By now, you’ve probably heard the buzz surrounding the keto lifestyle and wondered, “What’s all the hype about?” With results ranging from significant and sustained weight loss to improved brain function, this approach to healthy eating is well worth the attention it’s receiving.
You may be surprised to learn that researchers have been documenting the benefits of the keto diet since as far back as the 1920’s. In fact, this may be the best-researched science-based diet on the planet!
So, let’s take the mystery out of this ketogenic diet that has understandably had people talking for nearly a century. Here is a bird’s eye view of the keto diet for beginners, its numerous benefits, and how to easily implement it for yourself.
The early keto diet finds its origins in studies aimed at treating epilepsy. Trials were conducted at the John Hopkins Medical Center in the 1920’s. Researchers found that restricting food intake for periods of time, or fasting, yielded substantial health benefits and even reduced patients’ seizures. Other notable advantages were improved heart health and insulin levels as well as weight loss. (1)
Since fasting is not sustainable long-term, the keto lifestyle was developed to imitate these positive results for the body. That’s an important point – keto mimics a “fasting state.” For the healthy, the diet represents a tool for preventing chronic inflammation, as well as optimizing cognition and body composition (i.e. fat loss).
The standard ketogenic diet (or keto for short) consists of high fat, medium to low protein, and very low carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrates, or carbs, are sugars and starches found in foods such as sweets, grains, dairy, and starchy vegetables. It’s important to note that keto is not a “high-protein diet.” There is a lot of miss-information on the internet purporting keto as a “high-protein diet.” In contrast, keto is really a “plant-based diet” where the majority of the foods consumed are vegetables that happen to be low in carbs (see foods list below).
Essentially, the idea is to “flip a switch” in your body that burns or metabolizes healthy fats instead of carbohydrates for energy by eating LCHF (low-carb, high-fat). A few examples of healthy fats would be avocados, cheese, whole eggs, nuts, nut-butters, almonds, walnuts, cashews or fatty fish.
Most of us would agree that we love eating carbs but hate the crash, as well as the several undesired consequences it often brings. When you eat a carb-heavy diet, your body stores fat while burning up glucose for energy.
On the keto diet, your body enters a state of ketosis, breaking down fat for energy instead. The switch from a high-sugar to a LCHF diet may feel like a drastic shift at first since sugar, bread, and pasta are central to many diets. However, you’ll quickly find the keto lifestyle is absolutely attainable as you learn which foods to include that fuel this keto state and those to avoid.
When you replace carbohydrates with healthy fats as your main source of nutrition, your body enters a metabolic state called ketosis. As you continue eating a high-fat diet, the excess glucose stored in your body is depleted. Your body becomes extremely efficient at burning fat for energy by producing ketones instead of glucose. In fact, your brain and body love to burn ketones as this fuel burns “cleaner” compared to carbs. You typically know when your brain and body are “burning ketones” because you feel absolutely fantastic and energetic from head to toe.
A ketone is a fatty-acid based nutrient that is released in the blood while you’re in ketosis. Simply put, you switch energy sources for your body from glucose to fat, yielding several health benefits.
Keto is an amazing way to lose weight without counting calories—you just have to eat the right food. In order to reach ketosis, the recommended calories from fat, protein, and carbs to consume are 70 – 85 percent, 10 – 20 percent, and 5 – 10 percent, respectively.
This breakdown is a strict approach and can be slightly modified, if necessary, while you’re getting accustomed to the keto diet. A great starting point would be 30-50 grams of daily net carbs (total carbs – grams of fiber and sugar alcohols), with the intent to work down to 20 grams daily or less.
A ketosis diet is one of the fastest and most effective ways to lose weight for most people. (2)
One reason is that the types of foods eaten within the keto lifestyle are more satisfying. Calories from foods such as bread, pasta and sweets are burnt up faster, leaving you hungry shortly after. Fats and proteins tend to be more filling than high-sugar items, curbing the appetite and ultimately preventing overeating.
Maintaining a keto diet has appetite suppressing advantages due to its effect on hormonal changes in the body. (3)
The majority of studies conducted on the weight loss benefits of keto show, “subjects who follow a low-carbohydrate diet lose more weight during the first 3–6 months compared with those who follow balanced diets.” (1)
Another great advantage to the keto lifestyle is that you’re not enslaved to portion control or strenuous exercise regimens. If you’ve tried approaches that employ these methods, you know burnout is a real challenge.
When you start keto, you do not need to “restrict” calories. Eat as many approved foods as you like, keeping to the high fat, medium-low protein, and low carb levels. Once you’ve been eating a lot of fats and very little carbohydrates, you’ll transition into ketosis. Other ways to speed up your transition to ketosis include taking keto supplements, working out, and fasting.
In addition to assisting weight loss, the keto lifestyle often helps to improve neurological health. Fat feeds your brain and increases energy levels, resulting in less brain fog and more sustained energy throughout the day. Not surprisingly, the brain requires a lot of energy, and the ketones that your body releases while in a state of ketosis are a more efficient source of energy than glucose. In fact, the brain loves ketones as a primary fuel source. Many people love the keto diet based solely on the mental clarity and enhanced mental performance they get to enjoy every day.
A ketogenic diet reduces insulin levels in the body, which is beneficial in several ways. Insulin is a hormone that the body releases when we eat carbohydrates. In response to insulin, our blood glucose, or blood sugar, increases, and our body is signaled to either convert or store energy from glucose.
If the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or becomes resistant to it, glucose cannot be properly absorbed. This increases blood sugar levels. Keto significantly improves insulin sensitivity and lowers the overall amount of insulin in the system. (6) This of course is extremely beneficial for longevity and healthy aging.
