The ketogenic diet has been followed for more than nine decades and is based on sound physiology and nutrition science. It is effective for so many people because it addresses several major underlying causes of weight gain — notably hormonal imbalances, particularly insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels.
This low-carb, ketogenic diet takes a completely different approach to weight loss and health benefits. It works because it alters the body's "source of energy": from burning glucose (or sugar) to fat consumption. It is especially useful for improving type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carb diet. You eat fewer carbohydrates and replace them with fats, which results in a state called ketosis.
This beginners' guide will teach you everything you need to know about starting a ketogenic diet, including how to get into shape safely and effectively.
1. What is a keto diet?
When you cut out carb intake, your body starts burning fat for energy instead of sugar. This can put your metabolism into a state called ketosis. When you're in this state, your liver converts fat into small energy molecules known as ketones. Your brain and other organs can then use these ketones for energy.
2. What to eat on a keto diet?
Here are some typical foods to eat on a ketogenic diet: Net carbs per 100 grams (or 3.5 ounces) of foods. Foods with lower carb intake counts are generally better for staying in optimal ketosis.
The most important thing to do for reaching ketosis is to eat less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. Don't eat too many carbs. You'll likely need to stay under 40 grams of net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) each day, ideally under 20 grams of carbs per day.
The fewer carbohydrates you eat, the more likely it is that you'll reach ketosis, lose weight, or improve type 2 diabetes. It can be helpful to count carbs at first. But if you stick with our recommended foods and recipes, you can stay in keto without having to count calories.
List of Keto Foods:
- Red meat: beef, pork, and lamb: 0 grams
- Poultry: chicken and turkey: 0 grams
- Fish: salmon, tuna, sole, trout, and halibut: 0 grams
- Fats: butter and olive oil: 0 grams
- Cheese: 1 gram
- Eggs: 1 gram
- Vegetables: non-starchy vegetables, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, and eggplant: 1 to 5 grams
What to drink
What can you drink when following a ketogenic diet? Water is the perfect beverage, and coffee or tea is fine too. Ideally, avoid using any sweeteners, especially sugar.
Adding milk or cream to your coffee or tea is fine, but be careful not to consume too many carbohydrates if you're drinking them several times per day. A few glasses of wine here and there are fine but stay away from sweet alcoholic drinks.
Carb counts per glass or cup of beverage
- Water: 0 grams
- Coffee and tea: 0 grams
- Dry red or white wine: 2 grams per 5 ounces/150 ml
What to Avoid
On a keto diet, you should avoid carb foods, including both sugary and starchy foods.
Foods to avoid include:
- Bread, tortillas, muffins, bagels, pancakes
- Pasta and rice
- Cakes, cookies, and other baked goods
- Sugary drinks like diet soda Most fruits and fruit juice
Avoid or limit highly processed fatty foods, and instead fill your diet mainly with our recommended keto-friendly food and clean-eating diet tips.
Keto macros: carbs, protein, and fat
On a keto diet, you're supposed to eat very few carbohydrates, a moderate protein, and just as many fats as you need to feel satiated, rather than stuffed.
Carbs should be limited to 20 or fewer grams (net) per day or 5–10% of total calories. Even if you don't have to be this strict, it's best to eat less than 20 grams of net carbohydrates per day.
Eat enough protein to meet your nutritional needs. Most people need at most 70 grams of protein per day, or 20% of their daily calorie food intake.
Include enough fat intake and add flavor to your meals. You don't need to increase in fat if you're eating enough calories from fats. And many whole foods like eggs, meat, and nuts contain plenty of fat. On a keto (ketogenic) diet, about 60 to 80 percent of your daily calories come from fats.
Here are sample keto recipes or meal plans for beginners:
Breakfast – three whole eggs, two cups of spinach cooked in coconut oil, and a quarter avocado sprinkled with flax seeds. You can have coffee or tea, but make sure to use coconut milk (unsweetened) instead of fruit juice.
Lunch – You can prepare a keto-friendly salad in your kitchen, or use leftovers from dinner to have an easy lunch the next day. For example, you can have chicken meat with some greens and olive oil dressing. You can also add walnuts for extra fat or seeds like flax seeds.
