The ketogenic diet (often abbreviated as “keto”) is a nutritious diet that, according to almost two dozen studies, can improve your health, your weight loss, and your quality of life. This diet, through its prioritization of low carb intake and high fat intake, may prove beneficial for conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and even cancer.
This beginners’ guide will take you through what the keto diet is, how it works, the health benefits it can have, and other frequently asked questions you may have had about keto.
What Is a Ketogenic Diet?
Ketogenic diets are high-fat and low-carb in nature, and can be compared in many ways to the Atkins diet or other low-carb diets. The idea behind keto is that, by lowering your carb intake and replacing it with fat, your body will be put into a changed metabolic state referred to as ketosis. Ketosis makes your body much more apt at burning fat in order to have more energy. This process also turns fat into ketones, which can supplement additional energy to the brain for both physical and mental health benefits. Some of the benefits of ketogenic diets include significant decreases in blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as increased ketones.
Different Types of Ketogenic Diets
Several different varieties of the ketogenic diet exist and include:
–The standard ketogenic diet (SKD): This diet, which will be the basis for most of the information in this article, is a very low-carb diet with moderate protein and high fat intakes. The proportions of each come out t0 5% carbs, 20% protein, and 75% fat.
–The cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): Unlike the SKD, this diet incorporates limited periods of higher carb intake, i.e. your meal plan may have 5 days on keto and 2 days with high carb intake.
–The targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): This variety of the ketogenic diet is built around your exercise routine and schedules your carb intake around fueling your workouts.
–The high-protein ketogenic diet: This variation on the standard ketogenic diet is similar to the SKD, but the fat intake is lowered in order to incorporate more protein. The ratio most often used is 5% carbs, 35% protein, and 60% fat.
Of these variations of the ketogenic diet, only the standard and high-protein variation have undergone extensive enough study to prove their effectiveness. Cyclical and targeted ketogenic diets are meal plans that are much more intricate and advanced, and due to the emphasis on exercise involved, are recommended for athletes and bodybuilders. For most people interested in the ketogenic diet, the standard ketogenic diet is the most thoroughly-researched and recommended.
Ketogenic Diets Can Help You Lose Weight
Ketogenic diets have been shown to be effective methods of weight loss and lowering factors of risk for various diseases. As a matter of fact, this diet has shown more success in these area than the often-recommended low-fat diet. Better still, a ketogenic diet allows you to stay full and lose weight without logging meals or calorie intake and still getting the nutrition you need.
In one study, subjects on a ketogenic diet lost 2.2 times more weight than those on a low-fat diet with calorie restrictions. Triglycerides and HDL cholesterol levels also showed significant improvement. In another study that compared the ketogenic diet to a diet recommended by Diabetes UK, subjects on keto lost 3 times more weight than those on the recommended diet.
Several factors contribute to the results keto provides over a low-fat diet, including increased protein consumption, which on its own provides many benefits. Increased ketone levels, lower blood sugar, and improved insulin sensitivity may also be important factors. In summary, a ketogenic diet can aid in weight loss much more effectively than a standard low-fat, calorie-restricted diet without leaving you hungry.
Ketogenic Diets for Diabetes and Prediabetes
Diabetes is a condition characterized by metabolic changes, high blood sugar, and impairments to the proper functioning of insulin in the body. Studies have shown that a ketogenic diet can help you lose excess fat, which is very closely linked to the development of type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetic conditions, and metabolic syndrome.
In one study, the ketogenic diet improved insulin sensitivity by as much as 75%. Another study of subjects with type 2 diabetes found that 7 of 21 people surveyed were able to stop using all diabetes medications after switching to keto. A third study showed that the ketogenic diet group lost 24.4 pounds on average compared to the 15.2-pound average of the group with higher carb consumption. In addition, 95.2 of the people eating a ketogenic diet were able to stop or reduce their diabetes medication compared to 62% of the higher-carb group. Considering the links between weight and type 2 diabetes, this is a huge breakthrough that shows the effectiveness of keto compared to higher-carb, lower-fat diets.
