KETO 101: HOW TO START A KETO DIET
Wondering ‘what is the keto diet?’ Here you’ll find all the info you need to get started on your journey to health, wellness, and weight-loss. You will also get a boost in energy by eating more of the delicious foods you love. Ready to go keto? Welcome to KetoResource, your one-stop site for all things Keto Diet! Here’s how to start keto and get the healthiest you have ever been!
This site will teach you how to go Keto; that is, adopt a new way of eating a delicious diet that is high in fats, low in carbohydrates with generous amounts of proteins—known as the Ketogenic Diet. You will learn everything. The health benefits, do’s and do not’s, what to stock up on at the grocery store. How to simplify your shopping, all about meal planning, and more. This will jumpstart your Keto Diet and maintain long-term success once you’ve reached the results you were hoping for!
What is the Keto Diet and How Does it Work?
You’ve probably been hearing about high-protein diets for years. You know that in general, most people succeed in weight loss when they limit their complex carb and sugar intake while increasing their protein. But the term “Keto” is likely new to you.
“Keto” is short for “ketosis,” referring to the perfectly natural metabolic state that the body reaches when it begins using stored fats for energy, rather than glucose (sugar). On a typical, high-carbohydrate diet, excess sugars from sweets, high-sugar fruits, pasta and high-starch foods like bread and grains break down into glucose. The body uses this glucose for energy.
But if you eliminate or reduce the foods that break down into sugars, the body opts to burn off excess fat stores instead. Ketosis is the metabolic state when fat stores in the body are converted to energy. Once the body is in ketosis, there is a build-up of naturally-occurring acids called ketones. The results of the body burning fat instead of sugars are weight-loss and improved overall health – the goal of the Keto Diet!
By eating a diet rich in healthy fats and hearty proteins and cutting carbs and sugar, your body will reach a state of ketosis, transforming fat into energy. You will enjoy eating meats, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, butter and a wide range of vegetables, while losing weight.
Isn’t it Just Another Fad Diet?
While the trend to eat low-carb diets may seem fairly recent, the Ketogenic Diet has actually been around for almost a century. Originally created as a method to combat epilepsy in children during the 1920s, researchers noted a link between the Keto Diet and improvements in behavior as well as an increase in control of seizures.
Over time, this method of eating has become a popular option in one form or another for those wishing to combat high cholesterol, control blood sugar and insulin resistance, lower their blood pressure, increase their energy and lose weight.
How Do I Go Keto?
As with any new diet or exercise regime, it’s always good to check with your doctor before jumping in. Know that individual results vary. Once you have determined that the Keto Diet is for you, your first step will be to eliminate all processed foods from your diet.
Going Keto means simplifying the foods you eat, and the ingredients they contain. According to Torey Armul, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, processed foods include “any food that has been…changed in some way prior to consumption.” For example any foods that have been packaged, cooked, canned, frozen or “fortified.” This means saying goodbye to chips, crackers, sugary snacks, refined oils, imitation, “diet” and fast foods. You will also need to purchase only high-quality meats; no more factory-farmed chicken or beef.
Once you’ve gotten used to the idea that your meals will be made up of whole foods, you’ll find that grocery shopping is simplified, and cooking is easier. You will not be consuming less food, you will be consuming simpler foods; foods in their natural state. The Keto Diet is not about restricting caloric intake. In fact, you will likely be consuming more calories than you’re accustomed to. But these will be in the form of fats, nuts, cheeses, full-fat dairy and red meats.
As an example, where dinner used to be lasagna—with layers of processed pasta, high-sugar tomato sauce, and a small amount of meat—you will now eat a delicious steak, asparagus and zucchini sautéed in coconut oil, and a warm bok choy and bacon salad. Your meals will include farm-raised chicken, pork, beef, bacon as well as eggs, nuts, an assortment of cheeses and hearty, leafy greens. Low-fat diets are a thing of the past. Your body needs fats to burn in order for you to lose fat!
Why Go Keto?
