First there was Pegan, now there’s Ketotarian.
Ahhhhhh! Make the mashups stop!!
WTF Is a Ketotarian?
But seriously, keto doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon, so some people are capitalizing on variations of it for those who would otherwise be totally out. This includes plant-based eaters who have been turned off by keto’s perhaps undeserved reputation for being full of meat.
But can you do a plant-based keto diet?
Dr. Will Cole thinks you can, with his Ketotarian plan.
Lest you believe that Cole is an actual medical doctor, I’ll need to let you know right now that he’s not. He’s a functional medicine practitioner and doctor of chiropractic.
He claims on his site that he does “not practice medicine and does not diagnose or treat diseases or medical conditions.”
This is debatable, since his website states that “Dr. Will Cole…is uniquely skilled and experienced at finding the root physiological, biochemical and hormonal causes underlying many diseases.”
And also, “Dr. Cole uses breakthrough diagnostic testing and analysis that’s rarely done in conventional settings.”
But he doesn’t treat or diagnose any medical conditions.
Just like Dr. Hyman, the other functional medicine doctor we all know and love (just kidding), ‘doctor’ Cole has a shop on his site that’s full of supplements such as a detoxer, methylator, adrenal balancer, and ketones. Because OF COURSE HE DOES.
The page of testimonials for his Ketotarian book looks like a who’s who of charlatan royalty: Josh Axe, Jenny McCarthy, Alejandro Junger aka Goop’s resident quack, the founder of MindBodyGreen, Jason Fung, Mr. Grain Brain himself, David Perlmutter, and a myriad of yoga teachers, ‘celebrity nutritionists,’ and ‘nutrition experts.’
Oh! And it’s a Goop Book Club pick! Not a surprise though, Gwynnie loves anything ‘alternative’ and ‘functional.’
These are all pretty bad signs, if you ask me. RED FLAGS ABOUND!
Despite all of the above, is Ketotarian just another horrible fad diet?
The Ketotarian Diet
Ketotarian promises a ‘mostly plant-based’ plan to burn fat, boost your energy, crush your cravings, and calm inflammation.
The term ‘plant-based’ is pretty nebulous, meaning that it has never officially been defined, so it means different things to different people.
I think a plant-based diet can include some animal products, but is very plant-heavy. Some people think ‘plant-based’ means vegan.
This is probably why the subtitle to this book says that it’s ‘mostly plant-based,’ which is an important disclaimer since this diet does include eggs and wild-caught fish. Some people on the Amazon reviews were pissed that the book wasn’t entirely vegan, but hey: read the whole title before assuming things, right?
The Dos and Don’ts of Ketotarian
Ketotarian doesn’t allow meat, dairy, legumes including peanuts, grains, high-fructose fruits, and starchy vegetables.
Along with eggs and wild-caught fish, Ketotarian allows plant-based fats like avocado and nuts, ghee, low-fructose fruits like berries, and non-starchy vegetables.
If you’re a vegan who wants to try Ketotarian, you’re going to be relying on a hell of a lot of protein powder to make your protein macro, just like you would on a normal keto diet. There won’t be any chickpeas and other legumes or tofu in your life on Ketotarian.
Other vegan proteins besides protein powder that are allowed on Ketotarian are: natto, tempeh, hemp hearts, nutritional yeast, and spirulina.
So unless you’re into these things, and I mean REALLY into them, don’t even bother trying to put yourself into ketosis this way, especially for the long-term.
Ick, natto = smelly socks.
This is a good place to remind you that once you lose weight on keto, you have to keep doing it to keep the weight off. It’s not like one and done: it’s for life. Pass the tempeh!
The macros on Ketotarian are a bit different than those of the traditional keto diet.
Traditional keto is around 70-80% fat, 15% protein, and 5% carbs.
Ketotarian is 60-70% fat, 15-30% protein, and up to 15% carbs, which some die-hard low carbers might say is far too high. I actually don’t, but in the end it really depends on what you want and how much carb you can tolerate and still be in ketosis.
Cole also emphasizes the benefits of plants, which traditional keto doesn’t.
There are plenty of keto/carnivore/low carbers on Twitter who say that plants are not only non essential, but they’re also ‘toxic.’ These people would rather gouge their eyes out with a butter knife than admit that plants are healthy for us, despite everything the research has shown us.
Cole states that the guidelines to Ketotarian are as follows:
- Eat real food.
