Imagine a diet where you can eat some of your most favorite foods, like bacon, cheese, eggs, and fatty, marbled steak, and lose weight, feel great, and change your health. If it sounds too good to be true, don’t blow us off just yet. The ketogenic diet could be the diet you’ve been looking for your whole life.
Have we sparked your curiosity? Stay tuned to learn everything you need to know about the ketogenic diet, including what it is, how it works, and how you can get started.
What Is the Ketogenic Diet?
In its quickest definition, the keto diet is a low-carb, moderate protein, high fat diet that changes the body’s metabolic state. Instead of the body relying on glucose, a product of carbohydrates, for energy, it looks towards fat cells to get through the day. Once your body makes the switch, you are in ketosis.
Here’s the science behind it.
When you eat carbs, your body produces glucose and insulin, which work together to provide your body with energy. Insulin moves glucose for the body to use. The body burns through glucose quickly, which is why you can eat a carb-heavy meal, only to find yourself hungry not all that long after.
Another problem with diets heavy in carbs is that with glucose being the main energy source, fats are stored throughout the body, making your pants tighter and your overall health not as good as it could be. One final issue is that if you eat more carbs than you need glucose, the excess is converted to fat, which makes those pants even tighter.
But if your body suddenly runs out of glucose because you’ve drastically cut back on carbohydrate consumption, your body needs to find a new energy source. It will naturally turn to fat cells. As your glucose and blood sugar levels drop, so do your insulin levels. This enables fat cells to release excess water (resulting in reduced bloating) and then release into the bloodstream. The fat cells eventually reach the liver where they are broken down into ketones. The body is now said to be in ketosis and the health benefits are quick to roll in.
Before we dive too far into how to you can jump on the keto bandwagon, let’s talk a bit more about different types of keto diets. This could be an entire article on its own but knowing the basics will help you decide which is best for you.
- Standard Ketogenic Diet: This is the most common type of keto and the one most new comers start out with. You’ll eat a diet consisting of 75% fats, 20% protein, and 5% carbohydrates.
- Targeted Ketogenic Diet: This is a great keto diet for athletes who are looking for a boost in performance rather than weight loss. The percentages of consumed macronutrients are similar to a standard keto diet, but you’ll want to make sure you’re taking in between 20 and 50 grams of net carbs per day. These should be consumed before exercise for the best energy boost and so that they’re quickly eliminated from the body.
- Cyclical Ketogenic Diet: For some, eliminating carbs from their diet is near impossible. If this describes you, this is the keto diet you should try. You’ll follow a standard ketogenic diet for a specific time period, followed by a window of eating carbs.
- High-Protein Ketogenic Diet: For those looking to gain lean mass and advance their heavy lifting game, give the high-protein ketogenic diet a try. You’ll eat a diet consisting of 60% fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbs.
Now that you know the basics of the ketogenic diet, along with several variations, it’s time to dive into the details.
Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet
So why would anyone give up breads, potatoes, and pasta? There are several excellent reasons. If you’re able to achieve ketosis, here are the top benefits you can expect to experience.
Most people turn to keto when they hear success stories of others when it comes to weight loss. Because your body is burning through fat, excess pounds can come off quickly. You can first expect to lose water weight. For some, you can lose upwards of ten pounds in the first week of ketosis.
After this, weight loss slows but because it’s pure fat instead of water, you’ll see more positive body changes. Just remember that switching back to a carb filled diet almost guarantees weight gain. If you want to weight loss to stick, you’ll have to remain on keto. This is why most call the ketogenic diet a lifestyle rather than a diet at all.
If you’ve eaten a carb-heavy diet most of your life, like the majority of Americans, you’re familiar with intense surges of energy followed by impossible to ignore crashes. This is just one more reason a diet consisting of mainly carbs is doing very little for your health. Keto naturally lowers blood sugar levels and keeps them level so the energy you experience throughout the day is both increased and consistent.
