Keto Diet | explained for Beginners | Keto vs Low-Carb | Rules | Ketones | Health Benefits | Diet Types | How to Start | Tips | Foods to Avoid | Shopping List | Meal Plan | Recipes | Conclusion | FAQ | Studies
The ketogenic diet for beginners is a low-carb diet that focuses on healthy fats. It is more popular than ever because of the tremendous fitness and health benefits.
I wrote this article specifically to give beginners the basic knowledge they need and a plan for how to incorporate the ketogenic diet into their lives today.
What Is the Keto Diet for Beginners?
The ketogenic diet or keto diet aims to burn fat as the primary source of energy.
Because it is more readily available, the body prefers energy from carbohydrates. Only when there is no longer enough glucose does the body attack fat reserves.
After we are used to eating carbohydrates around the clock in Western society, many people’s bodies have unlearned to burn fat for energy.
Do you look forward most to side dishes like potatoes, pasta, or bread when you eat out and find it hard to say no to dessert?
Then you’ve come to the right place. This beginner’s guide explains step-by-step how your body regains the ability to burn fat through a ketogenic diet effectively.
How the Keto Diet for Beginners Works
The keto diet is a so-called low-carb healthy-fat or low-carb high-fat (LCHF) diet.
Accordingly, it reduces carbohydrates and maximizes healthy fats while keeping protein consumption moderate.
However, few people are aware that this composition lowers insulin, setting the hormonal course in the body to lose weight.
On the other hand, when you feed your body carbohydrates, it converts them into glucose. Consequently, blood sugar and the level of the storage hormone insulin rise.
As the name suggests, insulin has the task of storing excess glucose in the form of glycogen and fat.
As long as stored carbohydrates (glycogen) are present, the body uses them preferentially for energy production.
When glycogen stores are empty, the body must break down stored fat and convert it into ketones.
As soon as these fat energy bodies predominantly feed the energy supply, the metabolic state of ketosis is reached.
In contrast, insulin blocks the enzyme that breaks down body fat (Meijssen et al. 20011).
In light of this, researchers can now predict up to 75% of gains and losses in overweight individuals based on insulin levels (Kong et al. 20132).
However, it is not only carbohydrates that increase insulin levels.
What’s the Difference Between Keto and Low-Carb?
Since it has already been developed back in the 1960s, the Atkins diet is considered the classic low-carb diet.
Low-carb diets focus on one thing: reducing carbohydrates.
But that’s where their problem lies. Standard low-carb diets neglect the role of fats and proteins. Because of the ubiquitous demonization of fats, low-carb diets have usually been paired with lean proteins.
Moreover, until the 1990s, it was unknown that protein can stimulate insulin (Nuttall et al. 19913).
On the other hand, pure fats such as extra virgin olive oil cause almost no insulin response.
For this reason, classic low-carb diets such as the Atkins diet are not nearly as effective for weight loss as the keto diet.
The ketogenic diet takes advantage of all these new findings.
Keto Diet Rules for Beginners
The keto diet for beginners follows one essential rule concerning fat, protein, and carbohydrates, also known as macronutrients.
For this reason, the following macronutrient distribution about energy intake is the cornerstone of a keto diet:
- Fat: 75-80%
- Protein: 20-25%
- Carbohydrates: 5-10%
Although the fat percentage seems intimidating initially, it’s easier to achieve than you might think.
While a gram of protein or carbohydrate provides 4 calories, a gram of fat puts 9 calories into your body.
Thus, fat only makes up about half the weight of the food you eat. Furthermore, fiber is not counted in the carbohydrate balance because the body excretes it.
Accordingly, only net carbohydrates (carbohydrates – fiber) are essential for calculating macros on keto.
While most people can eat between 20 to 50 grams of net carbohydrates per day to maintain ketosis, experienced keto enthusiasts sometimes may eat up to 100 grams.
You can adapt your protein intake according to your exercise capacity. However, you shouldn’t undercut 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight to maintain muscle.
What Are Ketones?
During ketosis, the liver converts fatty acids into so-called ketones or ketone bodies, a new energy source for your body.
