TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1: What Is The Keto Diet?
CHAPTER 2: What Are The Benefits Of The Keto Diet?
CHAPTER 3: WHAT CAN YOU EAT ON THE KETO DIET?
CHAPTER 4: WHAT MAKES THE KETO DIET DIFFERENT?
CHAPTER 5: What Is Ketosis?
CHAPTER 6: WHAT ARE THE SIDE EFFECTS OF THE KETO DIET?
CHAPTER 7: CONSIDERATIONS FOR WOMEN GOING KETO
CHAPTER 8: KETO TOOLS AND RESOURCES
CHAPTER 9: HOW TO GET STARTED ON THE KETO DIET
CHAPTER 10: KETO DIET PRECAUTIONS
WHAT IS THE KETO DIET?
By now, you’ve seen the hype… the keto diet has taken the internet by storm as an answer to not only weight loss, but basically — well, everything. I’ve been drinking the keto kool-aid too, primarily because I’ve seen EPIC results in many of my clients when we integrate a ketogenic approach to nutrition and lifestyle. But if you’re new to keto you probably have a lot of questions, such as:
What is the keto diet? Where did it come from? Is it right for you?
I admit that I’ve become a little bit of a keto fanatic in the last few years. Few diets have ever been backed with the broad amount of science and testimonials keto boasts. Not only does it work for weight loss, the process of ketosis can have major impact on several diseases and in general it can promote health and wellbeing to optimal levels.
Basically, you need to know what this diet can do. There’s a lot to learn, but that’s where I can give you some great news!
This is the last article (and perhaps the first keto diet guide) you’ll need to read about what the keto diet is. I’ll tell you where it came from, what to eat (and what to avoid), what keto can do and even give you some tips for when it gets hard. If you're a beginner, you’ll be able to figure everything out, or even broaden your knowledge if you’ve been on keto for awhile.
But first: what exactly is the keto diet?
THE KETO DIET EXPLAINED
In very simple terms, the keto diet involves filling your diet with 70-80 percent healthy fats, about 15-20 percent protein and 5-10 percent carbohydrates.
Keto’s not just a low-carb diet like Atkins; it’s a high-fat, low-carb diet. The magic is all in the healthy fats!
In 1-7 days after eating these levels of macronutrients, people will transition into a state called “ketosis.” In ketosis, your body stops pulling its energy from glucose and begins producing ketones to use instead. While in ketosis, your body is in a fat-burning state.
Some of the best parts about keto are that, for one, you don’t have to count calories! It’s all about the macros.
Not sure what a macro is?
Macros are the macronutrients in your food: namely fat, protein and carbs. Keep your macros in line with keto standards and your daily calorie intake doesn’t have to be a main priority.
My clients are always relieved to hear that they don’t have to count calories on keto (or really any program that I recommend). I’m not suggesting you start eating 4000-5000 calories each day, but if you’re tired of cutting calories and feeling hungry all the time, keto may be worth a shot.
Another thing you’ll love about the keto diet is that it’s full of foods you probably used to think were unhealthy (or at least too calorie-heavy), like beef, olive oil or full-fat cheeses.
The trickiest part about staying in ketosis is that you have to be really cautious when you “cheat.”
I’ll get into the details of that later on in this keto diet guide, but for now, just know that a flex or cheat day on keto can undo a lot of work if you don’t do it right. Until you’re fat-adapted (also called keto-adapted), your body can take even one major dose of carbs as a cue to quit giving you the ketones you need.
THE HISTORY OF THE KETO DIET
The keto diet started becoming more well-known recently because keto diet weight loss happens somewhat quickly. However, the roots of keto span a lot further back.
Doctors started using keto to treat refractory epilepsy in children back in the 1920s (1).
Refractory epilepsy means that kids on medication are still having regular seizures. In the short- and medium-term, ketosis can significantly reduce or even eliminate these seizures — even when medication can’t (2).
In the early 2000s, doctors and informed families made the keto diet so popular, again with epileptic kids and then in the mainstream. Throughout the history of the keto diet, it’s been apparent that most people (adults or kids) will lose stubborn weight not long after transitioning into ketosis.
Scientists have also discovered that the keto diet has benefits that go far beyond epilepsy and even weight loss.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF THE KETO DIET?
No keto diet guide would be complete without covering the many benefits of this science supported diet. The main benefits of the keto diet include weight loss, a boost in energy, clearer brain function and blood sugar regulation. But these are just a few things that keto has to offer.
You may be wondering how being in ketosis can help people lose weight or battle various ailments.
Let’s break it down — what can you expect when you go keto?
1. WEIGHT LOSS
Overweight and obese people can benefit most from the keto diet compared to others. After switching over to using fat for energy, your body burns your own fat for energy, not just the fats you eat.
High-fat, low-carb diets help you lose weight faster than low-fat diets (3).
A lot of people find that keto diet weight loss helps get rid of stubborn fat they just couldn’t lose on other eating plans.
Plus, transitioning into ketosis can kill cravings for unhealthy foods (4). Fixing your appetite woes can also help you keep weight off once it’s gone.
2. HEART HEALTH
Concerned about your high cholesterol? Conventional advice has told us to cut out all the high-fat foods we eat. But that advice has long been debunked.
Turns out, your body wants healthy fats and your heart needs them to work optimally.
