Most likely you have heard something about the ketogenic diet and all the benefits of “eating keto”. It’s gaining popularity and catching people’s attention.
What is a ketogenic diet and why should you try it? A keto diet is based on limiting your carbs (breads, sugars, pastas, anything grain-based) and increasing your fat intake (good fats). Sounds simple enough right?
It really is that simple and is a great way to become a healthier, lighter, and more fit human being. If you have struggled with weight loss or your health, starting a keto lifestyle could be your solution. It’s not a quick magic fix. There will be moments where you make mistakes or want to quit. Keep trying!
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The Ultimate Guide to Keto for Beginners
The ketogenic diet (keto diet) is a low carb high-fat (LCHF) diet that optimizes your metabolism and puts your body into a natural state of ketosis.
You will eat fat to burn fat. Sounds silly, but it’s a great process for your body and helps with a number of health issues besides extra weight.
The caloric ratios of a ketogenic diet are:
- 75% fat
- 20% protein
- 5% carbs
There are fitness and calorie apps that make tracking your ratios super simple. You just enter your goals and then the foods you consume during the day. Adjust your meals until you are in the sweet spot.
The main goal is to keep your net carbohydrate intake around 20 grams. A little over or under isn’t going to change things much. If your overall carb intake starts to creep up into the 50-100 range you might not be in ketosis.
Staying in ketosis is the main goal. Your body is processing those ketones for energy and it’s main functions. If you are not in ketosis then your body might be bouncing back and forth between being a sugar burner and a fat burner. Your goal is to be a fat burner! That’s where a keto diet can help.
If you use a daily planner or fitness app, you can track your macros each day to make sure you are hitting the right percentages on a regular basis.
Become a Fat Burner
If your current diet consists of bread, cereals, rice, baked good, and other grains you are a sugar burner. This means your body breaks down those carbohydrates into glucose and uses it for energy. Whatever it doesn’t need at the moment for energy is being stored as fat.
How do you flip the switch and become a fat burner? Cut out those carbs. The contents of your plate need to change. Instead of focusing on the bread and pasta you need to put the focus on fats.
In your head, you are saying “but fat is bad“. No. It really isn’t. Certain fats are bad, but most are good for you. And your body wants you to eat them!
When you focus on healthy fats, low carb leafy green veggies, and proteins, your body will switch from being a sugar burner to a fat burner. There are many benefits of a keto diet.
What Does it Mean to Be a Fat Burner
When your body is burning fat it is actually breaking down the fat you consume (and the fat your body has stored from the extra sugars) and turning it into ketones. These ketones are the fuel your body is using for energy, repair process, brain function, and all the other complex things it completes daily.
Extra ketones are flushed from your system if you don’t use them. That is a HUGE difference from using glucose as an energy. Your body would store extra as fat. Now you are just disposing of the extras.
So why didn’t your body just use up those fat stores when you were low on energy as a sugar burner? Because there are other hormones involved in the process. Insulin is one of those hormones.
Insulin Stores Fat
One of the ways that insulin helps your body is to move and process the sugar in your body. It wants you to keep those fat stores for emergencies. That’s its job!
When you are no longer consuming high carbohydrate foods that require insulin to process, your body doesn’t produce as much insulin. Less insulin in your system allows your body to start processing your fat stores. You need to lower your insulin levels to release the fat.
There is a reason for the connection between Type II Diabetes and being overweight. Your insulin gets higher as you eat more carbs. Higher insulin means more fat stores. More fat stores mean you are gaining weight. You’re tired. It’s hard to function. You eat more sugary foods for the quick energy. Then the cycle repeats itself.
The Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet
There are a number of benefits of a ketogenic diet (other than the keto flu). The main benefits of a keto diet are:
- Burns fat: The keto diet often leads to rapid and substantial weight loss. Part of this is water loss because your body no longer needs to hold the water to process sugars and sodium. When you eat fat other hormones are suppressed by ketones such as ghrelin (your hunger hormone) and this helps you to feel full longer. Reducing the frequency that you consume foods gives your body a chance to burn its stored fat and use it for energy instead.
