The ketogenic diet is a revolutionary nutritional approach taking the world by storm. it involves eating lots of fat and very few carbs. Switching to the diet puts people in a metabolic state called ketosis that is characterized by enhanced fat burning and ketone body production.
But there's more to keto than simple weight loss. This diet is proven to improve mental functioning, increase energy levels, prevent deadly diseases, and enhance well-being. Although all this sounds too good to be true, there are hundreds of studies proving these benefits of ketogenic eating .
If you too want to give keto a try, here's an easy-to-follow keto for beginners guide. Here, we explain what keto is, what benefits it provides, and how to get started. Going on a keto journey is easy when you have the right guidance. If this is your first time learning about keto, you're in good hands. Keep scrolling and start learning today.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat, and moderate-protein diet. The "keto" in the word ketogenic refers to the greater production of so-called ketone bodies. Ketone bodies are molecules that serve as an alternative fuel to glucose when carb intake is insufficient.
The diet was originally designed in the 1920s by a group of scientists looking for a nutritional treatment for epilepsy . These scientists noticed that fasting reduces epileptic seizures and that this effect comes directly from ketone bodies. Then experiments showed that carb restriction was enough to increase ketone production.
Besides carb restriction, the keto diet demands that around 80% of your daily calories come from fat. That's around 1,600 calories on 2,000 calories diet or 177 grams worth in fat. The goal of this nutritional strategy is to enhance ketone production but also to nourish the body. Protein intake needs to be moderate on a keto diet; too much protein can interfere with ketone production.
On a ketogenic diet, the metabolic state of enhanced ketone production is called ketosis. Your body normally makes a very low amount of ketones every day. During an overnight fast, for example, the level of ketones in your blood reaches a maximum of 0.1 - 0.5 mmol/L. But that's not really ketosis. To be in ketosis, your blood ketone levels need to be:
- 0.5 - 1.5 mmol/L:This is light, nutritional ketosis that you'll experience early on your ketogenic journey. If your carb intake is on the higher end, then you'll also have this level of ketones.
- 1.5 - 3 mmol/L: This is an optimal level of ketones. Most keto dieters stay within this range of ketosis, especially when following the diet correctly.
- 3 mmol/L and above: A higher amount of ketones is not necessarily a good thing. Having more than optimal levels can indicate that you're not eating enough. People with diabetes have to take special care about keeping ketone levels in check to avoid ketoacidosis – unhealthy level of ketones that cause the blood to become acidic.
The reason ketosis is important for keto-ers is because it’s the ultimate goal of the ketogenic diet. Being in ketosis means your body is burning fat and utilizing ketones. When you're in ketosis, you can rest assured you're really reaping all those benefits promised on a ketogenic diet.
But when you first begin entering ketosis, you may also experience something called "keto flu." It's a range of symptoms caused by declining blood glucose, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances. Luckily, the keto flu is easy to control. You can learn more about the keto flu and how to treat it here.
The benefits of going keto are wide and varied. There are also hundreds of studies carried out over the past decade that confirmed these benefits. Here are some of the benefits you can expect on a ketogenic diet explained:
#1 Weight loss
The most sought-after benefit of going keto is definitely weight loss. If you ever searched for keto testimonials, you'll notice that the success rate of keto for weight loss is high. That's because the keto diet transforms the way your metabolism functions to turn you into a fat burner.
It all starts with carb restriction. When you cut back on carbs, your blood glucose levels stabilize leading to a drop in hunger hormones. Then, your body starts burning fat to make ketones. Depending on how much fat you're eating, your body will either use fat from food or fat tissue.
Studies also show that the ketogenic diet suppresses appetite . This further boosts weight loss success because in order to lose weight, you absolutely must eat fewer calories.
And if that's not convincing enough, there are at least over two dozen studies proving that low-carb diets such as keto are more effective than low-fat and calorie restrictive diets .
#2 Greater Energy
Keto is scientifically-proven to enhance both mental and physical energy .That's because on keto, your body is utilizing a powerful source of energy – fat and ketones. Compared to carbs that provide only 4 calories per gram, fat provides a whopping 9 calories. Besides that, ketones provide the same amount of energy but with even less oxygen consumption than carbs or fat.
In other words, ketones are an energy powerhouse. You'll feel that you are mentally sharper and much more focused on a keto diet. You'll also notice that you're not getting tired as easily as you did before.
