The Last Post You’ll Ever Need to Read About the Ketogenic Diet
Throughout the years, there have been an infinite amount of diets.
From Atkins to the Sleeping Beauty Diet (promoted by Elvis Presley), there have been the bizarre, the uneffective, and the downright unhealthy.
However, some diets have stood the test of time.
Certain eating strategies, like fasting and eating more greens, never go away, always ingrained within the culture.
One such diet – widely known as the healthiest way you can eat – is the ketogenic diet.
Thousands (if not millions) of articles, studies, and testimonials flood the Internet about “going keto.”
The ketogenic diet is a terrific way to lose body fat, increase your energy levels, improve brain function, and have an overall kick-ass physique.
But with all of these posts saying one thing or another, how do you make sense of it all?
We have the answer: You’ve found the beginners guide to the ketogenic diet.
In here, we include what it is at its core, how to start, whether it’s safe, what to eat, what not to eat, how to calculate net carbs, and how to reach ketosis.
Last, we’ll dive into a comprehensive keto diet plan you can use to make fat melt from your body and increase overall performance.
Without further ado, let’s get into it!
First: What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The biggest differentiator you hear about the keto diet is it’s “low-carb.”
And while this is true, there is a better way to describe the overall function of this Keto nutrition plan:
The keto diet uses ketones produced by the body in the liver as energy.
Usually, when you eat a traditional Western diet, your body does two things:
- Produces glucose from the carbohydrates for energy;
- Produces insulin to transport the glucose all around the body.
When insulin is present and glucose is in high supply within the body, a couple of things happen.
First, this is the main source of energy now; any other form of energy – such as stored fat – will be shut down because glucose is so easy to use.
Second, if you consume too much glucose compared to the energy you’re using in a day, it gets stored for later within fat molecules.
This is how most people gain unwanted weight. Their energy expenditure doesn’t even come close to the energy consumption on any given day.
Extra stored glucose → more fat → never used because of the insulin presence.
However, if you drastically limit the amount of carbs you consume, you limit the amount of glucose and insulin resistance.
When you get to a specific amount, you enter a state called ketosis.
Ketosis is a naturally process in the body where your body is looking for energy that isn’t glucose.
The next best available way is for your liver to create ketone bodies, which are energy molecules made from the breakdown of fat cells.
While you can’t necessarily decrease the number of fat cells in your body, you can decrease their size.
This is what happens in ketosis. Your liver depletes the fat cells, sucking out all of the stored energy to be expended.
The main goal of a properly maintained ketogenic diet is to remain in this ketosis state of metabolism for as long and as often as possible.
Using fat as the #1 source of fuel is not only efficient, but it provides a wealth of benefits, especially reducing body fat percentage.
To recap, the keto diet:
- Starves the amount of carbohydrates you consume in a day
- Ups the amount of fats and proteins you consume so you hit your daily need of calories
- Uses ketosis to deplete stored energy within your fat cells
- When you overload your body with fats, it starts to use ketones as the main source of energy on a daily basis, which provides a ton of health benefits.
Speaking of which…
Ketogenic Diet Benefits
Here are the top advantages a ketogenic diet gives you for your well-being:
- Weight loss
- Acne reduction
- Appetite control
- Cancer risk reduction
- Heart health improvement
- Type 2 diabetes reversal
- Brain function protection
- Seizure reduction (where it all started)
- PCOS health improvement (for women)
Let’s dive into each of these in depth…
To be in ketosis, your body has to work harder to produce energy.
Where glucose can easily be turned into glycogen for energy (hence carbs are “quick energy”), ketones take time and effort.
This ramps up fat loss because it takes more energy to produce energy.
Also, using energy stored in your fat cells helps lower the amount of space (i.e. mass) they use in your body.
Fat cells go down, which means the fat percentage in your body relative to your entire mass is reduced.
“Weight loss” is a huge reason why many people attempt a ketogenic diet.
Acne is directly affected by your diet and blood sugar.
When you eat highly processed foods or excess carbs, your blood sugar levels suffer from dramatic fluctuations, which impacts skin health in a negative way.
By reducing your carb intake through a ketogenic diet, you can potentially eliminate your acne and other skin health problems previously caused by processed foods.
With a consistent flow of ketones going to the brain, you don’t have to deal with blood sugar spikes from eating carbohydrates.
Zero brain fog equals enhanced focus and memory.
This fuel source also provides a clean source of amazing energy.
You won’t feel sluggish and tired from the crash of insulin after a carb-heavy meal.
Instead, you get steady energy throughout your day, only tiring when your natural circadian rhythms tell you it’s time for sleep.