When you reduce your carbohydrate intake for a long time and replace these calories with healthy fats and proteins, the body must adapt to these circumstances.
In this regard, the metabolic state of ketosis is an entirely natural mechanism that has ensured the survival of our species.
If the carbohydrate stores were empty during food shortages, the body had to call on the fat reserves as a primary energy source.
Accordingly, the keto diet attempts to put the body into ketosis by depriving it of carbohydrates, which you can otherwise only achieve by fasting for 2-5 days (Courchesne-Loyer et al. 20176).
Since the Standard American Diet (SAD) is based on constant carbohydrate intake, it can take 3-6 weeks after the keto conversion for the body to learn to burn fat efficiently again.
Three primary ketone bodies exist:
- Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB)
In ketosis, ketones predominantly take the place of carbohydrates (Evans et al. 20177).
Meanwhile, gluconeogenesis, the conversion of glycerol, lactate, and amino acids to glucose kicks in to ensure that blood glucose does not become dangerously low (Melkonian et al. 20208).
Because the brain and other organs can use ketones more readily than carbohydrates for energy, many people report improved mental clarity, mood, and reduced appetite in nutritional ketosis (LaManna et al. 20109).
In addition, ketones have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help repair those cellular damages refined carbohydrates and industrial seed oils are causing (Cannataro et al. 201910; Kim et al. 201911).
Keto Diet Benefits for Beginners
Countless health benefits shows that the ketogenic diet is more than a weight-loss fad:
- Gut Health: Studies show that keto can improve abdominal pain and quality of life in people with inflammatory bowel syndrome (Austin et al. 200912).
- Diabetes: A ketogenic diet helps regulate blood sugar and insulin levels. Therefore, it reduces the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes (Dashti et al. 200713)
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): The ketogenic diet can also counteract this common metabolic disorder by lowering insulin levels (Paoli et al. 202014).
- Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS): The anti-inflammatory and blood sugar-regulating properties of the keto diet can relieve pain and symptoms of PMS (Masino et al. 201315; Schmelzer et al. 201516).
- Heart Disease: Ketogenic diets may improve risk factors such as body fat, HDL (good) cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar (Paoli et al. 201317).
- Cancer: Keto diets have been the focus of cancer research for some time, as they can significantly slow tumor growth (Weber et al. 201818).
- Epilepsy: Research shows that ketogenic diets help reduce seizures in children with epilepsy (Ulamek-Koziol et al. 201919).
- Parkinson’s Disease: A recent study suggests that the keto diet may improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (Phillips et al. 201820).
- Alzheimer’s Disease: Depending on the duration and intensity of ketosis, keto helps improve Alzheimer’s disease (Rusek et al. 201921).
- Brain Injury: Research suggests that ketones are the better energy source for healing traumatic brain injuries (Prins et al. 201422).
- Endurance: The ketogenic diet may help athletes use fat more efficiently as a muscle substrate, improving endurance performance (Phinney et al. 198323).
- Weight Loss: It’s still the primary reason for its popularity. While keto improves weight, body fat, and blood lipids, it maintains muscles (Dashti et al. 200424).
Different Keto Diet Types
There are five main types of ketogenic diets. Each of them takes a slightly different approach to the distribution of fat, protein, and carbohydrates.
Depending on your daily routine, training, and weight loss goals, you can choose the best method for you from the five.
1. Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD)
The SKD is the most common and best-researched version of the keto diet, which is why this article refers to it.
Here, you stick to the classic keto macronutrient distribution and take in under 50 grams of net carbohydrates per day.
2. Cyclical Keto Diet (CKD)
For people who are intimidated by keto, the cyclical ketogenic diet is an excellent starter method.
In this, you alternate between periods of low-carb eating for several days, followed by a period when more carbs are allowed.
For example, athletes also use this method to add more carbohydrates on training-intensive days.
3. Targeted Keto Diet (TKD)
The targeted ketogenic diet is similar to the cyclic diet in that it allows increased carbohydrate intake after exercise.
Hence, the TKD makes particular sense to athletes since that is the best time to eat carbohydrates to help with muscle recovery (Ivy 199825).