Sure, losing extra weight can improve your heart health overall. However, keto actually improves specific markers of heart health. A high-fat diet can (5,6):
- Decrease total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels
- Increase the size of LDL particles (the smaller the particles, the more your risk of heart disease goes up)
- Lower insulin which activates cholesterol enzymes
- Lower high triglycerides
Drastically reducing carbs also helps fight metabolic syndrome (7). This cluster of symptoms (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal triglycerides/cholesterol) increase your chances of developing both heart disease and diabetes.
3. LOWER RISK OF AND/OR TREATMENT FOR TYPE 2 DIABETES
Because keto transitions your body out of using glucose for energy, it is a great way to control blood sugar levels and stabilize your insulin usage.
Insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes, happens when you don’t respond normally to your body releasing insulin to counteract sugar you eat.
You may have guessed this already, but using ketones rather than glucose for energy greatly fights insulin resistance (8). Keto lets your body re-adjust to using insulin again, the right way.
It’s not just theory, either — a 2008 clinical trial saw improvements in all diabetes markers over 24 weeks in subjects on the keto diet (9). By the end of the trial, subjects had:
- Lower A1c levels
- Lower fasting glucose
- Lower fasting insulin
- Lower body weight (an average of about 24 pounds)
- Higher HDL (“good”) cholesterol
If all that wasn’t enough, an overwhelming 95.2 percent of people in the trial were able to reduce or totally eliminate their medications!
4. LESS INFLAMMATION & OXIDATIVE STRESS
Inflammation is at the root of most chronic diseases. It’s been linked to diseases like cancer, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes and more.
The keto diet can help to reduce the chronic inflammation that tanks your immune system’s ability to fight disease and even inflammatory pain (10).
When you utilize ketones, not glucose (one of the most inflammatory substances on the planet!), your body experiences less oxidative stress (11). That drop in oxidative stress equals a drop in inflammation.
Although not limited there, the keto diet’s impact on inflammation is especially prevalent in the brain. That’s why it’s been proposed as a dietary way to deal with brain issues like epilepsy, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease (12).
5. CANCER FIGHTING POWER
One of the most fascinating possible benefits of the keto diet is how it may fight cancer progression.
While keto lowers oxidative stress for healthy cells, it may act the opposite way for cancer cells (13).
So far, research has discovered that the ketogenic diet:
- Can extend survival in metastatic (multi-organ) cancer (14)
- May slow or stop the growth of certain cancers (15,16)
- Could improve quality of life in advanced-stage cancer (17)
Again, the brain is a clear target. Brain cells are unique compared to cells in the rest of your body because they can only derive energy from one of two sources: glucose or ketones. All other cells can also utilize fatty acids. (That’s also where keto flu symptoms come from — they’re all in your head! But more on that later…)
Because of the unique energy needs of brain cells, cancer cells in the brain may be most susceptible to the anti-cancer power of keto (18).
An extraordinary case report follows an unnamed 65-year-old woman with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), an aggressive type of malignant brain tumor. For two months, the patient went on a calorie-restricted ketogenic diet.
Her tumor was gone after two months. 10 weeks after stopping the ketogenic diet, the tumor came back (19).
6. INCREASED ENERGY & LESS BRAIN FOG
We all know that 2 PM crash hits hard on a Wednesday… so why not get rid of the energy dips altogether?
When you’re not relying on glucose, the ebb and flow of energy levels out. You may even wake up feeling more rested!
(Don’t worry… I’m not recommending you get rid of the coffee.)
You’ll probably notice after your initial transition into ketosis that your brain feels less foggy. Personally, I’ve seen a marked improvement in my ability to work efficiently and think more clearly when on the keto diet.
7. IMPROVEMENT IN NEUROLOGICAL DISEASE AND BRAIN TRAUMA
The keto diet is a major breakthrough in the science of neurological disease. As ketosis improves the health of your mitochondria (the “energy powerhouse” of the cells in your body), your risk for neurodegenerative disease, or progression of such a disease, drops (20).
Alzheimer’s disease: Human and animal studies have heralded the great benefits of the keto diet for Alzheimer’s symptoms. Not only does the protection of mitochondria help slow the development of Alzheimer’s, but keto helps to stop amyloid beta from forming. Amyloid beta is the plaque that builds up in Alzheimer’s-riddled brains.
Parkinson’s disease: Even though it’s far from being a total cure, trying the ketogenic diet has helped many Parkinson’s patients improve their symptoms.
Epilepsy: People using keto to treat their epilepsy tend to have even high amounts of fat in their diet and only the smallest number of carbs each day. While results vary, seizures tend to be reduced by between 30-40 percent in some patients.
Brain trauma: In the past, researchers have accepted that trauma to the brain is mostly irreversible. However, the keto diet has been found to help patients improve cognition and motor skills after trauma. It has also shown success in reducing the size of bruises on the brain.
Reducing your carbohydrate intake is a potentially great way to lengthen your life. A huge review of adults over many years recently declared that high-carbohydrate diets were associated with the highest risk of death by any cause.
Unlike you may have heard in the past, total fat intake and the types of fat you eat were not associated with any heart issues or death from heart disease (21).
9. IMPROVEMENT IN PCOS
Problems with your blood sugar aren’t just related to your risk for diabetes — they can impact certain hormonal conditions, too.
Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) struggle with insulin resistance and obesity. This condition is one of the most common causes of female infertility.
Several studies have observed what happens when women with PCOS go on a low-carb, high-fat diet like the keto diet. All of them show similar results (22,23,24):
- Patients lose weight. This is remarkable for PCOS, because losing just 5-10 percent of total body weight can majorly improve fertility. PCOS sufferers often have trouble losing weight by normal means.
- Menstrual cycles begin to regulate again. In PCOS, a normal period is nearly impossible.
- Free testosterone goes down. Most of the time, women with PCOS have high testosterone levels which lead to issues like hirsutism, or male-pattern hair growth on the body and face.
- The LH/FSH ratio improves. These hormones are necessary for ovulation.
- Insulin levels go down. One of the main features of PCOS, insulin resistance on the keto diet decreases significantly.
We’ll get into other considerations for women later on in this keto diet guide, but for now, just know that going keto can be very powerful for women experience chronic issues related to imbalanced hormones.
10. LESS ACNE BREAKOUTS
We’ve already touched on some of why keto can reduce acne. For one, being in ketosis lowers your inflammation levels — and acne is an inflammatory condition of the skin.
Plus, going keto fights insulin resistance. You may be surprised to hear this, but insulin resistance does affect acne.
When your body secretes insulin, it also stimulates the production of androgens. These hormones are what cause hormonal acne. If you’re overproducing insulin because your body doesn’t respond to it the right way, you’ll also produce too many androgen hormones and can experience breakouts as a result.
That means keto’s insulin-balancing impact extends to reducing acne breakouts (20).
11. A HEALTHIER LIFE
Finally, one of the most significant ways the keto diet is beneficial is by jump starting a healthier lifestyle than you’ve ever lived.
When you eat keto, you naturally stop eating as many processed foods and empty (white) carbohydrates.
Even if you choose to “carb cycle” or go to another dietary model entirely, taking some time to try the keto diet can help you get rid of some of your worst habits. The ketogenic diet, in its purest form, encourages not only eating the right kinds of foods but also getting rid of some of the worst ones.
For example, on keto, you can technically have low-quality fats or processed meats without falling out of ketosis… but any person who has truly looked into this diet knows that these are discouraged because they aren’t healthful.
Instead, you should be eating more fresh produce, healthy fats and high quality meats/proteins.
Find yourself struggling to “eat right?” Do yourself a favor: try the keto diet.
WHAT CAN YOU EAT ON THE KETO DIET?
There’s different ways you can tweak your macros to create a keto diet scenario that’s right for you. But for the purpose of simplicity (and creating a baseline starting point) this keto diet guide will begin with macros that are typically a good place for keto diet beginners. Here they are:
- 70-80 percent fats
- 10-20 percent proteins
- 5-10 percent carbs
What makes a food or beverage not keto-friendly? More than 3-4 grams of net carbs per serving is one red flag. If you want to know how to calculate net carbs, it’s the total number of carbs minus the fiber.
Keto-friendly foods and drinks should contain no sugars except those that naturally occur — that means no added sugar, no cane sugar, no corn syrup, no brown sugar, no fructose, no dextrose, or anything with an -ose (which is sugar), etc.
You’ll also want to avoid low-quality oils, such as canola, vegetable or corn oil.
This keto diet guide wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t address processed foods. Along with the low-quality fats mentioned above, I highly recommend you stay away from processed foods as well. Many of these, like boxed snacks, contain too many carbs to eat at all. But foods like hot dogs and sausages are also processed and have unhealthy preservatives that do your body no good.
Before we get into the exact foods you can eat on keto, let’s look at the breakdown of the macronutrients and what they’re found in.
These make up 70-80 percent of the keto diet. Polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated fats are all important for filling your keto diet food list. Depending on which fat you’re consuming, it may be high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids are important in a specific ratio (about 20:1 omega-3s to omega-6s) for keeping inflammation low and preventing disease.
We now know that even saturated fats are important for proper health, on keto or not. Coconut oil and MCT oil (derived from coconut oil) are incredible healthy fats. MCT oil even improves your energy, digestion, hormones, cognition and more (25)!
You’ll find healthy fats in good cooking oils, some meats, fatty fish, organ meats, eggs, full-fat dairy, nuts/seeds and avocados.
This class is made up of meats, seafood, full-fat dairy and eggs. Keep in mind that keto is not a high-protein diet — too much protein can actually get converted to glucose (sugar), making it harder to get into ketosis and stay there.
When you choose a keto-friendly protein, the source matters. Free-range and grass-fed animals produce more nutrient-dense foods. Plus, animals given hormones and antibiotics will pass them along to you, which is why I always opt for organic protein whenever possible.
If money is a consideration and organic proteins are out of the question, try to get meat that’s grass-fed and free of antibiotics and hormones.
No matter how hard you try, you’ll never get away from carbs entirely. And that’s okay! The carbs you consume on keto are often fiber- and nutrient-rich foods like leafy greens.
When you’re calculating macros, remember that fiber grams are subtracted from overall carb count. If a salad has 8 grams of carbohydrates but 6 grams of fiber, you’re only consuming 2 net carbs. Fibrous carbohydrates don’t spike your blood sugar like other types of carbs.