- Increases energy: Using ketosis for fuel allows your brain to use more mitochondria which are the power generators in your cells. This means less brain fog and less need for sugary foods that offer a quick pick me up. Your body is becoming less dependent on glucose for energy.
- Reduces inflammation: The keto diet is anti-inflammatory. You could be helping to protect yourself from major degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer. It also reduces inflammation in your joints and decreases water retention. Aches and pains mysteriously disappear!
The Keto for Beginners Ultimate Guide to Keto Foods
At first, a ketogenic diet for beginners may seem difficult. What do you eat for breakfast if you can’t have cereal or a donut? What am I supposed to snack on? The following guide to keto foods will show you all the amazing things you GET to eat.
Don’t focus on the things you can’t have. Putting a negative spin on things just makes them harder to accomplish.
Ketogenic Diet for Beginners “Yes” List
Meat: beef, elk, bison, bacon, ham
Fatty Fish: wild salmon, halibut, sardines, mackerel
Poultry: chicken, organic eggs
Nuts and Seeds (also in butter form): almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, cashews, flaxseeds, pumpkin, chia seeds
Healthy Fats: avocado, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, mayo (without cottonseed or soy)
Low Carb Vegetables: leafy greens, onions, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, asparagus
Condiments: herbs and spices: turmeric, black pepper, basil, mint, parsley, cilantro, mustard
With that list, you can mix and match and create some really yummy meals. There are also a million different keto recipes on Pinterest that can help you “substitute” some keto options for your cravings or favorite foods at the beginning.
Beware of substituting too often. It could be a slippery slope that leads to eating the “real thing” and before you know it you are over your carb limit and you have kicked yourself out of ketosis.
Where’s the Diary?
You’ll notice that dairy wasn’t on the list of foods you can eat. For some, it is definitely on the “NO” list. Especially if you are intolerant or sensitive. Dairy is one of those foods on the fence.
Some people tolerate dairy products well and can have them regularly as part of their keto diet. Others, however, will stop losing weight, continue to have inflammation, or not enter ketosis due to the dairy sugars.
This is one you will have to approve or kick to the curb on your own. Full-fat dairy is usually okay: grass-fed butter, ghee, heavy whipping cream, and full-fat cheeses would be things you can have in moderation (just know that if you are stalled or still experiencing digestion issues that dairy should be eliminated).
Ketogenic Diet for Beginners “No” List
Grains: any type of whole grain or grain-based product (pasta, bread, cereal, rice, etc.)
Fruit: all fruit (berries such as raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, or strawberries are the exception if you’re not at your total carb percentage for the day since they’re lower in sugar)
Root Veggies: potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, yams, carrots
Beans and Legumes: lentils, garbanzo beans, peanuts, peas, kidney beans, navy beans
Unhealthy Fats: vegetable oils, such as canola, soybean, sunflower, and peanut oil
Processed Foods: avoid anything in a package or box, read labels on “low carb” bars and foods
Condiments: salad dressings, ketchup, and sauces are generally high in carbs due to sugar content
What About Eating Out?
Eating away from home can seem daunting. This could be eating out at a public place or even going to friends for dinner.
Part of the problem is that your habit when you eat out is to order your favorite thing. Or to treat yourself with something you don’t normally eat. This is where you will have to shift your mindset. You can still order something you don’t normally cook, but it needs to be “keto approved”.
Most restaurants will happily adjust things on the menu to your specifications. Ask them to leave the bun off. Order a salad instead of the fries or onion rings. Ask for extra butter for your steamed veggies. It really isn’t that big a deal for them to change a few things to fit your needs.
Eating at a friends house might be little harder. Work around it the best you can. Eat the spaghetti without the noodles. Pick through the casserole and eat the parts you can (or sneak some of it onto your spouse’s/significant other’s plate and eat something that fits your keto diet before you go or when you return home).