The ketogenic diet can encourage both fat loss and insulin sensitivity, which leads to dramatic health improvements in people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
Other Health Benefits of Keto
Studies have shown that, despite the ketogenic diet’s origins as a means for treating neurological conditions such as epilepsy, it is actually a diet that can provide benefits and improvement of risk factors for a broad swathe of conditions, including:
–Heart disease: A ketogenic diet can improve risk factors for heart disease such as HDL cholesterol levels, blood sugar, blood pressure, and body fat.
–Cancer: Keto is currently being used for slowing tumor growth in and treating several types of cancer.
–Alzheimer’s disease: A ketogenic diet shows signs of slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease as well as reducing symptoms associated with it.
–Epilepsy: Through research, a keto diet has been shown to provide significant reductions in seizures in children with epilepsy.
–Parkinson’s disease: One study so far has found that a ketogenic diet can improve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
–Polycystic ovary syndrome: Because of keto’s ability to reduce insulin levels, this may be vital to treating and preventing polycystic ovary syndrome.
–Brain injuries: One animal study that was conducted found that a ketogenic diet may aid recovery after brain injury and reduce the severity of concussions.
–Acne: Due to keto’s lowering of insulin levels in the body and the reduced consumption of sugar, conditions that irritate the skin such as acne may show signs of improvement.
While a keto diet can provide many benefits to those who suffer from neurological, metabolic, or insulin-related conditions, it is prudent to keep in mind that while the research is incredibly promising thus far, it is not yet fully conclusive on the range of benefits that a ketogenic diet can provide.
Foods to Avoid
The biggest thing to avoid on a ketogenic diet is high-carb foods. This includes grains, starches, sugars, beans, legumes, candies, soda, most fruit, root vegetables and tubers, and highly-processed diet products. Here is a handy list of what to minimize or avoid in your diet to get the most out of keto:
–Sugary foods: Soda, fruit juice, smoothies, cake, ice cream, candy, etc. Sodas, fruit juices, smoothies, and sweets like ice cream, cakes, and candies should be minimized or avoided to stay in ketosis.
–Grains or starches: This includes wheat products like breads, rice, pasta, cereals, etc.
–Fruit: All fruit, except small portions of berries like strawberries. All fruit, save for small portions of berries, should be avoided to minimize the risk of being thrown out of ketosis.
–Beans or legumes: Included in category of high-carb foods are peas, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.
–Root vegetables and tubers: These starchy, high-carb foods include potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and other root vegetables.
–Low-fat or diet products: These high-carb items are also often highly processed and should be avoided to keep you from getting thrown out of ketosis.
–Some condiments and sauces: These can throw you out of ketosis with their sugar content and should also be avoided for their unhealthy fats.
–Unhealthy fats: Be sure to limit your intake of highly processed oils and unhealthy fats like those found in processed vegetables oils, mayonnaise, etc.
-Alcohol: Many alcoholic beverages can take you out of ketosis due to their high carb content.
–Sugar-free diet foods: Sugar-free foods are often highly processed and high in sugar alcohols in place of sugar, which can also take you out of ketosis.
Foods to Eat
The majority of meals on a standard ketogenic diet will include these foods, so use this as a guide for what to eat on keto:
-Meat and poultry: This includes various red meats, steak, sausage, bacom, ham, turkey, and chicken.
-Fatty fish: These types of fish include tuna, trout, mackerel, and salmon.
–Eggs: For the most nutritional benefit, omega-3 whole eggs or pastured eggs are highly recommended.
–Butter and cream: Whenever possible, shop for butter and cream from grass-fed cows for the most benefits.
–Cheese: Be sure to get unprocessed, whole cheeses like cheddar, cream cheese, goat cheese, blue cheese, and mozzarella.
–Nuts and seeds: Pick up some walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, etc.
-Healthy oils: Some of the most beneficial oils to have in your kitchen include avocado oil, coconut oil, and extra virgin olive oil.
–Avocados: Best bought whole for cooking or used in fresh-made guacamole.
Low-carb vegetables: This is going to include most green vegetables, onions, peppers, tomatoes, etc.
Condiments: These will include salt and pepper as well as various nutritious herbs and spices.
