be hard to achieve muscle gain on these diets. Both have the advantage that they can decrease cravings and increase satiety. This means that you end up eating less during the day. For weight gain, including muscle building, you need to consume more calories than your body needs (caloric surplus).

However, since you can include more carbs into your diet in the plant-based approach, some people might find it easier to achieve that caloric surplus following this type of meal plan rather than a ketogenic one.

This doesn't mean, though, that you cannot gain muscle during keto. You just have to be more conscious about how you do it.


Health benefits of plant-based vs. a low-carb diet

There are several health benefits to following these approaches. The first and most noticeable is weight loss. By reducing highly processed, high energy, low nutrient foods, you can experience significant weight loss in each of them.

Additionally, by increasing more veggies and healthier fats, you can significantly reduce inflammation in your body. This means less aching and better workout recovery time.

Some people experience better skin and improved energy when switching to these eating patterns. Although it depends on which foods you add, it is often one of the most common benefits.

Finally, both have been linked to decreased risks in chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.


Side effects of a plant-based and a ketogenic diet

The main negative of a primarily plant diet is that you may have trouble getting enough protein. Be conscious of your protein intake, increasing it with Greek yogurt, nuts, legumes, tofu, and seitan. Other common deficiencies are calcium, iron, or B12. A well-planned plant-based diet will contain all the nutrients you need to be healthy. At the end of the day it’s about making the right choices and eating a variety of foods regularly.

When you cut down carbs for keto, you might get additional side effects:

  • Keto flu. During the first week of following a low-carb high-fat diet, you might experience nausea, headache, fatigue, and foggy brain. To avoid this, make sure to drink plenty of water and keep your sodium intake high enough (you can drink electrolytes).
  • Constipation. By reducing carbohydrates, you can significantly reduce fiber intake. Make sure to add plenty of veggies and drink lots of water.
  • Nutrient deficiency. If you are not careful with balancing out the fat intake with nutrient-dense foods like veggies (and sometimes fruits), you might get a nutrient deficiency.
  • Decreased performance. During the first week, you might not feel great, affecting your mental and physical performance. Make sure to take it slowly.

Both diets can be challenging when ordering food or attending a social gathering. Make things easier by looking up the menu online before you go to a restaurant, informing event organizers of your dietary restrictions, or even offering to bring (and share!) a dish or snack that fits your diet, if appropriate.


Compare plant-based and ketogenic foods

While the ketogenic diet restricts high-carb foods, a plant-based approach encourages whole grain products.

In the following table, you can compare the foods allowed and not allowed in each approach. Remember that in order to be healthy on a plant based diet, try to focus on more natural and whole plant-based foods with a reduction of animal based products.

Beans and legumes In moderation Allowed
Condiments and sauces Allowed
Dairy Allowed
In moderation
Sugar-free drinks Allowed Allowed
Sugar-sweetened beverages Not allowed Allowed
(in moderation)
Alcoholic drinks Allowed
Eggs Allowed In moderation
Fish and seafood Allowed In moderation
Fruits Allowed
Grains and starches Allowed
Herbs and spices Allowed Allowed
Meat and poultry Allowed In moderation
Nuts and seeds Allowed Allowed
Oils and fats Allowed Allowed
Processed foods Discouraged Allowed
Sugar-free sweeteners Allowed Allowed
Natural sweeteners Allowed
White and brown sugars

Not allowed

Starchy vegetables Allowed
Non-starchy vegetables Allowed Allowed


As you can see, there are a lot of similarities between each of the diets. One advantage of a plant-based diet is that you can combine it with another approach. For example, you can have a plant-based clean ketogenic diet so you also reduce sugars, carbs, and processed foods.

To understand more about what foods are ketogenic, visit the keto food index to see the facts for each ingredient.


Plant-based versus keto costs

Plant-based eating might be slightly cheaper than keto, but it depends on the foods you buy for each.

Fresh local products are typically less expensive since you can get them at your local farmer's market. This can significantly decrease the cost of groceries.

Since a ketogenic approach might slightly increase animal products, this can be a little bit more expensive. However, it also depends on where you get them, and whether you opt for organic or grain-free meat.

If you adopt a plant-based ketogenic approach, you can have a cheaper version of a traditional keto diet.


Which diet is healthier, keto or plant-based?

Overall, they can both be healthy options to implement with the right planning

You still have to make healthy choices, like eating lots of colorful veggies and staying away from ultra-processed foods and added sugars.

Remember that you need whole foods and variety in your diet to make it the ultimate food plan for your health.


The takeaway

Both are excellent options if you are looking to lose some weight. By eliminating refined high-energy/low-nutrient foods, you can improve several aspects of your health (not only your weight).

If you want more flexibility in your life, then the plant-based approach is the one for you. You might have more options when going out and going to social events. If this is not a limiting factor, you might choose the keto approach. Even better, you can mix them and get the best of both worlds.