A Keto Diet for Beginners: The #1 Ketogenic Guide
Getting Started on Your Keto Journey
Are you looking to try the ketogenic diet but unsure where to begin? This guide provides everything you need to understand keto basics and how to get started.
We explain the significant keto or high-fat diet variations so you can choose the right one for your goals. We also dive into the expected risks and significant rewards of keto, like improved energy, mental clarity, and weight loss for most people.
You’ll get tips for keto success, including how to track macros, what to eat, and how to stick with the diet long-term.
Follow along, and you’ll be equipped with the skills and knowledge to start your keto journey strong. Let’s unlock the many benefits of ketogenic 101 eating!
Different Keto Diets
There are several variations of ketogenic diets:
- Standard Ketogenic Diet: Provides 75% of calories from fat, 20% from protein, and 5% from carbs. Restrict carbs to 20-50 grams daily to ensure consistent ketone production and fat burning.
- Cyclical Ketogenic Diet: Follows standard keto ratios most days, with 1-2 “carb refeed” days per week. The refeed days help replenish glycogen stores while maintaining ketosis most of the time.
- Targeted Ketogenic Diet: Allows extra carbs around workouts, usually 25-50 grams 30-60 minutes pre-workout. This provides glucose for intense training without disrupting ketosis.
- High Protein Ketogenic Diet: Increases protein intake to around 30% of calories, restricting carbs and fat more. It claims to boost metabolism and preserve muscle but may inhibit ketosis.
- Lazy Ketogenic Diet: Limits carbs to under 50 grams daily but doesn’t track macros. This free-form approach can make the high-fat diet more sustainable but may slow results.
The different, targeted ketogenic diets allow customization for individual goals and needs. Try each to see which style of keto works best for you.
How To Do Keto Macros
Calculating your optimal macro ratio is vital for both reaching ketosis and ensuring you meet your body’s needs while following the ketogenic diet. Here are some tips:
- Use a keto macro calculator to estimate your calorie and macro needs based on age, height, current weight, and activity level.
- Set your intake of protein at 0.6-0.8 grams per pound of lean body mass or higher if very active. Protein should account for 15-25% of total calories.
- Restrict net carbs to under 50 grams or 5-10% of total calories. Lower carb intake can initially help speed ketosis.
- Fill the rest of your calories from fat sources. Dietary fat should comprise around 70-80% of total calorie intake.
- As you adjust to the low carb high-fat diet, modify macros based on your goals. Increase protein and lower fat for building muscle. Raise carbs slightly if struggling with workouts.
- Weigh and track foods eaten using a tracking app. This ensures you stay within your carb limit and meet protein and calorie goals.
Re-calculate macros every 10-15 pounds lost or as your fitness regimen changes. Adjusting macros periodically helps boost results.
Setting macros doesn’t need to be complicated. Start with our calculator and fine-tune as required for your goals.
Is The Keto Diet Safe?
When intelligently formulated and implemented, the classic ketogenic diet can be safe for most healthy adults in the short term. However, there are some considerations:
- Restrict carbohydrates cautiously. Cutting carbs too severely risks side effects like fatigue, nausea, constipation, cramping, and nutrient deficiencies. Reduce carbs gradually while increasing healthy fats.
- Avoid starting keto without medical supervision if you have a health condition like diabetes, thyroid or gallbladder issues, take medications, or are pregnant or breastfeeding. These groups need close monitoring.
- Watch for signs of low blood sugar, like dizziness, and monitor ketone levels to avoid overdoing carb restriction, especially if diabetic. Supplement electrolytes to reduce side effects.
- Consider potential impacts on thyroid function, hormones, cholesterol levels, and gut health. Get lab work done routinely to catch any issues early.
- Follow a well-formulated keto diet focused on whole, fiber-rich foods to meet micronutrient needs. Take a general multivitamin if desired.
- Minimize processed meats and incorporate plant-based fats. Drink plenty of water and take breaks from the diet periodically.
With intelligent management and medical guidance, keto can be safe for healthy individuals short-term. But monitor yourself carefully, especially if you have an underlying health condition.
Control Blood Sugar on Ketogenic Diet
As we have discussed above, one of the primary benefits of the ketogenic diet is its ability to lower blood glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity. This makes low-carb keto helpful in managing type 2 diabetes.