However, the standard ketogenic diet is not the best option for workout energy . While your muscles are able to run on both fatty acids and ketones, they need glycogen too. The ketogenic diet depletes glycogen at a quick rate. To counteract this problem, many keto dieters use carb cycling. This method involves eating more carbs around workouts and reducing intake the rest of the time.
#3 Disease Prevention
The first known health benefit of keto is epilepsy control. But keto can help with many other conditions too. So far, studies show keto can :
- Prevent cardiovascular diseases– These diseases are a leading cause of death worldwide, causing heart attacks and stroke. These diseases a result of high blood lipids combined with low-grade inflammation. Keto stabilizes blood lipids because your body is utilizing all the fat it is getting and because keto is anti-inflammatory.
- Prevent cancer – Because keto reduces whole-body inflammation, it also reduces cancer risk. Cancer is very often the result of uncontrolled inflammation in the body. But keto also prevents cancer by depriving cancer cells of its primary food – glucose. Studies are now looking into keto diets as an adjuvant therapy for cancer patients .
- Control diabetes – Diabetes is considered a chronic, lifelong condition. But it is manageable, and especially with a keto diet. Many keto dieters even claim they've even reversed diabetes with the help of keto. That keto can help with diabetes makes perfect sense given that diabetes is a disease of carb metabolism and that keto allows your body to stabilize carb metabolism.
- Prevent neurological conditions – Ketones protect the brain from oxidative stress and increase mitochondrial functioning in brain cells. That's why keto helps with epilepsy and that's also why it also helps prevent Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and depression.
The ketogenic diet is also great for longevity and overall well-being. The diet is known to boost autophagy, a metabolic process of cell recycling that can help you live longer. There are probably even more health benefits of keto waiting to be discovered. For now, we know that the benefits definitely outweigh any possible risks.
Now that you know what the keto diet is and what it can do for you, it's time to get to the practical details of going low-carb. Let's start with macronutrient ratios. On a ketogenic diet, your macros should look like this:
- 65-80% Fats
- 20-35% Proteins
- 5-10% Carbs
These macronutrient ratios work for everyone when it comes to reaching ketosis. However, if you're an athlete, have diabetes, or are sedentary, then these ratios need a bit of tweaking to work for you.
As already explained, athletes and highly active people benefit from occasional carb cycling. Those with diabetes may want to gradually reduce their carb intake and keep it at 10% to prevent hypoglycemia, and sedentary folks also.
Getting your macros right are important. But how exactly do you do this? Well, by eating lots of keto-approved foods. There are foods you are allowed and not allowed to eat on keto.
- High-fat dairy:butter, sour cream, and full-fat yogurt are all good options
- Fatty cuts of meat:chicken thighs, ground beef, pork belly, bacon, T-bone steaks, and ribeye.
- Fatty fish:Salmon, mackerel, sardines, and tuna.
- Cold-pressed oils: olive oil is your best option. But macadamia nut and high-oleic sunflower oils are also good.
- Nut-based flours:almond and coconut flour are popular keto substitutes for wheat flours.
- Low-carb vegetables: leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, summer squash and other above-ground vegetables are low enough in carbs to be keto-approved. Make sure your veggies have fewer than 10 grams of carbs per serving.
- Nuts and seeds: almond, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and peanuts are high in fat, low in carbs, and also rich in fiber.
- Berries:Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and other berries are lower in carbs than most fruit. However, keep your intake moderate to stay in ketosis.
Non-nutritive sweeteners: Stevia, Erythritol, and Inulin are all good.
Do Not Eat
Grains and legumes: wheat, barley, oats, beans, soybeans and peas are not allowed on keto due to their high carb content. Pasta is made from grains and rice is also a grain.
- Most fruit:fruit is called nature's candy for a reason – it's high in sugar. Although fruits come with many health benefits, they don't help you get into ketosis. Stick to berries for now.
- Condensed and evaporated milk: these contain a higher amount of milk sugars (lactose) than plain milk and other dairy products.
- Sweetening products:Sugar, honey, agave nectar, and maple syrup are largely made of carbs, so avoid these completely.
- Starchy vegetables: potatoes, peas, and many root vegetables are high in starches which is a form of sugar. Also avoid other sweet-tasting vegetables like onion, sweet potatoes, and corn.
On a ketogenic diet, the general advice is also to eat clean. Avoid highly-processed foods, including margarine, hydrogenated oils, and anything with more than 5 ingredients on the label. This way, you'll ensure you're not only eating healthy but also keeping an eye on your macros.
