What is Keto Diet: A Comprehensive Beginner's Guide
What is Keto exactly?
The Keto diet is a specific nutritional plan that forces the body to burn fat instead of sugar.
We usually get most of our sugars from carbohydrates. You may not know that carbs become simple sugars in the gut, providing little more nutritional value than a sweet treat.
Without all of that glucose, the body must utilize another fuel source.
Using fat as energy
At this point, your body begins to use stored fat as energy.
The liver converts this stored fat into molecules called Ketones, which then supply energy to your brain and muscles. Hence the name: Ketogenic diet, or “Keto” for short.
Ketosis is a natural metabolic state, found commonly in pregnant women, infants, or those fasting or experiencing starvation.
You might be asking: is the keto diet safe? Intentionally activating this state is safe for most people, but may not be the right choice for every individual.
Why would I want a ketogenic diet?
A ketogenic diet may provide an individual with a slew of health benefits.
If you are seeking long-term weight loss, or if you are interested in the reported cognitive benefits of ketosis, it may be right for you.Because this diet induces your body to burn fat, it’s become a preferred method of weight loss; but its origins are medical.
Russel Wilder first coined the term and established the ketogenic diet in 1921 as a means of treating epilepsy.
For thousands of years, fasting has been believed to remedy epilepsy, and more recently it's been explored as a treatment for type 2 diabetes.
Doctors have recently discovered that epileptic conditions can often be improved by ketosis, decreasing the frequency and severity of seizures.
And by removing all unnecessary sugar from the diet, blood sugar levels are lowered substantially.
Is it for me? Can it help with weight loss?
But even those without a medical condition can find benefits of a keto diet. Those seeking to lose weight have found ketogenic diets are much more effective than other plans and allow them to eat a satisfying amount while still succeeding in weight loss.
Modern medical advice now tells us that fat loss doesn't require starving oneself.
It is indeed a fantastic way to see long-term weight loss if you stay on track.
The good news is starving yourself isn’t necessary to achieve ketosis and become a fat-burning machine; just a dedicated regimen.
So let’s dive into the specifics with this guide to Keto.
What are the rules for a Ketogenic Diet?
The basic idea of Keto diets is very simple: fewer carbs. Hence, the rule for ketonic diet is:
We eat more carbs a day than we typically think.
The idea is to get your net carbs as low as possible.
That means you’re looking at 20-30g of carbohydrates per day.
For perspective, the average banana contains some 25g of carbohydrates.
You’re replacing all of this energy, which we habitually get from bread, pasta, rice, and other sugars, with good fats: oils (coconut, olive), butter, cheeses, avocados, etc. - and also a moderate amount of protein intake.
The desired macronutrient breakdown for a Keto diet is (approximately) as follows: 70% fats, 25% protein, 5% carbs.
Because its based on a percentage, how many carbs on keto can change daily and for each person. Variants of Keto have different keto diet rules owing to the contexts they’re used in.
Different Kinds of Keto
Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD): This is what most think of as the classic variation. The breakdown is as above, 70-25(20)-5(10)
Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD)
Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD)
High Protein Ketogenic Diet
For this article, we’ll be referring to the SKD, the most widely studied and practiced form of Keto eating.
Keto vs Paleo
A choice for some is between keto and paleo diets. The two diets both have positives and negatives but they work very differently in the body.
But what is paleo diet? With its focus on whole foods and fresh vegetables, it's certain is a paleo diet healthy but it may not be the best for weight loss for everyone. It can be overwhelming at times with its specific restrictions and you may find yourself frantically researching “what is gluten-free flour?” in a grocery store aisle.
If you've previously gain weight on paleo diet, the keto diet may be a better fit. By entering a state of ketosis for a short time, you can quickly burn fat and some can even combat more serious health conditions like high blood pressure or cholesterol.
On the flip side of the coin, if you find yourself having some negative side effects from the keto diet, you might consider reading about how to start paleo diet plan.
How do I start Keto, for beginners?
Maybe you’re not looking for a complicated, acronymized eating plan. We get it. One of the greatest benefits of keto is its simplicity. A good comparison is keto vs paleo diet.