One added bonus that many don’t believe until they experience it is the improved mental clarity that comes along with ketosis. When you eat carbs all the time, you don’t realize how much they cloud the mind. But the brain loves ketones. You’ll be able to think clearer, memorize facts better, and be more mentally productive throughout the day.
The ketogenic diet was originally designed to help children diagnosed with epilepsy. It has proven to be a successful treatment in this sense when perfectly followed. Keto has also shown positive results in those diagnosed with type II diabetes as it naturally lowers blood sugar levels. There is also evidence to suggest keto may help prevent cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s. If you want to explore keto as a potential treatment for a diagnosed illness, speak with your doctor.
What to Eat on a Ketogenic Diet
Fats are good. Carbs are bad. But there’s a little more to it. An extensive list of ketogenic approved foods can be found here but to get you started, here’s what you need to know.
You should eat…
- Meat – Organic and grass-fed meat is best for keto. But you don’t need a ton. Staying under your daily protein limits is just as important as limiting carbs when trying to reach ketosis. Stay away from processed meats. If you’re not a fan of meat, you can turn to eggs for a different source of protein.
- Dairy – Dairy is a great source for fat so never go with a reduced or low-fat version. Cheese, butter, yogurts, and heavy cream should always be on your shopping list. One dairy to avoid though is milk, which has too much sugar and carbs.
- Vegetables – If your vegetable grows above ground and is green, it’s most likely keto-approved. Cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, and cabbage are all great options. You’ll probably eat more vegetables than you ever have before so don’t be afraid to try something new, so you’ll always have plenty of options.
- Fruit – Fruit is a bit tricky. Even though it’s a natural food, which is always recommended with keto, most varieties are high in sugar (also a no-no) and carbs. The few exceptions are avocados and berries, when eaten in moderation.
- Drinks – Water, water, and more water. Classic H2O will always be your best bet. Black coffee and tea are okay in moderation, as long as you don’t add sugar. A small amount of cream or milk is okay. A favorite drink amongst keto followers is bulletproof coffee, which is great for mental focus
You should avoid…
- Carbs – This is where it gets tough for some. Say goodbye to bread, pasta, rice, oatmeal, potatoes of all varieties, and the majority of prepackaged and processed foods. Beans and lentils are also off limits. The good news is that there are replacements for most of your favorite foods, whether they’re a keto variety or substituted with a keto-approved food, like cauliflower rice. Cutting carbs can be difficult at first but it does get easier.
- Drinks – For the most part, you should stick with water on keto. You definitely want to avoid carbonated and sugary drinks, fruit juices, and alcohol.
But Isn’t Fat Bad for You?
You’ve probably been told your entire life to avoid fat. It will make you gain weight, increase your risk for heart disease, and cause a multitude of health problems. So why would it be considered healthy to eat so much fat on a ketogenic diet? There are different types of fat and knowing the difference is the key to success on keto.
When we say to eat fats on keto, we’re not talking about cake and cookies. There are four types of healthy keto fats you can (and should) eat.
Saturated Fats may have a bad reputation in the health world, but recent studies have shown saturated fats do not cause the negative heart effects we once thought they did. Saturated fats actually boost the immune system, raise HDL (the good cholesterol) and help maintain bone density. You can get saturated fats from butter, coconut oil, and eggs.
Monounsaturated fats are another keto-approved fat. They lower blood pressure, reduce belly fat, and help lower the risk for heart disease. Stock up on monounsaturated fats by consuming avocados, extra virgin olive oil, and bacon fat.
Polyunsaturated fats shouldn’t be used for cooking because they can produce free radicals, compounds that can cause inflammation and increase the risk of cancer. But if you eat them cold, you’ll reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and autoimmune diseases. To get your daily intake of polyunsaturated fats, eat walnuts, avocado oil, and chia seeds.