If you’re a diabetic currently using insulin therapy, it’s important to consult your doctor before beginning the keto diet. Why is, with insulin sensitivity improving, you very likely will need to reduce your insulin therapy and this should only be done with your doctor’s supervision.
There’s some evidence that a keto diet can help with some types of acne breakouts. High insulin levels lead to an increase in the production of sex hormones called androgens. These, in turn, stimulate the sebaceous glands, which are responsible for skin oils. The insulin-reducing effects of the keto lifestyle therefore may aid in subduing the frequency and severity of acne outbreaks. (1)
We’ve covered quite a bit of information about keto and its numerous benefits, so now let’s look at how you can implement the keto lifestyle for yourself. To set you up for the best success on the ketogenic diet plan, here are some common pitfalls and how to avoid them from the start.
A key to the keto lifestyle is tracking what are called macros (macronutrients) — the fat, protein and carbohydrates you’re consuming daily. To reach a state of ketosis, the breakdown of calories between these three should be 70 – 85 percent fat, 10 – 20 percent protein, and 5 – 10 percent carbs.
It may be tempting to rely on your general knowledge of nutritional facts to determine what foods you should be eating on keto. Focusing on food labels and keeping a detailed account of nutrients can feel monotonous at first. However, it’s imperative, especially as you’re getting started establishing good habits. Consistently read every label and it will not be bothersome after a while. There are several keto apps that you can download to aid you in the process.
On the front end, switching from a high-carb to a high-fat diet can sound enticing because of the new-found permission to eat fatty foods. Believe it or not, you can tire of eating bacon — maybe. In order to avoid burnout, take some time to look up keto diet recipes with variety in mind.
Researching both creative and simple options can help ensure that you don’t fall into a rut with your meal plans. Be sure to include a lot of vegetables. Leafy greens will be a primary source of nutrients in ketogenic diet meal planning. Below, we provide basic lists of foods to include and those to avoid to help get you started.
The keto diet is attainable, but it does require intentionality. Plan ahead to ensure you stay on track whether you’re at home or out with friends. Prep your kitchen by removing foods that don’t fit into the keto lifestyle. The simple step of clearing your pantry of anything that may entice you is a powerful and effective method. Replace your reserves of junk food, sweets, and other quick but unhealthy snacks with keto-friendly meals cooked in bulk.
Separate the meals into smaller portions so that they’re readily accessible when hunger hits. When you’re out and about, you’ll quickly find that eating a keto diet on the fly can be quite challenging. However, all it takes to diffuse the struggle is a bit of planning. Take a look at menus from some of your favorite and most frequented restaurants to identify keto-friendly options to have in mind for your next visit.
Drinking an adequate amount of water daily is paramount for any approach to healthy living. On keto, staying well-hydrated throughout the day can help you to avoid adverse side effects such as headaches or fatigue.
Generally speaking, it’s also vital for digestion, detoxification, and can help to suppress hunger. A great way to make sure you’re drinking enough water is to carry a water bottle with you throughout your day.
With these tips and tricks in your arsenal, all that’s left is to provide a starting point for your keto diet meal plan. Read on for keto diet foods, foods to avoid, and an example of a daily diet plan.
Bacon, eggs, and avocado
3-Egg Omelette loaded with veggies, avacado
Burger with cheese (no bun) and lots of buffalo cauliflower dipped in ranch dressing (any other veggies you’d like)
Grilled Chicken Salad with lots of veggies, avocado with oil and vinegar (or low-sugar dressing)
Alaskan Grilled Salmon, garlic, buttered asparagus, and side salad with oil and vinegar (any other veggies you’d like)
Grilled steak with broiled cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus and side salad with oil and vinegar (any other veggies you’d like)
Some people experience mild flu-like symptoms when they first start keto. This is commonly called the keto flu. These feelings of sluggishness and discomfort should subside after one to three days. You can reduce the risk of keto flu by restricting carbs incrementally while adjusting to the very low carb diet. In addition, drinking plenty of water is important on the keto diet as your body is beginning to metabolize fat for fuel and this will potentially start a “detox” if you happen to have a lot of “fat stored toxins” in your body. If you’ve eaten a lot of junk in the past, your body may have some “housecleaning” to do. Magnesium Malate is a good supplemental source a magnesium that can benefit these symptoms quite a bit if not help to completely eliminate them.
Q: Is keto dangerous?
A: No, many long and reputable studies have been done on a variety of people doing keto. The longest study of 10 years found no noticeable differences in any of the tests scientists conducted on the test and control groups.
Q: What is the perfect ratio of fats, proteins, and carbs?
A: It’s easiest to just focus on eating lots of low-carbohydrate vegetables (as listed above) with added protein and fat while restricting all carbohydrate sources at every meal. For those analytically minded, the numbers should look like this: 70-85% Fats, 10-20% Protein, and 5-10% Carbohydrates.
Q: How do I know if I’m in ketosis?
A: When your ketones measure at least .5 mM (millimoles per liter) on a blood ketone monitor you’re in ketosis. You should be able to subjectively feel this as “less brain fog and more clear-headedness.” While you can test breath, or urine for ketones, a blood test is the most accurate method of testing by far.
Q: Is there anyone who shouldn’t do keto?
A: Women tend to be more sensitive to some changes in hormones during keto than men. If you’re a woman on keto, focus on eating alkaline foods (like lots of dark green veggies) and avoid overeating dairy. There are a few groups of people who shouldn’t try keto. These are people who have:
Q: Will I lose muscle mass?
A: It was previously thought that you needed a moderate carbohydrate diet to build muscle. But recently, scientists found that a low carb, high fat, moderate protein diet can still allow people to build lean dense muscle.
Q: Can I ever have a high carb cheat day?
A: Generally, after 4-6 weeks, you can eat more for a single cheat meal if you return to keto immediately after without risking falling completely out of ketosis.