Whole Food Plant-based vs. Keto Diet: Which is Better for Weight Loss?

Both Whole Food Plant-based (WFPB) and Ketogenic (Keto) diets have been shown to enable rapid weight loss, but their methods are quite different. WFPB promotes weight loss through its high fiber content, low calorie density, and low fat content. Alternatively, the high-fat Keto diet enables the body to burn fat instead of carbs through a process called ketosis. 

Both camps believe their way of eating is the best:

A common WFPB argument against Keto is, “HUMANS REQUIRE VERY LITTLE FAT to thrive.” The Keto response is, “Fat tastes good and fills you up!”

A common Keto argument against WFPB is, “HUMANS REQUIRE VERY FEW CARBS to thrive.” The WFPB response is, “Carbs taste good and fill you up!”

How do you choose when looking for the most effective diet for weight loss? Let’s start with understanding what foods are allowed in each diet.

WFPB and Keto Foods

Both WFPB and Keto compliant foods include nutrient-rich foods like avocado, berries, plant-based milk (like soy, almond, or cashew), garlic, leafy greens, broccoli, and walnuts. They also agree you should avoid refined sugar and white flour. The biggest difference between the diets is that WFPB dieters avoid meat, dairy, fish, eggs, artificial sweeteners, fake meats, and oil. Keto dieters avoid high-carb foods like pasta, rice, corn, beans, potatoes, oats, and most fruit.

It is virtually impossible to stay in ketosis with a WFPB Keto diet, so a Vegan Keto diet is the closest combination. Vegan Keto dieters may eat fake meats like tempeh and seitan, and they typically consume oils, such as olive oil and avocado oil, which helps meet the keto requirement that 70% of you calories should be from fat. Even though it is not compliant with the Standard Keto diet, Vegan Keto dieters often incorporate tofu to get enough protein.

Keto dieters often use certain artificial sweeteners (like aspartame and saccharin) and natural sweeteners (like stevia and monk fruit). There are differing opinions as to whether natural sweeteners are considered compliant with a WFPB way of eating. Dr. Michael Greger’s Book ‘How Not to Die’ explains that these natural sweeteners raise blood sugar levels just as much as artificial sweeteners. The additional required insulin could impact weight loss goals.

Which diet is best for weight loss?

Studies have shown that both diets enable rapid loss of up to a few pounds per week. In the dozens of studies and testimonials I’ve reviewed, the diets are equal in terms of how quickly the weight comes off. As a nutritionist, I encourage a WFPB diet based on the high nutrient and fiber content, and based on the large studies that show its long-term disease prevention. I also don’t recommend consuming oil (See 5 Reasons to Cook without Oil) or other sources of saturated fat, animal protein, and dairy (See The Starch Solution for Sustainable Weight Loss).

Also, as a person living with Type 1 Diabetes (the irreversible kind), I have personal experience eliminating insulin resistance both short-term and long-term by following a low fat WFPB diet. (My latest A1C was 5.2! See Mastering My Diabetes.)  On the contrary, many diabetic keto dieters experience drops in their insulin usage initially, but end up with even greater insulin resistance long-term. 

That said, the best diet is the one you can stick with. Diets consistently fail unless you adopt that way of eating as part of a new lifestyle. If you can’t stand the idea of giving up meat and most high-fat foods, keto might work best for you. If you enjoy eating higher-carb foods such as bananas, mango, grapes, watermelon, oranges, pasta, rice, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and oats, WFPB will work best.

Either way, eating only whole (minimally processed) foods is going to help your health and your waist line. Most dietitians, nutritionists, and scientists agree that the version of keto where you eat an abundance of cheese, butter, bacon, and animal protein is not healthy. The version of WFPB where you overeat avocado, coconuts, nuts, and seeds can also be detrimental to your weight loss goals. Choose your path, stick with it, and consistently make healthy choices. #HealthisWealth

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