Keto works with your current diet and lifestyle while still helping you lose weight. The paleo diet rules are great for people looking to completely reboot their eating habits. While many lose weight on paleo, it can take a lot more research and keto's simplicity makes it great for busy dieters who want their new diet to look a lot like their old one.
Prioritize healthy fats and good proteins, and you’re most of the way there in creating your own custom keto diet.
What can I not eat?
Avoid anything high in carbs.
- Baked goods (exceptions for Keto-specific recipes)
- Chips and crackers
- Most fruits
- Including juices!
- All added sugars
- Sweetened yogurt
- Honey, syrup, etc.
- Potatoes (and other starchy tubers)
Replacing these carbs with fats for energy requires a good meal plan, so let’s specify the foods to buy and the foods to steer clear of.
The good news is more and more food companies (like Kevin’s) are devising delicious Keto alternatives to high-carb favorites!
Rather you're already a customer of a meal kit company or you're wondering, "What are meal kits?" You might be surprised at the amount of keto options many companies have.
You can check out Kevin's Chicken Marsala
Keto Diet Foods: What You Can Eat and What to Avoid
The cornerstone of the Ketogenic diet is the fats your body burns for energy in the ketogenic state. When learning how to start a keto diet, its all about finding low-carb ingredients and sources of good fat. These ingredients can be incorporated in many ways, and the list of options is long!
Be sure to try many different good fats to find the ones you prefer (it’ll make Keto a lot more enjoyable).
- Coconut oil
- Avocado oil
- Olive oil
- MCT oil
These and other saturated fats are central to the Keto diet. Use them in cooking and to finish dishes.
Fry up some eggs in butter. Toss a salad with a hearty glug of olive oil. Coconut oil seems to be good with everything, and it contains MCT (medium-chain triglycerides), which have been shown to contribute to the production of ketones.
Natural polyunsaturated fats like those in fish and other animal proteins are also good resources.
Because this is a low-carb diet and we typically receive most of our daily energy from carbs, it's crucial you eat good fat and protein on this diet.
If you're wondering can you drink alcohol on a keto diet, the answer is yes and no. Most alcohols are not keto-friendly but there are more options than you would think. A trick is to look for what alcohol is gluten free which can often be an indicator they're also low in carbs.
Note this: Not all fats are created equal. Avoid processed polyunsaturated fats and trans fats (which you’ll find abundantly in junk foods and substitutes like margarine). If you've tried the diet before and found you were not losing weight on keto, some of these foods might be the problem.
Expanding our scope, here’s a non-exhaustive list of foods that are fantastic staples for any Keto diet and will help you hit macros:
Foods to eat
- Meat - Beef, poultry, lamb, fish, etc. Organic and grass-fed are always better!
- Vegetables - leafy greens like kale, lettuce, arugula; and above-ground veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, etc.
- Nuts and seeds - Almonds, macadamias, sunflower seeds, etc.
- Avocados and (some) berries - raspberries, blackberries, options that score low on the glycemic index
- High-fat dairy - Full-fat cream, hard cheeses, butter, etc.
- Sweeteners - stevia, monk fruit, and other low-carb options
- Other fat sources - like salad dressings, olive oil, MCT oil
When you find good sources of these keto-friendly foods, consider buying in bulk to reduce your meal prep cost. And here’s a list of foods you should avoid on a Ketogenic diet, as they’re high in carbs and other sugars:
Foods to avoid
- Grains - Wheat, corn, rice, cereal, pasta, etc.
- Sugar - cane sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave, etc.
- Fruit - Apples, bananas, kiwis, citrus, etc.
- Tubers - potatoes, yams, carrots, jicama, etc.
- Alcohol - rare exceptions are a glass of dry wine or unsweetened spirit. All other alcohols are not keto-friendly
- Any processed foods
What are net carbs?
When you're considering what to eat on keto diet, you should know about net carbs per day. That's taking your total grams of carbs, and subtracting the grams that come from fiber, as our bodies don't process these the same way.
For instance, if a serving of nuts contains 11 grams of carbs and 3 grams of fiber, your net total carbs are 8 grams!
While this won’t make a huge difference in your dietary calculus (you still want to cut out essentially every carb you can), it can allow for a snack or additional ingredient in an otherwise carb-devoid meal.
