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The Keto Diet: A Complete Beginner’s Guide

The ketogenic or keto diet limits carbohydrates to 50 grams or less per day. This way of eating induces a metabolic state called ketosis.

Maybe you’re here because you want to know how the keto diet works and its impact on your body. This detailed guide will discuss all you need to know as a beginner.

What Is the Ketogenic Diet?

The keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat, and moderate-protein eating plan. One should reduce their carbohydrate intake to as low as 20 grams per day to as high as 50 grams per day.

(20 to 50 grams of carbs looks like 1 to 3 thin slices of whole wheat bread.)

What does this eating plan do? It puts you in ketosis — a natural metabolic state in which your body burns its stored fat instead of carbs for energy.

In ketosis, your ketone levels increase. Ketones are chemicals that result from fat breakdown, and they supply a steady stream of energy for your brain and body. They become your alternative fuel source.

But wait. Isn’t glucose our main energy source?

You may have heard that you need more carbs to perform optimally. But your body can use ketones, its alternative fuel. In fact, ketones can provide more energy than glucose (1).

A low-carb, high-fat diet is often used to attain weight loss and achieve other health advantages. Study shows that it has benefits against Type 2 Diabetes (2).

It is also being proposed as an adjuvant therapy for cancer treatment (3).

Types of Ketogenic Diets

There are various types of the keto diet that you should know about.

Whether you follow one diet or another depends on your goal. But that’s something to discuss in-depth in another guide.

1. Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD)

The standard keto diet would require you to consume few carbs, moderate protein, and more fat.

To be specific, your daily dietary macros are divided into the following (4):

  • 5% to 10% carbohydrates
  • 30% to 35% protein
  • 55% to 60% fat .

Pretty much everyone who begins their keto journey follows this dietary plan. The SKD is also the most researched plan with tons of evidence.

2. Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD)

This type of keto diet is also called “carb cycling.” It entails eating less than 50 grams of carbs 5 to 6 days a week, and eating more carbs for the remaining 1 to 2 days. Basically, you’ll be going in and out of ketosis on a weekly basis.

3. Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD)

The targeted keto diet is a standard keto diet with higher carb intakes around workout times. Consuming extra carbohydrates prior to a tough workout will help boost your performance.

4. High Protein Ketogenic Diet (HPKD)

This type of keto diet is similar to the standard version, except that one needs to consume more protein. The HPKD is ideal for people who need to preserve muscle mass such as bodybuilders and older individuals.

Keto Diet Health Benefits

What happens when you follow a ketogenic diet? Here are some of its benefits on your health and fitness.

keto health benefits infographics

1. Weight loss

Many people find that they lose unwanted body fat effectively. Remember that this diet teaches your body to tap into its fat stores?

Reducing carbohydrates depletes glycogen in your liver and muscle. For those who don’t know, glycogen is the storage form of glucose. As your glycogen gets depleted, your body starts to burn fat (5).

Study shows that ketogenic diets can help patients lose 2 kg more weight than low fat diets in 1 year (6).

Another study suggested that sustaining the diet long-term does not only reduce body weight and body mass index, but it also lowers blood glucose, triglyceride levels, and LDL levels (7).

2. Type 2 Diabetes prevention and reversal

Diabetes is a chronic disease that’s characterized by very high blood glucose or blood sugar levels. It affects a person’s life — physically, emotionally, and socially (8).

You may be wondering, does the diet work for diabetes?

Virta Health, a science-based specialty medical clinic, was able to reverse type 2 diabetes and prediabetes in patients using nutritional ketosis. Within 70 days, 92% of the patients who were under Virta Health’s care achieved the following results (9):

  • Lowered HbA1c values from 7.5% to 6.5% (HbA1c is the average blood glucose reading for the past 3 months)
  • Reduced medication use by over 45%
  • Reduced weight by 7%

What reversal means:

The term “diabetes reversal” does not imply “cured.” In the context of a keto diet, reversal describes blood glucose readings below the diabetes range as long as the diet is being maintained.

3. Improvement in cholesterol levels

What about low-carbohydrate diets and heart disease? Several researches show that reducing carbs can improve cardiovascular risk factors.

They increase HDL cholesterol while decreasing triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol. Furthermore, they decrease systolic and diastolic blood pressure as a result of the person losing weight (10).

Your food choices on a low-carb diet matter as they play a role in the prevention of heart disease. Choose healthy unsaturated fats such as avocados, nuts, olive oil, and fish.

