What is a Keto Diet?

The Keto Diet is known as a low carb high-fat diet. Its main purpose is to reduce insulin response and burn fat as a fuel source rather than glucose. This way of eating is called several things such as Ketogenic Diet, Low carb high fat diet, Low-carb diet, etc.

Your body produces glucose and insulin when you eat something high in carbohydrates.

  • 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.

Your body is used to burning glucose for fuel so any fat that you eat will not be used and is then stored in your body. You can change this though by lowering your carb intake to 20g(net) or lower. Once you do this your body will switch over to using the fat that was once stored.

Your body will naturally start to produce ketones to help you survive when your food intake is much lower than usual.  Once this process starts the ketones are coming from the breakdown of fats in your liver.

The endgame of this diet though is to get your body into a metabolic state. You don’t have to starve yourself though to make this happen you simply need to starve yourself of carbs.

You would be surprised as to how adaptive our bodies are to what we put in them – especially when you overload it with healthy fats and greatly reduce the carb intake, it will start burning ketones as its primary source of fuel. If you can attain good ketone levels your body will benefit from mental and physical health as well as weight loss along with many other benefits.

Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet

There are many benefits that come with being on keto: from weight loss and increased energy levels to medical applications. Everyone except for a small group can benefit from a low-carb diet. You will find some of the popular benefits that most people experience from doing the keto diet.

Weight Loss

Weight loss is probably one of the most popular reasons why people decide to start the keto diet. On keto, your insulin levels drop which means your body will be a fat-burning machine!

Science has proven that low carb diets work way better than a low-fat high-carb diet for burning fat.

Lots of people add MCT Oil into their diet (it increases ketone production and fat loss) by drinking keto proof coffee in the morning.

Control Blood Sugar

Keto will naturally start to lower your blood sugar levels because of the foods you start to eat. There are even studies now that prove the Ketogenic diet is more effective in managing diabetes than a low-calorie diet.

So, if you are pre-diabetic or have Type II diabetes you may want to consider starting the ketogenic diet soon. There are many stories online from people who are completely off of their insulin after doing keto for a while.

Mental Focus

Focus is something that we all wish we had more of. Well, there’s some good news if you plan on starting keto! This way of eating is specifically good at increasing mental focus.

Did you know that ketones are really good fuel for your brain? As you decrease your carb intake, you start to avoid the big spikes in your blood sugar. This leads to better mental focus and concentration.

In fact, there are scientific studies that prove an increased intake of fatty acids can have many health benefits for your brain function.

Increased Energy & Normalized Hunger

By feeding your body a better and more efficient energy source, you will notice an increase in energy throughout the day. Fats are known to be the most effective molecule your brain can burn as a fuel.

Fat is also a much more satisfying and will leave you feeling satisfied way more than carbs could ever.

Epilepsy

Did you know that keto has been used since the early 1900s to treat conditions like epilepsy? Even today it is still widely used to help children who cannot control their epilepsy

The ketogenic diet has been used since the early 1900s to treat epilepsy successfully. It is still one of the most widely used therapies for children who have uncontrolled epilepsy today.

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 triglyceride levels and cholesterol levels most associated with arterial buildup. More specifically low-carb, high-fat diets show a dramatic increase in HDL and a decrease in LDL particle concentration compared to low-fat diets.

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.

Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance can lead to type II diabetes if left unmanaged. An abundant amount of research shows that a low carb, the ketogenic diet can help people lower their insulin levels to healthy ranges.

Even if you’re athletic, you can benefit from insulin optimization on keto through eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Acne

It’s common to experience improvements in your skin when you switch to a ketogenic diet.

For acne, it may be beneficial to reduce dairy intake and follow a strict skin cleaning regimen.

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.

Do Eat

  • 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,

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.

VegetableAmountNet Carbs
Spinach (Raw)1/2 Cup0.1
Bok Choi (Raw)1/2 Cup0.2
Lettuce (Romaine)1/2 Cup0.2
Cauliflower (Steamed)1/2 Cup0.9
Cabbage (Green Raw)1/2 Cup1.1
Cauliflower (Raw)1/2 Cup1.4
Broccoli (Florets)1/2 Cup2
Collard Greens1/2 Cup2
Kale (Steamed)1/2 Cup2.1
Green Beans (Steamed)1/2 Cup2.9

 

This is how you can reach Ketosis:

Reaching Ketosis

Since there is so much conflicting information out there it could be easy to get confused about reaching ketosis. It’s actually not a hard feat and can be done by following these simple steps.