By restricting carbohydrates to under 50 grams per day, less sugar is available for the body to convert into glucose and spike blood glucose levels. Ketosis also reduces the need for insulin and helps cells uptake and utilize glucose more effectively.
Multiple studies have shown the keto diet can lower HbA1c and improve insulin resistance in people with diabetes. Some research indicates it may even reverse diabetes in specific individuals if followed long-term.
However, transitioning to a ketogenic diet can be tricky for diabetics on medication due to the risk of hypoglycemia. Blood serum sugar should be monitored closely and medications adjusted under medical supervision when adopting keto.
For best diabetes management, focus on low glycemic index and high fiber carbs like leafy greens, nuts, and seeds when carbohydrate intake is increased after the initial keto period. Combining ketosis and low glycemic eating can stabilize blood glucose at healthy levels.
Weight Loss Without Hunger
The ketogenic diet often leads to weight loss without excessive hunger. Ketosis helps regulate hunger hormones like ghrelin and leptin for appetite control.
Consuming filling proteins and fats ward off hunger pangs which helps a person lose weight. Lower insulin levels allow greater access to fat stores for energy. With hunger curbed on keto, calorie intake decreases without much conscious effort. Studies show keto dieters experience fewer food cravings and greater satisfaction from meals.
By effectively controlling hunger and cravings, the ketogenic diet creates an optimal environment for weight loss without deprivation.
Benefit: You May See Better Blood Glucose Control if You Have Type 2 Diabetes
An abundance of research demonstrates the ketogenic diet can be very helpful for improving markers of metabolic and cardiovascular health, even in those with type 2 diabetes.
By restricting carbohydrate intake, blood sugar levels remain stable instead of spiking and crashing after meals. Being in ketosis allows the body to access and utilize glucose more effectively with little need for insulin.
Multiple studies show ketogenic diets can lower hemoglobin A1C levels, reduce the need for diabetes medication, and even put type 2 diabetes into remission in some cases when followed long-term.
Other benefits for people with diabetes include weight loss, decreased inflammation, improved cholesterol, and reduced blood pressure.
If you have type 2 diabetes and are interested in pursuing the ketogenic diet, consult your healthcare provider first. Medication dosages will likely need adjusting to prevent hypoglycemia. Frequent blood glucose checks are important, especially in the first few weeks.
With proper medical guidance, keto can be a safe and effective approach for controlling type 2 diabetes and minimizing the risk of complications. A well-formulated low-carb or low-carb ketogenic diet should be strongly considered for those struggling with insulin resistance.
Benefit: You May See Improvements in Your Athletic Performance
Many athletes, from endurance runners to MMA fighters, have used the keto diet to enhance performance. One of the main benefits of ketogenic diets is that keto causes the body to rely more heavily on fat for fuel during exercise.
Typically, exercise is fueled primarily by glycogen from carbohydrates. But glycogen stores are limited and can be depleted within 1-2 hours of intense training. Athletes on the keto diet can preserve glycogen by burning fat instead of carbs during exercise.
This allows keto athletes to tap into a nearly unlimited energy source – body fat. When adapted to the diet, keto athletes can prolong endurance and avoid “hitting the wall” when glycogen runs out.
Studies show being in ketosis for several weeks improves oxygen efficiency, which enhances endurance capacity. Other benefits include reduced inflammation and quicker post-workout recovery. However, explosive power may be reduced on keto due to low glycogen stores. The targeted keto diet with carb refeeds helps address this issue.
Risk: You May Suffer Fatigue and Other Symptoms as a Result of the Keto Flu
When first transitioning into ketosis, many experience symptoms commonly called the “keto flu.” This occurs as the body adapts to relying on fat and ketones for energy instead of carbs and sugar.
Symptoms of the keto flu can include headaches, muscle cramps, nausea, diarrhea, weakness, irritability, and, most notably, fatigue. Mental fogginess and difficulty concentrating are also common.
These uncomfortable symptoms are temporary and tend to pass within 1-2 weeks as ketone production ramps up and the body burns fat efficiently. Still, the keto flu can be tough to deal with.
Staying hydrated by drinking at least 2 liters of water daily can help minimize symptoms. Getting enough sodium, magnesium, and potassium is also crucial during the transition period. A targeted keto supplement can help provide electrolytes and MCT oil for energy.