Keto Menu for Beginners
You may be thinking that this all sounds restrictive but getting started on a keto diet menu for beginners is easier than you think.
How do I go about this?
Since most processed foods aren't an option, you may find yourself cooking at home more than you had before starting the keto diet.
Meal prepping can be a huge help. Choosing the best day to meal prep each week to make meals and snacks can help avoid easy temptations when starting a new diet.
Thankfully, keto recipes are abundant to make an eating plan for all different kinds of eaters: vegetarian keto diet options, gluten-free keto, paleo diet foods & foods in the paleo diet, and more.
But if cooking and meal prepping seems intimidating or you just don't have that kind of time, consider using a healthy meal delivery service. These services can make getting started on the keto diet even easier by delivering professionally created low-carb meals.
Here are three great options for Keto meals throughout a normal day:
Low carb recipesBreakfast
Try Chipotle Lime Chicken Egg Muffins for a filling keto diet breakfast that you can make ahead of time!
By sticking to eggs, chicken, and some veggies, these egg muffins pack a nutritious punch with hardly a carb.
Take the lesson of combining eggs, vegetables, cheese, and even meat to understand how to approach breakfast in a Keto diet way. (You like bacon? Keto likes it too!) Freeze them for an easy keto meal plan.
These Easy Tandoori Cauliflower Bites are a perfect side or light lunch! A great example of a simple vegetarian Keto diet option.
Stay in for this Easy and Healthy Date Night option. Flavorful steak with Kevin’s sauce and a side of veggies is a perfect Keto diet dinner!
Here's a comprehensive list of the current Keto recipes on Kevin's website
Chicken Marsala with Zucchini Ribbon Noodles
This scrumptious Italian classic will have you saying bellisimo! Incorporating Kevin’s Chicken Marsala pack makes this one a breeze to whip up.
Chicken Tikka Masala Tacos with Paleo Pickled Onions
The secret here is the Paleo Pickled Onions, a homemade (but exceedingly simple) pop of flavor!
Fiery Mongolian Beef and Broccoli
This delicious combination is a favorite at restaurants, and with Kevin’s, you can make it easily at home! One of many recipes that fits keto and a paleo diet.
Keto Garlic Chicken Dip with Crudités
This keto meal is great as an entree or appetizer! The mascarpone cheese gives this dish a lovely creamy texture.
Bulgogi Lettuce Wraps with Korean BBQ-style Steak Tips
Protein-packed and mouthwatering, this concoction delights as an app or stand-alone entree.
Keto Egg Roll in a Bowl
All the wonderful flavor of a classic egg roll, without any of the carbs!
Fresh Lemongrass Basil Roasted Salmon
This deceptively simple dish has all the complex and vibrant flavor of a more difficult cooking process, with none of the hassles.
Fiesta Jar Salad
This flavor and texture-packed meal stores conveniently in a jar for whenever you need a balanced and healthy munch!
Mexican Steak Power Bowl
Tender flank steak with veggies topped with Kevin’s cilantro lime sauce makes for a delicious protein-rich meal!
Turkey Shepard’s Pie
This one-pan recipe is a perfect use for leftover turkey, combing wonderful ingredients into a crowd-pleasing, homestyle favorite.
Slow Cooker Thai Coconut Chicken
This exceedingly simple recipe used Kevin’s delicious sauces to the fullest, bringing it all together in a slow cooker that produces a tender and flavorful bite.
Roasted Garlic Chicken and Fall Vegetables
Overflowing with autumnal flavor, this recipe is full of protein and nutrient-rich veggies in a comforting sauce!
Thai Coconut Chicken & Veggies
This exceptionally balanced meal is full of great veggies.
Kid-friendly Teriyaki Chicken Plate
This fast and nutritious meal will appease even very picky eaters!
Healthy BBQ-Chicken Bowl
Healthy doesn’t equal boring with this flavor-packed recipe.
Thai Coconut Chicken Sandwich
Served on paleo bread (or wrap!), this sandwich elevates a classic chicken salad with Thai flavor and includes the benefits of paleo diet.