The beauty of the ketogenic diet is in its simplicity and its basis in whole, healthy foods. Base the majority of your nutrition around the consumption of healthy fats and oils, protein, and low-carb sources of nourishment, such as fish, meat, eggs, butter, cream, nuts and seeds, healthy oils, avocados, and low-carb vegetables.
A Sample Keto Meal Plan For 1 Week
If you’re ready to jump in and try a standard ketogenic diet, or are just curious to see what keto-friendly meals can look like, here is a sample meal plan for one week on keto:
Breakfast: Bacon, eggs and tomatoes.
Lunch: Chicken salad with olive oil and feta cheese.
Dinner: Salmon with asparagus cooked in butter.
Breakfast: Egg, tomato, basil and goat cheese omelet.
Lunch: Almond milk, peanut butter, cocoa powder and stevia milkshake.
Dinner: Meatballs, cheddar cheese and vegetables.
Breakfast: A ketogenic milkshake (try this or this).
Lunch: Shrimp salad with olive oil and avocado.
Dinner: Pork chops with Parmesan cheese, broccoli and salad.
Breakfast: Omelet with avocado, salsa, peppers, onion and spices.
Lunch: A handful of nuts and celery sticks with guacamole and salsa.
Dinner: Chicken stuffed with pesto and cream cheese, along with vegetables.
Breakfast: Sugar-free yogurt with peanut butter, cocoa powder and stevia.
Lunch: Beef stir-fry cooked in coconut oil with vegetables.
Dinner: Bun-less burger with bacon, egg and cheese.
Breakfast: Ham and cheese omelet with vegetables.
Lunch: Ham and cheese slices with nuts.
Dinner: White fish, egg and spinach cooked in coconut oil.
Breakfast: Fried eggs with bacon and mushrooms.
Lunch: Burger with salsa, cheese and guacamole.
Dinner: Steak and eggs with a side salad.
There is a wide range of foods and creative, delicious, nutritious meals available to make and eat on a ketogenic diet. Be sure to rotate certain items in your meal plan, such as vegetables and meat, to keep things varied and exciting without over-complicating your day-to-day food prep routine. If you want to spice up your plan, there are tons of keto-friendly recipes to try.
Healthy Keto Snacks
In case you get hungry between meals, here are some healthy, keto-approved snacks: If you get hungry in between your meals, here are some keto friendly ideas to keep you satisfied until the next meal:
-Fatty fish or meats
-A handful of your favorite nuts or seeds
-Cheese with olives Olives with cheese
-A hard-boiled egg or two
-90% cacao chocolate
-A low-carb milkshake made with cocoa powder, nut butter, and almond milk.
-Nut butter and cocoa powder mixed into full-fat yogurt
-Strawberries with cream
-Celery with guacamole and/or salsa
-Small portions of leftover keto-friendly meals
In summary, some delicious ketogenic diet-friendly snacks include meat, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, nuts, olives, and dark chocolate.
Tips for Eating Out on a Ketogenic Diet
Fortunately, making restaurant meals keto-friendly is very easy. Most eateries will have meat, fish, or egg-based dishes. The high-carb sides such as potatoes or rice can be easily replaced with low-carb vegetables. Bunless burgers are another favorite, as well as swapping the fries for delicious, hearty vegetables. Top off your food with extra cheese, avocado, bacon, or eggs.
Mexican restaurants offer plenty of options as well. You can have any kind of meat with extra salsa, guacamole, sour cream, or cheese. Berries and cream or a variety of cheeses make for simple, satisfying desserts.
Side Effects and How to Minimize Them
While the ketogenic diet is safe for healthy people, there is a chance of side effects after first starting out on the diet. It is often called the “keto flu” and usually ends after a few days. Side effects may include sleep issues, increased hunger, low energy and slower cognitive function, nausea and digestive discomfort and decreased performance in workouts.
This can be minimized by easing into keto by first lowering your carb intake for a few weeks before switching to a fully ketogenic diet. This method can help you burn fat without having the symptoms of suddenly transitioning to an almost no-carb diet. Adding extra salt to your meals will also be beneficial due to the ways keto can change the water and mineral balance in your body. Mineral supplements can also help.