While annoying, remember the keto flu means the diet is working and your body is entering ketosis. The discomfort will soon subside, leading to the many benefits of keto, including sustained energy, weight loss, and mental clarity. Be patient during the adaptation phase.
Risk: You May Experience Constipation if You Don’t Eat Enough Fruits and Veggies
The keto or low carb diet eliminates many high-fiber foods like fruits, starchy vegetables, beans, and whole grains. This can leave you lacking dietary fiber, which is essential for healthy bowel movements.
Fiber gives stool bulk and helps it move smoothly through the intestines. Without adequate fiber intake, stools become hard and difficult to pass, leading to constipation.
On keto, it’s important to make sure you still consume plenty of low-carb, high-fiber veggies like leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, artichokes, and avocado. Consider taking a fiber supplement as well.
If constipation persists, try adding small portions of berries or soaked/sprouted nuts and seeds containing fiber and other constipation-relieving nutrients. Staying well hydrated on keto also helps maintain regularity.
Risk: You May Experience Dangerous Low Blood Sugar if You Have Diabetes
The keto diet can significantly lower blood glucose levels by restricting carbs and inhibiting insulin production. This blood sugar-lowering effect can be beneficial for diabetes management. However, people with diabetes using certain medications like insulin or sulfonylureas are at increased risk of hypoglycemia, or dangerously low blood sugar, when starting a very low-carb diet.
Insulin and other glucose-lowering medications may need to be adjusted substantially to prevent hypoglycemia when transitioning to keto. Blood sugar levels should be monitored very closely to ensure they do not drop too low. Hypoglycemia causes shakiness, nausea, confusion, heart palpitations, and loss of consciousness if left untreated.
People with diabetes interested in trying the keto diet should work closely with their healthcare provider to make medication and lifestyle adjustments to keep blood sugar levels in a safe range. It’s recommended to check glucose 4-6 times per day when first adopting keto. Medications need to be reduced incrementally and under medical supervision. With proper management, the keto diet can be safe for people with diabetes.
Risk: You May Experience Weight Cycling and Negative Effects on Your Metabolism
The keto diet is often used short-term to lose weight or prompt quick weight loss. However, frequently going on and off low-carb diets can lead to weight cycling or yo-yo dieting. This is the repeated loss and regain of body fat in response to dieting. Weight cycling can have detrimental effects on health and metabolism.
When weight is regained after keto, a good portion of the body weight is often added back as body fat rather than lean tissue. This increases body fat set point over time. Weight cycling can also slow metabolic rate, skew hunger signals, and disrupt beneficial gut bacteria. Studies show people with a history of weight cycling have a more challenging time keeping weight off long-term than those with more stable weights.
It’s best not to go off the keto diet cold turkey to reduce the risk of weight cycling. Gradually reintroduce healthy carbs over several weeks. Avoid frequently starting and stopping keto, which can shock the body. Develop sustainable, maintainable eating habits, that support stable weight maintenance after losing initial weight on keto. Consult a nutritionist or doctor to develop a lifestyle plan tailored to your needs.
Risk: You May Harm Your Heart With the Diet’s Emphasis on Animal Fat and Protein
Some experts have expressed concerns that the high amounts of saturated fat and animal protein in the typical ketogenic diet could negatively impact heart health by raising LDL cholesterol levels.
Saturated fats from fatty cuts of meat, butter, cheese, and coconut oil may contribute to atherosclerosis over time, especially in those with a genetic predisposition.
However, the relationship between saturated fat, cholesterol, and heart disease remains controversial. Some recent studies suggest saturated fat may not be as harmful as once believed. The rise in HDL cholesterol on keto may offset increases in LDL.
Still, it may be prudent to include plant-based and unsaturated fats from sources like avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fatty fish when following the keto diet. Avoid processed meats and use higher-quality proteins such as grass-fed beef, pastured raised chickens, and wild-caught fish. Consult your doctor, get regular blood work done, and monitor any changes.
With a well-formulated keto diet emphasizing healthy fats from whole food sources, potential heart risks are likely minimal. But individuals with a history of high cholesterol or heart disease should exercise caution.
Fear of Too Much Protein
Consuming adequate protein will not kick you out of ketosis. Protein only converts to glucose on a demand-driven basis and does not produce excess glucose like carbs.