Good carbs on the keto diet are found in non-starchy vegetables, like leafy greens, keto-friendly fruits, some full-fat dairy, avocados, non-dairy milks (always buy unsweetened) and some nuts/seeds. Most starchy vegetables, like sweet potatoes, are too high in carbs to be good side dishes.
THE ULTIMATE KETO SHOPPING LIST
A keto diet food list can be hard to come by, since most lists only include the basics. But who wants to only stick to basics? That would get boring! This keto diet guide isn’t meant to get into all the details on what you can eat on keto.
But if you check out The Ultimate Keto Shopping List with all of the foods and beverages allowed as part of the keto diet you’ll have plenty of options as you get started with the keto diet.\. It’s the last keto diet shopping guide you’ll ever need! For more information about each food group, check out the original article.
When you choose what to eat on any given day, consider using a keto diet calculator as an app on your phone to track your macros.
WHAT MAKES THE KETO DIET DIFFERENT FROM OTHER LOW-CARB DIETS?
Skeptics of keto (and hey, maybe you’re one of them right now!) ask what makes this diet so unique. Their keto diet reviews speak of how keto is just “the current fad.” So, of course I have to address some of their most common criticisms in this keto diet guide. Here’s popular questions that often come up with respect to keto:
What’s the difference between the keto diet and the Atkins diet?
What’s the difference between the keto diet and Paleo?
What’s the difference between the keto diet and other low-carb diets?
They’re fair questions! After all, it’s tempting to run with each new fad diet when it comes, only to end up disappointed and looking for the next big thing.
What sets keto apart from other low-carb diets or healthy eating plans is the process of ketosis.
I’ll explain what ketosis is soon, but first, let me explain how to get there.
THE BEST KETO MACROS
Thankfully, with keto the focus is not on calorie counts but on macronutrients. If you want to be successful on keto you kind of have to know the lingo. That’s why I wanted to include other terms people use to describe macros inside of this keto diet guide:
- Keto percentages
- Keto ratio
- Keto macro ratio
- Macro ratios
Your macros on keto should be somewhere around 70-80 percent fat, 10-20 percent protein and 5-10 percent carbs.
You can do long math to figure out your ratios, which I’ll outline below. However, there are great free apps out there that can do the math for you.
Each gram of fat is equal to nine calories. One gram of protein or carbohydrate is equal to 4 calories. If you’re on a 2,000 calorie per day plan, that means you’ll consume:
- 155-178 grams of fat, equal to 1400-600 calories (70-80 percent of your total)
- 50-100 grams of protein, equal to 200-400 calories (10-20 percent of your total)
- 25-50 grams of net carbs, equal to 100-200 calories (5-10 percent of your total)
When calculating how many grams of carbohydrates you’re eating, you’ll need to focus on net carbs.
To calculate your net carbs, follow this equation:
Total Carbohydrates - Fiber - Sugar Alcohols = Net Carbs
You’ll recognize sugar alcohols on a nutrition label because they’re words that end in “itol,” like erythritol, mannitol or sorbitol.
Some people try eating even less than five percent carbohydrates a day. However, if you’re eating plenty of non-starchy veggies (which you should be!), that number isn’t realistic.
WHAT IF MY MACROS ARE OFF?
Getting back to the original question (what’s the difference between the keto diet and other low-carb diets), you need to understand why you’re sticking to these numbers.
When your body transitions into ketosis, you have starved your brain of glucose to the point that it instructs your liver to produce ketones.
At first, it can take up to an entire week for your brain and liver to catch up with one another. If you eat a heap of carbs a few days after starting keto, your brain will flip the switch backwards automatically, letting your liver know it doesn’t need to make ketones after all. You definitely don’t want this to happen!
It’s best to start keto with at least 28-32 days with no cheating/flexing. That way, your body fully transitions into ketosis and gets used to producing ketones. The keto carb limit can be more flexible once you’re fat-adapted, but not at first.
Remember to use a keto diet calculator, especially as you’re getting started, to keep your macros in check.
WHAT IS KETOSIS?
Let’s review what we know about ketosis so far:
Ketosis happens when you drastically cut the carbs you eat and fill your diet with a ton of healthy fats. It also occurs when you practice variations of intermittent fasting, during some periods of infancy and sometimes during pregnancy (26).
To get into ketosis, you need to eat a lot of fats, not just less carbs and a bunch of protein. Ketosis is a process of training your body to feed on fat for energy (fatty acids as well as ketones), and too much protein can actually get converted to glucose if you aren’t eating enough fat.
It takes between 1-7 days to transition into ketosis on the keto diet. For some people, especially those who already eat moderate-carb, nutrient-rich diets, the transition is faster. If you’re a fast food junkie, it may take up to a week.
When you first start keto, your body will take any carb loading as a sign to stop producing ketones. But when you’re keto-adapted (also called fat-adapted or metabolic flexibility), you can transition in and out of ketosis faster.
Now, let’s start at the beginning again and answer some additional questions. What is ketosis?
If your body is starved of carbohydrates or most calories it needs to function, your brain signals your liver to begin producing ketones. Your body actually does start to burn its own fat in order to survive, and it has a built-in process for how to produce even more energy sources.
The liver produces ketone bodies in three forms: acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) and acetone. Your cells then go a step further, breaking down each of these three ketone bodies into circulating ketones.
When your blood is rich with circulating ketones, every cell in your body is then able to derive energy from these molecules instead of glucose.
