The Beginner’s Guide To The Ketogenic Diet

guide to the ketogenic diet

A lot of people suffer from various health problems, such as obesity and diabetes, and the primary culprit is, often than not, the food they eat.

In fact, nutrition has a significant impact on your overall health, period.

As a result, if you eat lots of junk food, then you’ll, eventually, gain weight, become prone to cellular issues, and face a host of trouble.

And you don’t want that.

Enter the Keto Diet

The ketogenic diet is gathering steam like no other diet, and for good reasons.

This nutrition plan has helped lots of people shed weight, improve productivity, get healthier, and so much more.

In today’s post, I’ll explain what the ketogenic diet is, what to eat, what to avoid,  and the best way to get started.

So, are you excited?

Then here we go.

The Beginner’s Guide To The Ketogenic Diet

So, what is the keto diet and why is it taking the world by storm?

Also known as low-carb, high–fat (LCHF), the ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb nutrition plan.

By severely limiting carb intake—usually less than 25 net grams per day—the keto diet forces your body into ketosis, which is the purpose of LHCF.

So, what’s ketosis?

Ketosis is, basically, a metabolic state in which the body heavily relies on fat for energy instead of sugar/glycogen.

Chemically, while in ketosis, your body produces ketones by breaking down fat in the liver, then transforming them into energy instead of relying on carbohydrates to generate fuel for everyday function.

In other words, going keto forces your body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates.

You’re Not Starving Yourself

Just don’t get me wrong.

You don’t enter ketosis by starving your body of calories, but you do so by severely reducing carb intake and replacing it with plenty of dietary fats, and a moderate amount of proteins.

When you eat fewer carbs, glucose levels, go down, which lowers insulin levels.

This triggers the production of ketones that do not rely on insulin to get into and fuel the body’s cells.

ketogenic diet foods

Types of Keto Diets

Since people are different and have different needs and goals, there is also a wide range of keto diets to choose from.

Here are the main ones.

The Standard Ketogenic Diet

Or SKD.

This is the most common keto diet that many dieters are familiar with.

The Standard Ketogenic Diet is simple and very effective, especially when it comes to weight loss.

It focuses on:

  • High intake of healthy dietary fats—70 to 80 percent of total calories,
  • Moderate protein—20 to 25 percent—and,
  • Minimal carbohydrates—5 to 10 percent.

This diet is ideal for recreational runners, fitness enthusiasts, or people looking to lose a lot of weight as soon as possible.

The Cyclical Ketogenic Diet

Or CKD.

This approach consists of cycling between a typical ketogenic diet, followed by a carb-loading period.

During CKD, you, in essence, you cycle between:

(1) Days of keto dieting during which you consume less than 40 grams of carbs— and

(2) Days of carb-loading during which you consume 400 to 500 grams of carbs to help resupply glycogen stores for prolonged or intense exercise.

This phase may last for 24 to 48 hours.

This keto variation is often recommended for serious athletes and bodybuilders.

So, it might not be suitable for everyone.

The Targeted Ketogenic Diet

During the TKT variation, you go keto most of the day, but then consume the total allocated amount of carbohydrates in one sitting, 60 to 90 minutes before a workout.

The targeted ketogenic diet is a compromise between the classic ketogenic diet and a cyclical ketogenic diet, meaning that you can still provide your body with carbs for intense training, but not step out of ketosis.

The purpose of this is to utilize the fuel provided by carbohydrates effectively before it kicks you out of ketosis.

As a general rule, make sure to become keto-adapted first by following a strict ketogenic diet for at least six to eight weeks, before opting for TKD.

This ensures that you don’t throw yourself completely out of ketosis during the first few weeks.

During the loading window, opt for carbs that are easily digestible with a high glycemic index.

Then, post workout, up your protein intake to assist with muscle recovery, then consume nothing but keto foods.

TKD is most suitable for beginner or intermediate fitness runners or for those who cannot be on a cyclical keto diet for personal reasons.

You Decide

So which one should you follow?

The answer depends on you.

Your own needs and fitness goals should dictate which approach to follow.

