First off, I know that technically “keto” isn’t a diet and that foods are not “keto” or “not keto,” they are simply foods. But there are certain foods that can take you over your macro limit and kick your body out of ketosis. So, saying something is “keto” has become slang. I am totally aware of this and embrace it.
But one of the things that has always bothered me, and this isn’t only for the ketogenic lifestyle, is how people use specific styles of eating, or “diets,” to justify poor eating habits that are in reality not healthy for our bodies.
I hope this post doesn’t come across as judgemental, but I think this is an important topic to be discussed. If you are following a vegan or keto diet, and you don’t particularly care what you eat or which nutrient-dense foods are best for your body to run optimally, that’s your choice, however, if you are eating one of those ways because you hear “vegan” “paleo” or “keto” and automatically think it’s healthy for you, then this post might be for you.
It’s a logical fallacy to assume that because you eat vegan, that you are eating healthy. And I urge you not to default to that if you truly do care about what food you are putting into your body. There are a ton of “unhealthy” and processed foods out there marketed to vegans across the world and this is wrong. We fall into a trap because we’ve let the food industry tell us lies for too long, market unhealthy foods as healthy, because, hey, it’s vegan!
And it’s very easy to default to a lot of high-carb foods when you are vegan because when you remove meat and dairy from the equation, you limit your food options, naturally. And marketers love to latch onto making things “vegan friendly” with little disregard for how nutritious those things are. Bring on the vegan mac and cheese, frozen meals and soy burgers, and sugary desserts (which are OK…. in moderation!).
You can totally be vegan and eat real food that fuels your body.
I was vegan for two years and so I know how hard it is to constantly get the needed amount of protein. Because of pre-existing gut issues (like leaky gut) I had a hard time digesting things like lentils, beans and chickpeas, which made it challenging. I eventually ended up super protein deficient and now I eat grass-fed lean red meat, organic air-chilled and pasteurized chicken, wild caught fish, etc.
However, while I was vegan, I almost never went for meat alternative products. I know everyone is going nuts over the “Impossible” burger, but, do you get that this is concocted in a food lab? To get it just close enough to mimic the taste, texture and color of real red meat?
Just because something is ‘meat free” doesn’t make it healthy. It could be loaded with processed sugars, chemicals, refined grains and flours, artificial sweeteners like maltodextrin and include a variety of other things that are not healthy. Now, I know there is a lot of debate out there amongst the vegan community about soy, but after reading all of the research and having my own doubts with soy, I am totally in the camp that soy is not good for our bodies, largely because it is commoditized by Monsanto and sold nearly everywhere in the U.S. as a genetically modified organism (GMO). This means that organisms (soy, corn, tomatoes, etc.) have had their genomes changed in a way that does not happen naturally. No matter which way you slice and dice that, the bottom line is that it’s not natural.
One of the other major problems with industrialized / commercial soy is that it contains phytoestrogens, which mimic estrogen in our body. As a female, that can seriously mess with your overall hormonal balance, and as a male, it also affects testosterone levels.
Here’s the thing though, NOT all soy is created equal and not all soy is bad. Ever heard of natto? It’s a type of fermented soy that’s popular in Asian cuisine, particularly Japan. This soy is not GMO, and it’s fermented, meaning it packed full of healthy probiotics that help heal our guts, aid in digestion, and is full of vitamin k2 which has been shown to support brain health and build strong bones, and even naturally heal your body. Miso and tamari sauce are other alternatives, as long as they are organic and non GMO.
And some of the other meatless alternatives are full of artificial ingredients, preservatives, processed oils and are generally nutritionally “empty.”
So, if you want to eat soy, look for natto, or a soy product that is organic and fermented. That’s key. And instead of grabbing for that meatless patty at the grocery store, stock up on other protein-rich foods like beans, lentils, quinoa, other legumes, and seeds and nuts. If you have trouble digesting those foods, try sprouting them (soaking them in water overnight) which makes it easier for your body to digest the enzymes. TruRoots is one of my favorite organic and sprouted lentil brands.
And if you still want a meatless burger, just pay attention to ingredients and read labels!
Frozen meals like Lean Cuisine, and even those from Amy’s or Trader Joe’s, frozen pizzas, and boxed mac and cheese are marketed as “vegan” but they are very high in refined flours, grain, sugars and processed ingredients, as well as insanely high in sodium and cholesterol, which make them not as healthy for you. Not to mention, some of these meals are total carb bombs.
I get it, convenience is important, and meal prep is not always an option because life gets in the way. If you want to keep a few frozen meals on hand, go for it, but don’t make it a staple in your diet. It would be better to keep frozen veggies on hand instead, and throw them into a quick pot to boil or sautee!
We all indulge, myself included. I am not saying never have a vegan dessert in your life. I am saying, moderation is important, as is reading labels and going for the best “healthy” option available. Or, if you have the time and desire, make your own desserts. That way you’ll know exactly what’s in it. I make these amazing keto fat bombs from Kettle & Fire, which also happen to be vegan. When I get a craving, I grab for one of these bad boys.
What I often see happen though, is a “vegan” dessert ends up being less nutritional and healthy for you than if you were to have a dessert made with dairy and eggs. Why? Because those foods are natural binding agents, and without them, food manufacturers must turn to other unnatural ingredients to add in like starches, gums and pectins to bind or reach a certain consistency.