Fresh Vietnamese Noodle Bowl
This play on the classic Vietnamese noodle dish, Bun Ga Nuong, uses Angel Hair Miracle Noodles to provide a hearty bite without the carbs!
Teriyaki Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Clean and classic, a perfect restaurant staple made easy.
Mexican Fiesta Bowl
This produce-forward bowl is vibrant with flavor and spice atop a bed of rice-like cauliflower. The heat from the jalapenos gives this dish the perfect zest.
Yellow Curry-style Zoodles
This deceptively simple dish will impress with its complex flavor profile from just a few ingredients!
Lemongrass Chicken Cauliflower Rice Stir Fry
The lemongrass is the key to this dish, elevating a few great ingredients to new heights of deliciousness without a complicated process.
Teriyaki Chicken Power Plate
Kevin’s has cleaned up this classic by removing the sugar from the sauce and jam-packing it with amazing nutrients.
7-Minute Thai Bowl
The speed and ease of this recipe is no empty boast. Focusing on great ingredients, perfectly balanced, you’ll be shocked at how beautifully it comes together.
Kevin’s teriyaki is so good, we’ve kept riffing on different ways to show it off. Enjoy some perfectly cooked salmon in this one (it’s a match made in heaven).
Lemongrass Basil Scallops
This recipe brings restaurant-quality cooking into your home! Kevin’s sauce is a perfect complement to decadent scallops.
Asian Steak Salad
Filling and easy to assemble, this dish is perfect for lunch or dinner!
Slow-cooker Tomatillo Pork Tacos
The extra time in the slow cooker is worth every second when you bite into these toothsome tacos, bursting with well-developed flavor.
Teriyaki Roasted Tri-tip
This versatile combination will have your tuppers singing. Swap out different Kevin’s sauces for variety throughout the week!
Korean BBQ-glazed Chicken Wings
Perfect wings, Keto style. Chow down solo or entertain a crowd!
Ground Turkey Tacos with Tomatillo Sauce
Not only are these tacos delicious, but you’ll also have them on the table in ten minutes!
Grilled Cilantro Lime Shrimp
Kevin’s sauce is a perfect accompaniment to some lovingly grilled shrimp.
Pan-Seared Tilapia with Lemongrass Sauce
This simple recipe returns a gorgeous and filling meal for four!
Thai-style Cod with Coconut Curry Sauce
A flaky white fish goes gracefully with Kevin’s Coconut Curry. Whip up this 5-star meal in fifteen minutes!
Tomatillo Steak Tacos
These lettuce-wrapped tacos are bursting with flavor thanks to Kevin’s seasoning and taco sauce. Perfect to satiate large gatherings.
Chicken Tikka Masala
A classic: tried and true. The succulent flavors of this dish have made it a mainstay in our kitchen, and soon it will be in yours!
Quick, Healthy Teriyaki Chicken Stir Fry
Easy to make and with no added sugars, this recipe delivers top-tier takeout quality with none of the guilt!
Korean BBQ Steak
This recipe is a perfect decadent dinner, worthy of a night out, made easily in your home kitchen. AND you can make it in ten minutes.
This classic taco is rendered wonderfully with Kevin’s signature sauce. Swap out the beef with another preferred protein if you please!
Cilantro Lime Steak
A perfect steak needs a perfect sauce. Kevin’s got you covered.
Thai Vegetable Curry
Punch up your veggies with Kevin’s flavorsome sauce.
Creamy Lemongrass Pumpkin Soup
This lovely autumnal soup brings more flavor than meets the eye thanks to its potent ingredients.
Farmer’s Market Veggie Tacos
Use your fresh finds in these delectable tacos!
Sautéed Veggies in a Cilantro Lime Sauce
Bursting with fresh flavor, this one is great as a side dish or a vegetarian main course!
Easy BBQ Baked Beans Recipe
This hearty vegetarian option is perfect at a backyard cookout. Add a fried egg for that perfect umami experience.
Low carb snack time?
You might be asking, what snack has no carbs?
While most typical snacks are carb-heavy, nuts and nut butter, veggies with ranch (or other dipping sauce), pork rinds, and tons of other specialty options are delicious!