But, in general, the standard diet is the way to go—especially if you’re a complete beginner and want to become keto-adapted as soon as possible.

Benefits of Ketogenic Eating

Once you get on the keto path, you’ll realize that it’s more than just another trendy eating plan.

In fact, ketogenic eating is a healthy lifestyle approach that offers a host of benefits.

Here are a few.

  1. Keto Aids in Weight loss

One of the main perks of the keto diet is the weight loss effect.

Research has found that people who go on low carb diets shed weight faster than those on low-fat diets, even the low-diet group is actively restricting calories.

According to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, subjects following a keto diet were able to achieve better long term bodyweight management when compared to their peers who opted for a conventional low-fat diet.

According to another research, low carb diets were specifically effectively for up to six months, compared to a standard weight loss diet.

  1. Increased Energy Levels

It’s quite common during the first few days on the keto diet to go through the keto flu.

This is a short period in which you experience fatigue, headaches, nausea, confusion, and other unwanted symptoms.

These are the telling signs that your body is making the shift from burning carbs (glucose) for energy to burning ketones (fat)—a process known as ketosis.

Think of it as a rite of passage to the keto world.

This transition phase can leave you feeling depleted for a few days—up to a week, but once you become keto-adapted, you may experience a sharp increase in energy and endurance.

There are many reasons, as explained by keto experts following a ketogenic diet.

Some of these include:

  • Reduced inflammation
  • More ATP per molecule of ketone Vs. Glucose
  • Steady blood sugar levels upregulation of mitochondrial biogenesis.
  1. Keto Reduces Appetite

Most of the dreadful hunger pangs are caused by chronic blood sugar instability.

This what could be blamed for the sudden urge to eat and reach for unhealthy food.

To control your cravings, you’d need to regulate your blood sugar levels.

That’s where the keto diet comes in handy.

Getting into ketosis, then maintaining for an extended period, helps regulate blood sugar, drastically reduces cravings, and provides the brain and tissues with stable energy.

Research had regularly revealed that when subjects avoided carbohydrates and eat more fat and protein, they end up consuming far fewer calories.

Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that high fat, low carb diet were more effective at managing hunger than diets with a greater percentage of carbohydrates.

Further study suggests that high-fat low carb eating may suppress hunger hormones more effectively than standard weight-loss regimes.

  1. Increased Levels of Good HDL Cholesterol

Despite being high in fats, the ketogenic diet is unlikely to negatively impact your cholesterol levels.

The reverse happens.

Eating this way may cut the risk of heart disease markers, such as triglycerides and cholesterol.

Research shows that one of the best ways to increase the good HDL level is to consume fat—and the keto diet is roughly 70 to 85 fat.

When you’re applying the keto diet in a healthy way—as in focusing on healthy sources fats, avocadoes instead of pork rinks for instance—you may improve your heart health by reducing cholesterol.

A one-year study found that 22 of 26 cardiovascular risk factors drastically improved with a keto diet.

The subjects reported a reduction of their fasting triglyceride by 24 percent and an 18 percent boost in good HDL cholesterol and drastic reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Another research found that HDL cholesterol—the good one—drastically improved in those following the keto diet while the bad one—the LDL significantly plunged.

  1. Good For Metabolic Syndrome

There is plenty of studies—roughly more than 160 research paper currently on PubMed with the words “ketogenic” “ketosis,” or “diabetes” in the title alone.

A 10-week study found that high fat and low diet can help diabetic subjects maintain a healthy blood glucose level range.

This research assessed 232 obese patients with type II diabetes.

The result: 36 percent of the subjects no longer needed insulin therapy, with over 50 percent drastically lowering their dose.

Research has found a strong link between the metabolic syndrome and increased risk for diabetes and heart disease.

This condition is a mix of symptoms that include:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Abdominal obesity
  • High triglycerides
  • Low good HDL cholesterol levels

In other words, eating a diet rich in fat and void of carbohydrates, contrary to classic thinking, is actually what might help you reverse cardiovascular diseases symptoms

The keto diet is, again, works very well for treating and alleviating all of these symptoms, research shows.