  1. Restrict your carbohydrates. This is probably one of the most important parts of the Keto Diet. It’s important that you keep your net carbs under 20g per day.
  2. Restrict your protein intake. If you have a history with the Atkins diet you might come to Keto not realizing you can actually have too much protein. Ideally, for weight loss, you want to eat between 0.6g and 0.8g protein per pound lean body mass.
  3. Stop worrying about fat. Don’t spend your day trying to be a nazi about how much fat you take in. You need fat to make keto work and you won’t be successful if you starve yourself.
  4. Drink water. Make sure you are drinking enough water. You need water to help with normal body functions and it will help with feeling hungry.
  5. 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.
  6. Start fasting. Fasting will help boost your ketones throughout the day.
  7. Add exercise in. We all know that exercise is healthy. If you really want to get the most out of this diet you should consider doing 20-30 minutes of exercise every day. If you can only take a walk that’s fine! It will help regulate weight loss and blood sugar levels.
  8. Start supplementing. This is not for everybody but some people do find benefits out of using supplements while on Keto.

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 (ensuring your carb intake is optimal).

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).

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 overripe 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.

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.

Types of Ketogenic Diets

NOTE: This section is for those that are trying to build muscle while on Keto.

Many people ask if carbs are needed to build muscle. Of course, they’re not. If you’re asking this question, I will assume you know how you gain mass.

Your glycogen stores can still be refilled while on a ketogenic diet. A keto diet is an excellent way to build muscle, but protein intake is crucial here. It’s suggested that if you are looking to gain mass, you should be taking in about 1.0 – 1.2g protein per lean pound of body mass. Putting muscle on may be slower on a ketogenic diet, but that’s because your total body fat is not increasing as much.5

If for some reason you need to put on body fat also, you can achieve your goals through different types of a Ketogenic Diet. These are:

  • Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD): This is the classic keto diet that everyone knows and does. It’s the “bread and butter” of this website.
  • Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD): This is a variation where you eat SKD, but intake a small amount of fast-digesting carbs before a workout.
  • Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD): This is a variation of keto for bodybuilders and contest goers, generally giving one day a week to carb up and resupply glycogen stores.

If you work out intensely, then a TKD or CKD may be for you.


Physical Performance

People often argue that performance is affected when on a keto diet, but that’s not true. Well, not in the long run. In the short-term, you may notice some small physical performance drops, but this will subside as you continue replenishing fluids, electrolytes, and adapt to the fat intake.

Many studies have been done on exercise. A study was done on trained cyclists who were on a ketogenic diet for four weeks. The results show that aerobic endurance was not compromised at all, and their muscle mass was the same as when they started.

Their bodies adapted through ketosis, limiting both glucose and glycogen stores, and used fats as the predominant energy source.

There was another study done on eight professional gymnasts who had the same results. Both groups were fed a strict diet of green vegetables, proteins, and high-quality fats. So, even if you are doing long bouts of cardio – a keto diet has been proven time and time again.

The only real-time where ketosis can give performance loss is in exercises that need an explosive action. If you need a little boost in your performance during these, you can “carb-up” by eating 25-50g of carbs about 30 minutes before you train.


Dangers of a Keto Diet

Can ketone production in the body get too high? Yes, it’s called ketoacidosis. Is it likely under normal circumstances? Not at all. For most people, it’s a challenge just to get into optimal ranges for ketosis. Getting into territory where you need medical intervention is just not likely.

NOTE: The main exception to ketoacidosis is type 1 diabetics – it can happen when insulin levels are severely low which is rare in someone with a normally functioning pancreas. Dangerously high ketone levels result in insulin secretion.

There are a lot of misconceptions about low carb dieting which has caused an infamous outlook on keto. There have been tons of studies published over the last 30 years that show how high amounts of fat and few carbs are beneficial.

People sometimes get keto confused with high fat, high carb diets which are terrible for the body. Of course, when you eat a lot of fatty foods that are high in sugar, you’ll be getting yourself into trouble.

Have you been thinking of going on a low-fat diet? It’s been shown that a ketogenic diet is both healthier and more effective than low-fat dieting.

When you eat foods high in carbohydrates and fat, your body naturally produces glucose. Carbohydrates are the easiest thing for the body to process, and therefore it will use them first – resulting in the excess fats to be stored immediately. In turn, this causes weight gain and health problems that are associated with high fat, high carbohydrate diets (NOT keto).

As a precaution, you should always check with your physician if you have any concerns about starting a keto diet. You should especially be wary if you’re currently taking medications for a pre-existing condition as extra monitoring may be needed. Be careful when breastfeeding as you may need to increase carb intake.


What Happens To My Body

Your body is used to the simple routine of breaking down carbohydrates and using them as energy. Over time the body has built up an arsenal of enzymes ready for this process and only has a few enzymes for dealing with fats – mostly to store them.