You’ll need to be on the keto diet for at least a few weeks before you notice a change in your body fat. But you’ll see within just a few days that something is happening.
For example, you’ll probably experience some keto side effects (explained in more detail below) and are likely to drop most of your water weight pretty quickly. That’s why many people report losing several pounds in the first week of beginning the diet, especially if they were eating a lot of high-carbohydrate foods.
Why exactly do you lose so much water weight in ketosis? The easiest way to explain this is that your muscles store carbs in the form of glycogen. This is how they typically get energy to work.
Each glycogen molecule requires three times its own weight in water to be stored in your muscles. As you use up glycogen in your transition to ketosis, the water that was storing it will be excreted in your urine because you aren’t replacing those glycogen molecules through your diet anymore.
One important thing to note in this keto diet guide is that ketosis is a spectrum, not just a simple switch. When you first enter ketosis, it may take weeks to get into “deep” ketosis. The deeper into ketosis you can get, the more fat you’ll burn consistently.
This is one of the differences between ketosis and being keto-adapted. When you’re keto-adapted, your body is not only in ketosis, but it’s able to transition back and forth without many of the symptoms you may experience the first time. It also may happen faster.
To be successful on the keto diet, you’ll need to stay in ketosis. There are ways to track this, like blood, breath or urine meters. The Precision Xtra meter is one high-quality blood meter for ketones, and I recommend Ketonix if you’d rather test with a breath meter. Dozens of urine strip brands are helpful, too.
Your breath and urine ketone levels can drop over time as your body becomes keto-adapted, so the best way to get an accurate measurement will be a blood meter.
HOW TO DEEPEN OR KICKSTART KETOSIS
Ready to get started on keto for the first time? Doing keto, but hit a plateau and need some ketosis help? Or maybe you’ve taken a longer break than you planned and want to get right back to burning fat like a boss!
Whatever the case, there are a few ways that you can speed up how fast you get into ketosis or deepen your level of ketosis and I wanted to be sure to include them in this keto diet guide:
- Try fasting. I’m not just talking about intermittent fasting here, which can definitely help deepen ketosis, too. But 48 hours of fasting, drinking just water, equates to a similar level of ketosis as two weeks on the keto diet (26). This isn’t a long-term solution by any means, but it can be helpful to kickstart your efforts.
- Tweak your macros. For a period of time, you may want to further decrease how much protein and carbs you consume, increasing your fat even more. It can be difficult, but you probably don’t need to do this for more than a few days to deepen your level of ketosis.
- Take a ketone supplement. I’ll give you more information on what keto supplements can be helpful below, but a supplement providing your body with exogenous (external) ketones can help trigger your body’s fat-feeding frenzy.
- Exercise. Trust me, the first time you go on keto, you won’t want to exercise for a few days. However, if you can exercise through the fatigue, you’ll deplete your stores of glycogen faster. The less glycogen molecules hanging around, the more your body realizes it needs to use fat/ketones instead.
- Practice intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is popular in the keto community because it enhances keto diet results. Your liver automatically produces some ketones once you haven’t eaten for 12 hours, so fasting every day for 16-20 hours will supply you with even more ketones than just eating on keto.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I GO INTO KETOSIS?
Once you’ve gotten past the keto side effects, your body can truly thrive while in ketosis. This process is what gives you all of those disease-fighting and weight loss benefits we talked about already, and it has a few other great perks.
Appetite suppression: Scientists aren’t exactly sure why, but during ketosis, you’ll naturally want to eat less. Your cravings for specific foods will decrease and you may notice that you never feel very hungry, even if it’s been a long time since your last meal. What we do know is that ketosis changes the way your body produces and processes hunger hormones like ghrelin and cholecystokinin (26).
Blood sugar management: Even if you don’t have diabetes, you won’t have blood sugar dips or spikes during ketosis.
Consistent energy levels: Remember the 2 PM crash? That’s a thing of the past while you’re in ketosis. Not only will you not have those blood sugar spikes that wreck your energy levels, your body can use the ketones it creates for energy at any time of day, not just after you eat. That means you’re more likely to wake up alert.
Less brain fog: Ketosis can send your brain into a clearer, more alert state. The drop in “brain fog” (the term for that fuzzy feeling of not thinking clearly) is one of the major reasons many healthy, average weight people practice keto.
But what does it take to get there? Let’s look at how the keto diet can cause some side effects at first and what to expect.
WHAT ARE THE SIDE EFFECTS OF THE KETO DIET?
Even though the benefits of keto far outweigh the challenges, I do have to give your fair warning. There are some side effects and I wanted to be sure to include them in this keto diet guide so you aren’t blindsided in case you experience them.
With keto, you’ll take advantage of many disease-fighting, inflammation-calming, fat-burning benefits. Other parts of the process are more challenging or frustrating, especially at first. The disadvantages to the keto diet, other than drastically limiting your food choices, generally have to do with the keto flu or other keto side effects.
Here are some other common side effects of the keto diet:
Bad breath: Sometimes called ketosis breath, you may experience issues with your breath while on keto. One type of ketone body, acetone, is excreted through your breath.
The smell may be reminiscent of fruit that’s a little past its “use by” date. It may not be so great for your social life, but it’s a good sign you’re in ketosis. You can help by chewing some sugar free gum.