Keto supplements are not a necessary part of going keto, but they do help. Some boost ketone production, others enhance energy levels, and some help with workouts. Popular keto supplements include:
Exogenous ketones are ketones made in the laboratory and that function just like your body's own ketones. These supplements were designed to get you quickly into ketosis. When you had a cheat meal, are just starting keto, or are even struggling with keto flu, exogenous ketones can help.
In case you're wondering if they work, studies show that taking exogenous ketones is an effective and convenient way to achieve ketosis . But don't think that taking exogenous ketones is a replacement for the ketogenic diet. The effects of exogenous ketones last only a couple of hours and your body isn't really burning fat when you take them. They're simply there to help your through rough times on keto.
MCT is short for medium-chain triglycerides, types of fats that research shows have a completely different metabolic effect to more common types of fats . Your body needs digestive enzymes and bile salts to digest fats. Not so with MCTs. These get absorbed from your small intestine and go directly to the liver where they're used for energy or ketone production.
MCT oil is the concentrated form of MCTs. It's made from coconut and palm kernel oils and contains different types of MCTs, all with their unique health benefits.
Taking MCT oil on a ketogenic diet boosts fat burning and ketone production. This oil is also highly satiating when compared to other sources of fat.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body. It makes up your skin, joint cartilage, and connective tissue. Collagen peptides are the supplement form of collagen. They're not necessarily a keto supplement, but you'll see them often featured on keto diets.
That's because collagen peptides are easier to digest than other protein supplements. On a keto diet, anything that's easy on your digestive system is valuable. They also protect your joints, help with workouts, and keep you full on keto.
Because you need to exclude many sources of dietary fiber on a keto diet, it's a good idea to take it in supplement form. Psyllium husk, wheat dextrin, and methylcellulose are all good options. Otherwise, make sure you are eating enough low-carb vegetables, berries, nuts, and seeds to meet your daily fiber requirements.
Fiber is an indigestible carb. Although it does not provide nutrition, it has a functional purpose in your body. It serves as food for healthy gut bacteria and supports normal bowel movement. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. The soluble kind dissolves in water and attaches to cholesterol helping reduce its amount in the bloodstream. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and protects bowel health.
Planning is key to success on a keto diet. This is especially true when it comes to your meals. Also, be prepared to spend more time cooking your own meals. Keto is a fairly new dietary approach for weight loss so not many restaurants or food companies are catering to keto dieters. Making your own meals is the only way you'll know you're hitting your daily macros.
To learn how to make a ketogenic diet plan, read our quick guide here. You'll learn how to shop for keto ingredients, make keto meals, and plan weekly menus. You can also visit our keto recipes section to collect recipes for your keto journey. There, you'll find the nutrition facts, including daily macros included in each recipe. Here is a sample meal plan for you to consider:
Start your day with this simple cheese omelet. We suggest serving it with some full-fat yogurt and keto bread. Made with eggs, goats cheese, butter, and some parsley and chives, this omelet has all necessary macros.
To curb midday hunger, we suggest going for these raspberry muffins. Made with coconut flour and sweetened with stevia, these muffins are sure to satisfy your sweet tooth but without the carbs. Each muffin provides around 150 calories, so feel free to have several for lunch.
For dinner, go for these Asian style flounder fillets. The recipe calls for coconut aminos to replace soy sauce which often contains wheat. You can substitute flounder for cod and the recipe will be just as good. One serving will give you around 150 calories. We suggest serving this dish with some cauliflower rice or some leafy greens of your liking.
The keto diet is designed to boost weight loss and improve health. But to achieve that, you have to make keto your lifestyle. One big part of the ketogenic lifestyle is exercising. Although exercising isn't necessary for you to lose weight on keto, it will boost your success and improve your health.
Depending on what you are trying to achieve and what your preferences are, you go for any type of exercising on this diet. Aerobics, HIIT, and resistance training at least twice a week all fit well into the ketogenic diet. Keep in mind though that you'll have to adjust your macros to fit your workout routine, especially if you plan to do vigorous exercising.
Other lifestyle changes to consider for keto success include:
Everyone knows by now how detrimental to health cigarettes are. If you already haven't, do consider ceasing smoking on your keto journey.
Reducing alcohol intake
Drinking alcohol in moderation is perfectly healthy. But on a keto diet, you need to pay special attention to the type of alcohol. Some alcoholic beverages like dessert wines are high in carbs while others like tequila contain no carbs at all. Also, keep your intake moderate because alcohol contains calories.