4. High-Protein Keto Diet
Compared to the standard approach, the only thing that changes during the high-protein ketogenic diet is protein intake.
Due to the higher protein and lower fat intake, this variation is more similar to the Atkins diet than the others.
Here, macros distribution is around 60% fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbohydrates.
5. Keto Carnivore Diet
A strict carnivore diet eliminates all plant foods from the diet plan. Keto Carnivore is the precursor to this extreme diet that allows carbohydrate-free, non-animal fats, such as olive oil, coconut oil, MCT oil, or avocado oil.
Although there is no fixed macronutrient ratio in keto carnivore, you will burn fat as a primary energy source due to a lack of carbohydrates.
How to Start the Keto Diet for Beginners
Let’s not kid ourselves – getting started with keto sounds easier than it is. For this reason, I designed a comprehensive how-to guide helping you to get started on a ketogenic diet today.
Essential Keto Diet Tips for Beginners
So you don’t throw in the towel after the first few days, here are essential tips to help you avoid the biggest beginner mistakes.
1. Stay Hydrated
When you start on a ketogenic diet, your body is slowly but surely forced to empty its glycogen stores.
Since there are 2-3 grams of water attached to every single gram of carbohydrate in the form of glycogen, you will inevitably lose lots of fluid.
If you don’t drink enough on keto, you will experience the following symptoms, also known as the keto flu, especially in the beginning:
- Low motivation
- Stomach pain
But it’s not just fluid loss that can trigger physical symptoms.
2. Do Not Fear the Shaker
Once you deplete glycogen stores, electrolytes are flushed out with the water. The most essential of these is salt (sodium), so its deficiency is also responsible for 90% of all physical ailments.
In particular, headaches and dizziness, the main symptoms of keto flu, are a clear sign of too little salt consumption.
Unjustly, an unhealthy image has been attached to sugar’s white counterpart.
While sugar consumption promotes insulin resistance and body fat storage, salt increases insulin sensitivity and aids weight loss (Sakuyama et al. 201626).
Contrary to popular belief, countries with the highest salt consumption yield the lowest cardiovascular disease rates (Park et al. 201627).
In addition, salt takes the bitter taste out of food and acts against cravings. Since it also has a positive feedback loop, unlike sugar, your body will tell you when you’ve had enough salt.
Accordingly, if you’re aiming for a smooth start on the ketogenic diet, you don’t need to fear salt.
Since the keto diet increases the need for sodium, I recommend always seasoning foods sufficiently with a natural salt like pink Himalayan salt.
3. Embrace Healthy Fats
In a world that had been declared fat public enemy number one for decades, it’s not easy to suddenly eat this macronutrient in larger quantities.
For example, it’s already challenging to get fattier cuts of meat at the local butcher. While cuts with natural fat end up in the trash, grocery stores are packed with nutrient-poor fillets and lean hams.
Nonetheless, we need to re-learn to get healthy fats from whole foods. Therefore, the following foods with healthy fats can help you establish a ketogenic diet:
- Coconut oil
- Coconut milk
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Avocado (oil)
- Cod liver (oil)
- Fish roe
- Grass-fed beef
- Grass-fed butter
- Organic lard
- Beef tallow
- Pastured eggs
- Macadamia nuts
Once you develop an awareness of healthy fats, you’re guaranteed to find keto easier. Additionally, these fats not only taste fabulous but help you stay fuller longer.
4. Track Your Macros
Especially in the beginning, it’s not easy to keep track of everything when switching to a ketogenic diet.
That’s why some people find it helpful to calculate their daily intake of macronutrients and note their actual consumption.
Once you get used to the ketogenic lifestyle, you’ll have a better idea of how much protein and carbohydrates you can eat to stay in ketosis.
Especially since everyone’s body is different, tracking the exact nutrients you need to maintain ketosis can prevent you from not reaching your goals.
Therefore, to customize your eating pattern to your body, it’s essential to know when you’re in ketosis.
5. Learn How to Know When You Are in Ketosis
One of the most common questions when starting the keto diet is: How long does it take to get into ketosis?
Depending on your body’s ability to adapt to burning fat as a primary energy source, it can take 1-3 days or even a few weeks to get into ketosis.
