Wellness Blog

Beginner's Guide to the Keto Diet

Jul 26, 2018 8:01:00 AM / by The Essential Health and Wellness Team

The ketogenic diet, also known as the “keto diet,” is a low carb, moderate protein and high fat diet that puts your body into a state known as ketosis. It is currently an incredibly popular diet.

If you are following a ketogenic diet, you’re likely hoping to lose weight by replacing your body’s usual energy source (carbohydrates) with healthy fats instead.

Your body becomes more efficient at burning fat for energy, and it also turns fats into ketones, which can become energy for your brain.

In additional to losing weight, the keto diet fundamentally changes how your body works. Studies show that the diet can also help with warding off diabetes, cancer, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s.

The ketogenic diet also reduces blood sugar and insulin levels.

Ketosis

Ketosis is a completely natural and normal metabolic process that your body initiates when food intake is lower than normal.

Instead of carbohydrates, the body’s usual source of energy, the body metabolizes fat instead. This means that instead of slowly converting fat and muscle cells into glucose, another energy source, the body is directly breaking down its fat stores.

Ketones are the byproduct of this metabolic process.

Being in ketosis means you have ketones in your blood – typically above 0.5 mmol/L.

The goal of a ketogenic diet is to put your body in a ketosis state, which has many benefits, including weight loss.

How Do I Know If I’m In Ketosis?

There are a few ways to know if your body is in ketosis if you’re unsure.

The most common method is using urine strips. These are affordable to purchase and easy to use.

However, urine strips aren’t an entirely accurate way of confirming that you are or are not in ketosis. They will tell you that your body is producing ketosis but not necessarily that you are in ketosis.

A blood glucose meter is a more accurate method of confirming if you are in a ketosis state. However, the meter itself and the strips that you use for each test are more expensive.

How Long Does It Take To Reach Ketosis?

Many people want to know how long they have to follow the keto diet before their body reaches ketosis.

There isn’t a single answer, because it wholly depends on each individual person, their body and the steps they take to reach ketosis. Some people will enter ketosis much faster than others.

It could take anywhere from 48 hours to an entire week for your body to adjust to burning fat for fuel.

The length of time will also vary depending on your lifestyle, body type, activity level and carbohydrate intake.

There are a few ways to reach ketosis faster, but they are not necessarily proven to work for each person:

  1. Intermittent Fasting
  2. Decrease Your Carbohydrate Intake
  3. Supplementation

Intermittent Fasting and Ketosis

Intermittent fasting is a dietary pattern of intermittent fasting and eating periods.

Intermittent fasting and the keto diet work together to help you reach ketosis and stay in that metabolic state longer.

Decrease Your Carbohydrate Intake to Reach Ketosis

While the keto diet does involve limiting your carbohydrate intake, there is no rule for how many carbohydrates you can or should consume.

Every person has a different limit they should stick to. In order to reach ketosis faster, you may want to reduce your carbohydrate intake even more.

Supplements and Ketosis

Some people use exogenous ketones to keep themselves in ketosis longer or speed up the process of getting into ketosis.

These exogenous ketones can be purchased in the form of supplements.

Different Types of the Keto Diet

There are four different types of the keto diet. One may be better for you than another depending on your lifestyle, fitness levels and health and wellness goals.

Additionally, the cyclical and targeted methods of the keto diet are more commonly used by bodybuilders or athletes, because they are more advanced.

  1. Standard Ketogenic Diet
  2. Cyclical Ketogenic Diet
  3. Targeted Ketogenic Diet
  4. High-Protein Ketogenic Diet

The Standard Ketogenic Diet

The standard ketogenic diet is the most common and most recommended.

This version is very low carb, moderate in protein and high in fat.

The ratio:

  • 75% fat
  • 20% protein
  • 5% carbs

The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet

If you are following the cyclical ketogenic diet, you will cycle between periods of eating low carb followed by periods of eating high carb. Each period will last several days.

For example, you may eat for five ketogenic days, followed by two high-carb days.

The Targeted Ketogenic Die

The targeted ketogenic diet is very popular among athletes and bodybuilders, because it allows for carb intake around workouts.

