The Ketogenic Diet – A Keto Guide for Beginners
What is a Keto Diet?
A keto diet is well known for being a low carb diet, where the body produces ketones in the liver to be used as energy. It’s referred to as many different names – ketogenic diet, low carb diet, low carb high fat (LCHF), etc.
When you eat something high in carbs, your body will produce glucose and insulin.
- Glucose is the easiest molecule for your body to convert and use as energy so that it will be chosen over any other energy source.
- Insulin is produced to process the glucose in your bloodstream by taking it around the body.
Since the glucose is being used as a primary energy, your fats are not needed and are therefore stored. Typically on a normal, higher carbohydrate diet, the body will use glucose as the main form of energy. By lowering the intake of carbs, the body is induced into a state known as ketosis.
Ketosis is a natural process the body initiates to help us survive when food intake is low. During this state, we produce ketones, which are produced from the breakdown of fats in the liver.
The end goal of a properly maintained keto diet is to force your body into this metabolic state. We don’t do this through starvation of calories but starvation of carbohydrates.
Our bodies are incredibly adaptive to what you put into it – when you overload it with fats and take away carbohydrates, it will begin to burn ketones as the primary energy source. Optimal ketone levels offer many health, weight loss, physical and mental performance benefits. 1 There are scientifically-backed studies that show the advantage of a low-carb, ketogenic diet over a low-fat diet. One meta-analysis of low-carbohydrate diets showed a large advantage in weight loss. The New England Journal of Medicine study resulted in almost double the weight loss in a long-term study on ketone inducing diets.
Make keto simple and easy by checking out our 30 Day Meal Plan. Get meal plans, shopping lists, and much more with our Keto Academy Program.
Looking for Something Specific?
- Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet
- What to Eat on a Keto Diet
- Getting Started
- How to Reach Ketosis
- How to Know You’re in Ketosis
- Keto Diet and Macros
- Types of Ketogenic Diets
- Physical Performance
Many people incorporate MCT Oil into their diet (it increases ketone production and fat loss) by drinking ketoproof coffee in the morning.
Control Blood Sugar
Keto naturally lowers blood sugar levels due to the type of foods you eat. Studies even show that the ketogenic diet is a more effective way to manage and prevent diabetes compared to low-calorie diets.
If you’re pre-diabetic or have Type II diabetes, you should seriously consider a ketogenic diet. We have many readers that have had success with their blood sugar control on keto.
You can read more about how keto can help control blood sugars by clicking here >
Many people use the ketogenic diet specifically for the increased mental performance.
Ketones are a great source of fuel for the brain. When you lower carb intake, you avoid big spikes in blood sugar. Together, this can result in improved focus and concentration.
Studies show that an increased intake of fatty acids can have impacting benefits to our brain’s function.
You can read a few more benefits of keto for the brain by clicking here >
Increased Energy & Normalized Hunger
By giving your body a better and more reliable energy source, you will feel more energized during the day. Fats are shown to be the most effective molecule to burn as fuel.
On top of that, fat is naturally more satisfying and ends up leaving us in a satiated (“full”) state for longer. 2 A recent meta-analysis favors higher fat, lower carbohydrate diets due to the benefit they have on appetite suppression. If you’re interested in the science behind how ketosis works, read more here >
The ketogenic diet has been used since the early 1900’s to treat epilepsy successfully. It is still one of the most widely used therapies for children who have uncontrolled epilepsy today. Learn more about how keto can help with epilepsy in our article >
One of the main benefits of the ketogenic diet and epilepsy is that it allows fewer medications to be used while still offering excellent control.
In the last few years, studies have also shown significant results in adults treated with keto as well.
Cholesterol & Blood Pressure
A keto diet has shown to improve triglycer > 3 A study in the long-term effects of a ketogenic diet shows a significant reduction in cholesterol levels, body weight, and blood glucose. Read more on keto and cholesterol >
Many studies on low-carb diets also show better improvement in blood pressure over other diets.
Some blood pressure issues are associated with excess weight, which is a bonus since keto tends to lead to weight loss. If you have high blood pressure or other blood pressure issues, click here to learn how keto can reduce blood pressure >
Insulin resistance can lead to type II diabetes if left unmanaged. An abundant amount of research shows that a low carb, ketogenic diet can help people lower their insulin levels to healthy ranges. Read more on keto and insulin resistance >
Even if you’re athletic, you can benefit from insulin optimization on keto through eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.
It’s common to experience improvements in your skin when you switch to a ketogenic diet.
Here’s one study that shows drops in lesions and skin inflammation when switching to a low-carb diet. Another study that shows a probable connection between high-carb eating and increased acne, so it’s likely that keto can help.
For acne, it may be beneficial to reduce dairy intake and follow a strict skin cleaning regimen. If you’re interested in starting a ketogenic diet for your skin, consider reading our article on keto and acne >
What Do I Eat on a Keto Diet?