Frequent peeing: As you drink water on a normal diet, a lot of it is often absorbed to replace water you excrete from the glycogen stores in your muscle. On keto, you aren’t storing glycogen, so the water that your digestive system doesn’t absorb goes out in the form of urine. This translates to more trips to the bathroom, especially if you’re drinking enough water.
It’s nothing to worry about, and some people report that after several weeks on the diet, they don’t notice any more peeing than they used to do.
Diarrhea or constipation: Nobody really enjoys talking about bathroom time, but it’s totally normal to experience diarrhea when you begin keto. Give your body a chance to recalibrate and regulate itself.
Dehydration: You’ll be getting rid of a lot of water, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of it on keto. This is great for not only avoiding dehydration but avoiding digestive problems.
If you notice you’re constipated or having diarrhea at any point on keto, you may be eating too much dairy and not enough fiber. Try introducing more leafy greens into your diet and cutting back on your dairy intake.
THE DREADED KETO FLU
As you get into ketosis, you’ll probably experience some things that aren’t so fun. This cluster of symptoms is known as the keto flu or carb flu.
What is the keto flu? From a biological perspective, you experience keto flu because your brain is the only thing in your body that can’t feed on fatty acids. It can only use glucose or ketones.
It takes that 1-7 day period for your liver to start making ketones. During that time, your entire body except for your brain can get along fine by just using the fatty acids you’re feeding it as fuel. However, your brain sits around confused for awhile because it’s missing the glucose it needs to operate.
After a day or two, your brain starts sending signals to the rest of your body that it’s starving, even though you aren’t. These signals look like fatigue, increased brain fog, irritability, nausea, headache and increased sugar/carb cravings.
The good news is that keto flu is literally all in your head.
It’s worth pushing through, trust me. After ketosis sets in and the keto flu goes away, you’ll be glad you stuck it out.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Keto flu can last anywhere from a day to two weeks. The majority of people find that days 2-5 tend to be the worst part of the keto diet, but if you’re still having keto symptoms at that point, try sticking it out to at least week three.
- The keto flu is usually worse for people starting out with bad eating habits. The more your body is accustomed to carbs, the bigger of a transition it will be. If you already follow a diet like Paleo or another low- or no-grain routine, you may not notice any keto flu symptoms.
- You can prevent or lessen some of the negative side effects of the keto diet by following the steps to deepen ketosis. Exercising, adding extra fat to your routine, fasting/intermittent fasting and ketone supplements will all help lessen or possibly eliminate keto side effects like the keto flu.
WHAT IF I’M GETTING BORED WITH THE FOOD?
Once you’re in ketosis, everything will be great and you’ll sail off into your fat-burning sunset forever… right?
Listen, I totally understand that we’re all humans who crave variety in our lives. Some people run into the very real issue of getting bored with keto food.
Lucky for you, I have some ideas that can help fix that!
- Use spices liberally. Just because you’re limiting the number of items you can eat doesn’t mean they can’t taste great! You can use just about any spice in your keto meals, so take this time to experiment with flavors. I include a huge list of keto-friendly spices in my keto shopping list.
- Try some new keto recipes. You can find a keto-friendly recipe for just about anything on the Internet. Use this website, Pinterest, Facebook or any other place recipes live to find something creative to break up the keto monotony. Try some of our keto breakfast ideas! Breakfast all day is a great way to implement the keto diet in an easy way.
- Use more cauliflower. This somewhat boring veggie is actually anything but boring when it comes to keto. You can basically do anything with it! One of my favorite keto cauliflower recipes is for cauliflower mash. Stop missing your mashed potatoes by replacing them with keto-friendly cauliflower!
- Learn to love keto veggies. It’s easy to avoid vegetables on keto because it’s possible (but unhealthy) to stay in ketosis by eating meat, cheese and butter all day. But your body really needs the nutrients found in vegetables in order to be healthy. If you’re bored, try snagging some new keto veggies you haven’t eaten much, like artichoke hearts, seaweed, rutabaga or jicama. Like it or not, though, the best keto veggies tend to be cauliflower, broccoli, kale, lettuce — they’re easy to find and pretty inexpensive.
- Try a keto cabbage recipe. Cabbage is a super nutritious food and, like cauliflower, can be used in nearly any dish. There might be a keto cabbage recipe out there to knock out your boredom.
IT TAKES TOO LONG TO MAKE ALL THESE KETO FOODS… DOESN’T IT?
Meal prep can be a beast, which is why my wife, Erica, and I came up with a list of our favorite keto meals that you can whip up quickly.
First tip: crock pots and instant pots are your friends! There are many ways to add foods to your ketogenic diet menu that taste best when left to simmer while you’re out working hard.
Even a keto diet for beginners can include some easy meals. Canned tuna with organic mayo, deconstructed cheeseburgers and eggs with bacon all take ten minutes or less to prepare.
Yes, meal prepping is the way to go if you’re limited on time and need to eat at home most of the time. However, you can also enjoy keto meals out to eat — just look out for hidden carbs. Most restaurants have nutrition information available so you can double-check what you’re eating. I’m looking at you, kale and chicken salad with 56 grams of net carbs! (Seriously, where did they put those?)
I’M JUST SO HUNGRY!