This allows for eating around 25 to 50 grams of carbs or less shortly before working out.

The High-Protein Ketogenic Diet

The high-protein ketogenic diet is very similar to the standard diet and has been researched more than the cyclical or targeted versions.

A standard keto diet will contain moderate protein, but the high-protein ketogenic diet includes a much higher intake of protein.

The ratio:

  • 60% fat
  • 35% protein
  • 5% carbs

What Do I Eat on the Keto Diet?

The ketogenic diet is low carb, moderate protein and high fat, so this is likely a big change from your usual diet.

Here are a few things that should definitely be on your grocery list if you want to try the keto diet:

  • Seafood
  • Protein
  • Fats and Oils
  • Low-Starch Vegetables
  • Dairy
  • Nuts and Seeds

Seafood

Most fish and shellfish are very keto-friendly. Fatty fish also include healthy fats that your body will use for fuel.

Be more careful with shellfish, though, especially if you are drastically decreasing your carb intake. Some types of shellfish contain almost no carbs, while others contain more.

Additionally, salmon, sardines, mackerel and other fatty fish are very high in omega-3 fats, which have been found to lower insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity.

Aim to eat seafood one to two times a week while on the ketogenic diet.

Protein

When on the standard ketogenic diet, 20% of your diet should be protein.

Make sure not to overeat protein, because this can lead to lower levels of ketones and increased production of glucose. This will take your body out of ketosis.

Commonly consumed proteins by people on the ketogenic diet include (in order of more to less protein):

  • Pork chops
  • Ribeye
  • Chicken breast
  • Shellfish
  • Fatty fish
  • Ground beef
  • Liver
  • Ground lamb
  • Chicken thigh
  • Bacon
  • Eggs

Fats and Oils

Your keto diet should be packed with foods that contain healthy fats, so there are many healthy fats and oils to add to your grocery list.

That includes things like…

  • Fatty Fish
  • Animal Fat (non-hydrogenated)
  • Lard
  • Tallow
  • Avocados
  • Egg Yolks
  • Macadamia or Brazil Nuts
  • Butter or Ghee
  • Mayonnaise
  • Coconut Butter
  • Cocoa Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Avocado Oil
  • Macadamia Oil
  • MCT Oil

But you should also know the difference between the types of fats and be careful that you don’t accidentally shop for the wrong kind:

  • Saturated Fats
  • Monounsaturated Fats
  • Polyunsaturated Fats
  • Trans Fats

Saturated Fats

You can safely eat saturated fats.

Some examples of these are butter, ghee, coconut oil, and lard.

Monounsaturated Fats

You can safely eat monounsaturated fats.

Some examples of these are olive, avocado, and macadamia nut oils.

Polyunsaturated Fats

It depends if these fats are naturally occurring or not.

Naturally occurring polyunsaturated fats in animal protein and fatty fish are good for you. Processed polyunsaturated fats are bad for you.

Trans Fats

You should completely avoid trans fats.

These are processed fats that are chemically altered to improve shelf life. Avoid all hydrogenated fats, such as margarine, as they’re linked to heart disease.

Low-Starch Vegetables

Non-starchy vegetables are low in carbs but high in many nutrients. Reach for vegetables that are dark and leafy instead of vegetables that are grown below ground and are higher in carbs, like potatoes or onions.

Most fruits are too high in carbs for the keto diet, but berries are the exception. Berries like raspberries or blackberries are lower in carbs, although they still contain enough carbs to limit your consumption of them.

You can also use low-carb vegetables to replace other high-carb foods, such as turning cauliflower into rice or zucchini into “zoodles” to replace high-carb pasta.

Dairy

Most dairy products are nutritious and contain the healthy fats you need on the keto diet.

Raw and organic dairy products are preferred, if you can find them. Processed dairy products will have more carbohydrates, which adds up over time.