If you are someone who has yo-yo dieted for years, eating a low-fat diet full of foods labeled as “diet” or “lite,” and have failed to see results, the Keto Diet is for you. If you are someone who struggles with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, celiac disease, insulin resistance, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and low energy, then the Keto Diet may be the solution you’ve been looking for.
Keto Myths: What Keto is Not
Myth #1: Keto is Eating Only Meat
A lot of people think of the Keto Diet as the “meat” diet—meaning you eat meat morning, noon and night. While you will be eating more protein and fewer carbs, it’s probably more accurate to call Keto the “fat” diet. You will be eating more fats than you’re accustomed to. In fact, roughly 75% of your daily calories will come from healthy fats, with 15-20% coming from protein on the Keto Diet. Fat is your fuel!
Your fat sources will be foods like butter, bacon, high-fat cream, coconut and other oils, dressings, cheese and full-fat yogurt. The protein you consume will be secondary but required to help you remain in ketosis and burning the fat.
Myth #2: You Don’t Eat Vegetables on the Keto Diet
While your new way of eating will include up to 80% of your caloric intake coming from healthy fats and 15% from protein, that means the remaining calories will come from carbs. But what kind of carbs? You guessed it: vegetables. While you will be avoiding starchy veggies like potatoes, corn and carrots, you will be eating plenty of leafy greens. Leafy greens are spinach, lettuce, chard, kale, and cabbage. Hearty options like asparagus, zucchini, cauliflower and spaghetti squash also fit the bill. While some foods (like full-fat yogurt) will have trace amounts of carbs (still worth counting), the majority of carbohydrates will come from healthy portions of vegetables.
You can start your day with a green smoothie, rich with antioxidants and fiber and some fried eggs. At lunch, pair a leafy green salad with olives and blue cheese with grilled salmon. Stir fry zucchini and asparagus in coconut oil and grill a skirt steak for dinner. Your meals will be balanced, healthy and hearty, and the fiber found in vegetables is crucial for overall health.
Myth #3: Keto Diet Means No Dessert
While it is true that you will no longer be consuming sugary foods and sweets—meaning no more sugar in its many forms (sugar cane, corn syrup, honey, agave, maple sugar, etc.)—there are some natural sweeteners and fruits that will not have an impact on your blood sugar and ketosis goals.
Natural sweeteners like stevia, erythritol and monk fruit are all fine, as are berries, cocoa and carob powders. In fact, adding a handful of berries and some cocoa powder to a green smoothie is a delicious breakfast! And if you want dessert after dinner, try some fresh berries with homemade whipped cream sweetened with stevia.
How Many Grams of Carbs Should I Eat?
The short answer for how man carbs you should eat on the Keto Diet is under 20 grams per day. The longer answer is it depends on your individual results, and what level of carb consumption keeps you in ketosis.
You will calculate the “net carbs” on foods you eat. The net carbs are the number of grams of carbs minus the number of grams of fiber. While fiber is a carbohydrate, your body does not process or metabolize fiber, so you won’t count fiber grams as “carbs.” They are important for overall health and aid with digestion, keeping you regular.
Each individual will determine their own personal carb limit. Factors that may affect your results are: overall level of physical activity, percentage of body fat, curent weight and goal.
How Do I Know if I Have Reached Ketosis?
Ketosis is the metabolic state your body reaches when it begins to burn fat instead of glucose for energy. As these fats are burned, a build-up of acids—called ketones—are used as a primary source of energy. This state, ketosis, is the goal of the Keto Diet.
There are several ways to know if your body has reached the state of ketosis, or whether your body has an excess of the ketone acids. The most reliable and recognizable signs of ketosis can be detected in your breath, the ketone levels in your urine, and in your blood.
One ketone acid that is produced and released by your body is acetone. Acetone is released in both your urine and your breath, which means you may notice your breath takes on a distinct “metallic” smell, particularly in the early stages of starting the Keto Diet. You can measure the acetone in your breath using an Acetone Breath Analyzer (one popular brand is the Ketonix). But don’t worry, the bad breath won’t last forever, and can easily be remedied with sugar-free, no-carb gum.