Once you achieve the state of ketosis, you will notice it primarily by a decidedly clear head. In addition, cravings will decrease, and your energy level will increase.
Nevertheless, the best way to check ketone levels is through testing. Since ketones are transported throughout the body, there are several ways to measure them:
- In your urine through test strips
- With a breath meter
- In the blood through a glucose meter
Each method has advantages and disadvantages, but measuring ketones in the blood is usually the most accurate.
Although a breath meter can be expensive, it is probably the most convenient way to measure ketone levels. On the other hand, urine testing is quick and inexpensive but typically the least accurate method.
Foods Beginners Should Avoid on the Keto Diet
The cornerstone to master the ketogenic diet for beginners is to know which foods you should avoid.
The white crystal is pure poison for your health and makes losing weight almost impossible.
Sugar can appear in countless forms, such as sweets, pastries, cakes, ice cream, chocolate, lemonade, juice, honey, agave, or maple syrup.
After decades of optimizing food production, most processed products contain cheap synthetic ingredients instead of expensive natural ones.
If you turn over some brand-name products, you’ll be surprised what’s inside. In particular, look for hidden sugars, starches, emulsifiers, stabilizers, sweeteners, and other chemical additives.
Also, labeling them as low-carb or keto foods rarely makes fake food aid weight loss, even if there are few net carbohydrates.
Sauces and Dressings
Ready-to-eat foods are a mecca for added sugars. I often can’t believe how much sugar can be in hot mustard.
Moreover, balsamic vinegar is often 50% sugar. Likewise, ready-made dressings are pumped with sugar and sweeteners.
With barbecue sauces, the result can often be even worse. For this reason, it makes sense to make sauces yourself or to invest the amount in pasture-raised meat instead, which tastes better without any need for condiments.
Although low-fat products are equally highly processed foods, it’s hard to get the idea out of many minds that they would help with weight loss.
Yet, the exact opposite is true. While natural fat in whole foods dampens the blood sugar and insulin response, defatting significantly increases it.
In this context, the classic fats are usually dairy products such as skim milk, cream, yogurt, or even cheese.
Protein Bars and Drinks
So-called sports nutrition sounds ideal if you want to get your body back in shape.
Nevertheless, these are highly processed foods full of hidden sugars, sweeteners, emulsifiers, stabilizers, flavors, and cheap plant proteins, such as soy.
Likewise, protein shakes are the same fake food as bars. At the same time, even bars advertised as keto-friendly often consist of over 40% net carbs.
For this reason, I would give these products a wide berth.
Grains have been able to get humanity through many harsh winters because of their ease of storage and sensational ability to build fat reserves.
In times of abundance, however, we no longer depend on grains. Because grains are full of lectins such as gluten or wheat germ agglutinin that can bind to insulin receptors, whole grains, in particular, prevent weight loss (Shechter 198330).
For these reasons, on a ketogenic diet, you should avoid wheat, bread, pasta, rice, oats, cereal, corn, or pseudo-grains such as quinoa.
While vegetarians often have no choice but to eat legumes as a source of protein, you shouldn’t depend on them for keto.
Legumes are full of carbohydrates and lectins, making it difficult for you to lose weight at any time.
It is crucial to avoid beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas, or peanuts in particular.
Starch is nothing else than multiple sugars your body converts back into glucose, drastically increasing your blood sugar.
Classic vegetables that are rich in starches include potatoes, sweet potatoes, and parsnips.
Although touted as healthy, most fruits are actual sugar bombs that also can’t compete with vegetables, fish, or meat in terms of nutrients.
While small amounts of berries and some citrus fruits are allowed, you should avoid common sugary fruits like bananas, pineapples, oranges, apples, or grapes.
Industrial Seed Oils
Subsequent vegetable oils are predominantly omega-6 fatty acids, which are already damaged during their industrial production, promoting inflammation and weight gain (Marchix et al. 201531):
- Safflower oil
- Peanut oil
- Corn oil
- Canola oil
- Soybean oil
- Sunflower oil
- Grape seed oil
- Partially hydrogenated oils (trans fat)
- Margarine (trans fat)
Barbecue season, in particular, is a trap for cheap seed oils. That’s why you should never buy marinated meat. It will always contain refined vegetable oils that oxidize during heating.