4. Brain function

Some people eat a low-carb, high-fat diet not for weight loss, but for brain health and mental performance.In fact, the keto diet was developed initially back in the 1920s as a treatment modality for epilepsy. Fasting was noted to have anti-seizure effects, which the keto diet mimicked (11).

Ketones are a potent brain fuel. Lower brain glucose metabolism is present in conditions like Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and mild cognitive impairment (MCI). This explains why ketones can be therapeutic for the brain (12).

Ketones enhance memory not just in older adults, but in any age (13).

5. Hormone balance

Keto and hormones — do they work well together? Women whose hormones are out of balance find themselves benefiting from a low-carb, high-fat diet.

Dietary fat is important for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fats also regulate the production of reproductive hormones.

Examples of foods that contain healthy fats include olive oil, fatty fish, avocados, egg yolks, and nuts.

6. Improvement of acne

Recent studies show that diet impacts the development of acne. In a study, patients were given increasing amounts of chocolates each day. These patients experienced acne flare-ups. In another study, high blood insulin levels were observed in participants who were fed with chocolates (14).

Diet can trigger acne via hyperinsulinemia. Treatments involve increasing insulin sensitivity which can be achieved through a low-carbohydrate diet.

Different Approaches to Try on the Keto Diet

There are various ways to follow the keto diet depending on an individual’s food preferences. Below, we cover keto diet variations. Regardless, these variations still entail reducing carbs to induce ketosis.

different keto approach infographic

1. Traditional Keto Diet

The traditional or standard keto diet is the most common and least restrictive approach. In this dietary plan, you can eat meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, veggies, and fruits.

2. Vegetarian Keto Diet

The vegetarian keto diet focuses on plants while eliminating meat, poultry, and seafood. However, they are allowed to eat animal products like eggs and cheese.

Excellent sources of proteins and fats to eat include eggs, cheese, Greek yogurt, and nuts.

When it comes to vegetables, you have to be more careful since many options contain plenty of carbs, specifically below-the-ground veggies. Avoid sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots, celeriac, and beetroots.

Vegetables that grow above the ground are, in general, low in carbs. Examples include cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, cucumbers, and lettuce.

3. Pescatarian Keto Diet

The pescatarian keto diet is a variation of the vegetarian diet, except that you can eat seafood. This includes fish, shrimps, clams, and scallops. Individuals who follow this diet find that it’s easier to go meat-free by adding seafood in their diet.

4. Mediterranean Keto Diet

The mediterranean keto diet focuses on staples like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish and seafood, and olive oil. Processed foods are to be avoided as much as possible. Red meat should be eaten rarely. Olive oil becomes the major source of fat for this diet.

5. Carnivore Keto Diet

The carnivore keto diet, as the term implies, sources nutrients from animals only. These foods include meat, poultry, fish, animal fat, and dairy. Some individuals, though, tend to avoid dairy. Any plant-based food is to be avoided on carnivore keto.

6. Paleo Keto Diet

The paleolithic or paleo keto diet is a practice that mimics the way our ancestors eat millions of years ago. It is also termed as the “caveman” or “hunter-gatherer” diet.

Foods that belong to this diet include meats, plant and animal fats, vegetables that grow above the ground, and nuts and seeds. Avoid highly-processed foods.

Foods to Eat and Avoid

Stay in ketosis by stocking up on these food items and avoiding the rest.
(Note: The options below fall under a traditional or standard keto diet which most individuals follow.)

Eat Avoid
Meat Chicken, Turkey, Beef, Bacon (unprocessed), Pork, Lamb.
Fish Salmon, Mackerel, Tuna, Anchovies, Sardines, Trout.
Nuts & Seeds Almonds, Brazil nuts, Pecan nuts, Macadamia nuts, Hazelnuts, Peanuts, Hemp seeds, Chia seeds, Flax seeds, Sesame seeds.
Vegetables Cauliflower, Broccoli, Spinach, Asparagus,Kale, Brussel sprouts, Cabbage. Potatoes, Sweet potatoes, Carrots, Corn, Peas, Squash, Lima beans, Black-eyed peas, Garbanzo beans, White beans, Pinto beans
Fruits Avocados, Blackberries, Raspberries, Strawberries, Cantaloupe, Watermelon, Lemon. Apples, Bananas, Pears, Mangoes, Nectarines, Peaches, Oranges, Dried fruits.
Dairy Butter, Ghee, Heavy whipping cream, Sour cream, Hard and soft cheeses, Greek yogurt, Fermented yogurt, Kefir. Low-fat milk, Evaporated milk, Condensed milk.
Oils Extra virgin olive oil, Coconut oil, Avocado oil, MCT oil. Corn oil, Soybean oil, Canola oil, Safflower oil (regular, Sunflower oil (regular), Vegetable oil.
Condiments Sugar-free dressings and sauces. (Be sure to check the label when buying at the grocery.) Regular dressings and sauces contain hidden sugars.
Drinks Water, Plain black coffee, Bulletproof coffee, Bone broth, Tea, Dry wines. Fruit juices, Fruit smoothies, Soda, Beer, Sweet wines.

