Keto and plant-based are both buzzwords in the diet and health worlds right now, and they're both touted as weight loss solutions by their proponents. But which of these trending diets actually helps you lose weight, and keep it off? Here’s what nutrition science shows us.
No calorie counting, no gaining back the weight just a few weeks later. Flood your body with nutrients by eating tasty, comforting, and satisfying whole food plant-based meals - and lose weight easily.
While Forbes named both keto and plant-based two of the hottest diets of 2020, they couldn’t be more different. While yes, there are some keto plant-based recipes out there, the two diets are a bit at odds with each other. Here are the main differences between the two.
The keto diet (or ketogenic diet) is based on eating a high fat and very low carb diet. The idea is that eating this way will put your body into a metabolic state called ketosis, which is when your body becomes very efficient at using fat, instead of carbohydrates, as its form of energy. (Your body can also go into ketosis when you consume too few calories.)
On a keto diet your nutritional intake is about 75 percent fat, 20 percent protein, and 5 percent carbs. You'll eat lots of meat, fish and seafoods, eggs, low-carb vegetables, cheese, nuts, and saturated fats like butter, coconut oil, and olive oil. It also means avoiding lots of fruits, grains (including bread and pasta), legumes, and anything with added sugar
Those who choose a keto diet typically experience weight loss, and fast (especially if they were eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates before going keto.) Proponents of a keto diet claim they experience less brain fog, more energy, and less hunger eating this way, as well.
A plant-based diet, like a vegan diet, does not include meat, dairy, eggs, or other animal products. It focuses on plant foods, like fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds. And most plant-based diets, especially whole food plant-based diets, are low in fat and high in whole carbohydrates. (Told you it was a far cry from keto!)
Like keto, folks often experience weight loss on a plant-based diet, and sometimes drastic transformations at that, especially if they ate a Standard American Diet high in meat and cheese and processed foods beforehand.
Ok, so now that we know the difference between the two, which one is best for weight loss? Well, it depends on what kind of weight loss you’re interesting in.
If you want to lose weight really fast and see the numbers go down on the scale, studies show keto wins over plant-based...at first.
But the scale is misleading. Sure, you may lose more pounds on a keto diet in the first few days and weeks, but not more body fat. What happens on low carb diets, from Atkins to keto, is a big initial loss of lean mass, or water and protein. It's why they are so popular — if you're looking to see the number on the scale go down, these low carb diets work (at first). And with the keto diet in particular, there is even more rapid water loss body needs to flush the ketones from the kidneys, too.
And keto diets actually put you at disadvantage and end up slowing the loss of body fat. Dieters who cut down on fat see 80% more fat loss compared to those cutting carbs.
Not to mention, as nearly any weight loss expert will tell you, the best diet is the one you can stick with. And keto is often unsustainable.
This study showed compliance with a keto diet drops by 42 percent over the course of 12 months. That’s almost half of all people ditching the keto way of life! Those who stuck with keto for the year saw the same amount of weight loss as low fat dieters over those 12 months.
Ok, but what about plant-based weight loss? How does it stack up? Well, you may not drop pounds quite as quickly as keto (remember — the initial weight loss seen in low-carb diets is mostly water weight), plant-based comes out on top for sustainability (and overall health benefits).
Similar to keto, counting calories isn't necessary. But unlike a keto diet, there is not necessarily a specific percentage breakdown of macros when you're following a plant-based diet. The idea is so long as you're eating a balanced plant-based diet filled with nutrient-dense foods, you do not need to focus on the macros. Simply eat the rainbow, and choose whole food vegan options over junk food vegan foods (did you know Oreos are vegan?).
Speaking of nutrient-dense foods, plant-based foods are typically more nutrient-dense than the animal products consumed on a keto diet. That means more vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients than you’d find in, say, a keto-approved pork chop. And plant foods are also typically much lower in calories than animal products.
Keto, on the other hand, is linked with several nutrient deficiencies; a keto diet was found to provide adequate amounts of only 12 of the 27 vitamins and minerals your body needs from food.
Another reason people see weight loss with a plant-based diet? Fiber!
Fiber, which only comes naturally from plants, makes us feel full longer. Higher fiber intake leads to fewer cravings and smaller meal portions, and that naturally results in weight loss. Since keto restricts many fiber-rich whole food carbohydrates, it can be hard to get adequate fiber intake. Fiber deficiency can lead to digestive issues, like constipation and discomfort. It's also bad news for your gut health; the beneficial bacteria in your gut needs fiber to thrive. And a healthy gut is important for so many things, from your immune system to your mental health to your heart health.
Oh, and with a plant-based diet, you'll decrease your chances of heart disease, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and other non-communicative diseases, in addition to reaching your healthy weight loss goals.
Want to lose weight on a plant-based diet. Look to choosing whole plant foods, and cut out cooking oils. (Yes, even olive oil!).
While oil has been sold to us as a heart healthy substitute for butter, a great source of “good” fat, a staple of the health-promoting Mediterranean diet...the truth is, oil is not an ideal food for heart health or weight loss.
Oil is nutrient-deficient and calorie-dense. Just one tablespoon has 120 calories and 14 grams of fat. With zero fiber, your body quickly absorbs oil and turns it into fat. And even though it's high in calories, oil doesn't take up much space in our stomachs, which makes over-consuming calories easier since we have a harder time recognizing when we're full.
Not sure how to go oil-free? Here are our beginner tips for cooking without oil.
By Ali Brown
Ali is a mom, wife, and nutrition and lifestyle writer and editor. She has her Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.