Aim for 0.6-1g of protein per pound of lean body mass to preserve muscle during weight loss on keto. Choose fatty cuts of meat and balance them with non-animal sources. With proper carb restriction, higher intake of protein can be incorporated into a keto diet.
Are All Carbs the Same? Net Carbs and the Keto Diet
When tracking macronutrients on a ketogenic diet, it’s important to understand the difference between total carbohydrates and net carbs.
The keto diet limits daily carbohydrate consumption to 50 grams or less of net carbs. Net carbs are calculated by subtracting fiber grams from total carbs.
Fiber is excluded because it passes through the body undigested without raising blood sugar or insulin levels. Fiber also helps promote feelings of fullness and healthy digestion.
Meanwhile, sugars and starches are broken down into glucose during digestion, which does impact blood sugar and insulin. That’s why these carbs need to be restricted on keto.
Foods like non-starchy vegetables, nuts, and seeds contain plenty of fiber relative to total carbs. So although their total carb count may seem high, their usable net carb count is low.
To accurately track macros in a way that maintains ketosis, always pay attention to the net carb amounts rather than just total carbs. This more precisely accounts for the carbs that directly impact ketosis and blood sugar levels.
Tips for Reaching Ketosis
Here are some practical tips to help you get into ketosis quickly and start tapping into burning body fat for fuel:
- Restrict total carbs to 20-50g daily, focusing on low-carb veggies, nuts, seeds, meats, eggs, and high-fat dairy. This low-carb intake will deplete glucose stores and shift the body into ketosis.
- Increase healthy fat intake using olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, fatty fish, and nuts. Dietary fat provides the energy needed as you transition away from carbs. Target 65-80% of calories from fat.
- Moderate protein intake to just what the body needs, around 0.6-0.8g per pound of lean body mass. Excess protein gets converted to glucose which can stall ketosis.
- Stay hydrated with 2-4 liters of water daily to flush out toxins as the body adapts. Electrolytes are also vital – get extra salt, magnesium, and potassium.
- Exercise, fasting, and MCT oil may help accelerate the onset of ketosis. Be patient; it can take a week or more to adapt fully.
- Use ketone test strips to track entering ketosis. Urine strips change color when ketones are present. Blood meters also measure circulating ketones.
Stick with the low-carb, high-fat keto diet for 4-6 weeks until the body fully adapts to the low-carbohydrate diet, using fat and ketones instead of glucose for fuel.
Avoid These Foods When On A Keto Diet
When following a ketogenic diet, certain foods need to be limited or avoided altogether due to their high carbohydrate content:
- Grains like bread, pasta, rice, cereals, etc., are very high in carbs. Even whole grains are too carb-heavy for keto.
- Starchy vegetables, including potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, root vegetables, etc. Moderate carb veggies instead.
- Fruits other than small portions of berries. Fruits contain natural sugars called fructose that can easily throw you out of ketosis.
- Beans, legumes, and lentils are too high in carbs for keto. This includes foods like baked beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, etc.
- Milk and yogurt contain lactose sugar, so they are limited to keto. Opt for unsweetened almond or coconut milk and plain full-fat Greek yogurt.
- Sugary foods like soda, fruit juice, smoothies, cake, ice cream, candy, etc., are absolute stayaways. Avoid added sugars, honey, and maple syrup.
- Be mindful of sneaky carb sources like certain condiments, sauces, protein bars, alcoholic mixers, and “low-fat” diet foods. Check labels.
- Most diet sodas, while sugar-free, can also stall keto progress. Opt for water, unsweetened tea, or coffee instead.
Consult a keto food list to identify off-limit carb-heavy items. Stick to meats, eggs, non-starchy veggies, high-fat dairy, nuts, seeds, and berries.
Stock Your Keto Kitchen with Ingredients and Tools
When first starting a ketogenic diet, it’s essential to stock up on the right low-carb foods and kitchen tools to set yourself up for success:
- Base proteins: Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tempeh, tofu. Grass-fed, pasture-raised, and wild-caught options are the healthiest.
- Fats and oils: Extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, ghee, lard, tallow, and nut oils. Have both cooking and salad oils.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, macadamia, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, etc. Buy unsalted raw or toasted varieties.
