Complete Guide to Keto for Beginners

So you’ve heard about this Keto lifestyle craze and you’re wondering, what’s the big deal?

You’ve heard of the ketogenic lifestyle, but you’re not sure what it’s all about. You’ve come to the right place. This page with get you started in the right direction and give you the key basics you need to know. If you want to get started quickly, you’re in the right place.

You’re on the road to better eating and losing weight!

Seeking the information on ketogenics is the first step to starting your new lifestyle right. Reading up on the information available can be daunting, but this is the place to have it all broken down into the simple steps you need to know. There are just a few areas you need to know about to ensure your success with the Keto Diet. I won’t go into the science of it, just layman’s terms.

 

What is a Ketogenic Diet?

Keto was developed by Dr. Russell Wilder at the Mayo Clinic in 1924. The eating program was originally developed for children with epilepsy but has recently been touted for the diet’s benefits for people with diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, and even Alzheimer’s disease. If you hear about low-carb/high fat, keto, lazy keto or other names, they usually fall under the ketogenic process. Keto diet is known for being high fat, moderate protein, and low carbohydrate. Eating this way makes the body burn fat for energy rather than carbohydrates. How? Burning fat instead of carbs produces ketones in the liver, and this is then used as energy.

What is ketosis?

Your body is an amazing fat burner if given the right food. When you consume fewer carbohydrates, replacing them with healthy fats, whole foods, and moderate proteins, your body is forced to look for energy from fat. This is where ketosis comes into play. How to know if your body is in ketosis.

When the glucose from eating carbs is in low supply, your body turns to other resources to get its fuel. Your body starts breaking down fats in your liver, producing ketones, which then provides the fuel for your body and brain.

Eating foods high in carbs produces glucose, which is broken down by the insulin your body must produce to move the sugars through your bloodstream for energy.

Because glucose is a simple molecule for the body to break down, it’s used first, and what’s not used is stored in the body as fat to be used later if needed. When we restrict carbohydrates, and therefore glucose, our bodies are forced to breakdown fat for energy. In a nutshell, we eat way too many carbs, to our bodies have an excess of storage in the form of fat. Keto is the way to break down that fat to use, and helps us lose weight.

Obesity is the storage of fat from an excess of carbohydrates. It’s that simple.

What are ketones?

Ketones are produced when you force your body into the metabolic process of ketosis. As we’ve noted, this is done by limiting your carb intake and increasing your fat intake.

We begin producing and burning a significant amount of ketones, particularly acetoacetate (AcAc) and its by-products beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) and acetone.

Acetone: the by-product of breaking down acetoacetate and exhaled in your breath.

Acetoacetate: produced by the breakdown of fatty acids and converted into beta-hydroxybutyrate acid or acetone.

Beta-hydroxybutyrate acid: comes from acetoacetate and though technically not a ketone, it’s considered to be one of the three ketones.

 

There are 3 main types of Keto diets.

  • Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD) This is the most popular way the diet is used, and what you’ll see offered in most websites and books. It follows a principle of 70% healthy fats, 25% proteins, and 5% carbohydrates.
  • Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD) Eating more carbs than normal before a workout if you have a regular, more strenuous exercise routine. Adding the carbs helps you get through your intense workouts, but those carbs up burned up by exercise and you won’t really ever be out of ketosis.
  • Cyclic Ketogenic Diet (CKD) This has long been known as carbo-loading. Endurance athletes and bodybuilders eat a very lean, higher protein diet most of the time, then introduce high carbs before a competition.

What’s this “lazy” keto I’ve heard so much about?

Lazy Keto is mainly staying under 20 grams of carbs per day but not counting calories or tightly following or tracking macros.

This is how I started keto, and it’s worked well for me. I didn’t have time to make significant changes or track in such detail because I was running a restaurant and just barely fitting in time to eat. Every body is different, and you may be able to work with “lazy” keto and lose weight, but if it’s not working you’ll want to track more closely for a stricter keto diet.

Don’t even get me started on the fad of If It Fits Your Macros or IIFYM. It’s the laziest form of keto and (in my humble opinion) sets you up for failure. Basically, IIFYM works on the premise that you can eat whatever you want, as long as you fall within your macro number. Just because the food fits doesn’t mean you should eat it. Trying to lose weight while eating cookies and candy isn’t sustainable. And to be honest, IIFYM isn’t really keto.

