Ketogenic Diet 101: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

The Ketogenic Diet is one of the popular low-carb, high fat diets that can help you lose weight as well as improve health.

Also known as the Keto diet, it helps in reducing the risk of getting diabetes, heart diseases, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, stroke and more.

This article contains everything you need to know about the Ketogenic diet as a beginner.

What is a Ketogenic Diet?

Ideal Macros for Ketogenic DietThe Keto diet shares many similarities with the most famous Atkins diet and other low-carb diets.

It emphasizes on eating foods that are low in carbs but high in fat and protein content.

When our body is deprived of carbohydrates, it enters a metabolic state called ‘Ketosis’, during which our body becomes a fat burning machine. The excess fat in the body is turned into ketones in the liver, which is then used as an energy source for our brain.

These ketone bodies are much more stable and efficient source of energy when compared with glucose (derived from carbs).

There are many amazing health benefits like massive decrease in the insulin, blood sugar levels etc…

Different Types of Ketogenic Diets

There are different versions of the Keto diet. However, most people follow either the standard ketogenic diet or high protein version. The other two versions are advanced in nature and are normally followed by athletes or bodybuilders.

  1. Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD): It is very high in fat (75%), moderate-protein (20%) and low in carbohydrates (5%).
  2. Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD): You don’t follow the same routine for long. Instead follow the Keto diet for 5 days, followed by 2 days of high-carb diet.
  3. Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD): In this type of diet, you’re required to consume carbs around workouts.
  4. High-Protein Ketogenic Diet: This is similar to the standard keto diet, but slightly high in protein content. Generally, it contains 60% fat, 35% protein and 5% carbs.

In this article, we’ll majorly discuss about the Standard Keto Diet Plan, since it is widely followed and also the most researched version (studies extensively).

Who Should Not Follow a Ketogenic Diet?

Except in below three cases, it is safe for most people to do a keto diet.

  1. Are you on medication for Diabetes?
  2. Are you taking medicines for high blood pressure?
  3. Are you a breastfeeding mother?

If you’re one among these three people, then you may need extra preparation and medical attention.

What is Ketosis?

Before getting into the detailed guide, you’ll need to understand the metabolic stage called ‘Ketosis’, without which the Ketogenic diet doesn’t exist.

How Does Ketosis Works?
Img: BodyBuilding.com

When you follow a diet that is extremely low in carbs and high in fat, our body produced small fuel molecules known as ‘Ketones’, which is used as an alternative energy source for the body, used when Glucose (blood sugar) is not available or short in supply.

While on a ketogenic diet, our body runs entirely on fat instead of glucose, which is why it becomes a fat burning beast. This is awesome if you’re trying to lose weight.

When the body produces ketones, it is said to be in a metabolic stage known as ‘Ketosis’, which is achieved generally through fasting (not eating anything). But, you can achieve the same benefits without fasting through the keto diet.

How to Know You’re in Ketosis?

Generally, Ketosis is measured using three different ways.

  1. Urine Strips: Cheap; but can’t track if you’re in ketosis for several weeks.
  2. Breath Ketone Analyzers: Reusable; not always reliable & needs computer hookup to read.
  3. Blood Ketone Meter: Costly; but the results are reliable.

However, there are few common symptoms that require no such testers.

  • Dry mouth & Increased Thirst: Unless you drink enough water or consume salt in meals, you may feel a dry mouth.
  • Increased Urination: Acetoacetate, which is another ketone body usually ends up in the urine. And you frequently go to the bathroom as a result, which is also the main cause of increased thirst. Do note that the acetoacetate is what helps in testing ketosis using urine strips.
  • Keto Breath: Another ketone body (Acetone) escapes via our breath and it smells fruity or similar to nail polish remover.
  • Reduced Hunger & Increased Energy: Since your body adapts to using the energy from the fat stores, you’ll likely have more energy and less appetite. Generally, this feeling is achieved when you follow the Intermittent fasting routine.

How to Achieve Ketosis?

There are a few effective ways that increase the level of ketosis, which are stated below:

  1. Restrict Carbohydrates to just 20 grams or less per day. This is the ideal count to enter ketosis.
  2. Restrict protein to just 1 gram or less per kg per day. It means, you should get around 80 grams or less protein per day if you weigh 80 kgs (176 pounds). Do note that too much protein consumption one of the main reasons for not reaching optimal ketosis.
  3. Don’t starve, Get enough Fat as it results in ketosis.
  4. Limit or Avoid Snacking: Most of the time, people mistake thirst for hunger and munch on snacks which may slow down the weight loss and stop you from entering the ketosis.
  5. Include Intermittent Fasting or 16:8 routine into your Keto lifestyle as it boosts ketone levels, thereby accelerates weight loss and also reverses type 2 diabetes.

Should I have to Reach Optimal Ketosis to Reap the Benefits?

