A fact that we’ve learned, time and time again, is that trends that may be healthy for your body may be detrimental to Mother Earth.
Let’s take almond milk for an example. This alternative plant-based beverage is an excellent source of protein and healthy fat, vitamins, and minerals, and, as long as you’re selecting an unsweetened variety, has basically zero sugars. With that said, almond farms are not always environmentally friendly. Almonds require copious amounts of water, which means almond farmers must drill up to a thousand feet deep to find aquifers. This drilling has caused subsistence or sinking. Along with subsistence issues, the use of pesticides at almond farms destroys up to 25 percent of the 1.2 million honey bee hives that flock to almond crops.
Another incredibly popular health trend that has turned out to be detrimental to our environment is the traditionally meat-inclusive keto diet. The volume in which our society consumes meat — a large part of the keto diet — has spurred an increase in carbon production, which is directly linked to climate change factors such as rising sea levels, pollution, and species extinction.
So, the question is, does an eco-friendly keto diet exist?
Quick Keto Review
If you’re not familiar with the keto diet, here’s a little 101 on what it’s all about.
Per my recent article Breaking Down the Ketogenic Diet for Plant-Based Dieters, “The ketogenic diet relies on three specific dietary elements: extremely low-carb intake, very high-healthy fat intake, and, depending on the type of keto diet, a certain intake of protein. By reducing carbohydrates — such as starches, fruits, and bread that are loaded with glucose — you’ll push your body towards fat burning. By increasing healthy fat intake, your body will become an efficient fat-burning machine! Along with burning fat (revealed as possibly the superior source of energy), ketosis — accomplished via the ketogenic diet — has also been shown to lower blood sugar and insulin levels leading to a healthy insulin sensitive state.”
How the Keto Diet Negatively Affects Our Environment
In the years that I’ve been writing about health, as well as making health-related changes in my own lifestyle, I’ve found the key to making lasting changes is in understanding. Therefore, it holds true that knowing how the keto diet is damaging the environment may help us all uphold an eco-friendly keto diet.
The modern American diet almost always includes processed or farmed foods. Unfortunately, these products have been linked to the depletion of natural resources, disrupting ecosystem balance, and the contamination of land, air, and soil. On top of that, food production has also been linked to a handful of human health issues including metabolic issues, certain cancers, and even hormonal imbalances.
Methane Emissions from Livestock
Next, let’s take a look at the animal product portion of the ketosis diet, such as meat and dairy. You’ve most likely heard the term greenhouse gasses. This refers primarily to both carbon dioxide and methane gas. About 27 percent of these greenhouse gasses come from livestock farms caused by the natural digestive process of animals, such as cows, goats, pigs, and sheep. As they digest food, fermentation occurs which creates methane gas. Then, these animals release the methane gas into the environment via their flatulence.
Alright, now we know why the modern American diet, and therefore the keto diet, negatively affect the planet. What can we do about it?
The Eco-Conscious Keto Dieter
Before we dive into the hard and fast eco-friendly keto rules, let’s take a look at some overall guidelines that will help reduce your imprint on the planet. It all comes down to that simple decision of where you buy your food products.
Plant-based meats and dairy products produce zero methane gas emissions, therefore if you choose to switch to these items then you’re doing your part. What about the processed food part of it all? Make your own plant-based products! It’s incredibly easy to make your own dairy-free cheese or meatless burgers. Choose to buy your produce from farms that practice environmentally friendly principles — such as limiting farmland expansion, preserving biodiversity, conserving water, protecting the soil, and seeking to reduce greenhouse emissions — or even find a local hydroponic farming operation. Also, try your hand at growing produce in your own back yard! By using raised beds or small patch gardens, as well as composting, you’re reducing the need for large farming operations and containing or avoiding soil depreciation.
Getting Fats and Protein Without Animal Products
The keto diet pushes the body to enter ketosis, a state in which the body burns fat. In order to reach ketosis, you have to ingest high levels of healthy fats, high to moderate levels of protein, and very low amounts of carbohydrates and sugars. This is where animal products play a large role for most people. Some meats are high in fat and protein, yet low in carbohydrates.
So, how to practice an eco-conscious plant-based keto diet?
First off, you’ll need to remove foods that are high in carbohydrates and sugar such as “grains, starches, fruits, beans, legumes, root vegetables, tubers, unhealthy fatty products (almost all processed foods), and alcohol.” This also includes hidden sugars and carbs in items like juice, fruit, condiments, sugar-free diet foods, processed meat products, and dairy products.