The keto lifestyle is about eating healthy whole foods, removing the majority of processed foods, and cutting sugar. It’s about eating well and feeling good.

Totals Carbs vs Net Carbs

It’s important to understand that not all carbs are treated equal when looking at a nutrition label.

On nutrition labels you’ll Total Carbohydrates along with a further breakdown of Fiber and Sugars.

On keto, you care about net carbs which are Total Carbohydrates – Fiber = Net Carbs.

Because fiber doesn’t have an effect on your blood sugar levels it is considered a net zero carbohydrate.

 

losing weight

Become a Fat Burning Machine

STEP 1: Calculate Your Macros

If you’re going to start the keto way of eating, you need to know where to start. Knowing your macros is a must. You’ll want to know the right daily targeted calories and macros for your body. This is a personalized part of the process. If you want to lose weight, and are sedentary, your macros will differ from someone who is active. The calculator helps you find the nutrient ratios to align with your goals.

Macro Ratios

Macros are the fat, protein and carbohydrates in your food. The ratios you’ll want for keto are: 60-75% fat, 20-30% protein and 5-10% carbs. This usually works out to be between 20-30 grams of carbohydrates per day. Again, you need the calculator, because these numbers vary based on sex, body type, health and goals.

We offer a free low carb/keto calculator on our site. We think our calculator is one of the better ones available.

Remember everyone’s body is different and what works for some might not work for others. It’s important to experiment and figure out what works for you by testing, tweaking and making changes as you go.

STEP 2: Eating Low Carb/Keto Friendly Foods

You’ve played with the calculator, now what? Now we talk about food.

I’m a sugar addict, and I lost 30 pounds in two months eating low carb/high fat. I’m easily tempted by sweets, so it was best for me to remove them from my house. I realize that’s not possible if you have a family to feed. But don’t you want your family to be as healthy as you’ll be? If it’s not possible to purge the unhealthy processed foods, then move them to a cabinet you won’t have to open. The urge to snack will subside, but you must get through the first days of keto life.

The best part of eating keto is your body adapts quickly, and you’ll stop craving carbs and sweets because your tastes will change. The increased fat in your diet will keep you fuller longer and will curb the cravings to eat something sweet. And after a week or so, you’ll notice the flavor of foods is stronger, and semi-sweet foods taste sweeter. It’s a good thing.

FatHead Pizza, pork rinds and cauliflower will become your go-to for snacks. But fear not, Keto or Sugar Free has loads of tasty recipes to keep you on the right path.

Keto lifestyle food staples

steak

Meat and Poultry

Meat and poultry have zero carbs and provide an excellent source of quality protein with B vitamins, iron and zinc along with essential amino acids.

Beef: steak, ground beef, roast, and veal
Poultry: chicken, turkey, duck, quail, duck and wild game.
Pork: bacon, chops, tenderloin, ribs, and ham.
Organ meats: liver, heart, kidney, tongue, and offal.
Lamb
Goat
Bison
Wild game: deer, elk, rabbit

You want to avoid cured meats as they use honey and sugars. And definitely no breaded meat, sorry.

Processed lunch meats: check the labels, but consider having your deli slice fresh meat for you. We buy a lot of sliced turkey and roast beef from the deli at Walmart.

Moderate protein is essential to help maintain ketosis. Too much can cause gluconeogenesis where the body breaks down protein for fuel instead of fat and can hinder ketosis.

seafood

Seafood

Fatty fish like trout, salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, and albacore tuna are very high in omega-3 fatty acids. Yummy and heart and brain healthy.

Catfish
Clams (higher in carbs, eat in moderation)
Cod
Crab
Halibut
Herring
Lobster
Mackerel
Mahi-mahi
Mussels Clams (higher in carbs, eat in moderation)
Oysters Clams (higher in carbs, eat in moderation)
Salmon
Sardines
Shrimp
Trout
Tuna

e

Eggs

At less than 1 gram of carbs and nearly 7 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat and 1.6 grams of saturated fat eggs are a go-to food option on the keto diet due to their versatility and healthy nutritional value packed with iron, vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin.

spinach

Low Carb Vegetables

Make sure leafy greens and low-carb, non-starchy veggies are prominent in your meals.