What’s more?

A body of recent research has looked into the effect of the keto diet on obesity and found that it works very well for not only losing fat but also sparing muscle mass.

  1. Stable Insulin Levels

The high-fat, low carb diet may be very beneficial for people with type II diabetes, which affects hundreds of millions worldwide, especially in the industrialized world.

Why?

When you reduce your intake of carb-rich and high processed food, you’ll be better able to manage your blood sugar levels by eliminating—or significantly reducing—large spikes in your blood sugar, reducing the need for insulin.

Research shows that diabetic patients who get on the low carb path may need to cut their insulin dosage by up 50 percent almost immediately.

In a study, 95 percent of subjects with type II diabetes have significantly reduced or eliminated their glucose-lowering medication within six months.

What’s more?

According to a review published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, XX number of studies proved that a ketogenic diet could drastically improve insulin sensitivity for those with type II diabetes.

Yet be careful.

If you’re already taking blood sugar meds, consult with your doctors before making changes to your carb intake—as your dosage may need to be adjusted to prevent hypoglycemia.

Foods rich in healthy fats for balanced nutrition: raw egg yolk in fresh cut half avocado on gray stone background.

Ketogenic low carbs diet or clean eating concept, top view with space for text

  1. Helpful for Many Brain Disorders

Did you know that the ketogenic diet was first used way back in the 1920s to treat children with epilepsy?

This is something I learned about a few months ago in a Joe Rogan podcast. And I instantly became fascinated with the applications of the keto diet for treating brain disorders.

In research, over 50 percent of the children on the low-carb, high-fat regime had lowered the number of their seizure by up to 50 percent while 16 percent of the participant became seizure-free.

Some research goes as far as to claim that the ketogenic diet provides neuroprotective benefits.

These may help reduce the risks for conditions like Alzheimer’s Parkinson.

How come?

The theory is, drastically reducing glucose levels by opting for high fat and very strict carb diet forces body to produce ketone bodies for fuel.

This shift may help treat and reverse neurological disorders and cognitive issues, such as Alzheimer’s symptoms, epilepsy, and anxiety.

  1. Lowered Blood Pressure

Hypertension, or elevated blood pressure, is a significant risk factor for a host of diseases, such as stroke, heart disease, and kidney failure—the list goes on.

Here’s the good news.

A growing body of research over the past few years shows that eating low-carb diets has a huge positive impact on blood pressure, which could cut your risk of these conditions and help you live a longer, healthier life.

  1. You’ll Sleep Better

Your sleep quality will take a massive hit during the first few days on the ketogenic diet.

That’s typical during the adjustment period—when you reduce your carb intake to no more than 20 net gram per day.

But once your body gets adjusted, you’ll find yourself experiencing more alertness during the day and sleep deeper at night.

Research published in the journal Nutrients revealed hat following a low-carb calorie diet drastically reduce daytime sleepiness in a group of obese participants.

During this phase, you may experience insomnia and a bunch of other issues, but once you go over this initial bump, your sleep quality will improve.

You’ll sleep much deeper and much sounder, and feel more rested and energized when you wake up.

To Conclude

I can go on and on.

For more on that, here are a few sources.

Link 1

Link 2

Link 3

Link 4

Link 5

Who Shouldn’t Be on A Keto Diet?

As with any drastic change in dietary habits, there are a few safety issues you need to be mindful of if you’re serious about making it down the ketogenic path.

So, if one of the following cases applies to you, then be extra careful.

  • People on hypo-causing meds such as Insulin, Sulphonylureas, and Glinides
  • People on medications such as high blood pressure.
  • Breastfeeding women
  • People with gallbladder diseases
  • People who have had bariatric surgery
  • Etc.

Also, be sure to discuss with a doctor or a certified nutritionist any significant changes in your eating habits before making it, especially when it comes to super carb-restricted ketogenic diets.

keto foods plan

How to Get Started With Ketogenic Eating

The keto approach means a drastic shift in the way you eat, especially if you have never tried any low-carb eating approach.