Dairy products commonly consumed on the keto diet include:

  • Greek yogurt
  • Heavy whipping cream
  • Cottage cheese
  • Cream cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Mascarpone
  • Creme fraiche
  • Soft cheese like mozzarella, brie, blue, colby, monterey jack, etc.
  • Hard cheese including aged cheddar, parmesan, feta, swiss, etc.
  • Mayonnaise

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are healthy, high in fat and low in carbs.

In order of more desirable to less desirable, keep these in mind when you reach for a bag of nuts to snack on:

    • Fatty, low carbohydrate nuts such as macadamia nuts, brazil nuts or pecans can supplement fats in your daily meals.
    • Fatty, moderate carbohydrate nuts like walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts or pine nuts should be consumed in moderation.
  • Higher carbohydrate nuts like cashews or pistachios should be avoided.

What Can I Drink on the Keto Diet?

Drink eight glasses of water a day and then some when on the keto diet.

The keto diet has a natural diuretic effect (meaning it increases the production of urine) so you will be more prone to dehydration.

Liquids you should consume frequently and freely include:

  • Water
  • Broth
  • Flavored water
  • Flavored carbonated water

Liquids you can consume but should consume less frequently include:

  • Tea, unsweetened
  • Black coffee
  • Coconut or almond milk

Liquids you should stop consuming while on the keto diet include:

  • Regular soda
  • Diet soda
  • Beer
  • Wine

Foods to Avoid on the Keto Diet

You should aim to decrease your carb intake as much as possible while on the keto diet, and to do that, start by eliminating or avoiding as much as possible the following foods:

  • Grains
  • Beans and legumes
  • Most fruits
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Sugars
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Beer and wine
  • Sugary beverages
  • Processed or pre-packaged foods
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Most pre-made condiments

Grains

Not only should you avoid grains like wheat, barley, corn, quinoa and rice – you also need to eliminate products made with grains. Grains are, of course, very high in carbohydrates.

That means no bread, pasta, pizza crust, cookies or crackers made with grains.

Beans and Legumes

All beans – and products made from them – as well as legumes should be avoided on the keto diet. This includes peanuts and chickpeas, too.

While beans are very healthy and nutritious, they are too high in carbs for the keto diet.

Most Fruits

Fruits are healthy, but if you’re on the keto diet, you’ll want to avoid most of them. Fruits are high in carbs and sugars.

Limit your consumption of most fruits or eliminate them entirely.

This includes most whole fruits but also fruit juices, dried fruits and fruit syrups and concentrates.

If you’re craving fruit, try low-sugar fruits like berries – blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are all OK in moderation.

Starchy Vegetables

Avoid any vegetables that grow beneath the ground and any other high-starch veggies, and reach for green, leafy vegetables instead.

This includes things like sweet potatoes, yams, potatoes, corn, carrots, parsnips, peas, etc.

Sugars

Sugar is everywhere, whether you see it on the label as “sugar” or not.

Some added sugars to avoid are:

  • Honey
  • Agave nectar
  • Maple syrup
  • Raw sugar
  • Turbinado sugar
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Cane sugar

Low-Fat Dairy Products

Full-fat dairy products are good choices to make on the keto diet, but avoid low-fat or no-fat dairy products like low-fat cream cheese or fat-free butter substitutes.

You also may want to avoid milk altogether, because it is hard for most people to digest pasteurized milk.

Beer and Wine

If you are drinking, reach for hard liquor first.

Beer and wine, as well as most cocktails, have too many carbs and added sugars to be healthy choices on the keto diet.

Sugary Beverages

Stay clear of most caloric and sweetened drinks like soda, juice or coffee and tea with added sweeteners.

Reach for water or naturally flavored water instead.

Processed and Pre-Packaged Foods

Packaged and processed foods are stuffed with unhealthy ingredients like extra sugars, trans fats and preservatives.

Artificial Sweeteners

Be cautious with artificial sweeteners like Equal or Splenda and products that contain the sweeteners.

Sometimes they can affect blood sugar levels or cause cravings. Other people report that artificial sweeteners take their body out of ketosis.

Most Pre-Made Condiments

If you want a condiment for your meal, it’s best to make it yourself and use healthy ingredients and spices.