Dinner – A typical dinner would be beef steak with broccoli and cauliflower cooked in coconut oil. You can also have some salad on the side, dressed with olive oil.
Healthy keto snacks
Snacking is hard to do when following a keto diet for beginners, especially during your transition into ketosis. However, there are some low-carb snacks you can have to curb your appetite and carb cravings. If you feel like having something sweet, you can bring low-carb fruits or keto diet desserts with no added sugar (e.g., dark chocolate).
3. How can keto benefit you?
If you're wondering what kind of results a keto diet can give you, the answer depends on a number of factors, including whether you have dietary restrictions. Evidence shows that ketogenic diets help with weight loss and blood sugar control.
It means that your experience with the ketogenic diet will be different from everyone else’s. Your weight loss and physical fitness improvements may be sudden and drastic or they may be slow and gradual.
You can expect to eat foods you enjoy without hunger or calorie counting when you follow a ketogenic diet. If your diet is simple, enjoyable, and provides enough essential nutrition, you‘ll be more likely to stick with it for the long term to lose body fat and improve your health.
Reverse type 2 diabetes
A Low-carb, high-fat diet can help people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels. 200 success stories about people who improved or reversed type 2 diabetes with ketosis.
Improve blood pressure
Ketogenic diets may help improve several markers of metabolic health issues including blood pressure, blood glucose, HDL cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and lipid profiles.
Treat type 1 diabetes
People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin injections when they eat a high-carb diet. However, low-carb diets often improve insulin levels, and blood sugar and reduce the risk of hypoglycemia (dangerously low blood sugar).
Improve fatty liver disease
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) occurs when there are elevated levels of fat in the liver. A recent study suggests that a keto or low-carb diet may be effective for treating (NAFLD).
Eating too many refined carbohydrates or sugar can be particularly problematic. Fortunately, following a low-carb or keto diet may help reduce liver fats, improve insulin resistance, and potentially even reverse nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Other potential benefits of going keto
The ketogenic diet was originally developed to treat neurological conditions such as epilepsy. The keto diet has been shown to have health improvements in these common health conditions:
- Heart disease. The ketogenic diet may reduce the risk of heart disease and other risk factors including body fat, HDL (good) cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and blood pressure issues.
- Cancer. The ketogenic diet is being studied as a supplement to cancer therapy because it might assist in slowing tumor growth.
- Alzheimer’s disease. The keto diet may help with the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and its progression.
- Epilepsy. The ketogenic diet has been found to reduce seizures in epileptic youngsters by up to 70%.
- Parkinson’s disease. According to one research, the diet helped alleviate Parkinson's disease symptoms.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome. The ketogenic diet has the potential to help reduce insulin levels, which is linked to polycystic ovary syndrome.
- Brain injuries. According to some studies, the diet may help with the rehabilitation of traumatic brain injuries.
4. Potential risks of a keto diet
Eating a keto diet poses no health risks. So far there doesn't seem to be any reason why a ketogenic diet would be harmful. Some people who follow ketogenic diets have experienced negative side effects, including kidney stones.
However, these side effects are rare and we suspect that they may vary with the type of keto foods consumed. Some studies have shown that eating a low-fat, high-protein diet may lower LDL cholesterol levels in some individuals.
However, people with diabetes or insulin resistance tend to respond well to low-carb eating.
5. How to get into ketosis
Ketosis is a state in which your body relies on fat and ketones instead of sugar as a primary source of energy. How can you get into ketosis quickly and stay in ketosis? Here are 3 things you need to know:
Cut way back on carbohydrate intake by eating less than 20 grams per day. You can usually enter ketosis within just a few days. If you're not hungry, don't eat. Intermittent fasting or even just eliminating snacks can speed up your transition into ketosis.
To test whether you're in ketosis, measure the ketone levels in your blood, breath, or urine.
6. Intermittent fasting and keto
Some people on a Ketogenic Diet choose to also practice Intermittent Fasting to speed up weight loss and when trying to reverse Type 2 Diabetes.