To start a keto diet, you will want to plan ahead. That means having a viable diet plan ready and waiting. What you eat depends on how fast you want to get into a ketogenic state. The more restrictive you are on your carbohydrates (less than 15g per day), the faster you will enter ketosis.
You want to keep your carbohydrates limited, coming mostly from vegetables, nuts, and dairy. Don’t eat any refined carbohydrates such as wheat (bread, pasta, cereals), starch (potatoes, beans, legumes) or fruit. The small exceptions to this are avocado, star fruit, and berries which can be consumed in moderation.
Do Not Eat
- Grains – wheat, corn, rice, cereal, etc.
- Sugar – honey, agave, maple syrup, etc.
- Fruit – apples, bananas, oranges, etc.
- Tubers – potato, yams, etc.
- Meats – fish, beef, lamb, poultry, eggs, etc.
- Leafy Greens – spinach, kale, etc.
- Above ground vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, etc.
- High Fat Dairy – hard cheeses, high fat cream, butter, etc.
- Nuts and seeds – macadamias, walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.
- Avocado and berries – raspberries, blackberries, and other low glycemic impact berries
- Sweeteners – stevia, erythritol, monk fruit, and other low-carb sweeteners >
- Other fats – coconut oil, high-fat salad dressing, saturated fats, etc.
To see more specific advice on what (and what not) to eat, click here >
Try to remember that keto is high in fat, moderate in protein, and very low in carbs. Your nutrient intake should be something around 70% fats, 25% protein, and 5% carbohydrate.
Typically, anywhere between 20-30g of net carbs is recommended for everyday dieting – but the lower you keep your carbohydrate intake and glucose levels, the better the overall results will be. If you’re doing keto for weight loss, it’s a good idea to keep track of both your total carbs and net carbs.
Protein should always be consumed as needed with fat filling in the remainder of the calories in your day.
You might be asking, “What’s a net carb?” It’s simple really! The net carbs are your total dietary carbohydrates, minus the total fiber. I recommend keeping total carbs below 35g and net carbs below 25g (ideally, below 20g).
If you’re finding yourself hungry throughout the day, you can snack on nuts, seeds, cheeses, or peanut butter to curb your appetite (though snacking can slow weight loss in the long term). Sometimes we can confuse the want to snack with the need of a meal. If you’re in a rush and need a keto fast food option, there are some available.
Vegetables on a Ketogenic Diet
Dark green and leafy is always the best choice for vegetables. Most of your meals should be a protein with vegetables, and an extra side of fat. Chicken breast basted in olive oil, with broccoli and cheese. Steak topped with a knob of butter, and a side of spinach sauteed in olive oil.
If you’re still confused about what a net carb is, don’t worry – I’ll explain further. Let’s say for example you want to eat some broccoli (1 cup) – seriously my favorite and most delicious vegetable out there.
- There are a total of 6g carbohydrates in 1 cup.
- There’s also 2g of fiber in 1 cup.
- So, we take the 6g (total carbs) and subtract the 2g (dietary fiber).
- This will give us our net carbs of 4g.
Here’s a list of the most common low carb vegetables. Though if you want a complete list, check out our guide on the best vegetables for a ketogenic diet >
Vegetable Amount Net Carbs Spinach (Raw) 1/2 Cup 0.1 Bok Choi (Raw) 1/2 Cup 0.2 Lettuce (Romaine) 1/2 Cup 0.2 Cauliflower (Steamed) 1/2 Cup 0.9 Cabbage (Green Raw) 1/2 Cup 1.1 Cauliflower (Raw) 1/2 Cup 1.4 Broccoli (Florets) 1/2 Cup 2 Collard Greens 1/2 Cup 2 Kale (Steamed) 1/2 Cup 2.1 Green Beans (Steamed) 1/2 Cup 2.9
Note: Are you a vegetarian or vegan and want to go on a ketogenic diet? It’s still possible! Just keep in mind that the dietary restrictions can sometimes be a little bit intense. Make sure to plan ahead and prepare to aid your success. To help out, we’ve published articles (with 7 day meal plans included) for both the vegetarian ketogenic diet and the vegan ketogenic diet.
Here are some examples of our newest ketogenic recipes. Click on the recipe to see a full detailed version with step by step photos and full nutrition breakdown:
We update the website multiple times a week with new and exciting recipes, so make sure you come back for inspiration on our keto recipes page here >
If you have trouble cooking, feel free to follow along with us on our YouTube channel to see exactly how we create our recipes!
Sample Diet Plans
If you want a sample plan that has a few different ways people approach keto (light breakfast, fasting) with various recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner check out our 30 Day Ketogenic Diet Plan.