- Non-starchy veggies: Leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, peppers, cucumber, mushrooms, etc.
- Dairy: Butter, cream, hard cheeses, plain full-fat Greek yogurt, unsweetened milk alternatives.
- Berries: Raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries in moderation. Be mindful of carb counts.
- Pantry items: Coconut, olives, pickles, spices, seasonings, baking items. Stock up on canned fish and meat.
- Keto snacks: Nuts, seeds, jerky, nut butter, greens powder, pork rinds, Parmesan crisps, dark chocolate.
- Kitchen tools: Food scale, measuring cups, meal prep containers, high-power blender, MCT oil, ketone test strips.
Having the right ingredients and tools makes starting and sticking to a keto diet much easier. Shop keto-friendly grocery sections and farmer’s markets.
Chasing Higher Ketone Levels
When first adopting a ketogenic diet, getting excited about elevating ketone levels is expected. However, blood ketone concentrations do not need to be extremely high to receive the benefits of ketosis.
Racemic ketone levels of 0.5-3.0 mmol/L are sufficient for most people to experience fat burning, appetite suppression, mental clarity, and other effects. Higher readings beyond 3.0 mmol/L may not provide additional benefits.
Pursuing very high ketone levels usually involves excessive carbohydrate and protein restriction. This highly restrictive approach may boost ketones briefly but is difficult to sustain long-term.
Restricting carbs and protein too severely can lead to negative impacts like loss of lean muscle mass, poor athletic performance, instability in blood glucose levels, and micronutrient deficiencies.
The optimal range for nutritional ketosis provides ideal ketone elevation while meeting the body’s needs. An ultra-low-carb diet to artificially drive up ketones is likely unnecessary for most people.
Focus instead on keeping carbs low enough for consistent ketosis day-to-day rather than chasing high ketone numbers. This balanced approach is more sustainable and ultimately leads to greater keto success.
How long can you follow the keto diet?
For treating epilepsy, keto can be followed lifelong under medical supervision. For adults using keto for weight loss or diabetes, limit strict keto to 6 months or less due to potential long-term risks like kidney stones, nutrient deficiencies, and metabolism issues.
Cyclical keto with 1-2 higher carb days weekly or taking a 1-2 month break every six months makes the diet safer for long-term use.
Another option is to strictly follow a standard keto diet for 3-6 months, then take a break for 1-2 months while adding more carbs. You can then have fewer carbs and return to ketosis if desired. This on-and-off cycle makes keto more sustainable.
Listen to your body, get medical check-ups, and take diet breaks. With smart management, keto can be safely implemented long-term.
The ketogenic diet holds promise for weight loss, health improvement, and optimized performance. But embarking on the keto journey requires a solid understanding of the varying diet types, potential benefits and risks, and keys to success.
In reviewing the major keto diet variations—from standard to cyclical and targeted approaches—it’s clear there are flexible options to suit individual needs. While keto can deliver transformative results, there are also possible downsides like the “keto flu” to consider.
Most people can achieve ketosis with diligent carb restriction, adequate protein intake, and a focus on healthy fats. But maintaining electrolytes, micronutrients, hydration, and fiber intake is critical to feel your best in ketosis. Getting the right macros specific to your body and activity level also optimizes the results.
While continuing ketosis long-term may not be advisable due to potential risks, cyclical and well-formulated keto diets can be maintained safely under the guidance of a medical professional. With the in-depth knowledge provided throughout this guide, you are equipped to embark on your keto journey strategically and mindfully.
If you’re ready to start your ketogenic diet journey, the professionals at Dody Chiropractic Center for Wholeness in Littleton, CO can help. Our team develops customized keto programs to meet your unique goals. We offer one-on-one support and advanced metabolic testing to ensure your success on the ketogenic diet. Don’t go it alone – get the guidance you need. Call Dody Chiropractic Center for Wholeness in Littleton at 303-794-1737 or online today to schedule a consultation!
With over 20 years in the field, Dr. Dody is a seasoned chiropractor specializing in Functional Nutrition, Neurofeedback, and the Koren Specific Technique (KST). His unique ‘whole person approach’ identifies the root causes of health issues, offering patients not just relief but lasting wellness. Recognized for his expertise, Dr. Dody’s treatments often yield dramatic improvements from the very first visit.