Cancer Risk Reduction
Sometimes used as a complementary form of treatment with chemotherapy, the ketogenic diet has been used to prevent or even treat certain types of cancer.
Being in ketosis puts your cells under oxidative stress, which is simply “an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract or detoxify their harmful effects through neutralization by antioxidants.”
The keto diet actually causes more oxidative stress in cancer cells than in normal cells, which leads to the neutralization of the cancer and potential killing of cancer cells.
Also, being in ketosis reduces your blood sugar, which keeps you clear of insulin complications, a common factor in some cancers.
Heart Health Improvement
This benefit will only occur if you follow a healthy ketogenic diet; that is, healthy fats (more on this later) and not a bunch of heavily-processed foods.
What ketosis does is lower bad cholesterol (LDL) while simultaneously increase good cholesterol (HDL).
As a result, your heart functions in a healthy manner, keeping you clear of heart issues that affect so many people, especially those who are overweight, obese, or aging.
Type 2 Diabetes Reversal
Because your blood sugar is controlled in a keto diet, your insulin levels no longer get as high, which reduces the negative impact of insulin.
Due to level blood sugar and insulin in the body, Type 2 diabetes can be actually reversed.
Whether you want to prevent Type 2, are prediabetic, or full-on have an insulin resistance, switching to a ketogenic nutrition plan might just save your life (and your wallet from medical bills).
Brain Function Protection
The sheer amount of healthy fats present in your diet when you go ketogenic works wonders for the brain.
Nutritional fats are chock-full of necessary hormones your body and brain need for optimized physical and cognitive function.
With a solid keto diet, studies suggest you can get neuroprotective benefits, including preventing Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and sleep disorders.
It may even improve cognitive retention and alertness.
The ketogenic diet was first created in the 1920s, introduced by physicians to treat epilepsy and other forms of seizures.
As early as 500 B.C., people used dietary fasting to reduce the effects of epilepsy.
To mimic this result, doctors in the early 20th century composed the keto diet to maintain a fasted metabolism while also keeping patients satiated throughout the day.
As far as recent studies reveal, it works for some and not for others. The keto diet appears especially effective for children with focal seizures.
PCOS Health Improvement
This benefit requires more research to be determined consistent, but there have been successful uses of the keto diet from women with PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome.
This is where woman have enlarged ovaries with cysts.
While the research is sparse on the benefit, it is known that a high-carb diet adversely increases the problems associated with PCOS.
So lowering carbs will do some good no matter what.
There are many other potential benefits, like reduced sugar cravings, a calmer stomach, less heartburn, and additional physical endurance.
All of these benefits depend on the individual.
While most people experience weight loss, heightened cognitive function, and reduced acne and heart issues, this isn’t universal. For a list of benefits you will definitely experience, you have to try it for yourself!
Keto Diet For Beginners
The great aspect about the ketogenic diet is it’s generally safe (more on this in the next section).
However, you must start your ketogenic diet right if you want to have any chance of sustaining it for the long-term.
Adherence to a diet is the toughest part. Creating an environment where nothing but eating keto will be your best bet for establishing a longstanding nutrition protocol.
How do you begin?
- Restrict carbohydrates: There are many ways you can do this; some diets say less than 50 net carbs, others say as low as 20. The majority of diets claim remaining under 20 net carbs per day will ensure 24/7 ketosis without ever relying on insulin or glucose.
- Reduce protein: Wait, what? Truth is, if you replace all of your carbs with protein, it will end up being stored and used as glucose instead of as ketones. Plus, excess protein is harmful to the body, resulting in many adverse effects such as high cholesterol, gout, and heart problems. So keep protein moderate (around 0.8 grams per pound of body weight).
- Get most of your calories from fats: For those who have it in their mind that “fats will make me fat,” enough is enough. Fats are your primary source of fuel now. Without adequate healthy fats, your brain function, physical ability, and overall performance will slow to the point of being ineffective. Remove the stigma around fat and eat it!
- Hydrate like crazy: In ketosis, you will be chronically dehydrated. Consume tons of it. To make things easier, drink it with lemon or supplement with a water additive that has electrolytes.
- Avoid snacking: While you’re on a keto diet, you can still experience insulin spikes. You want to minimize the amount of spikes, so try your best to not snack. Eat until satisfied during your meals.
- Consider intermittent fasting (IF): Why not combine the original with the new? Seeing as the keto diet tries to emulate a fasted metabolism, use IF to your advantage. Hold off on your first meal until later in the day, then only eat within an 8-hour window.