Our last healthy keto fat is natural trans-fat. While it’s true most trans-fat is unhealthy and harmful, a certain type of trans-fat found naturally in certain foods can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and possibly cancer. If you eat grass-fed animal products, butter, and yogurt, you’ll be taking in healthy and natural trans-fat.
But there are bad fats you should stay away from on keto. These include processed trans-fats and polyunsaturated fats. These increase your risk of heart disease and cancer. These fats are found in processed products like margarine, crackers, and fast food. Stay away from canola oil, sunflower oil, and soybean oil as well.
How to Start a Ketogenic Diet
Ready to get started on a keto diet? Here’s a few steps to take for the best chances of success.
- Take a day enjoying your favorite foods that will soon be forbidden. Some find that this helps while others find it to be a tease. But after you enjoy your last carb meal, start cleaning out the cabinets. Donate what you can, dispose of what you can’t, and get ready to start fresh.
- Next, head to the grocery store and stock up on keto-friendly foods. Take some time to do a little research on keto recipes so you don’t run out of options too quickly.
- Share the news with your friends and family. This will make you more likely to stick with it. You might even find someone who wants to dive into keto with you.
- The transition period into keto can be rough for some. Stick it out. Do what you need to do to feel better, whether it’s napping or distracting yourself with a little retail therapy. Whatever you do, don’t turn to your cravings or carbs. You’ll just have to start over.
- Finally, drink plenty of water. This will help speed up the transition process and help you feel as good as possible.
Keto Flu and Other Side Effects
As mentioned, the transition to ketosis can be rough for some. You’re likely to experience what’s known as the keto flu. The good news is that the keto flu should only last a couple days. But you’re likely to experience fatigue, body aches, nausea, headache, and cramps.
This could be due to dehydration, which is common in the early days of keto, or simply from the transition, which can briefly slow down brain function. This is why drinking extra water can help. It prevents dehydration and speeds up the transition, so you can start experiencing the benefits of keto faster.
There are a few other side effects you should be aware of, so they don’t catch you off guard. You may experience mild to severe cramping. Keto is a diuretic so as your body loses fluids, muscles can start to cramp. Water can help but if the cramping is severe, try a magnesium supplement.
Constipation is another common side effect of starting keto. This is again due to keto being a diuretic. Drink extra water, bump up your fiber intake, and take over the counter supplements or medication if needed.
One last side effect we’d like to address is heart palpitations. This can be scary, understandably, but it’s rarely serious. When transitioning to keto, your heart might start to beat faster and harder. Once again, drink enough water (noticing a theme yet?) and wait it out. It should correct with time but if not, add a potassium supplement to your routine.
Have I Reached Ketosis?
Because the main goal of a ketogenic diet is ketosis, you’ll want to know when your body has entered the metabolic state. There’s nothing worse than thinking you’ve been in keto for several days or even weeks, only to find out your body’s still transitioning.
There are several signs and symptoms of ketosis you can look out for. The first is typically weight loss. As your body sheds excess water from fat cells, you’ll likely notice fast weight loss. This is an excellent sign the early stages of ketosis have started.
If you’re starting to feel like you have the keto flu, you’re probably entering ketosis. Feeling lethargic and sick are both good signs, even though unpleasant.
If after these signs you start to feel increased focus and energy, you’re likely in full ketosis. This is when we recommend testing.
There are three main ways to test for ketones in your system. You can either test your blood, urine, or breath. Here’s the complete guide. If you test positive for ketones, you’re doing something right. Keep going and periodically test to make sure you haven’t slipped. But if you’re not testing for ketones, take a closer look at your diet. Are you still eating too many carbs? It might be time to cut back even more.
Taking on a ketogenic diet can change your health for the better. Many keto followers say the lifestyle has changed their entire life and they’ll never go back to a carb-filled diet.
If the keto diet interests you at all, we recommend giving it a go. Stock up on the right foods, bump up your activity levels, and stay committed. It might be a bit rough in the beginning but as soon as those first pounds come off and other benefits begin to kick in, you’ll be hooked.