For that reason, taking your first few steps can be intimidating.

But it’s feasible, none the less, provided that you’re willing to experiment, are motivated, and patient enough.

Here is the good news.

You don’t need (nor should you strive) to know everything there’s about ketogenic eating to get started.

All you need is the basics.

Then, learn as you go, and be willing to make lots of mistakes—that’s, after all, an integral part of the learning process.

So, let’s get down to the keto details.

The ketogenic diet is relatively simple when it comes to the rules to abide by.

The fundamental tenets of ketogenic eating are as follows:

  • Eat Lots of Fats
  • Eat moderate amounts of proteins
  • Eat little carbs

That’s it.

No more.

No less.

Now, let’s delve a little deeper into these simple (yet elusive) principles.

How to Reach Ketosis?

While you don’t have to enter ketosis as early as possible, most consider doing so as their first successful milestone on the ketogenic path.

But achieving that can take some work and planning.

It does not happen overnight, nor it’s just as simple as cutting junk/processed foods.

In general, it can take a few days up to a week of consuming no more than 20 to 30 grams of carbs per day to get into ketosis.

Factors to consider include; your conditioning level, training intensity, body type, and what you’re eating.

Five days is the conservative estimate, according to my experience.

But your case might be different.

What to Eat?

Actually, plenty.

This eating approach is by no means a restrictive plan.

But that does not mean you can eat whatever you want—even when it comes to standard healthy foods, such as vegetables and fruits.

Note on Vegetables & Fruits

Eating veggies is an integral part of healthy eating, period.

That said, when it comes to the keto diet, vegetables can be quite tricky.

Sure, veggies are some of the healthiest foods on the planet, but almost all of them contain carbs, in one form/quantity or the other.

That’s something to look out for if you’re serious about reaching a full state of ketosis as soon as possible.

In general, the ketogenic diet includes plenty of leafy green vegetables rich in micronutrients, as well as some of the above-ground veggies, like broccoli, and cauliflower.

Be careful when eating fruits since most score high on the glycemic index.

Keto friendly fruits include avocados and berries.

The List

I hope this comprehensive ketogenic friendly food list will help you make the right choices.

  • Meats—red meats, steak, lamb, sausage, ham, bacon, chicken, turkey, etc.
  • Fatty fish. Salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, etc.
  • Eggs. Mainly omega-3 or pastured whole eggs.
  • Above grounds veggies. Such as cauliflower, broccoli, etc.
  • Low carb vegetables. Most green vegetables, spinach, kale, onions, tomatoes, peppers, etc.
  • High-fat dairy. Hard cheese, butter, high fat cream.
  • Nuts and seeds. Walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, macadamias, sunflower seeds, etc.
  • Low glycemic fruits. Such as avocados, raspberries, blackberries, etc.
  • Cheese. Mainly unprocessed cheese such as goat, cheddar, blue, cream, or mozzarella cheese.
  • Healthy Oils. Such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, high-fat salad dressings, etc. Opt for “cold pressed” options when using vegetable oils, such as olive, soybean, safflower, or flax oils.
  • Condiments. Salt, pepper, spices, and some herbs.
  • Sweeteners. Such as erythritol, stevia, monk fruit, and other low carb sweeteners.

What Not to Eat?

Now that we covered what to eat, let’s look at what you MUST avoid.

As a rule of thumb, when it comes to ketogenic eating, carbs are the enemy.

In fact, it’s virtually impossible to enter a state of ketosis when your body has a supply of glucose to burn.

For that reason, you MUST follow a stringent eating plan, which involves consuming less than 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates per day.

That means even if your daily required allowance of carbohydrates is 31 grams, you’d still want to stay below 30 grams.

The List

Here is a comprehensive list of foods to be eliminated or severely reduced on a keto eating plan.