All of a sudden your body has to deal with the lack of glucose and increase in fats, which means building up a new supply of enzymes. As your body becomes induced into a ketogenic state, your body will naturally use what’s left of your glucose.

This means your body will be depleted of glycogen in the muscles – which can cause a lack of energy and general lethargy.

In the first week, many people report headaches, mental fogginess, dizziness, and aggravation. Most of the time, this is the result of your electrolytes being flushed out, as ketosis has a diuretic effect. Make sure you drink plenty of water and keep your sodium intake up.6

In fact, you should go overboard with the salt – salt everything! Sodium will help with water retention and help replenish the electrolytes. For most, this temporary groggy feeling is the biggest danger you’re going to face. It’s called “Keto Flu.”


Keto Flu

Keto flu is a very common experience for new ketoers, but it often goes away after just a few days – and there are ways to minimize or even eliminate it. When transitioning to keto, you may feel some slight discomfort including fatigue, headache, nausea, cramps, etc.

There are a few reasons for the keto flu, but the two primary ones are:

  1. Keto is a diuretic. You tend to go to the bathroom more to urinate, which attributes to a loss of both electrolytes and water in your body. You can usually help combat this by either drinking bouillon cube or Powerade Zero and by increasing your water intake. Mainly, you want to replenish your depleted electrolytes.
  2. You’re transitioning. Your body is equipped to process a high intake of carbs and a lower intake of fat. Your body needs to create enzymes to be able to do this. In the transitional period, the brain may run low on energy which can lead to grogginess, nausea, and headaches. If you’re having a large problem with this, you can choose to reduce carb intake gradually.

After increasing water intake and replacing electrolytes, it should relieve most all symptoms of Keto Flu. For an average person that is starting a ketogenic diet, eating 20-30g of net carbs a day, the entire adaptation process will take about 4-5 days. My advice is to cut your carbs to fewer than 15g to ensure that you are well on your way into ketosis within one week. If you are experiencing any more keto flu symptoms, double check your electrolyte intake and adjust.

You may notice that if you’re an avid gym goer, you lost some strength and endurance. A temporary decrease in physical performance is typical. Once your body becomes keto-adapted, your body will be able to fully utilize fat as its primary source of energy.


Common Side Effects on a Keto Diet

Here are a few of the most common side effects that I come across when people first start keto. Frequently the issues relate to dehydration or lack of micronutrients (vitamins) in the body. Make sure that you’re drinking enough water (close to a gallon a day) and eating foods with good sources of micronutrients.

Cramps

Cramps (and more specifically leg cramps) are a pretty common thing when starting a ketogenic diet. It’s usually occurring in the morning or at night, but it’s a pretty minor issue overall. It’s a sign that there’s a lack of minerals, specifically magnesium, in the body.

Make sure to drink plenty of fluid and eat salt on your food. Doing so can help reduce the loss of magnesium and get rid of the issue.

leg cramps

Constipation

The most common cause of constipation is dehydration. A simple solution is to increase water intake and try to get as close to a gallon a day as possible.

Making sure vegetables have some fiber in will also usually help. Getting in some good quality fiber from non-starchy vegetables can solve this problem. Though if that’s not enough, usually psyllium husk powder will work or taking a probiotic.

constipation problems

Heart Palpitations

When transitioning to keto, you may notice that your heart is beating both faster and harder. It’s pretty standard, so don’t worry about it.

If the problem persists, make sure that you’re drinking plenty of fluid and eating enough salt. Typically this is sufficient to get rid of the problem right away. Though if the issue persists, it may be worth taking a potassium supplement once a day.

heart issues

Reduced Physical Performance

You may see some limitations on your performance when you first begin a keto diet, but it’s usually just from your body adapting to using fat. As your body shifts in using fat for energy, all of your strength and endurance will return to normal.

lowered performance on keto


Less Common Side Effects on a Keto Diet

These are some of the lesser common problems that I am e-mailed about on a semi-consistent basis. Many of these problems also relate to hydration and micronutrients, so make sure that you are drinking plenty of water and replenishing electrolytes.

Breastfeeding

There are mixed and matched studies on keto and breastfeeding, though nothing is well researched at the current moment. Right now it’s understood that ketogenic diets are typically healthy to do while breastfeeding.

It’s suggested to add in 30-50g extra carbs from fruit when breastfeeding to help the body produce milk. You may also have to add in extra calories.

breastfeeding on ketogenic diet

Specifically, 300-500 calories worth of extra fat to help with milk production. You should always contact medical professionals for advice.