If you would like to take mineral supplements, 300 mg of magnesium, 1,000 mg of potassium, and 3,000 to 4,000 mg of sodium per day can help minimize effects from switching to a ketogenic diet. In the beginning, make sure to eat until you’re full and put less emphasis on calorie restriction, as a keto diet can cause weight loss without deliberate calorie restrictions.
The effects of suddenly changing to a keto diet can be mitigated by easing into it for a few weeks with a standard low-carb diet and taking mineral supplements to support mineral and water balance in the body.
Supplements for a Ketogenic Diet
While no supplements are required for a ketogenic diet to be successful, some supplements can help aid in your nutrition and increase the results from ketosis. Here are some particularly useful supplements to keep in mind:
-MCT oil: MCT oil is an energy-providing supplement added to drinks or yogurt that can increase ketone levels and is easily made available on sites like Amazon.
-Minerals: Minerals such as salt can be vital when beginning on a ketogenic diet due to changes in both mineral and water balance in the diet.
-Caffeine: Caffeine has many proven benefits, including energy and performance boosts as well as fat loss.
-Exogenous ketones: This is another supplement that can improve ketone levels.
-Creatine: Creatine, when used in a ketogenic diet combined with exercise, can be very beneficial for performance and overall health.
-Whey: Whey protein in yogurt or shakes can do wonders for easily and deliciously increasing your protein intake while keeping it keto-friendly. Like many other supplements, this can be easily found on Amazon as well at your local grocery store.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you have questions about keto, many answers to the most common ones are found here:
1. Can I ever eat carbs again on keto?
Yes, you can, but make sure to significantly reduce your initial carb intake for the first 2 to 3 months. After that, you can enjoy carbs on special occasions as long as you keep to a ketogenic diet immediately after to continue to enjoy its benefits.
2. Will I lose muscle mass on a ketogenic diet?
Any diet poses the risk of losing muscle, but the high-protein and high high ketone levels from a ketogenic diet can help minimize muscle loss, especially in those who lift weights regularly.
3. Can I build muscle on a keto diet?
While it can be done, it may not be as effective to build muscle on a keto diet as it would be on a moderate-carb diet. There is plenty of information about the effects of low-carb and keto diets on exercise performance.
4. Is refeeding or carb-loading necessary on keto?
It is not necessary, but can be occasionally beneficial.
5. How much protein am I allowed to eat?
Keep protein intake within moderate levels, as ingesting high amounts of protein regularly can lower ketone levels while making insulin levels spike. Around 35% protein should make up the total calorie intake on keto.
6. I’m feeling tired or fatigued constantly. What can I do?
You may not have hit full ketosis just yet, or your body may not yet be utilizing fats and ketones efficiently. Try lowering your carb intake a little more, or try a supplement like ketones or MCT oil.
7. Why does my urine smell fruity?
Don’t worry, this isn’t a sign of any sort of health crisis. The fruity smell comes from the excretion of byproducts of ketosis.
8. What can I do if my breath smells?
This is a common side effect that be treated with naturally-flavored water or the use of sugar-free chewing gum.
9. Is it true that ketosis is dangerous?
This misconception comes up because sometimes ketosis is confused with ketoacidosis. Ketosis is a natural process, while ketoacidosis is a condition that arises from untreated diabetes. While ketoacidosis is dangerous, ketosis is healthy, normal, and provides many benefits.
10. I’m having diarrhea and other digestive issues. What should I do?
This is a common side effect during the first 3 to 4 weeks of a ketogenic diet. Incorporating more high-fiber vegetables into your diet can help. If constipation occurs, be sure to take magnesium supplements.
A Ketogenic Diet Is Great, but Not for Everyone
A ketogenic diet can help with many conditions, especially being overweight, diabetic, or those with metabolic issues. Bodybuilders or other athletes looking to gain lots of weight or muscle may find a standard ketogenic diet less suitable for their needs. Like any diet, keto is only effective if you are consistent and dedicated for the long-term, and few diets are as scientifically well-supported as the ketogenic diet when it comes to weight loss and metabolic benefits.