- Keep your carbs low.
- Keep your healthy fats high.
- If you eat a nonstarchy vegetable, add some healthy fats.
- If you eat a healthy fat, add some nonstarchy vegetables.
- Eat when you are hungry.
- Eat until you are satiated.
I can pretty much get behind every single one of those! (except I take exception to the phrase ‘real food’).
Cole doesn’t really focus on weight loss as much as he does on Ketotarian as a lifestyle change that you can bend the way you need to, to make it more sustainable.
In order to build in some flexibility, Cole supports followers having two to three days a week where they eat some of the forbidden carbs such as fruits and starches. You’ll kick yourself out of ketosis doing that, but as long as you go right back onto Ketotarian afterwards, he thinks it’s fine.
Ketotarian Diet Claims
As I said in the beginning, the diet claims to burn fat, calm inflammation, increase energy, and ‘crush cravings.’ Ah, I love a good bit of alliteration.
Let’s just put it this way: if you go to Ketotarian from a diet that’s high in ultra-processed foods, meat, and refined everything, you will probably experience all of those things.
Like in any other situation, changing your diet to one that’s more nutrient-dense, full of fiber, and plants, will probably help with inflammation and energy.
The ‘burn fat’ part is referring to ketosis, which is when you burn fat instead of carbs for energy. But you need to be in ketosis for that to happen, so that may involve a lower-carb rendition of this diet versus something more permissive.
Crush cravings? I can’t say for sure. I guess if you’re eating more whole foods, that might help, although telling people they can’t have certain foods is more likely to increase cravings.
What I don’t like about Ketotarian
Cole uses shitty research to back up some of his claims. He’s heavy on the rodent studies, light on the human ones. As we’ve discussed many times in the past, you can’t really extrapolate rodent studies onto humans. He also goes against the grain of physiology and says that our brains and bodies work best with fat, not sugar, as fuel.
Ketotarian is another restrictive diet that may be seen as more virtuous than keto, which in this age of orthorexia, is not a good thing.
He also says that a hard-core ketogenic diet takes away the sugar that feeds cancer, and you all know how I feel about that bullshit (read more here in my post, Does Sugar Feed Cancer?).
Cole promotes and sells (natch) exogenous ketones, which haven’t been proven to be effective at all for anything, really.
It’s still going to be really tough for vegans to follow. Let’s face it: keto and vegan don’t really mix.
A lot of high-fiber foods like legumes and grains are off the table, so vegetables are your only source of fiber here. Getting 25-30 grams a day might be a bit tough. *fart*
He uses the term ‘clean’ to describe food, and I hate that. Seriously, let’s stop the morality-based language around food and eating. Again, orthorexia. Also, guilt and shame.
It’s a diet. It’s still a diet.
What I do like about Ketotarian
I can’t believe I’m actually typing this, but there are a few good points about Ketotarian.
It’s flexible. So if you don’t feel great on it, he encourages adjustments like higher carbs and days that cycle off of the plan. He understands that we’re all different, so he doesn’t just throw out some random macros and force people to stick to them.
Cole understands that a plant-forward diet is the best sort of diet, and I concur.
This plan doesn’t focus on saturated fat-filled fat bombs and sugar alcohols.
All of these things, however, don’t take away from the fact that Ketotarian is still a restrictive diet, or at least a lot more restrictive than I’d recommend. Honestly, I can’t think of a population who is appropriate to cut most fruit, legumes, and bread from their diet. It’s just unnecessary.
Keto itself has not been proven to be any more effective for weight loss (or health) than any other diets. It has a reputation for being extremely difficult to sustain, thanks to its restrictions and extremely low carb level. Vegan keto is even more restrictive, because all animal foods are out. But like Cole says, Ketotarian is mostly plant-based, meaning it’s not really meant to be 100% without animal products.
On this particular occasion, the author of this plan is ‘alternative,’ but has crafted something that’s not too bad in terms of keto. It’s the lesser of two evils, in that it’s a ‘better’ keto. Out of every diet I’ve ever reviewed, this has basically never happened. It’s a unicorn! Ketotarian is a unicorn!
That being said, always make sure to research who’s behind any sort of eating plan, their credentials, their research, and their claims.
Keto isn’t going anywhere, and while I hate diets, I’m supportive of different eating plans if they work for people. However, most people should stay away from super-restrictive plans, even this one. Why can’t we just eat legumes and grains and enjoy them?