- Get adequate sleep: Energy is restored through rest. Getting enough hours of sleep will ensure you steer clear of bad sugar cravings or the need to eat because you’re tired.
- Exercise too: This will help regulate blood sugar levels and how drastic your weight loss will be. If you increase your workout routine, you’ll have to adjust your macros.
- Supplement (optional): Perhaps it’s in your interest to reach ketosis faster. There are supplements out there that can help you do this, but they aren’t necessary.
If you follow these rules, especially steps 1-5, you will begin to experience ketosis. But how do you know when you’ve reached ketosis?
The overall goal is to use ketones for fuel. However, these processes are happening inside the body.
How can you tell when you’re in ketosis and when you’re using glucose and insulin?
How to Tell When You’re in Ketosis
You can use either ketone test strips or blood glucose monitors, but the former only tells you how many ketones your body is getting rid of and the latter is expensive in the long run.
Here are some ways you can figure out whether your body is in ketosis:
- Increased urination (ketosis is a natural diuretic, plus one of the ketone bodies – acetoacetate – is released through urine, so happy peeing!)
- Dry mouth (when you lose electrolytes in your mouth from the excess release of fluids)
- Bad breath (one of the ketones is excreted through your breath, but this isn’t long-term)
- Reduced hunger (the best indicator; you can go longer without food and don’t feel hungry)
- Increased energy (another awesome telltale sign, you can do more with less due to additional energy)
Can You Eat Carbs in Ketosis?
The short answer is yes, but you aren’t going to like the total amount.
In order to maintain ketosis, you can only consume 20 net carbohydrates.
Obviously, the more restrictive you are with your carbs, the faster you can enter ketosis.
So while you can get away with a trace amount of carbs, it’s ideal to keep them at an absolute minimum.
For a comprehensive list of what to eat, what not to eat, and how you can determine “net carbs,” read on.
Ketogenic Diet Foods
When you start a keto diet, keep it simple. The less variety you have in this diet to begin with, the better.
What to Eat on the Keto Diet
In a nutshell (pun intended), here is the list of foods you can have during a keto diet:
- Meat protein: Poultry, beef, lamb, fish, eggs, tempeh/tofu (pork in some instances)
- Leafy greens: Spinach, kale, bok choy
- Above-ground vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cucumber, asparagus
- Dairy high in fat: Hard cheeses, high-fat cream, butter
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, macadamias, sunflower seeds, flaxseed
- Avocados and berries: raspberries and blackberries (any berry that has a low glycemic impact)
- Sweeteners: Stevia, monk fruit, other low- or zero-carb sweeteners (erythritol is okay)
- Cooking fats: Coconut oil, EVOO, high-fat salad dressing, any oil with saturated fats
These are enough to begin a keto diet. Use spices and low-carb sauces to make your meals tasty; this will help with adhering to the diet.
What Not to Eat on the Keto Diet
Ready to cry? Here are the foods you cannot consume on a keto diet:
- Grains: Wheat, corn, cereal, rice, pasta, tortillas
- Sugars: Honey, agave, maple syrup, refined sugar (this last one should be intuitive)
- Fruit: Apples, bananas, oranges, peaches (avocados are the exception)
- Tubers and below-ground vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, beets
- Legumes: Peanuts, any bean, lentils
This diet isn’t intended to include all of the fun foods.
The point is to be effective at losing body fat and improving cognitive function and physical energy.
While you don’t have free reign on all the food, you can still make your meals delicious.
How to Determine Net Carbs
This is where you can get away with eating decent amounts of vegetables and stay under a set number of carbs.
“Net carbs” is what you get when you take the total number of carbs in a portion of food and subtract the amount of carbs that are dietary fiber.
For example, a cup of cooked broccoli has 6 total grams of carbohydrates. However, it also includes 2 grams of fiber in that cup. So the net carbs is 6 minus 2, or 4 net carbs.
Seeing as most vegetables have a ton of fiber, the net carbs per half cup are extremely low, ranging from as little as 0.1 grams to the maximum of 2.9 grams.
Thankfully, your meat, cooking fats, nuts and seeds, and avocados have low if not nonexistent carbohydrate content. So you only have to worry about your veggies, sweeteners, berries, and dairy.
Can You Go Keto as a Vegetarian or Vegan?
Why yes, you can! It’s simply a matter of taking the food list above of what you can eat and swapping out non-vegetarian or non-vegan options for an acceptable replacement.
For example, all dairy can be changed for nut-based “dairy.”
Protein can be tempeh, tofu, or hemp seed.
Use ground flaxseed and water as a substitute for eggs as a binder in baking.