When ketones are released in your urine, they can be detected with specially-designed testing strips. These are an inexpensive product which you can find at most drug stores (a popular brand is Ketostix). These are easy to use and are a precise, convenient way to determine if you have reached ketosis.
To measure the ketone levels in your bloodstream, you will need to purchase a test kit (also available in most drug stores). You will need to prick your finger, then place a drop of your blood on a test strip which measures your level of ketosis. While testing your blood levels is the most accurate way of determining whether you’re in ketosis, these test kits are more expensive, so you will likely prefer the urine strips.
What Can I Eat?
The easiest way to categorize foods on the Keto Diet is to think of them in terms of green, red, and yellow light foods. You can consume as much as you’d like of green light foods. Red light foods will keep you from reaching ketosis and so should be eliminated entirely. Yellow light foods are those you should limit or eat sparingly so you can reach and maintain a state of ketosis. Here is a sample keto diet plan.
Green Light (Enjoy Freely)
- Healthy Fats from Oils: (Coconut, Avocado, Macadamia, Olive, Red palm, Sesame, Fish, Nut and Seed Oils)
- Other Healthy Fats:
- Lard, Bacon fat, Tallow, Duck, Goose and Chicken Fats,
- Butter, Clarified Butter/Ghee, Polyunsaturated Omega-3s (best in fatty fish and seafoods)
- High-Fat Foods: Macadamia Nuts, Avocados, Olives, Nuts
- Grass-Fed Meats: Beef, Lamb, Goat, Venison, Pork, Chicken, Hen, Turkey
- Wild-Caught Fish and Seafood
- Non-Starchy Vegetables: Leafy Greens, Kale, Kohlrabi, Radishes, Celery, Asparagus, Cucumber, Summer Squash (Zucchini, Spaghetti Squash, etc.)
- Condiments: Mayonnaise, Mustard, Pesto, Pickles, Fermented Foods (Kimchi, Sauer Kraut, etc.)
Yellow Light (Eat in Moderation)
- Vegetables: Cabbages, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Fennel, Nori, Kombu, Okra, Bean Sprouts, Sugar Snap Peas, Wax Beans, Artichokes, Water Chestnuts
- Nightshades: Mushrooms, Eggplant, Tomatoes, Peppers
- Root Vegetables: Leeks, Onion, Garlic, Pumpkin Squash, Celery Root, Carrots, Beets, Sweet Potatoes
Grain-Fed and Factory-Farmed Foods: Meats, Dairy, Eggs, Cheese
- Fruits: Berries, Coconut, Rhubarb, Watermelon, Cantaloupe, Melons, Dried Fruits, Citrus Fruits (Oranges, Grapefruit, Tangerines), Pitted Fruits (Peaches, Nectarines, Plums, Cherries, etc.), Apples, Kiwis, Pears, Figs
- Nuts and Seeds
Red Light (Remove from Diet Completely)
- Processed Foods: Anything with Carrageenan, MSG, Sulfites
- Sugar Foods and Sweets: Table Sugar, Cane Sugar, Corn Syrup, Agave Syrup, Maple Syrup, Soft Drinks (Full-Sugar or diet), Diet Foods and Artificial Sweeteners (including those advertised as “Low- or Zero-Carb”)
- Grains: Wheat, Barley, Rice, Buckwheat, Wheat, Rye, Corn, Millet, Quinoa, Bulgar, Pastas, Breads, Pizza Crust
- Factory-Farm Raised Foods: Poultry and Pork
- High-Sugar Fruits and Juices: Bananas, papayas, Mangoes, Pineapples, Tangerines, Grapes, Oranges, Dried Fruit (including Dates and Raisins)
What Side Effects Should I Watch Out For?
Making a dramatic dietary change will often result in side effects. If you begin the Keto Diet and notice some of these side effects, worry not! You can reverse them by making some careful adjustments to your diet.