Ketogenic Diet Meal Plan

“How do I eat keto for a week?”

Here’s a sample keto diet menu for beginners to help you stick with the right eating plan. Depending on your mood or preference, feel free to mix up the options below.

Monday

  • Breakfast: Classic Bacon and Eggs
  • Lunch: Instant Pot Chili Verde
  • Dinner: Fathead Sausage Rolls

Tuesday

  • Breakfast: Keto Burrito
  • Lunch: Avocado Tuna Salad
  • Dinner: Indian Cabbage Stir-Fry

Wednesday

  • Breakfast: Peanut Butter Smoothie with Almond Milk
  • Lunch: Low Carb Sesame Chicken
  • Dinner: Easy Low-Carb Cauliflower Mac ‘n Cheese

Thursday

  • Breakfast: Keto Bagels
  • Lunch: Beberé Enchilada Style Stuffed Peppers
  • Dinner: Cheesy Cabbage Sausage Skillet

Friday

  • Breakfast: Smoked Sausage Frittata Recipe With Spinach & Mushroom
  • Lunch: Artichokes with whipped lemon butter
  • Dinner: Thai Beef Lettuce Wraps

Saturday

  • Breakfast: Baked Mini-Frittatas with Mushrooms
  • Lunch: Pickle-Brined Keto Fried Chicken
  • Dinner: Zucchini Noodles with Pesto

Sunday

  • Breakfast: Spicy Tuna Stuffed Avocados
  • Lunch: Vegan Keto Lo Mein
  • Dinner: Lemon Miso Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Over time, you’ll be able to make your own keto diet recipes. We hope these meal ideas can give you a head start!

Taking a different approach on keto? We provide Vegetarian, Pescatarian, Carnivore, Mediterranean, and Paleo keto meal plans in this guide.

Ketogenic Diet Snacks

Wondering what keto diet foods you can snack on? Here’s a list of options:

  • Deviled or plain hard boiled eggs
  • Veggie sticks
  • Bone broth
  • Fat bombs
  • Lettuce wraps
  • Pork rinds
  • Salad
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Veggie sticks with guacamole
  • Fat bombs
  • Seaweed snacks
  • String cheese
  • Kale chips
  • Low-carb or keto bars
  • Keto smoothie
  • Cauliflower buffalo wings

Eating Out on a Ketogenic Diet

The reality is that you won’t always be at home to cook meals. Family gatherings and other occasions can involve dining out.

Learning how to eat keto outside your home is easy. No matter what restaurant you’re going to, there are plenty of ways to modify your foods so that they fit your keto macro ratios.

For example, instead of having the whole burger, remove the buns and dressing (which most likely contains sugar). If possible, ask for lettuce wraps to replace the bun.

You could also add healthy fat by asking for extra butter. Let it melt on your meat or veggies. If you’re having salad, request for olive oil and add a drizzle on your salad.

What about dessert? You know you shouldn’t have regular sugar, so ask if they have sugar-free desserts. If not, try heavy whipping cream on berries or plain black coffee/tea.

Bottom line: Get as creative as possible. Don’t hesitate to ask and make requests. If you’re planning to eat outside, go a step further by researching low carb restaurants nearby!

Ketogenic Diet Supplements

Certain supplements are great to include in your keto diet plan. They increase your performance, help you overcome side effects (ketosis flu), and ensure that you don’t lack any nutrients.

keto supplements infographic

1. MCT oil

MCT oil is a supplement that’s made of fat called medium chain triglycerides. Thus, the abbreviation MCT. The oil is often extracted from coconuts.

Once absorbed in the body, medium chain triglycerides are converted into ketones (15). MCT oil provides energy and supports weight loss without increasing your risk of heart disease (16).

2. Exogenous ketones

Exogenous ketones are basically ketones that you take externally. Keto diet pills that contain beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) are common in the market.