Include fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi to add nutritional benefits to your diet.
The great thing about keto is you’re getting 75% of your dietary calories from fats, both saturated and unsaturated.
Coconut products, like coconut oil, cream, milk, and more contain a healthy amount of saturated fat (more than other oils).
And your carbs will still come from veggies. It’s mostly the protein you have to consider; soy products, mock meats, and nut-based protein powder are incredible options for vegans, vegetarians, or omnivores.
Is the Keto Diet Safe?
Earlier in this guide, we said the diet is essentially safe for the majority of people There are, however, exceptions to this.
There are three specific groups who should consult with their doctor before going keto or avoid ketosis completely:
- Those who take medication for diabetes (e.g. insulin)
- Those who take medication for high blood pressure
- Women who are breastfeeding
Also, there are certain side effects you could see when you switch to a ketogenic diet, such as:
- Ketoacidosis: When you have too many ketone bodies in your body. This is incredibly uncommon, as it’s a struggle for most people to get to optimal ranges of ketones, let alone surpassing that level.
- Leg cramps: This is due to decreased minerals in the body from excess urination when starting a keto diet. It is common, but not normally painful. To replenish magnesium, drink plenty of fluids and ingest salt.
- Constipation: Your digestive system needs to adjust to the keto diet. Sometimes this results in minor constipation. Relieve this by drinking plenty of fluids (see a pattern here?), eating a ton of vegetables and fiber, and if you’re still struggling use Milk of Magnesia. (Make sure to be near a toilet.)
- “Keto breath”: Remember acetone, a ketone body that is excreted through your breath? Yeah, that smell is close to nail polish remover. Cure this issue with – surprise, surprise – drinking more fluids and eating more salt. Also, maintain solid oral hygiene and use a breath freshener.
- Heart palpitations: During the first few weeks on a ketogenic diet, you could have an elevated heart rate. This stems from dehydration and a lack of salt. Combat this with, again, fluids and salt.
- Reduced physical performance: This comes from two main reasons: Not enough fluids or salt (which we all know the cure for this at this point), or burning fat adaptation. It takes weeks to assimilate to using ketones as your main source of energy. However, if you increase your exercise while starting ketosis, you will get acclimated quicker.
- Temporary hair loss: Very rare, and will usually go away within the first couple months.
- Heightened cholesterol: Also an oddity, you can curtail this by only eating when hungry or eating more unsaturated fats.
- Reduced alcohol tolerance: When you drink for the first time while in ketosis, be warned; you won’t need as much as before to feel the effects. Be smart and limit yourself with your drinks.
- Gout: This shouldn’t be a problem, but most people increase the amount of protein they consume on a low-carb/high-fat (LCHF) diet. Instead, up your fats and stay moderate with protein.
Most of these effects are felt in people sometime in the first week of switching to a ketogenic diet. So, as far as safety goes, you won’t be threatening your life with a ketogenic diet.
There is one more usual suspect in terms of side effects…
This is where you feel fatigued, irritable, are prone to headaches, have difficulty focusing (brain fog), as well as a lack of motivation.
You could also suffer from sugar cravings, dizziness, and nausea.
All of this is to be expected with “Keto Flu,” which happens during the transition from burning sugar as the primary body fuel source to fat.
The cause is dehydration and lack of salt from increased urination.
There are solutions for this:
- Water and salt. (This better be ingrained into your memory by now.)
- If number one isn’t enough, up your fats even more. You should feel satisfied and energetic on a keto diet. If you don’t and have keto flu, it could be because you aren’t giving your body the fuel it needs. A simple trick is to add butter to everything you eat. (I know, this is basically a diet that tells you to eat butter.)
- Usually the above two steps should cure keto flu. If you still have lingering effects, the best course of action is to bear through it. Perhaps add some carbs into the diet to make the transition from sugar to fat more gradual. Otherwise, the effects should go away.
How Long Does it Take to Get Over the Keto Flu?
If you follow the instructions in the previous section, you shouldn’t experience the keto flu for longer than a week.
Additional exercise helps blood flow, which helps increase the experience your body has with using fat for fuel.
Once your body adjusts to ketones, along with increased fluids and salt intake, you should be good to go.
Keto Diet Macros
Everybody is different in terms of weight, height, age, and how much of each macronutrient their body needs to run efficiently.
As a general rule, you should structure your macros accordingly:
- Fats = 70%
- Protein = 25%
- Carbohydrates = 5% (or 20 net carbs)
The total amount of calories you should consume for fat loss or weight gain will be determined by your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE; how many calories you burn on any given day) or your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR; how many calories you burn if you sat on the couch and did nothing for 24 hours).