Intermittent fasting means alternating between periods of fasting and feeding. With a keto diet, people tend to feel hungrier less often than they do when eating a traditional diet. Since you should eat only when we're hungry, this means that we might naturally start eating fewer meals per day — or we may deliberately plan fewer meals so that you match our reduced appetite.
For some people, having two meals a day may mean skipping breakfast. For others, this might mean eating one meal a day, which is sometimes called OMAD, meaning ‘one meal a day.
7. The keto flu and adverse effects
After you've been following a keto diet for several weeks or more, you may feel great and have lots of energy. However, the first couple of days to weeks after starting a low-carb diet can be challenging, as your body switches to using fat as a primary fuel source instead of glucose.
8. How to start a keto diet now
Before starting a ketogenic diet, check with your health care professionals for advice especially if you take any diabetes and blood pressure medications. Discussing a keto lifestyle or other diet changes with your doctor is usually a good idea.
If you're breastfeeding, a keto (or low-carb) diet may not be right now. You can still limit carbohydrates without following a strict keto diet.
Consider keto supplements for an even more effective result
MCT oil is a type of dietary fat that can help with weight loss. MCT oil is different from other types of fats because it increases energy and improves ketone levels in the body, especially to the brain and muscles.
MCT oil has been shown to help improve cognitive function, burn fat, promote healthy skin and hair, and improve physical performance. It is also a source of antioxidants that can protect cells in the body from damage caused by free radicals.
Exogenous ketones are oils that have the same chemical structure as beta-hydroxybutyrate, which is a natural substance. Exogenous ketones can help with mental performance, weight loss, endurance workouts, physical recovery from injury or illness, and other overall health.
Exogenous ketones can be a source of good fats that have been said to have positive effects on brain health and development, heart health, cognitive function, weight loss, and physical endurance or performance.
Creatine is an organic acid that helps produce normal energy in the body. It is essential for tissue growth. Creatine has a long list of health and performance advantages. This might help you if you're following a ketogenic diet while working out.
If you want to build muscle, you need a good protein powder. Standard whey might not be the best. If you want to get the most out of your protein powder, you need hydrolyzed whey. To increase your daily protein intake, add half a scoop of whey protein to smoothies or yogurt.
- Amino Acid Leucine: Nutricost L-Isoleucine
Leucine, one of the nine essential amino acids that the human body cannot create, is a necessary nutrient for adults. Leucine helps to maintain stable blood sugar levels, boost immunity, promote fat loss and increase energy levels. It also aids in the development of muscle mass and improves athletic performance and recovery time.
It is one of the most important ketogenic amino acids in the body. Leucine can be used to make ketone bodies. It’s also present in keto friendly foods like eggs and cottage cheese.
Keto Common Questions
Is keto safe?
For most people, following a keto diet is relatively safe. However, if you take medications to treat diabetes or high blood pressure you should speak with your healthcare provider for advice.
People who should avoid being in a state of ketosis include breastfeeding mothers and people with rare metabolic disorders that are usually diagnosed in childhood.
How will I know whether I’m in ketosis?
- Dry mouth or a metallic taste in the mouth
- More frequent urination and increased thirst
- "Keto breath" or "fruity breath," which may be more noticeable to others
- Initially feeling tired, followed by an increase in energy
- Reduced appetite and increased energy levels
However, the only way to check whether you're in ketosis is by testing your ketone levels.
Is ketosis dangerous?
Ketoacidosis is often confused with ketosis. Ketoacidosis is a severe condition, but the ketosis induced by a ketogenic diet is usually harmless in a healthy average person. Before starting any new diet, speak to a medical professional.
What is the difference between keto and low carb?
Low-carb and keto diets differ by how many carbohydrates they contain and sometimes include different foods.
- Low carb: less than 20 grams of net carbohydrates per day
- Moderate low carb: between 20 and 50 grams of carbohydrates per day
- Liberal low carb: between 50 and 100 grams of carbohydrates per day
On a ketogenic diet, carbohydrates are minimized in order to achieve ketosis. On a low-calorie diet, ketosis may be achieved, but it isn't a goal.