The Ketogenic Diet 101: Beginner's Guide to Getting Started
If you’ve ever thought about losing weight over the last few years, then you’ve probably heard about the Keto diet. It’s gained popularity and hype via social media, and everyone is talking about doing it.
But if you’re new to weight loss and looking for a diet that fits your lifestyle, then the thought of keto might be daunting.
What is it, and how does it work?
Like most diets, it takes a bit of getting used to and figuring out what you can and can’t eat to make a success of it.
This blog explores the keto diet, its benefits and drawbacks, and whether it’s the right choice for your diet.
What is the keto diet?
The keto diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet initially developed to treat medical conditions but can benefit many other people looking to lose weight.
The name comes from ketosis, the body's process when it runs out of carbohydrates and burns fats for fuel.
While it’s hard to know if your body is in true ketosis (you would need to test it with urine strips or a breath test), the term keto diet is a catch-all word for eating very low carbs, moderate protein, and high fat.
The typical layout of a standard keto plate will usually consist of 70-80% fat, 20% protein, and less than 10% carbohydrates.
Is the keto diet the same as a low-carb diet?
While the keto diet is undoubtedly an example of a low-carb approach, not all low-carb diets are keto.
Low carb could refer to any diet where carbohydrates are limited below normal levels, for example, the Atkins diet. But there are some critical differences between keto and other low-carb diets.
A keto diet generally has a lower carbohydrate intake than other diets, virtually eliminating them (the trace carbohydrates in leafy greens and some vegetables are OK).
The different types of ketogenic diets
There is more than one way to tackle the keto diet, which is excellent as it means you can choose the one that suits your preferences and lifestyle the best. The various types of the keto diet include
- Standard ketogenic diet (SKD): This is a very low-carb, moderate protein, and high-fat diet. It typically contains 70% fat, 20% protein, and only 10% carbs
- Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): This diet involves periods of higher-carb refeeds, such as five ketogenic days followed by two high-carb days.
- Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): This diet allows you to add carbs around workouts.
- High protein ketogenic diet: This is similar to a standard ketogenic diet but includes more protein. The ratio is often 60% fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbs.
- Ketotarian or pescatarian keto - This is the vegetarian option of the standard keto diet, including fats such as coconut cream, milk, avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds. If fish is allowed, this can be added along with an abundance of non-stary, leafy green veg (sprouts, broccoli, cabbage). This is slightly healthier if you are concerned about too much fat in the meat.
How does the keto diet help me lose weight?
The key to losing weight while on the keto diet is ketosis.
Ketosis is a metabolic state in which your body uses fat as the primary source of fuel (instead of carbs)
This happens when you drastically reduce the number of carbohydrates you consume, which limits your supply of glucose (the common fuel source for your body).
To do this, you need to limit your carb consumption to around 20-50 grams per day - and hit your calorie limit by filling up on fats such as meats, fish, nuts, and oils.
Limiting your protein consumption is also an important part of the keto diet, as it can be converted into glucose without carbs, which may slow down the move into ketosis.
Some people will test (via the urine of breath) to ensure they are in ketosis. If not, you will eat lots of fat without burning it, which can be an unhealthy way to support weight loss.
Ketosis turns your body into a fat-burning machine - which is why keto can be so effective for weight loss.
And if your diet downfalls include crisps, biscuits, and pastries, then cutting these from your diet will naturally mean you eat fewer calories - making it easier to lose weight and keep it off.
- Related content: Paleo vs Keto diet: how to choose which is best for you?
What are the benefits of a ketogenic diet?
Moving into a state of ketosis is a very effective way of burning fat and losing weight - even without going down the traditional calorie-burning route.
However, there are multiple other potential benefits to the keto diet that might make it the right option for you:
- Can support long-term weight loss
- Supports liver and detoxification of the body
- Lowers inflammation and supports hormones
- Reduces blood pressure
- Improves insulin sensitivity
- Being explored as a treatment for multiple chronic conditions (cancer, Alzheimer's, Epilepsy, PCOS)
Not everyone that follows the keto diet will have these benefits, and you will need to ensure you are in ketosis. However, it outlines some benefits reaped if you follow a keto diet.
What to expect in the first few days of keto
Although the keto diet is usually safe for most healthy people, some downsides can be experienced, especially in the first few days.
On average, it takes around 2-4 days to reach ketosis, and the side effects can be most severe. Here are some things you can expect to experience in the first few days of the ketogenic diet:
Ps. If you doubt the safety of the keto diet or have any pre-existing conditions, please speak to a health professional before going on the keto diet.
1. Keto flu…
Don’t worry; it’s not a real illness!