  • All grains. Including whole meal (wheat, oats, rye, millet, corn, bulgur, rice, buckwheat, barley, sorghum, amaranths, etc.)
  • Grains products. That include bread, pasta, pizza, crackers, cookies, etc.
  • Sugar and sweets. Mainly table sugar, agave serum, cakes, honey, maple syrup, ice creams, sweet puddings, etc.
  • Sugar-free and low-fat diet products. These tend to be highly processed and may contain many artificial additives that can affect ketone levels.
  • Starches or grains. Mostly wheat-based foods, such as pasta, rice, cereal, etc.
  • Factory farmed fish and pork. These tend to be low in nutrients and high in inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids.
  • Alcohol. Sweet wine, beer, cocktails, etc.
  • Fruits. Except for small portions of avocados and some berries.
  • Tropical fruits. Including mango, pineapple, papaya, banana, etc.
  • Legumes and beans. Such as kidney beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, etc.
  • Root veggies. Such as carrots, yams, potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, etc.
  • Unhealthy fats. Such as processed vegetable oils, mayonnaise, etc.
  • Refined oils. Including safflower, sunflower, soybean, cottonseed, corn oil, etc.

Here’s the full list of ketogenic foods.

Pay Attention

Remember that the more you restrict carbohydrates, the faster you’ll enter ketosis.

That said, these extreme restrictions might not be sustainable for everyone.

If you’re a serious runner, logging serious miles every week, then your carb intake might be higher, depending on your training volume and goals.

More on that below.

Getting Your Macros Right

Ok.

I have just shared with you a comprehensive list of the foods to eat as well as what to avoid, but how much food should you consume from each major food category?

This is where ketogenic eating can get complicated since it involves calories counting. Yes, there is no way around that.

But it’s not rocket science.

Know your macro ratios.

Macros comprise the primary sources of calories in your diet.

They consist of the following:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Proteins
  • Fats

The majority of your daily calories on a ketogenic diet will come from healthy sources of dietary fats.

Here is the exact macro breakdown of a ketogenic diet:

  • Dietary fats—70 to 75 percent of total calories.
  • Proteins—15 to 20 percent.
  • Carbohydrates—5 to 10 percent.

To put the this into perspective, if you consume 2,800 calories a day, you’d ideally eat:

  • 270 to 300 grams of fat,
  • 105 to 140 grams of protein, and
  • 35 to 70 grams of carbs.

That’s an extreme shift from the typical high-carb that most people are familiar with.

Am I in Ketosis?

The simple way to check whether you’re in ketosis or not is to assess ketone levels in your body.

This can be done using ketone urine test strips, or a blood analysis.

Urine Testing

Urine (acetoacetate) testing is the most common way people measure their level of ketones.

This is usually done using ketone strips, such as Ketostics, Urisan, and other urine detection strips.

This method is cheap—thus why it’s so common—costing roughly $10 for 150 strips.

The bad news is, urine testing is not reliable as it only shows excess ketones bodies expelled via acetoacetate, but say nothing about blood ketone levels.

Blood Testing

Blood testing assesses blood ketones—or beta-hydroxybutyrate, or BHB, usually considered a good sign of ketosis and whether your restrictive keto eating is working.

Nevertheless, this method can be quite invasive and expensive over time.

To give you an idea, the monitor used retails at $40, and the test strips cost around $5 each.

So, they can be relatively expensive if you intended to measure your ketones on a regular basis.

So, what are some of the other ways of telling you’re in ketosis?

Here is a short list of the ketosis physical symptoms:

  • Changes in mood and alertness.
  • Increased urination.
  • Dry mouth and increased thirst.
  • Sharp and smelly breath.
  • Improved sleep
  • Reduced appetite and hunger.
  • Increased energy and mental focus.

Running Performance and The Ketogenic Diet

One of the concerns many runners have is that keto will negatively impact running performance.

And that’s understandable.

Carbs, after all, are a runner’s best ally.

They’re the body’s preferred source of energy.

I have stated that in the past and still believe so today.

But what if you want more?

What if you want to drop the carbohydrates and go full keto? Will doing so hurt your performance?

The answer is not black or white.

During the early stages of the keto diet, expect to experience drastic drops in performance.

Once your body has adapted to ketosis (and is using fat as its primary source of energy), your running performance should return to normal.