There’s also a strong likelihood that there’s a ton of added (and hidden) sugar ingredients in your vegan cupcake that might not otherwise be there, as well as other processed oils, refined grains and synthetic ingredients. Some common “hidden” sugars include maltose, dextrose, dextrin, maltodextrin, glucose, brown rice syrup, corn syrup, ethyl maltol, and so on. This Healthline article outlines 56 different names for sugar! Yikes! (P.S. if it ends in “-ose,” it’s most likely a sugar!)
Not all sugar is bad, and yes, you can argue that sugar is sugar is sugar, meaning no matter the original form (raw honey, agave or dextrose) that sugar is broken down in the body the same way, every time, but I have to disagree on some level. Raw honey is natural, and totally unprocessed. Yes, it’s still sugar, but it has not been created in a lab, heated at insanely high temps, and then manufactured/processed before making its way to our mouths.
There are plenty of healthier options out there for vegan desserts. I personally love truffles from Living Raw, Snackaroons from The Laughing Giraffe, Coconut Bliss frozen coconut ice cream desserts (ALL flavors!), mochi, and treats made locally from vendors that I know and trust. If you’re in San Francisco, Nourish Cafe, Urban Remedy, Project Juice Test Kitchen, Kitava (also paleo/keto-friendly) are a few of my favorite organic health vegan-friendly restaurants and juice shops that have amazing desserts!
Note: I am not officially endorsing these products, nor is this a sponsored post. Just some of my personal favorites!
Now, let’s talk keto. Just like every other diet, eating to put your body in ketosis can be healthy, or it can be totally unhealthy, depending on which foods you decide to eat. The biggest problem with keto is that people end up overdoing it on all of the “browns,” meaning, the bullet proof coffees, the keto fat bombs, the red & brown meats, protein shakes and bars, nuts, seeds and nut butters, etc. and they forget that they still need to balance that out with low carb and fibrous leafy green vegetables.
You can and should eat tons of low carb veggies if you are following a ketogenic diet because these are packed full of nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants our bodies need to thrive and to run optimally.
I love bacon, let’s clear that up before I go any further. But, following a ketogenic diet is NOT an excuse to load up on processed meats like bacon, salami, fast food burgers from Five Guys or In-N-Out, and other deli meats.
Sure, you can eat these things occasionally, but if you’re having bacon with every meal and washing it down with a greasy fast food cheeseburger (no matter if it falls into the “high fat, low carb” keto category, then on some level, that’s not good for your body.
Processed meats (even the beloved bacon) sometimes contain a preservative called sodium nitrite, which is considered a carcinogenic since 2015. The dangers of nitrites are severe, and well documented. Here are some of the major ones:
There are other negative effects, too of eating processed meats like hotdogs, deli meat, bacon, ham, etc. like inflammation and toxicity. And sometimes these meats include antibiotics which can throw off biorhythms and hormones and cause major gut issues.
But you can find “nitrite-free” and “antibiotic-free” versions of these meats in health stores across the globe. That said, too much of anything processed, no matter how “grass-fed” or “nitrite free” is not good for the body because it’s not natural or whole.
Plus, if you go over your protein count while trying to stay in a ketogenic state, you will get bumped out of it. This is a fairly common mistake most people new to the keto way of eating (myself included) make in the beginning. Remember your macros should be:
This may be one of my biggest pet peeves! I was on Instagram the other day and someone had posted a “keto” food list, and on that list was pork rinds and diet soda! Diet soda?! And I see this all of the time – people posting pictures of their “keto” Subway or Wendy’s meal.
But just because something is carb free or low carb, like diet pop and fried pig skins DOES not make it healthy. If your goal is only to achieve a steady state of ketosis, then yes, go for it, but eating fried foods and carbonated drinks with artificial sweeteners like Splenda and aspartame is not healthy by any means.
If you’re craving one of those things, then it’s okay to indulge once in a while, or go for healthier options like oven baked, grass fed, antibiotic, and nitrite/nitrate free pork rinds from Epic bars (and other types of beef jerkies) and pop brands like Zevia that use stevia or monk fruit extract, which are plant-based zero calories sweeteners. But even then, use in moderation. If you want some fizz, try a carbonated water (flavored or non). Sometimes that will cut the cravings!
One other common misconception I see/hear is that you can’t have vegetables on keto because it’ll take you over your carb count, and therefore, it’s fine to load up on dairy meat and fats.
That’s not true, and in fact, you want to incorporate lots of dark green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach and chard and other non-starchy vegetables like zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, etc.
Not having enough greens and veggies in your diet will leave you nutrient deficient and unhappy because all of those nut butters and cheeses can really clog you up and slow down digestion. You need a generous amount of fiber in your diet that you won’t get from animal products and fats, and since beans/legumes are out of the question for keto, you get them from veggies.
Now if you have a pre-existing gut/health problem (like me — I have IBS), then you might want to be cautious with fiber intake, but generally, fiber is a good thing.
My biggest point here is don’t use certain “diets” as an excuse to overeat on processed and junk foods. And let’s call a spade a spade. Sometimes you want to eat junk. Totally fine, but own it. Most of these things are OK once in a blue moon.
I fully believe that if you are absolutely craving something, just have it, and move on with your life. Don’t beat yourself up, or deny yourself something if it’s only going to stress you out.
There are already too many stressors in life and food shouldn’t be one of them. I understand this all too well. And as I work to heal my leaky gut, manage my IBS and autoimmune disease, I am slowly learning to love food again and not dread eating at every single meal.