Your life doesn’t have to revolve around the planning aspect. You can go the easy route and get detailed shopping lists and months of meal plans made for you with The Keto Academy >
Getting started is simple: just dive in! It’s always good to spend some time cleaning out your kitchen pantry and adding in new staples. Check out our recommendations to start if you’re new and not sure what to get.
We also have a free newsletter that gives some extra goodies when you sign up. Subscribe for tools to help you succeed and inspiration to keep your meals fun!
Spend some time on the site, go through different sections, and even read some personal success stories from our readers. For more tips and meal ideas, make sure to follow us:
How to Reach Ketosis
Achieving ketosis is a pretty straightforward, but it can seem complicated and confusing with all of the information out there. 4 If you want to learn more about ketosis and the scientific process around it, you can visit a very in-depth discussion about on Dr. Peter Attia’s website. Here’s the bottom line on what you need to do, ordered in levels of importance:
- Restrict your carbohydrates. Most people tend to only focus only on net carbs. If you want great results, limit both. Try to stay below 20g net carbs and below 35g total carbs per day. If you need extra help, we also have a small guide on finding your keto carb limit >
- Restrict your protein intake. Many people come over to keto from an Atkins diet and don’t limit their protein. Too much protein can lead to lower levels of ketosis. Ideally for weight loss, you want to eat between 0.6g and 0.8g protein per pound lean body mass. To help with this, consider using the keto calculator >
- Stop worrying about fat. Fat is the primary source of energy on keto – so make sure you’re feeding your body enough of it. You do not lose weight on keto through starvation.
- Drink water. Try to drink a gallon of water a day. Make sure that you’re hydrating and staying consistent with the amount of water you drink. It not only helps regulate many vital bodily functions, but it also helps control hunger levels.
- Stop snacking. Weight loss tends to do better when you have fewer insulin spikes during the day. Unnecessary snacking may lead to stalls or slow in weight loss.
- Start fasting. Fasting can be a great tool to boost ketone levels consistently throughout the day. There are many different ways to go about it, so if you’re interested I suggest reading more here >
- Add exercise in. It’s a known fact that exercise is healthy. If you want to get the most out of your ketogenic diet, consider adding in 20-30 minutes of exercise a day. Even just a small walk can help regulate weight loss and blood sugar levels.
- Start supplementing. Although not usually needed, supplementing can help with a ketogenic diet. Learn more about optimizing with supplements >
Interested in the process of ketosis and how it affects our bodies? Feel free to read more on what ketosis is >
Note: Always remember to be vigilant and make sure you’re checking ingredients on labels. It’s too often that you will find hidden carbs in products that seem keto friendly.
Optimal Ketosis and Macros
There are so many tricks, shortcuts, and gimmicks out there on achieving optimal ketosis – I’d suggest you don’t bother with any of that. Optimal ketosis can be accomplished through dietary nutrition alone (aka just eating food). You shouldn’t need a magic pill to do it. Just stay strict, remain vigilant, and be focused on recording what you eat (to make sure your carb and protein intake are correct).
How to Know if You’re in Ketosis
You can measure if you’re in ketosis via urine or blood strips, though it’s not really worth it. The urine strips are considered pretty inaccurate (they more answer the question “Am I in ketosis?”), and the blood strips are expensive (up to $5 per strip). If you’re interested in reading more about measuring ketones, click here >
Instead, you can use this short list of physical “symptoms” that usually let you know if you’re on the right track:
- Increased Urination. Keto is a natural diuretic, so you have to go to the bathroom more. Acetoacetate, a ketone body, is also excreted in urination and can lead to increased bathroom visits for beginners.
- Dry Mouth. The increased urination leads to dry mouth and increased thirst. Make sure that you’re drinking plenty of water and replenishing your electrolytes (salt, potassium, magnesium).
- Bad Breath. Acetone is a ketone body that partially excretes in our breath. It can smell sharp like over ripe fruit, similar to nail polish remover. It’s usually temporary and goes away long term.
- Reduced Hunger & Increased Energy. Usually, after you get past the “keto flu,” you’ll experience a much lower hunger level and a “clear” or energized mental state.
Most people end up driving themselves crazy measuring and testing. It’s much better to focus on the nutritional aspect, making sure that you’re in taking proper foods and staying within your macro ranges (read below).
What Are Macros?
“Macros” is an abbreviated term of macronutrients. Your macros are your daily intake of “the big 3” nutrients: fats, protein, and carbohydrates. You can use the following calculator to see what your daily needs will be. If you want to learn more about macros and how they work in relation to keto and our bodies, click here to read more >
Starting on a ketogenic diet? Let’s calculate how much you should eat. We use the information you put in to create an accurate keto nutrition profile for you.
NOTE: If you exercise or want to see a more in-depth explanation on how we are calculating the numbers, you should use the full version of the keto calculator >