This, according to most experts, may take up around three to four weeks for your body to adapt to low-carb eating and using fat for fuel.

It took me about six weeks to be able to run normally on a keto diet.

It will happen, but you need to stay consistent enough and play the long game.

Running Will Feel Like a Drag—And There is No Way Around it!

Running on keto will suck for the first few weeks.

In fact, the first week on the diet will be a nightmare.

You’ll feel exhausted every day from the lack of carbs, and the cravings will be, at times, too much to handle.

That’s a part of the process, and a sacrifice you’ll have to make if you’re serious about making it down the keto path.

Be patient.

And do not let your ego stand in the way.

During the first few weeks, reduce your weekly mileage, go very slow, and walk, if you have to.

Stick with the diet and keep working out.

During this whole time, consume more dietary fats, while keeping your protein intake moderate, drinking plenty of water, and replenishing your electrolytes.

The Research: Keto and endurance

Most of the published studies I’ve come across have found that a keto diet might help with endurance sports.

One example is an experiment in which trained cyclists were put on a ketogenic diet for four weeks.

The conclusion?

The researchers found that aerobic endurance was not compromised at all and that participants muscles mass was the same as when they started.

Further study on professional gymnasts reached similar results.

Here are some links to check out.

When Not To Keto

The only exception where ketosis can hamper performance is in sports that require bursts of explosive power, such as sprinting and powerlifting.

So, if you’re preparing for a race, or logging serious miles every week, then the amount of carbs you can consume and still be in ketosis can be higher than recommended.

In such case, consume 20 to 30 grams of fast-digestible carbohydrates, such as fruit, within 30 to 60 minutes before your workout.

This helps ensure that your muscles have the proper amount of glycogen to perform during training.

One Week Sample

Here how a week of eating looks like on the ketogenic diet.

Monday

  • Breakfast:Eggs, bacon, and tomatoes cooked in coconut oil
  • Lunch:Burger with cheddar cheese, guacamole, and nuts.
  • Dinner:Salmon, egg, and mushroom cooked in coconut oil.

Tuesday

  • Breakfast:Egg, basil, avocado, and cheddar cheese omelet.
  • Lunch:Chicken salad with olive oil and avocado.
  • Dinner:Mackerel with asparagus and spinach cooked in butter.

Wednesday

  • Breakfast: Omelet with peppers, broccoli, salsa, and spices.
  • Lunch:Shrimp salad with feta cheese and olive oil.
  • Dinner: Romaine lettuce with low-carb, high-fat dressing

Thursday

  • Breakfast:Cheese omelet with vegetables and avocados.
  • Lunch:Ham and cheese slices with almonds.
  • Dinner:Salad greens with high-fat dressing

Friday

  • Breakfast:Fried eggs with mushrooms and onions.
  • Lunch: Shrimp salad with feta cheese and olive oil.
  • Dinner:Low Carb Salmon Patties

Saturday

  • Breakfast:Eggs, bacon, and tomatoes.
  • Lunch:Four ounces of baked fish with butter sauce
  • Dinner:Steak and eggs with vegetables.

Sunday

  • Breakfast:Coffee with heavy crème
  • Lunch:Burger with cheddar cheese, guacamole, and nuts.
  • Dinner:Three cups shredded cabbage sautéed in butter and onions

Healthy Ketogenic Snacks

In case hunger strikes before one of the main meals, keep it at bay with any of the following options.

  • Cheese with olives
  • Two hard-boiled eggs
  • Strawberries and cream
  • A handful of almonds and nuts.
  • One avocado with pepper and salt
  • Green bean fries
  • Kale chips
  • String cheese
  • Jerky
  • Celery filled with cream cheese
  • Lettuce or cucumber smeared with peanut butter
  • Radishes smeared with butter

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Conclusion

So, should you give the ketogenic diet a try?

I hate to sound like a broken record, but it’s really up to. It depends on you.

So you decided what works the best for you. Just be willing to keep an open mind and experiment.

In the meantime, thank you for reading my post.

Good luck!

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