But one of the most common reported side effects reported by keto beginners is the keto flu.
As your body begins to move to a fat-burning mode, you might experience some side effects that can feel like the flu, including
- Brain fog
- Sleep issues
These should not last for more than a couple of days and if they do you should stop and contact a healthcare professional.
2. Increased thirst…
Changing your diet can disrupt the balance of water and nutrients in your body, so it’s common to feel extra thirsty when you start keto.
Carbohydrates cause the body to hold water, so you will need to drink more water when you drastically reduce your carbohydrate intake. Over the first few days, ensure you stay hydrated and healthy as you move into ketosis.
If you wish to minimize the risk of these side effects, start on a regular low-carb diet before moving to keto. Keto is quite an extremely low-carb diet, and if you have no experience might be difficult to acclimatize to.
Is the keto diet easy to do?
This will vary depending on your current diet and how easy you find it to cut out and maintain a low-carb diet.
Some find it easy to fit in alongside their current diet, while others find it too challenging to do keto with their social life or family setup.
The keto diet might help lose weight, but it may not be a sustainable option. It’s important to find a diet that fits in with your lifestyle so that you can sustain it and prevent yo-yo dieting.
What foods can I eat on a keto diet?
Looking for a red and green list of foods to eat and avoid on your new keto diet?
We’ve got you. Here’s just a small list of foods to get you going
Best foods on a keto diet
- Tinned tuna
- Beef jerky
- Full-fat Greek yogurt
- Full fat cottage cheese
- Full fat cheese
- Leafy green vegetables
- High-water vegetables (cucumber, courgette, squash)
- Nuts and seeds
- Coconut and coconut flour
Foods to avoid on a keto diet
- Rice and other grains
- Breakfast cereal
- Honey and jam
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Root vegetables
- Beans, pulses, lentils
Can vegans do keto?
It’s not impossible to be vegan and follow a keto diet, but it is much more difficult as most vegan source of protein contains significant amounts of carbohydrates.
And because you wouldn’t be able to eat meat, fish, eggs, or dairy, it would be tricky to find foods that tick both the vegan and keto boxes.
Some options that you can include are:
- Leafy green veg
- Vegan yogurt or cheese
You will need to be very careful that you are including enough nutrient-dense foods that fulfill the keto requirements.
- Related content: A vegetarian keto diet, can it be done?
5 easy meal ideas for keto dieters…
It’s all well and good having some keto-friendly foods, but what do they look like in the context of an actual day of eating?
Here are some meal ideas to help you with keto…
Preheat the oven to 200*C and spray two ramekins or small baking dishes with oil. Crumble in 85g of beef mince or chopped burger meat.
Add one chopped tomato, salt, pepper, and your favorite herbs and spices. Make a well in the middle of each dish and crack an egg into the hole.
Sprinkle with 50g of grated cheese. Bake for 15 minutes or until the eggs and meat are cooked.
Slice one avocado, 100g cucumber, and 50g cherry tomatoes and arrange over a leafy green salad. Sprinkle 50g of cubed cheese over the top. Finish with a sprinkle of 20g pumpkin seeds
Lightly fry 100g courgette until soft. Meanwhile, whisk 2 eggs with a small amount of melted butter. Pour the egg mix over the courgette and cook on low heat. Top with 50g grated cheese. Finish under the grill.
Fill small peppers with full-fat cream cheese or cottage cheese. Baby peppers, Padron peppers, or pimento peppers work well.
Coconut flour cookies
Preheat the oven to 180*C. Mix 50g coconut flour, 3 tbsp granulated sweetener, 75g butter or coconut oil, and 2 eggs. Use a fork to mix. Add 1 tsp vanilla extract. Knead into a dough and form one large ball. Refrigerate the dough ball for 10 minutes, then cut it into 16 pieces, and roll each piece into a small ball. Place the balls on a lined baking sheet and press them into discs. Bake for 10-15 minutes.
We’re here for you however you decide to diet. Is keto the right diet for you? If you decide to give it a go, we really hope this keto beginners’ guide is useful.
- Related content: The only keto grocery list you need to help you lose weight
Is keto the right diet for beginners?
So is the keto diet right for you?
If you have any health problems, particularly kidney problems, or are missing a gallbladder, then it’s not advised that you do the keto diet.
If you are otherwise healthy then you will be able to follow the keto diet, however, as a beginner diet, it’s not the easiest to get your head around and maintain. If this is the case you might want to start on an alternative low-carb diet in order to prepare your body for ketosis.
If you do manage to stick to the keto diet, then there are lots of brilliant health benefits - one of the main ones being weight loss.