- Homemade nuts, seeds or trail mix (many store-bought brands add tons of sugar or bad fats)
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Keto coffee (MCT oil + vanilla ghee + coffee = fatty goodness)
- Bone broth
- Dark chocolate (or stevia- or erythritol-sweetened chocolate)
- Raw, grass-fed cheese slices
- Keto fat bombs (you can make these in big batches and eat them over several days)
- Keto chow milkshakes or coffee (here’s a great recipe for a Keto Chow Shamrock Shake)
- Keto mozzarella sticks (this recipe only takes 15 minutes!)
- Cheese chips, homemade or store-bought
Still hungry? You may not be eating enough calories.
It’s easy to get caught in the cycle of caloric restriction, but on keto, you don’t really benefit from cutting calories.
Give your body some extra fuel. Fat bombs and keto-friendly smoothies can be super helpful!
I’M CRAVING COMFORT FOOD.
Can you have a cheat day on the keto diet? Sometimes, a bowl of pasta just sounds like heaven after cutting carbs for a long time. I bet you didn’t think you’d find anything about cheating in this keto diet guide, but it can actually be beneficial.
You can definitely have a keto cheat day, but with some precautions. For one, don’t use it to eat the stuff you had to break addictions to — soda, cake, candy and fast food still aren’t worth it. Second, you need to be in ketosis for a few weeks before trying a cheat day or you may fall out of ketosis.
If you stop eating a keto diet, you’ll lose the positive effects eventually as your body transitions to using glucose again. You may not gain weight back if you stick to a healthy, standard diet, but you may notice your mental clarity isn’t as crisp.
That’s why “cheating” on the keto diet should be done thoughtfully.
But maybe you don’t need a keto cheat day. Maybe you just need better keto recipes.
For instance, there are a ton of incredible keto bread recipes that can quench your craving for bread. Or perhaps you just need a new keto dessert? Keto diet recipes for desserts will typically use sweeteners like stevia, monk fruit or sugar alcohols.
After cutting out processed sugars, you’ll probably notice that fruit tastes sweeter than it did before. The list of keto fruits isn’t very long, but they can help a sweet tooth moment.
Most of the time, you’ll want to stick to avocados (a keto superfood), berries, lemons, limes, olives, tomatoes and watermelon. With berries, I try eating ½ to 1 cup at a time.
Keto skeptics often point out this lack of antioxidant-rich fruits as one reason keto isn’t “healthy.” They’re right that antioxidants are important — but the natural sugars in fruits will kick you out of ketosis just like white sugar in a slice of cake. While you’re strictly following keto, choose fruits from the list above.
Another way to get some “comfort” food is to start your day with keto coffee. This fat-rich, energy boosting treat is a great way to begin any morning! Every good keto diet review includes a +1 for the best keto coffee.
Still struggling? Maybe it’s time to try carb cycling, also called cyclical keto or keto cycling. Basically, you alternate every day or two between a keto diet and diet with a higher carb count (between 100-150 grams per day instead of 50 or less). You’ll still want to eat nutrient-dense, foods, though…
Can you technically get into ketosis by eating nothing but meat and cheese? Sure… But you don’t want to.
You can get all of your required nutrients on a ketogenic diet without taking supplements...but for most people this can be challenging. To do this, you need to thoughtfully plan meals to make sure you get enough nutrients from keto veggies, fruits and proteins.
But truthfully? Based on my experience as a functional health doctor for the last 10 years, I have seen hundreds of lab results and most people (even those that are health conscious) are deficient in one or more critical micronutrients. This is why it can be beneficial to invest in a keto supplement.
Because even with careful planning, there’s a chance you could be deficient in one of these important nutrients:
- Selenium (27)
- Vitamin K1
- Vitamin C
- Sodium (28)
You’ll notice that some of these (sodium, potassium, magnesium) are electrolytes. It is possible for the keto diet to lead to a small electrolyte imbalance. Basically… don’t skimp on the salt. Most people don’t, but if you notice you struggle with muscle cramping, you might need electrolyte supplementation on the keto diet.
While you don’t need to take vitamin supplements on the keto diet, multivitamins certainly can shore up gaps in your nutrition at any point.
The best multivitamin on keto will help you get plenty of the above nutrients, plus good B vitamin complexes for added energy.
I consider exogenous ketones and digestive enzymes most useful on a keto diet. If you feel like you want to add keto supplements to your keto diet plan for beginners (or pros!), you should take these two keto supplements regularly.
You shouldn’t use exogenous ketones forever (really, you don’t need to), but they are extremely beneficial at helping you transition into ketosis faster as well as providing you with an extra fuel source. I really like using exogenous ketones before workouts while on keto.
Why digestive enzymes? Simply put, digestive enzymes help you to break down the nutrients in your food and absorb more of them. Since you may not get as broad a nutrient profile as on a more Paleo-like diet, making sure to the body uses every nutrient you eat can help to avoid not only nutrient deficiencies, but help your digestion as well.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR WOMEN GOING KETO
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this keto diet guide, but one thing that deserves a deeper conversation Keto for Women . We delve deep into that topic in the referenced article, but here is a summary of some of the cautions to take if you’re a woman starting the keto diet.
Even though keto can help balance out hormone levels for women with PCOS, being on the diet for too long can lead to hormonal imbalances, whether or not you have a hormonal condition to begin with.
Especially if you have a hormone condition like PCOS, be very aware on keto if your symptoms get better or worse.