Also known as “low blood sugar,” hypoglycemia is when the glycemic levels in your blood drop below normal. Symptoms of hypoglycemia change from one person to the next. Typical signs are feeling sweaty, extremely hungry, dizziness or light-headedness, appearing pale, irritability, trouble concentrating and feeling weak. Hypoglycemia can happen when you begin eating a high-fat diet. Essentially, during the early phases of the Keto Diet, your body takes a little time to adjust.
To avoid a blood sugar dropout on the Keto Diet, be sure you stay hydrated and eat frequently, roughly every three hours. It might also help to drink high-protein broths that are rich in minerals. Eating high-mineral foods like seaweed and other vegetables will also help regulate blood sugar levels.
If staying hydrated, eating frequently, and consuming mineral-rich foods doesn’t effectively combat hypoglycemia, taking a magnesium supplement between meals may be the solution.
The most commonly reported side effect of switching to a Keto Diet is the Keto Flu. Symptoms reported include fatigue, a runny nose, headaches and nausea. These symptoms are associated with hypoglycemia. You can remedy this short-term side effect by taking care to eat frequently and increase your mineral intake.
When you eliminate carbohydrates and sugar from your diet, you are letting go of addictive substances. Your body and brain have become accustomed to the highs and lows that sugar puts it through, particularly because of the soothing hormones (dopamine) produced by your brain when you eat these foods.
By eliminating sugar and carbs, you’re denying your body and brain substances they really, really want back. Combined with hypoglycemia, your cravings can feel intense. As long as you continue to eat frequently, keeping your blood-sugar levels normalized, you can get past these cravings quickly, without indulging them.
Feeling a little weak, especially during the first days or weeks of the Keto Diet is normal. This is usually a symptom of hypoglycemia. These are just the temporary effects of your body adjusting to its new source of energy. Not only will this phase pass quickly, you will likely find you have much more energy on the Keto Diet. There won’t be blood sugar highs and lows.
As your hormones are adjusting to your new energy sources, cortisol levels tend to fluctuate. This leads to changes in melatonin production. Since melatonin is the “sleep” hormone, you may find your sleep patterns are disrupted. In addition to staying hydrated and controlling hypoglycemia, one method to avoid insomnia is to supplement your diet with herbal adaptogens.
Change in Bladder and Bowel Habits
One side effect you might encounter during the early phases of the Keto Diet is in your bathroom habits. This is primarily a result of fluctuating insulin levels. As they drop, the body processes glycogen found in the liver. This causes the liver to let go of salt stores and for more water to be released into the urinary system. As your body releases the sodium stores, it loses crucial electrolytes.
It’s great to get rid of extra fluid and water weight. But be sure you’re staying hydrated and replacing the salt you’re losing. You can do this with either electrolyte drinks or by upping your sodium intake.
In addition to needing to urinate more often, you may suffer from constipation. This is a sure sign that you are missing something. Either not drinking enough fluids, not taking mineral supplements, or getting enough fiber in the form of vegetables. While the Keto Diet is high in fat/protein, it is important to eat vegetables as your main source of carbohydrates.
Will I Eat This Way Forever?
You should never approach a diet as a temporary thing; this leads to yo-yo dieting, and frustrating ups and downs on the scale. Not to mention the mental and emotional results of going on and off diets. The Keto Diet requires a commitment to lifestyle changes. It is unhealthy to eat high-fat and high-protein one day, then have a sugary and high-carb diet the next. These extremes will put your body into shock, and result in weight gain and adverse effects on your health.
So, before you go Keto, make sure you’re ready to commit to the lifestyle. That you’re willing to let go of your attachments to sweets and high-carb snacks. The good news is that once you have begun the Keto Diet, you will likely see quick physical results. Then you will notice a decrease in your desire to snack and eat carbs.
By committing to the Keto Diet, you will benefit from improved health, energy, and weight loss. Once you have reached your overall health goals, you may find that you can gradually add more carbohydrates. All of these should be in the form of healthy food choices—like more types of vegetables and fruit. Each individual will find the right balance for maintaining their success. Then they will enjoy eating hearty, flavorful, nutritious and delicious meals. If you are ready to learn more, here is another of our Beginner’s Keto Diet Guide.