You know the saying “where there is a will, there is a way” 🙂
Types of ketogenic diets
The keto diet is just that, you are eating low carb and high fat to stay in ketosis. There are some various ways for you to consume those carbs. The idea is to pick the best way to get into ketosis that works for you. You can choose one of these methods, mix and match, blend them however you choose. The point is to make it work for your lifestyle.
Standard ketogenic diet:
Eating approximately 5% of your daily caloric allowance from carbs (less than 20-50 grams net carbs a day), all the time.
Targeted ketogenic diet:
Eating extra carbs right before (30 minutes to an hour) a high-intensity workout or saving your carb allowance until right before your workout. The glucose is meant to help boost performance, but the jury is still out on this one. When you first start a keto diet your performance at the gym will suffer no matter what.
Cyclical ketogenic diet:
Eating high fat, low carb (less than 20-50 grams of net carbs a day) five to six days of the week. On the seventh day, you up your carb intake to roughly 150 grams, during what’s called a carb refeed day. Carb cycling this way helps you avoid the negative effects some people experience when they restrict carbs long term, like thyroid issues, fatigue, hair loss, and dry eyes. Full ketosis isn’t for everyone and adding carbs such as sweet potatoes, squash, and white rice one day a week keeps your body systems that need a little boost from glucose functioning properly.
How do you know you’re in ketosis?
When you are in ketosis you will experience some of these symptoms
- Reduced hunger: Ketones suppress your hunger hormones, helping you feel full for longer.
- Keto breath: People often experience a metallic taste in their mouth due to raised ketone levels.
- Weight loss: The keto diet burns fat, so if you’re losing weight, you’re likely in ketosis.
There are urine strips that you can purchase that read ketone levels. Most of the people on popular forums will tell you that they are not effective and to save your money. Once you have adapted they might not read accurately. The same goes for blood testing.
And really, do you want to have to prick your finger all the time (if you aren’t a diabetic who has to test anyway) or to pee on a stick to know if you are doing things appropriately? I don’t!
Using the list above is a less intrusive and more body intuitive way of determining your progress. Just tracking how your body feels is a simple way to know whether you’ve hit that ketosis sweet spot or if you need to adjust something somewhere.
Are There Side Effects?
Yup. You are changing your body and it’s major systems to run on a different fuel. That would be like throwing “organic fuel” into a motor without cleaning out the “old gasoline” first. There are bound to be some stalls and sputters until the old stuff works its way out and the motor adjusts to the new fuel.
When you start a keto diet, you could experience a change in your digestion (issues that change your bathroom habits and they could fluctuate day to day for a while), fatigue and fuzzy brain. It’s all just part of the process of your body adapting. This is commonly referred to as the “keto flu“.
There are ways to mitigate this a little bit. Try increasing your electrolytes. Drink lots of fluid. Sleep. And just keep telling yourself it will end soon. Don’t give up and go make yourself some toast!
Is Following the Ketogenic Diet Dangerous? Ketosis Vs. Ketoacidosis
Ketosis is sometimes mixed up with the term, ketoacidosis.
Ketoacidosis is a dangerous health condition that can turn your blood too acidic, and lead to serious health problems, including death. Ketoacidosis happens when your body doesn’t produce enough insulin. This is more common in people with Type I Diabetes and occasionally in people with Type II Diabetes if they are not properly monitoring their insulin levels and diet.
Nutritional ketosis is not the same thing. It actually helps to improve your insulin function and helps you maintain a level blood sugar level. It’s a natural state that our ancestors experienced on a regular basis. The availability of extreme amounts of sugar and food have changed our eating habits (not for the better).
Ask Your Doctor About a Keto Diet
If you are concerned about starting a keto lifestyle, you should check with your doctor. Continue to do your research. Write down enough information to help your doctor be informed and a list of questions. Have them help you decide if eating a ketogenic diet is the best plan for you.
The same applies if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have an autoimmune disease, are on specific medications, or are unsure about changing your diet. Be responsible and check with your healthcare professional if you feel it’s necessary.