Other women who probably need more carbohydrates are:
- Pregnant/nursing mothers: There’s no scientific evidence to support doing or not doing keto while pregnant, but I always opt for caution.
- Athletes: Many high-intensity athletes find that keto works great, but if you find you’re not recovering well, it might be time to consume more carbs again (29).
- Women with underactive thyroid or menstrual irregularities: Very low-carb diets can impact the production of both thyroid and sex hormones. You can use adaptogenic herbs and extra B vitamins if your adrenals need some support.
Below, are two great options for women who may still want to try some kind of modified keto diet.
One option for women that want to do keto is to do an alkaline keto diet. You’ll support your body’s efforts in balancing pH and more alkaline foods (raw vegetables and more fiber) help to decrease inflammation and improve your natural detox process.
You may find that following an alkaline diet helps protect from bone loss, poor immunity and even kidney stones. But truthfully, keto can be a challenging diet and adding alkaline as a second parameter may be a bit over the top for some people.
The second way that women might want to try keto is by carb cycling. After a four-week strict keto diet, you can alternate days (or do two days on, one day off) of keto and a higher-carb, still nutrient dense diet.
This approach is probably more practical for most people. Plus, carb cycling is also beneficial for weight loss and doesn’t have as many of the same hormonal concerns as a strict keto diet.
KETO TOOLS AND RESOURCES
Some of the most important resources you need when starting keto are:
- A keto diet tracking app that can calculate macros for you — I like Keto.app, which specifically measures your net carbs, rather than total (like most trackers).
- A way to measure your level of ketosis (urine, breath or blood)
- Keto diet books and cookbooks
HOW TO GET STARTED ON THE KETO DIET
Are you ready to get started with the keto diet lifestyle?
Before you begin, I suggest you take a few days to get ready. Here’s a pre-keto checklist to try:
- Clear out your kitchen. Removing temptation is the best way to avoid it, so get rid of all the unhealthy fats, processed foods, sugary and carb-heavy foods and ingredients you have lying around.
- Go shopping. You need plenty of new foods to fill up the refrigerator and pantry you just emptied! Stick with the basics if you can and remember to opt for quality if possible, like grass-fed/organic meats and organic produce.
- Lighten your workload. In the event you feel fatigued with the keto flu, it will be nice to have less responsibilities on your plate. Consider beginning your diet over a holiday weekend to make the transition a little less stressful.
- Check your calendar. Lots of dinner meetings coming up? Think ahead and change restaurant choices if you’re concerned about having enough keto-friendly options. While you’re getting into your new habits, you want to avoid any unnecessary risks… Like a dinner restaurant with endless bread at the table.
- Consider fasting to begin. Whether you are brave enough to try a day or two of water fasting, or just start doing intermittent fasting, using fasting along with keto at first will help you transition faster.
- Get rid of the crap now. Before you start, there’s no reason to keep eating or drinking super unhealthy things like soda or white bread. Help your body fight these cravings by giving them up right away.
- Eat tons of fats for three days — but don’t cut the healthy carbs yet. Another way to avoid the keto flu getting as bad is to give yourself plenty of fatty acids for your body to use. Add in healthy fats for the three days before you start strict keto and even consider using exogenous ketone supplements.
When you begin, keep in mind that this is a restrictive diet — and it’s going to feel that way at first. As time progresses, you’ll find that your keto food options are actually amazing and delicious!
Bookmark this page on your laptop or phone so that you can refer to it any time you’re unsure of what to do or if what you’re experiencing is normal.
I can’t wait to hear your keto diet reviews as you take this new step into healthy living!
KETO DIET PRECAUTIONS
If you suffer from chronic health conditions, any new diet (including keto) should be started under the blessing of your health care provider. This applies especially to women who are pregnant or nursing, or to anyone who has diabetes or prediabetes.
In most cases, diabetics actually benefit from keto. It’s because of this fact that you should discuss this with your healthcare provider! You might end up needing to change dosage or stop taking your medications, and that’s not something to handle on your own.
The keto diet has been one of the best strategies that I’ve implemented in my own life and for my clients. It’s supported by science and once you get into a rhythm keto can become a way of life. I’m excited for you to get started! To help you on your journey, here’s a list of our most popular keto articles:
- Keto for Women: 4 Reasons to Consider a Modified Keto Diet
- Best Keto Bread Recipes for Killing Carb Cravings
- Our Favorite Keto Meals for Staying Satisfied and in Ketosis
- How to Become Keto Adapted in 8 Simple Steps
- Low Carb vs. Keto and our Take on Keto Carb Limits
- The Best Keto Supplements for Staying healthy and Keto Adapted
- How to Have a Responsible Keto Cheat Day
- Delicious Keto Breakfast Ideas for Staying in Ketosis
- The Ultimate Keto Shopping List
- Keto Diet Results: What to Expect When You Go Keto
- 25 Simple Keto Diet Snacks for Becoming (or Staying) Keto Adapted
- On the Keto Diet? Ketosis Symptoms and Benefits Explained
- 10 Keto Diet Success Tips Even If You’re Busy and Doing Keto on the Go
- Comforting Keto Cauliflower Recipes that Taste Nothing Like Cauliflower
- Supercharged Keto: How Keto and Intermittent Fasting Can Accelerate Weight Loss and Improve Results
- What to Look for In Keto Protein Powders