Likewise, fried foods are a problem because people commonly use these cheap fats. Virgin coconut oil is the exception for frying and deep-frying because it is particularly heat resistant.
Although some spirits and wines are keto-friendly due to their low sugar content, alcohol consumption inhibits weight loss.
When you drink, the liver prefers to break down the alcohol instead of making ketones. Furthermore, you should also avoid beer, mixed drinks, and cocktails.
Instead of syrups, juices, and energy drinks, mix spirits with soda water to stay keto-friendly.
Keto Diet Shopping List for Beginners
Once you’ve stocked your pantry with these keto staples, you’ll be ready to whip up a delicious LCHF meal anytime:
- Pastured Eggs
- Fatty Meats: Pasture-raised beef, lamb, chicken, pork
- Cured Meats: Bacon, salami, prosciutto
- Fatty Fish: Salmon, tuna, mackerel
- Dairy: Grass-fed butter, cream, ghee
- Cheese: Full-fat hard cheese, goat cheese, blue cheese, mozzarella cheese
- Nuts and Seeds: Pecans, macadamia nuts, walnuts, flaxseeds.
- Green Vegetables: Broccoli, cabbage, spinach, lettuce
- Low Carb Vegetables: Mushrooms, celery, onion
- Fruits: Avocados, olives, lemons
- Oils: Extra virgin olive oil, virgin coconut oil, avocado oil
- Spices: Himalayan salt, black pepper, turmeric
- Drinks: Mineral water, green tea, coffee
These largely unprocessed natural foods guarantee keto diet success for beginners and help you maximize the health benefits.
7-Day Keto Diet Meal Plan for Beginners
Below you will find the example of a keto diet meal plan for one week. Here, you can go wild with the keto staples and adjust the guidelines as you see fit.
However, you should be careful not to exceed 50 grams of net carbohydrates per day. In addition, you don’t have to skimp on healthy fats and can refine the meals with olive oil or butter as you like.
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with fried bacon and flaxseed
- Lunch: Avocado tuna salad with egg
- Dinner: Pork chops baked with cheese and steamed broccoli in olive oil
- Breakfast: Omelet with avocado, peppers, and onion
- Lunch: Chicken mayonnaise salad with cucumber, avocado, onion, and walnuts
- Dinner: Roasted chicken legs with cauliflower puree
- Breakfast: Full-fat Greek yogurt with almonds, cocoa powder, and berries
- Lunch: Ground beef lettuce wraps with cheddar cheese, onion, and bell pepper
- Dinner: Chicken stuffed with cream cheese, served with roasted asparagus
- Breakfast: Fried eggs with onion and mushrooms
- Lunch: Roasted pork belly, served with steamed kohlrabi
- Dinner: Mackerel fried in coconut oil with kale and toasted pine nuts
- Breakfast: Cream cheese pancakes with raspberries
- Lunch: Grilled salmon with a salad of leafy greens, feta, and tomato
- Dinner: Ribeye steak with butter and coleslaw
- Breakfast: Fried bacon with two soft eggs
- Lunch: Chicken salad with olive oil, feta cheese, olives, and lettuce
- Dinner: Pasture-raised beef burger (no bun) with tomato, onion, cheese, and kale
- Breakfast: Omelet with egg, feta cheese, garlic, and spinach
- Lunch: Garlic butter steak with mushrooms and asparagus
- Dinner: Cheese bowl tacos with guacamole
This ketogenic diet plan intentionally does not include snacks. On the one hand, not having snacks between meals helps you lose weight after it keeps insulin levels low.
On the other hand, the satiating effect and constant blood sugar levels of the high-fat, low-carb diet will eliminate cravings over time.
Of course, some situations cry out for snacks. For example, when you’re going on an outing. For that purpose, here are the 40 best keto snacks to buy and make yourself.
Keto Diet Recipes for Beginners
The first few days of the keto diet can be challenging for beginners. While it’s difficult to include enough fat in your diet, cravings can also be a nuisance at times.