Well, the straightforward answer to this question is “NO”. You can still enjoy weight loss benefits at lower levels of ketosis (min above 0.5). However, if you wanted to increase your physical endurance, then “Yes”, you should reach optimal ketosis.

Health Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet

Like we mentioned above, there are innumerous health benefits of the keto diet plan. Unlike the normal low-carb diets, Ketones are produced more and insulin levels are lowered drastically since protein is more restricted in the ketogenic diet.

A] Ketogenic Diet Helps in Losing Weight

Your body burns more fat when the insulin (fat storing hormone) levels drop significantly. And that is what happens when you follow the Keto diet aka low carb diet.

Several scientific studies has shown that people on the Ketogenic diet have seen better weight loss results compared to those who followed the low-fat and high carb diets.

B] Ketogenic Diet for Treating Type 2 Diabetes and Prediabetes

Diabetes is caused mainly due to increased insulin levels, high blood sugar levels and changes in metabolism.

A few studies have proved that the insulin sensitivity has been improved by 75% when on the ketogenic diet plan.

Another study conducted on patients with Type 2 diabetes showed that out of the 21 participants nearly 7 patients were able to control their diabetes and have stopped their medication completely.

C] Keto Diet Improves Mental Focus

When people enter the ketosis phase, it results in a steady flow of ketones (fuel/energy) to the brain, which improves the focus and concentration.

In fact, there are people who follow keto diet specifically to increase their mental performance.

D] Ketogenic Diet Increases Physical Endurance

Since the followers of the keto diets get constant energy from all their fat stores, it increases physical endurance levels significantly.

Though the glycogen (stored carbs) only last a couple of hours during intense exercise, the fat stores give enough energy that last for up to a couple of weeks or months, sometimes.

So, people on a keto diet will not have to munch on foods before, during and after longer hours of exercise, as they can get 24/7 supply of energy from their fat stores.

However, you can reap these benefits only after you’ve adapted to burning fat, which usually takes around 2 weeks and does not happen immediately.

E] Other Popular Health Benefits

Not just for weight loss and physical endurance, the Keto diet also has other major health benefits that include:

  • Epilepsy: Studies have shown massive reductions in seizures in epileptic children who followed the ketogenic diet.
  • Heart Disease: It improves HDL levels, normalizes blood sugar levels and keeps the blood pressure levels and body fat percentage in check.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease: People with Alzheimer’s have seen a slow down in the disease’s progression.
  • Parkinson’s Disease: A recent study found that the keto diet helped in improving the symptoms of the disease.
  • Cancer: It is already being used to treat different cancer types and in some cases to slow down the tumor growth.
  • Brain Injuries: One study on animals found that the diet helped in reducing the concussions and also aided in fast recovery after the brain injury.
  • Acne: This is pretty straightforward. Decreased consumption of sugar and processed foods helps in lowering the insulin levels, which actually improve acne.
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: The reduced insulin levels is one major advantage that reduces the symptoms of the syndrome.
  • Reverse PCOS
  • Fewer Migraine Attacks
  • Less Sugar Cravings
  • Less Heartburn

Side Effects of a Keto Diet

The diet is 100% safe for healthy people, but there are some side effects that you face initially while your body adapts to the new lifestyle (eating habits).

This phase is known as “keto flu’, which is temporary and will disappear within a few days.

The symptoms of keto flu include:

  • Increased appetite
  • Discomfort in digestion
  • Nausea
  • Sleep issues
  • Decreased energy and mental function
  • Decreased exercise performance

How to Minimize the Side Effects of a Ketogenic Diet?

These side effects are commonly seen in people who’re new to these extremely low carb diets.

Hence, it is recommended to follow a normal low-carb diet for a few weeks and in the meanwhile your body adjusts to the new lifestyle. Once you’re comfortable with the diet, you can completely eliminate (minimize) the carbs from your diet, thereby entering ketosis and turn your body into a fat burning machine.

It is also to be noted that the Keto diet changes the H2O and mineral balance of your body and hence it is suggested to either add salt to your meals or take the help of mineral supplements to minimize the side effects.

Tip: Drink a glass of warm water with salt and lemon whenever you feel thirsty. Alternatively, you can have a daily cup of bouillon.

Supplements & Suggested Dosage (per day):

  • Whey Protein: 1 or 2 Scoops of whey protein in plain water or green yogurt
  • Sodium: 3000 to 4000 mg
  • Potassium: 1000 mg
  • Magnesium: 300 mg

P.S: Side effects are common as you’re new to the low-carb lifestyle. Following these tips will help you minimize them and help your body adapt to the new keto routine.

Foods to Eat on a Low Carb Diet

Below is a list of foods that are low in carbohydrates and are good for keeping your insulin levels at check. Try to base your meals around these food items.