Reducing stress levels
Stress is another leading cause of chronic and deadly diseases. When you're stressed, your body releases a high amount of a stress hormone called cortisol. Studies show that cortisol causes weight gain and wreaks havoc on your metabolism . Since you want to improve metabolic functioning with keto, keeping stress at bay also helps.
Getting enough sleep
When you sleep, your body isn't just resting; it's busy regenerating and regulating your metabolism. Studies show that sleep deprivation causes metabolic problems . Sleeping at least 8 hours each day is essential for normal metabolism functioning and keto success.
Keto isn’t perfect; it comes with its share of side effects as well. For example, when you first start the diet, chances are you’ll experience keto flu symptoms like fatigue, headaches, and nausea. These symptoms are a result of electrolyte imbalances that happen when your body is getting rid of water bound to glycogen.
The keto diet is also hard to stick to for some people. Carb addiction is one reason. Difficulty digesting fat and and digestive issues, in general, are other commonly cited reasons. Luckily, where there’s a will, there’s a way of getting around keto problems. Here is how you can troubleshoot common keto problems:
Drink electrolyte-enriched beverages the first week of your keto diet. Bouillon cubes are a good option. Other great options include:
Lemon juice with a pinch of salt and sweetened with stevia
Effervescent mineral tablets (sugar-free)
Soup without noodles
Avocado smoothie to replenish potassium and magnesium.
Do avoid sports drinks, however, as this often contain too much sugar to be keto approved. Coconut water is another popular way of replenishing electrolytes but it's also high in carbs, so do avoid it.
Electrolyte imbalances are always accompanied by dehydration and vice versa. That’s why replenish your fluids along with taking electrolytes is important. Water is good but adding a bit of salt and taking in the recommended amount of carbs helps retain that water. Studies also show that protein added to electrolyte-enriched drinks also improves hydration .
Fat indigestion is only a temporary problem on a ketogenic diet. It’s mostly the result of a lack of fat-digesting enzymes. Your body makes a smaller amount of enzymes when your diet is based on carbs. By increasing your fat intake, it can take a couple of weeks for your body to adjust to this change by increasing the levels of specific enzymes.
If you want to make things a bit easier on yourself, you can do the following:
Take lipase supplements - Lipase is the most important enzyme for fat digestion. Try this out if you have problems with fat indigestion long into your keto diet.
Boost gallbladder health - Your gallbladder releases bile salts that help with fat digestion. To improve bile health, add natural apple cider vinegar, ginger, and fermented foods to improve gallbladder health.
Start with MCT oil - MCT oil does not require enzymes of bile salts for digestion. That’s why it’s such a great supplement to take early on your keto diet. Our Kiss My Keto MCT Oil C8/C10will give you all the fatty acids your body needs for ketone production. Still, keep your intake moderate (1-2 tablespoons) to avoid nausea.
Other digestive issues
Constipation and nausea are also common on a keto diet. Constipation can result from a lack of fiber combined with changes in gut flora from the higher fat intake. Nausea often accompanies fat indigestion or it can be the result of the keto flu and constipation. Whatever the cause, take these steps to improve your digestion on a keto diet:
Eat low-carb, high-fiber vegetables - Examples include broccoli, brussels sprouts, avocados, and berries. Nuts and seeds are also excellent sources of fiber.
Take fiber supplements - Psyllium husk and acacia fiber are popular supplements for the keto diet.
Add probiotics and fermented foods - These will keep your gut flora balanced and your bowel movements regular. Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and pickles are good examples.
Stay hydrated- Hydration on a low-carb diet is very important. Drink up to 8 glasses of water a day, preferably with a bit of salt and other electrolytes.
When you become keto-adapted, you’ll notice many of these issues taper off. You can expect this around weeks 2-4 of the keto diet. Give it time and you’ll start reaping all those benefits of keto eating.
If you’re an absolute keto beginner, know that starting is the hardest part. Once you have all the right knowledge in place along with our guidance, you’ll see that going keto is easy. In fact, we believe it’s easier to follow than standard diets. That’s because keto involves eating the kind of food you love the most.
But before you start, it’s always good have all the rules in place and your keto meal plan ready. Knowing what to expect in terms of side effects is also important, so you know which measures you should take.
If you’re still hungry for keto knowledge, we suggest taking our free Ketocademycourse. There, you’ll everything you need to know about keto in under three hours. Our Keto Quick Guide section is also helpful for the beginners out there.