Second, let’s integrate the right types of plant-based foods. For those healthy fats and protein, seek out the raw plant-based champions. Raw nuts and seeds, such as cashews, almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds, are high in both healthy fat and protein. Avocado, olive oil, and coconut oil are incredibly reliable sources of healthy fat, as well as a slew of other minerals and vitamins. Next, fill your kitchen with low carbohydrate vegetables. A few classic low-carbohydrate vegetables include tomatoes, peppers, onion, and green veggies such as kale, spinach, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and asparagus.
Finally, make your own condiments. Store bought processed condiments, especially ketchup and mayonnaise, are chock-full of unwanted sugar. In order to avoid the sugar and yet still enjoy your favorite flavors, try out a few DIY recipes. Not only will you be in control of what goes into your condiments, but you’ll also be gaining access to a whole new range of flavors via spices and herbs!
The Recipes You’ll Love
Now we know how to practice an eco-conscious keto diet, let’s start having some fun with recipes! It’s all about choosing recipes that are as closely linked to your plant-based keto diet as possible. If there’s too much sugar, simply remove it or use a plant-based option such as agave or honey. If there’s not enough fat, substitute one of your favorite plant-based fats. If there’s not enough protein, simply sprinkle some of your favorite seeds or nuts on top. It’ll take a little thinking and lots of creativity, but it’s so much fun!
Panko-Crusted Avo Wedges/One Green Planet
One of my all-time favorite foods and my main source of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats is avocado. This diverse plant-based food can be consumed completely raw — I like to sprinkle a bit of pink salt, cracked pepper, and olive oil on top — or it can be used as a complementary ingredient in both savory — such as these Panko-Crusted Avo Wedges — and sweet — such as this Chocolate Avocado Mousse — recipes. Raw nuts are another great source of fat. Just like avocados, they are consumed both raw or used in recipes. When it comes to vegan cheese recipes, nuts are the main character such as this Sliceable Cashew Cheese or this Baked Macadamia Feta.
Chia Pudding With Blueberries/One Green Planet
Protein is one of the more difficult macronutrients to come by on a plant-based diet. With that said, there are many sources if you know where to look. My favorite plant-based protein is chia seed. One ounce (28 grams) of raw chia seeds offer a whopping 4.4 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber. These tiny seeds are great sprinkled on top of salads or sautés, adding a bit of protein without a change in flavor, or used as an integral vegan recipe ingredient such as in these Flourless Chocolate Chia Cupcakes, to make this Creamy Chia Cheddar Sauce, or to bulk up these Roasted Cauliflower and Coconut Overnight Porridge Pots.
Yet, my favorite use is in chia pudding, such as this simple Chia Pudding with Blueberries or these more elaborate Saffron and Lime Chia Pots. When exposed to liquid, these seeds swell up, growing a gelatin-like casing. Only three tablespoons combined with one cup of your favorite plant-based milk will make an entire bowl of pudding. Not only are you getting a helping of protein, but you can adorn your chia pudding with healthy accouterments. I add sprouted pumpkin seeds, shelled hemp hearts, and unsweetened shredded coconut, all of which add a delightful texture and helping of healthy fat.
Homemade Mayonnaise/One Green Planet
Last, but definitely not least, are condiments. We talked about creating your own condiments above, an easy and fun task, and here are some recipes to get you started. Make sure to choose recipes that are low or exempt of added sugars and carbs, yet include nutrients that will add to the overall health of your body.
This Super-Simple 4-Ingredient Thai Chili Sauce is one of my favorites. As the name implies, it only has four ingredients and is low in sugar. If you’re looking to cut the carbs choose the tamari sauce over the soy sauce. If you’re looking to cut a bit more sugar, use a bit more vinegar and little less lime juice.
Yet, I’d recommend by starting out by replacing the traditional condiments you have in your fridge with these vegan alternatives. Start out with switching your store-bought mayonnaise with this Homemade Mayonnaise. I’d recommend swapping out canola oil with coconut or olive, which is higher in healthy fat. Next, swap out store-bought mustard with this Spicy Honey Mustard. Finally, if you’re a ketchup fan, try out this Homemade Smoky Tomato Ketchup, except swap out the cup of sugar with a tablespoon of agave or honey. You’ll still get all the smoky tomato flavors, yet without the unwanted sugars that aren’t allowed on a keto diet.
For a host of more eco-conscious vegan keto recipes, we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!