Hair Loss

If you’re experiencing hair loss within five months of starting a ketogenic diet, it’s most likely temporary. You can take a multivitamin and do what you normally do.

Though hair loss is very uncommon on keto, you can minimize it by making sure you’re not restricting calories too far and making sure you get 8 hours of sleep a night.

low-carb hair loss

Increased Cholesterol

Usually, it’s a good thing! Many studies point toward cholesterol elevation when doing a low-carb, ketogenic diet.

Higher cholesterol is generally due to HDL (the good cholesterol) increasing – lowering your chance of heart disease. You may see increased triglyceride counts, but that’s very common in people losing weight. These increases will subside as weight loss normalizes.

increased cholesterol on keto

There’s a small percent of people that experience raised LDL cholesterol as well. These elevated levels are usually fine – though harder to test. The dangers of LDL cholesterol come from the size and density, which are shown to be very healthy on keto.

Gallstones

Of the few studies done on keto and gallstones, most people have either improved or cured gallstone problems. The only downside is that many reported an increase in discomfort when starting out on low-carb. If you stick with it, you should notice a vast improvement.

Another common question relating to gallstones is “Can I start keto if I have had my gallbladder removed?” The answer is yes.

gallstones

You may want to increase your fat gradually to allow your system some time to get used to it.

Indigestion

Generally speaking, switching to keto gets rid of indigestion and heartburn. Keep in mind that some people see increased attacks when they’re first starting out.

If you’re experiencing problems, it may be best to limit the amount of fat you intake; gradually increasing the amount you have per day over a two-week period.

indigestion problems

Keto Rash

There’s no real scientific reasoning/explanation behind why some people start to itch when they start keto. There’s just a handful of experiences that people have written about, and so I’m basing my answer on what I’ve read.

From anecdotes, it’s most likely irritation from the acetone that is excreted in sweat (it’s why you may experience bad breath).

keto rash

It’s worth looking into better clothing options for absorbing or wicking sweat from your body. It’s also worth showering right after activity that causes you to sweat.

If it’s a lasting issue that is causing problems, you may want to consider upping your carbs or changing exercise plans.

Saving Money and Budgeting

A common misconception is that the ketogenic diet is more expensive than other diets out there. And, while it may be a little bit more expensive than buying grain-stuffed foods, it’s much cheaper than many people think.

A ketogenic diet may be more expensive than a standard American diet, but it’s no different than other clean eating lifestyles. That said, there are still numerous ways to save money while cooking keto. The best ways to save money is the same as with any other budgeting:

  • Search for deals. There’s always a sale or a coupon to be found for keto-friendly items out there. Typically you can find significant savings in magazines and newspapers that are sent to your house, but they can also be combined with in-store specials and manager cuts. When combined, you can save a significant amount of your keto groceries.
  • Bulk buy and cook. If you’re someone who doesn’t like to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, this is the best of both worlds. Buying your food at bulk (specifically from wholesalers) can reduce the cost per pound tremendously. Plus, you can make ahead food (bulk cook chicken thighs for pre-made meat, or cook entire meals) that are used as leftovers, so you spend less time cooking.
  • Make things yourself. While it’s extremely convenient to buy most things pre-made or pre-cooked, it always adds to the price per pound on items. Try prepping veggies ahead of time instead of buying pre-cut ones. Try making your stew meat from a chuck roast. Or, simply try to make your mayo and salad dressings at home. The simplest of things can work to cut down on your overall grocery shopping.

Takeaways and Advice

Overall, eating a high amount of fat, moderate protein, and low amount of carbs can have a massive impact on your health – lowering your cholesterol, body weight, blood sugar, and raising your energy and mood levels.

A ketogenic diet can be hard to fathom in the beginning but isn’t as hard as it’s made out to be. The transition can be a little bit tough, but the growing popularity of the clean eating movement makes it easier and easier to find available low-carb foods.

After reading this page in its entirety, my best cut and dry advice for someone starting off and wanting to lose weight are listed below:

  1. Keep it straightforward and strict. You usually see better results in people who restrict their carb intake further. Try to keep your carbs as low as possible for the first month of keto. Keep it strict by cutting out excess sweets and artificial sweeteners altogether (like diet soda). Cutting these out dramatically decreases sugar cravings.
  2. Drink water and supplement electrolytes. Most common problems come from dehydration or lack of electrolytes. When you start keto (and even in the long run), make sure that you drink plenty of water, salt your foods, and take a multivitamin. If you’re still experiencing issues, you can order electrolyte supplements individually.
  3. Track what you eat. It’s so easy to over-consume on carbs when they’re hidden in just about everything you pick up. Keeping track of what you eat helps control your carb intake and keep yourself accountable.