Like with alcohol, many gluten-free and paleo diet snacks are also low carb and keto-friendly but not all of them. Make sure to still read the ingredients list to check for possible sources of carbs that aren't balanced out by fiber.
What are the Benefits and Risks?
The health benefits of ketosis are numerous
When your body enters a ketogenic state and starts burning body fat instead of sugar, the excess fat reserves on the body are used up to make energy and maintain ketone levels.
When the body is burning glucose for energy, fat is mostly stored away. Ketosis taps into these fuel reserves.
So, a proper state of ketosis can certainly help you lose weight.
Blood sugar control.
As a result of the foods in a Keto diet, blood sugar is naturally decreased.
Many diabetics or those at risk have benefitted from a Ketogenic diet, as insulin levels are regulated more effectively in a low-carb diet. Many people with type 2 diabetes have found their blood sugar levels are easier to maintain and control.
A key point of health and wellness, regulating blood sugar and increasing the healthy fatty acids in one’s diet has been shown to improve mental focus and stamina.
Increased energy, normalized hunger.
Fat is a much better fuel source than sugar.
By using fat for energy, adoptees have a higher and more consistent energy level, increased physical performance, and they feel satiated by their meals for longer.
Like previously mentioned, Keto has shown significant therapeutic merit in treating epilepsy.
Blood pressure and cholesterol.
A state of Ketosis has been shown to helpfully regulate these key health factors, decreasing the risk of heart disease. Recent studies on keto and high blood pressure have found that the diet can help to lower blood pressure.
There are some risks or side-effects to consider.
For example, your body’s shock at rapidly changing its nutritional intake can cause what is called the “Keto flu,” a series of flu-like symptoms which usually pass once the body adjusts.
The increased animal product in the ketogenic diet may stress the kidneys, acidifying the urine and causing kidney stones.
Many of our typical carbs also carry necessary fiber. Without these sources, it may be necessary to augment the Ketogenic diet with a fiber supplement, or focus on foods like broccoli which are Keto-friendly and also rich in fiber!
Studies have shown that, if care isn’t taken to balance the intake of important nutrients often excluded by Keto diets, deficiencies can occur, impacting bones, the heart, and other crucial health factors.
It’s always a good idea to talk to your health provider or registered dietitian before embarking on the Ketogenic diet or any other diet.
Do doctors recommend Keto?
Many medically reviewed publications have explored the positives and negatives of keto diet. While there are certainly benefits, it's an ongoing conversation and the conclusions are not unanimous.
Ultimate Keto Shopping List for Beginners
So… what does a keto grocery list look like?
Next grocery trip, pick up these key items to jumpstart your keto diet!
- Protein - grab chicken, beef, and fatty fish like wild salmon. Always organic, and don’t be afraid to get the fattier cuts of meat!
- Eggs - also full of protein, and exceedingly versatile
- Fats - avocado, coconut, and extra-virgin olive oils are wonderful plant-based sources of fats. Butter and Ghee are great options as well.
- Vegetables - asparagus, avocado, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage
- Fruit - raspberries, strawberries, watermelon
- Greek yogurt - not low fat, go full and unsweetened!
- Beverages - coffee, tea, sparkling water
- Snack - cheese crisps, guacamole, jerky, nuts
The best meal delivery kits will have plenty of options for keto, paleo, gluten-free and beyond. But sometimes the price can be a bit of a shock. Some people wonder why meal delivery kits so expensive.
When considering meal kits by price, think about the ingredients you need for the meals you would like to make at home. If some of those ingredients need to be ordered online anyway, that can quickly add up.
Meal kits are also known to significantly reduce food waste by only sending you what you need!
One of the biggest benefits of meal kits is the expertise of a team of professional chefs and nutritionists who are creating meals specifically for the Keto diet. The hours of research into ingredients is done for you!
Remember that it takes time for the body to adjust to any dietary change. It can take a few days, or as long as a couple of weeks, for the metabolism to shift into ketosis.
And once it’s there, maintaining that state requires vigilance and dedication. If you’re going to try a Keto diet, be patient and persistent. Results won’t be instantaneous, but with the correct eating plan for you, health benefits and weight loss are within your grasp.