You’ll commonly hear the term “BHB salts” or “ketone salts.”

While the liver produces ketones, a person may opt for an exogenous ketone supplement to raise ketone levels so that they enter ketosis faster. One study showed that exogenous ketones also lowered blood glucose (17).

3. Electrolytes

The low-carb nature of the keto diet prompts your body to lose water by urinating more frequently. With that, you also lose some electrolytes.

Important electrolytes include:

  • Sodium (Na)
  • Potassium (K)
  • Magnesium (Mg)
  • Calcium (Ca)

Ketogenic foods such as leafy greens and nuts help you get more of these electrolytes. Yet, supplementing allows you to get electrolytes faster. This can be especially helpful for overcoming keto flu symptoms and when you’re sweating a lot.

4. Collagen

Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. As the substance that holds your body together, it provides structure for your skin, tendons, bones, and ligaments.

Taking collagen protein in your ketosis diet can really benefit your workouts and physical appearance.

A 2015 study showed that supplementing with collagen peptides increases muscle strength (18).

Another study concluded that oral collagen improves skin elasticity without any adverse reactions (19).

5. Blood sugar support

On top of a keto diet meal plan for controlling your blood glucose, you may also opt for blood sugar support supplements.

These supplements are usually a combination of extracts from herbs and plants. Examples are berberine, cinnamon, bitter melon, garlic, and mulberry leaf.

(Important: If you have diabetes and are trying to lower your blood sugar through keto, see a doctor first.)

6. Caffeine

One of the post popular supplements, caffeine is consumed by 80% of the world’s population (20). How does it help someone who’s on a low-carb journey?

According to several studies, caffeine has the following benefits:

  • Physical performance – Current evidence shows that caffeine may increase muscle strength and endurance when performing a resistance workout (21).
  • Fat loss – In a study involving normal weight and obese individuals, caffeine ingestion increased metabolic rate and fat burning (22).
  • Mental alertness – A natural stimulant, caffeine is consumed by most people to stay alert. However, keep in mind that caffeine should not replace quality sleep at night.

7. Vitamins

Vitamin deficiencies can happen when you eliminate carbs in your diet. That is why you need to monitor your vitamin intake.

The key is to replace lost vitamins by eating nutrient-dense low-carb foods and taking a vitamin supplement.

What vitamins should you take? Pay attention to vitamin C, B vitamins (B1 to B12), vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin K.

8. Omega-3

Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that’s found in various foods like fatty fish and nuts and seeds.

Adding omega-3 to your diet boosts your health in many ways. They can:

  • Provide energy to the body (23)
  • Offer protection against heart disease (23)
  • Fight inflammation (24)
  • Lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia (25)
  • Lower your risk of breast cancer (25)

When it comes to choosing an omega-3 supplement, you’ll find various forms — fish oil, krill oil, and green-lipped mussel oil.

Minimizing Keto Diet Side Effects

Ever wonder why you feel awful during the first week of keto?

Keto diets can bring about side effects that turn people off. They happen as your body moves from burning carbohydrates to fat for fuel.

Don’t worry because these side effects are temporary. Here’s what to normally expect and what you can do to beat them.

keto side effects infographic

1. Keto flu

Nutritional ketosis flu or “keto flu” is a collection of symptoms that you may experience when you first enter ketosis. Such symptoms include headache, fatigue, lightheadedness, nausea, and constipation (26).

What to do: Take plenty of electrolytes, especially sodium. A simple tip would be to increase your salt intake by 2 grams per day. Stay hydrated as well. Increase your fat intake. Healthy fat sources include eggs, MCT oil fatty fish, and avocados.

2. Thirst

Excessive thirst is another common side effect. This happens because of water loss, since you’re urinating more often.

What to do: It’s really simple — keep refilling with water. You may also want to add a pinch of pink Himalayan salt to your glass of water to help replenish sodium. In addition to water, eat low-carb, water-rich foods such as cucumbers, brussel sprouts, and broccoli.

3. Hunger and cravings

Let’s not forget about hunger. Hunger is a huge reason many dieters throw in the towel at the start of their journey. Of course, your body is still craving for carbohydrates.

What to do: Listen to your body. If you feel truly hungry (and not just thirsty), eat something that’s high in fat. Fat is highly satiating (27). Also, make sure that you’re getting whole foods in your diet.

4. Keto breath

This isn’t your typical bad breath. Rather, it’s the kind of breath that smells like nail polish. Ketosis breath or keto breath results from the production of acetone — another type of ketone body. Acetone exits your body via your breath (28).