For this reason, here are the best recipes to fight cravings with the help of healthy fats without compromising ketosis.
Bulletproof Coffee (Keto)
- 2½ Tablespoons Coffee freshly ground
- 1-2 Tablespoons MCT Oil or Coconut Oil
- 1-2 Tablespoons Grass-Fed Ghee or Butter
- Brew a cup of coffee using 2 ½ tablespoons of freshly ground coffee beans.
- Add 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons of MCT oil. Start with 1 teaspoon and work your way up to 1-2 tablespoons over several days.
- Add 1-2 tablespoons of grass-fed butter or ghee.
- Mix everything in a blender for 20-30 seconds until it looks like a creamy latte.
The Best Bone Broth Recipe (Beef)
- 4 lbs beef bones cut with marrow
- 1 slice celeriac
- 1 pcs leek
- 2 pcs carrots
- 1 pcs onion yellow
- 2 pcs bay leaves
- 1 tsp juniper berries
- 1 tsp peppercorns
- 2-3 tsp pink Himalayan salt
- 145 oz water filtered, enough to cover the bones
- 1-2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- Peel the carrots, leek, and celery and cut them into coarse pieces. Then cut the onion in half, but do not peel it since the peel gives the soup a lovely color.
- Now fry the onion halves briefly in the pot with the cut side down. Then add the rest of the vegetables and bones and fill the pot with water.
- Add spices and apple cider vinegar, the acidity of which helps to extract collagen and minerals from the bones better.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Simmer for 12 hours. The further it reduces, the more intense the flavor will be, and the more collagen will be extracted. Optionally, you can add water and get a thinner broth. Alternatively, you can use an Instant Pot as well.
- Strain broth and enjoy or store.
Simple Golden Milk Recipe (Vegan, Keto, Traditional)
- 1 cup Almond or Coconut Milk (or both)
- 1/2 tsp Turmeric Powder
- 1 slice Ginger (0.5 inches thick, finely chopped)
- 1 pinch Black Pepper
- 1/4 tsp Cinnamon (ground, optional)
- 1/2 tsp Coconut Oil (optional)
- 1/2 tsp Grass-Fed Butter (optional)
- 1 pinch Chili (optional)
- 1/2 tsp Honey (optional)
- Warm coconut or almond milk in a small pot at medium heat.
- Add the remaining ingredients in a large cup and mix.
- Dribble a teaspoon of the warmed milk into the cup and mix until the liquid is smooth and lump-free.
- Add the remaining milk and mix well. The remaining ginger pieces can stay in the cup or be strained.
- Last but not least, you can season the golden milk to taste and add optional spices.
Master the Keto Diet With This Guide for Beginners
Living a ketogenic lifestyle can be very refreshing. You’re euphoric, energetic, and less hungry.
While the metabolic state of ketosis burns your body fat more efficiently, it also allows you to think more clearly. So you’ll have to ask yourself: Why didn’t I start keto earlier?
Especially the beginning is not only challenging but also a stumbling block. Without the necessary basic knowledge, you will not get results even after weeks. Hence, many people give up on keto early.
With this beginner’s guide to the keto diet, that can’t happen to you. From essential rules and methods to vital tips and a diet plan, this article has everything you need to get started on keto today!
Keto Diet for Beginners FAQ
How do I start a keto diet?
You start a keto diet by reducing carbs while exchanging them for green vegetables 🥗, meat 🥩 , fatty fish 🐟, fatty cheese 🧀, grass-fed butter, olive oil, nuts 🌰 , and seeds.
What do you eat the first week of Keto?
This article contains a 7-day keto diet meal plan for beginners. So check it out!
How long does it take to start losing weight on keto?
While you will lose a few pounds of water within the first two weeks, it can take 3 to 6 weeks until you are fat-adapted and burn fat more efficiently.
What is the basics of Keto?
The ketogenic diet is a way of eating plenty of healthy fats, moderate protein, and few carbohydrates. From a macronutrient perspective, you consume about 75-80% of your calories as fat, 20-25% as protein, and 5-10% carbohydrates.
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