  • Meat: Chicken, bacon, turkey, red meat, ham, steak and sausage
  • Eggs: It’s a no brainer that eggs are low in carbs and high in fat and protein content.
  • Fish: Salmon and tuna
  • Nuts and Seeds: Chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, almonds etc.
  • Low-carb Vegetables: All green leafy veggies, avocados, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, onions etc.
  • Cheese, Butter & Cream: Look for unprocessed cheese and butter & cream which is grass fed.
  • Healthy Oils: Extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil
  • Condiments: Himalayan rock salt, black pepper and other herbs & spices

Foods to Avoid on a Ketogenic Diet

The thumb rule to enter ketosis is to limit or completely avoid any food that is high in carbs. Below is a list of common foods that should be avoided while on a keto diet.

  • Fruits: Except strawberries in small portions, avoid all other fruits.
  • Root Vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, carrots etc.
  • Sugar: It’s a no brainer. Avoid all sugary foods like honey, maple syrup, soda, ice creams, candy, fruit juices, smoothies etc.
  • Beans/Legumes: Lentils, chickpeas, peas, kidney beans etc.
  • Alcohol: High in carbs
  • Grains: Rice, pasta, corn, wheat-based products, cereal etc.
  • Diet or Low-Fat versions: High in carbs and are highly processed
  • Sauces: Contain sugar and unhealthy fat (also includes processed vegetable oils, mayonnaise etc)

Sample Ketogenic Meal Plan for a Week

This is just an example meal plan to get you started. You can use this as a reference and plan your meals according to your liking (pick only the foods that are allowed).

Keto Diet Low Carb Recipes

Sunday

  • Breakfast: Whey protein milkshake
  • Lunch: Chicken & Vegetable salad with olive oil and Avocado
  • Dinner: Fried eggs with bacon and mushrooms

Monday

  • Breakfast: Steak and eggs with vegetable salad
  • Lunch: Beef stir-fry cooked using coconut oil and avocado
  • Dinner: Ham and cheese omelet with vegetables

Tuesday

  • Breakfast: Bacon, eggs and tomatoes
  • Lunch: Ham and cheese slices with a handful of nuts and celery sticks
  • Dinner: Burger with salsa, cheese and guacamole

Wednesday

  • Breakfast: Egg Omelet with tomato, salsa, peppers, basil, onion and spices
  • Lunch: Chicken salad with olive oil and goat cheese
  • Dinner: Pork chops with Parmesan cheese, cauliflower/broccoli and salad

Thursday

  • Breakfast: Almond Milkshake with 1tsp of peanut butter, cocoa powder and stevia
  • Lunch: Shrimp salad with olive oil and veggies
  • Dinner: Steak and eggs with avocado

Friday

  • Breakfast: Whey protein milkshake
  • Lunch: Salmon with asparagus cooked in butter
  • Dinner: Chicken stir-fry cooked in coconut oil with vegetables

Saturday

  • Breakfast: Omelet with avocado, cheese, peppers and spices
  • Lunch: Chicken burger with cheese and vegetables
  • Dinner: Bacon, eggs and tomatoes

Keto Diet Takeaways and Advice

It is already proven that Ketogenic diet has a massive impact on your health. Thanks to its high fat, moderate protein and low carb consumption, people who go on the diet will experience lower cholesterol levels, less blood sugar, reduced body weight and increased energy levels.

Entering the ketosis takes a bit of hard work, but once you’re out of the keto flu and in the ketosis phase, you will experience the awesome benefits of the diet.

If your goal is to lose weight, then there is no other diet that promises weight loss results like the Keto in the long run.

Here are my personal tips for effective weight loss results:

  1. Start with a low carb diet without too much carb restriction. Once your body gets used to it, you may lower the carb count to 20 grams or less per day to enter the ketosis.
  2. Keto flu is common for most people and drinking lemon water with salt will help you get out of it easily. Also, do remember that you should drink lots of water and supplement electrolytes if you don’t want to suffer from dehydration. You may also use the multivitamin supplements to meet your nutritional requirements.
  3. Track what you’re eating either using an app (MyFitnessPal) or a traditional diary as you can cross-check it in the future when you’re not getting any results and change the diet accordingly.
  4. Follow the Intermittent fasting routine along with Keto diet in order to get maximum weight loss results in less time. Both keto and IF helps in lowering the insulin levels and making our body burn more fat. So, they go hand in hand.
  5. Make sure that you get your daily calories from 75% fat, 20% protein and just 5% carbs. Also, the thumb rule is to stay below 20 gms of carbs per day to get into the ketosis.
  6. Practice high intensity workouts to build muscle as it will burns more calories even while resting.

These are the tips that I followed to lose weight on a ketogenic diet. Like with any other diet, consistency is the key to weight loss success. Follow the keto diet plan for at least a month before deciding to quit and you’ll definitely see the results.

Keto Diet Plan for Weight Loss