For maintaining your weight: Use your TDEE calculation then break up the calories based on the above percentages.
As an example, if you’re a 170-pound, 5-foot 11-inch person who’s lightly active and in their mid-twenties, you’ll have a TDEE of around 2,500 calories.
This translates to about 195 grams of fat, 150 grams of protein, and 35 grams of carbs. Seeing as you should eat 30 grams of fiber per day, the net carbs could be as low as 5.
If you want to lose weight, go with a moderate deficit (10%).
This means – continuing our example – our guy now eats 2,250 calories, which is 175 grams of fat, 150 grams of protein (you should still get around 0.8-0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight), and 19 grams of carbs.
It’s best to not go much lower than your BMR for fat loss purposes.
Lastly, if you want to add weight in the form of muscle, go with a 10% surplus, or 2,750 in our example.
This will be 214 grams of fat, 150 grams of muscle (keep protein where it is), and 56 grams of carbs.
With 30-35 of those carbs being fiber, you’ll still be able to hit less than 20 net carbs.
Figure out which camp you fall into, then calculate your TDEE and macros based on your total calorie target.
Keto Diet Plan
There are multiple ketogenic diets that are popular across the Internet. These include:
- The standard ketogenic diet, which is what this guide has essentially covered
- The targeted ketogenic diet, which includes a small intake of fast-digesting carbs immediately before a workout
- The cyclical ketogenic diet, where you take one or two days to “carb up” and replenish your glycogen stores (useful for bodybuilders and show contests)
However, for a template diet to follow, use this Athletic Muscle-approved ketogenic diet plan:
- Fast intermittently for the first 4-6 hours of your day.
- Break your fast with a high-fat, moderate protein meal. The more protein in this meal, the better, as it will satiate you for longer. Be sure to make vegetables your base, in order to get the necessary micronutrients too.
- Don’t drink your calories. Coffee, tea, and good old water is necessary to replenish your fluids and keep you feeling energized. Use lemon, apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, and other healthy additives to spice up your zero-calorie drinks. (Also, Zevia is awesome for stifling your craving for sweets…or this awesome keto hot chocolate recipe.)
- Empty your pantry of ALL carbs. Odds are, this is 95% of your pantry. The majority of your diet should now come from the fridge and freezer, with foods like meat protein, dairy, fresh or frozen vegetables, and berries. The only things in your pantry should be nuts, seeds, avocados, and cooking oils.
- Stick to the same 5-10 recipes. This will keep you from indecision fatigue when trying to create keto meals. It might sound boring, but using low-carb sauces and varying spices will keep the flavors from getting too repetitive.
- Eat within an 8-hour window. If you break your fast at noon, be done with dinner before 8 P.M. You should feel full, energized, and level throughout the entire day.
- If you must cheat – which, it’s human nature – cheat before a workout. Make it fast-digesting carbohydrates so you can use the glucose for exercise immediately after consumption. Don’t try to make this a habit, though.
- Add high-fat cooking oils in everything. On salads, olive oil and white vinegar makes for a delicious, high-fat dressing. Melt butter all over your veggies. Include cheese or dairy in each meal, or go vegan with nut-based “dairy” products. If you feel the need to snack, nuts, seeds, and nut butter are tremendous choices. This will help you feel full on a keto diet.
- Avoid specialty food products. When in doubt, stick with real food. Chocolate, candy, pasta, bread, and other “low-carb” alternatives often disguise extra carbs in deceptive marketing. Junk food is junk food. The more real you eat, the better you will feel.
If you follow this general protocol, you’ll be able to experience the benefits of ketosis quickly and effectively.
Did I mention this is the last article you’ll ever need for keto diets?
With over 4,000 words in this all-inclusive guide, hopefully we’ve covered everything you need to be successful with a ketogenic nutrition plan.
You know the benefits, how to begin, how to reach ketosis, what to eat (and what not to eat), that keto is safe, and how to structure your macros and diet plan.
Find your personal protocol with the help of this guide, and stick to it for at least a month or two.
Adherence is key to any diet; for ketosis, you need to get through the initial transition from sugar to fat as your main fuel source.
After that, it should be easy as hell to follow a ketogenic diet for the long-term.
For more information – if you need it – check out the resources below. Otherwise, we wish you the best in your quest for ketosis!
- Thomas DeLauer (the King of Keto) YouTube channel
- Keto recipes with pre-calculated macros: Keto Dash
- Keto supplements to help transition or complete micronutrient profile: Kettle and Fire
- How to exercise while in ketosis
- Ketogenic Facebook Community