Pre-made condiments tend to be made with unhealthy oils or added sweeteners.

Benefits of the Keto Diet

Many studies have been done to reveal the benefits of low-carb diets, including the ketogenic diet.

Research has shown that the keto diet helps with:

  1. Weight Loss and Fat Loss
  2. Decreased Triglycerides
  3. Increased Levels of HDL Cholesterol
  4. Reduced Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels
  5. Lower Blood Pressure

1. Weight Loss and Fat Loss

There are a few great things about the keto diet and how it impacts weight loss.

First, eating a low-carb diet automatically makes you feel less hungry and reduces your appetite. Studies show when people eat less carbs and more fats and proteins, they overall eat less calories.

Second, studies also show that people on low-carb diets will lose more weight than people on low-fat dieters that are actively restricting calories.

Low-carb dieters will shed more of their water weight, and the diet also lowers insulin levels, which helps shed weight quickly.

And third, more of the fat that is lost while on the keto diet and other low-carb diets will come from the abdominal cavity.

Fat in this area (around your organs) causes more inflammation, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.

2. Decreased Triglycerides

Triglycerides, which are fat molecules, are a strong heart disease risk factor.

When you cut carbs, you will likely see a dramatic reduction in triglycerides, which then leads to a lower overall risk for heart disease.

3. Increased Levels of HDL Cholesterol

HDL cholesterol, which is the “good” cholesterol, increases when on a low-carb diet.

The higher your levels of HDL, the lower your risk of heart disease.

4. Reduced Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels

When you eat carbs, they are broken down in the body into simple sugars, which raises our overall blood sugar levels.

Higher blood sugar levels leads to an increased production of insulin, which tells the cells to take the sugar in the blood and start using it for fuel or storing it for later.

However, many people develop insulin resistance, which leads to type 2 diabetes.

But low-carb diets decreases the amount of sugar in your blood, which decreases insulin levels.

5. Lower Blood Pressure

Having elevated blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is an important risk factor for many diseases.

Low-carb diets lead to lower blood pressure, which reduces your risk factor for heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and more.

Side Effects of the Keto Diet

Because the ketogenic diet is very different from what our bodies are used to, some people experience a few side effects when decreasing their carbohydrate intake and increasing their consumption of fats and proteins.

To avoid any negative side effects, drink more water, increase your salt intake and make sure you’re eating enough fat.

Some people on the keto diet – but not all people – will experience one or a few of the following side effects shortly after beginning the diet:

  • Frequent Urination
  • Dizziness and Drowsiness
  • Low Blood Sugar
  • Short-Term Cravings
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Ketosis Flu
  • Sleep Issues
  • Smelly Breath
  • Heart Palpitations

What is the Ketosis Flu?

If you experience flu-like symptoms shortly after beginning the ketogenic diet, you are likely going through something known as the ketosis flu.

Your symptoms may include:

  • Headaches
  • Tiredness or lack of motivation
  • Lethargy
  • Brain fog or confusion
  • Irritability

If you stay hydrated and increase your salt intake, you will be less likely to experience the ketosis flu. The symptoms of this should also go away after a few days on the diet.

Is Keto Right For Me?

If you are ready to make big changes to your diet in order to lose weight, lower your triglycerides and blood pressure and make a huge impact on your overall health, the keto diet might be the right fit for you.

However, the ketogenic diet is not right for everyone.

It might not be the right fit for you if:

  • You are in any stage of diabetes or kidney disease or if you have any pre-existing kidney, liver or pancreas issues.
  • You have blood sugar issues.
  • You are pregnant, nursing or have gestational diabetes.
  • You currently have or have had an eating disorder.

If you are curious about the ketogenic diet but unsure if it’s the right fit for you, contact Essential Health & Wellness today for a consultation with one of our advanced care practitioners

The Essential Health and Wellness Team

Written by The Essential Health and Wellness Team

As integrative and functional medicine providers, the Essential Health & Wellness team will always take a personalized approach to your care. Our board-certified physicians and advanced care practitioners believe in treating people, not symptoms, and place wellness and prevention at the forefront of our practice.

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