What to do: Don’t let this small issue prevent you from staying in ketosis. Deal with keto breath like you would typical bad breath. Take mints and gums — however, choose sugar-free options. On top of brushing your teeth regularly, floss and use a mouthwash. Finally, stay hydrated!

5. Digestive issues

The low-carb, high-fat diet can give you diarrhea or constipation. These symptoms are expected since you’re changing your macronutrient ratios. Increased fat in your diet causes loose stools. And if you’re not eating enough fiber, you get constipated.

What to do: To recover from diarrhea, drink more water. You may also need to reduce the amount of dairy you’re consuming — butter, cheeses, and whipping cream. Ease up on MCTs as well. For constipation, eat more high-fiber foods that are also keto-friendly.

Ketogenic Diet Frequently Asked Questions

1. How does the keto diet work?

This eating plan involves getting most of your calories from fat while reducing carbohydrates to about 20 to 50 grams per day.

When glycogen, the storage form of carbs, gets depleted, your body burns through its fat stores. The result is an increase in ketones.

2. What are ketones?

Ketones or ketone bodies are chemicals that the liver produces as the result of fat breakdown. There are 3 types of ketones, namely: Acetoacetate (AcAc), Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), and Acetone.

3. How do I start a keto diet?

Reduce your carbs, keep protein moderate, and boost your fat intake. These are the standard keto ratios: 5% to 10% carbohydrates, 30% to 35% protein, and 55% to 60% fat. If you want a specific breakdown of your daily macros, use a keto calculator.

4. What can you eat on the keto diet?

Anything that’s low in carbs and high in fat. You have tons of options — fatty cuts of meat, veggies that grow above the ground, and seafood.

5. Is a keto diet safe?

Ketosis is a natural state of your body, and inducing it through a well-formulated diet makes it safe long-term.

Virta Health defines what a well-formulated keto diet means. It includes the following (29):

  • Prioritizing whole foods
  • Seeking on-going medical supervision
  • Ensuring proper electrolyte and mineral intake as well as hydration
  • Not obsessing over calorie counting
  • Maintaining lean body mass

The time keto becomes unsafe is when a person with a medical condition does it on their own without consulting their doctor first.

6. How much protein do I need on keto?

Moderate protein on keto looks different from standard recommendations.

While the RDA for protein is 0.8 grams per kg of body weight, a keto dieter needs between 1.2 g/kg to 2.0 g/kg of body weight. (Lower end = 1.2 g/kg; Upper end = 2.0 g/kg) (30).

7. What are the signs and symptoms of ketosis?

Common ketosis signs and symptoms include:

  • Increased ketones in your blood, breath, and urine
  • Bad breath
  • Appetite suppression (once your body has adjusted)
  • Insomnia
  • Digestive issues
  • Increased focus and energy (once your body has adjusted)

Note: Negative side effects are temporary.

8. How do I measure ketosis?

There are 3 ways to measure ketone levels: Urine testing, breath testing, and blood testing. Among them, blood testing produces the most accurate results.

9. What’s the difference between clean keto and dirty keto?

The clean version of keto prioritizes whole, unprocessed foods —  just think of any food that spoils easily. Meanwhile, the dirty version allows you to eat pre-packaged and processed foods.

Obviously, clean keto produces better health.

10. Can I eat more carbs on some days?

Yes, you can. This is one way of doing the ketogenic diet — “cyclical keto.” It involves following the standard keto diet plan for 5-6 days a week, and eating more carbs for the remaining 1-2 days.

Can Everyone Do the Ketogenic Diet?

Nutritional ketosis offers many benefits, but it isn’t for everyone. A high-fat, low-carb diet is contraindicated in these medical conditions (31):

  • Liver failure
  • Pancreatitis
  • Gaucher disease (a lipid metabolism disorder)
  • Tay-Sachs disease (a lipid metabolism disorder)
  • Primary carnitine deficiency
  • Carnitine palmitoyltransferase I deficiency

Basically, these are conditions in which the body cannot absorb and use fats for energy.

Pregnant and lactating women, as well as people taking medications that lower blood sugar, should consult their doctor first.

Conclusion

We hope you learned from this basic keto guide.

You already know what the keto diet is, how it works, and everything you need to thrive and feel your best.

Take it easy, keep it clean, and stay patient. If you have questions, feel free drop them in the comments section below. We love helping you out!

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