Remember, you want to keep carbs to a minimum, so no potatoes, carrots, peas, or corn.

*All values listed as 1 cup uncooked unless otherwise noted.

Asparagus (4.00g net carbs when cooked)
Bok choy (<1g net carbs)
Broccoli (3.64g net carbs)
Brussels sprouts (7.06g net carbs when cooked)
Cauliflower (2.8g net carbs)
Celery (1.4g net carbs or 0.84 large stalks)
Cucumber (1.97g net carbs)
Eggplant (1.87g net carbs or 5.99 net carbs cooked)
Green Cabbage (2.97g net carbs)
Green Peppers (4.41g net carbs)
Kale (5.41g net carbs)
Kohlrabi (3.47g net carbs)
Green Leaf Lettuce (0.50g net carbs)
Iceberg Lettuce (0.93g net carbs)
Romaine Lettuce (0.54g net carbs)
Mushrooms (1.6g net carbs)
Onions (9.11g net carbs 1/2 cup sautéed cooked)
Radish (2.04g net carbs)
Spaghetti squash (6.98g net carbs)
Spinach (0.39g net carbs)
Swiss chard (0.75g net carbs)
Tomatoes (4.86g net carbs)
Zucchini (2.75g net carbs)

butter

Say what? I can eat cheese and butter? No way.

Yes way! Cheese, butter, heavy cream and some full-fat unsweetened yogurts are going to make living keto a breeze.

Butter
Cheeses like cheddar, bleu cheese, brie, jack, mozzarella, parmesan, swiss, munster, and feta.
Cottage cheese
Cream cheese
Full-fat yogurts
Heavy cream
Mayonnaise
Sour cream

avocado

Healthy Saturated and Mono-Unsaturated Fats

Healthy fats are truly the foundation of the ketogenic diet. If we want to fuel our body using fats instead of carbs, our diet must include 60-75% of our calories from fat.

Avocados and avocado oil
Butter
Coconut butter
Coconut oil
Cream
Egg yolks
Extra virgin olive oil
Fatty cuts of red meat
Fatty fish
Ghee
Lard
MCT oil
Macadamia nuts and macadamia nut oil
Nuts, seeds and nut butter (Fattier nuts like almond and macadamia nuts)

almonds

Nuts, Seeds and Nut Flours

Nuts are an excellent source of fats and proteins, but they do have carbs and depending on the type of nut can increase your overall carbs and protein ratios fast, so read the labels and watch portion sizes. Eating fattier and lower carbohydrate nuts like almonds, brazil nuts, macadamia nuts or pecans for snacks will help you stay on track.

Almonds
Brazil Nuts
Hazelnuts
Macadamia Nuts
Pecans
Sunflower seeds
Pumpkin seeds

Nut and Seed Flours Save the Day

Almond and/or coconut flours, and flaxseed meal are substitutes for regular flour in baking recipes. Yes, you’ll be able to make desserts! You can even use them in pizza and bread recipes for low carb alternatives to your favorites.

Caveat, read your labels, and keep intake at a low to moderate level. I’d say to avoid these, except for an occasional treat during the first 30 days of starting keto.

Almond Flour
Chia Seed Meal
Coconut Flour
Flaxseed Meal
Hemp Seed
Unsweetened Coconut

raspberries

Can I Eat Fruit On a Keto Diet?

Yes, sort of. Fruits are full of natural sugar called fructose, and that means lots of carbs. But fruits like avocado, tomatoes, and some berries are perfect for keto

Blackberry 1/2 cup raw (3.12 net carbs)
Raspberry 1/2 cup of raw (3.34 net carbs)
Strawberry 1/2 cup of raw (4.13 net carbs)
Avocado
Tomato

What About Drinks On Keto?

Ever notice how many plans leave you high and dry (pun intended) when it comes to drinks. “You can drink water.” Well, water gets boring, and you need alternatives.

Since you’re also going to be trying to avoid artificial sweetener, I’d suggest kicking the diet soda habit. But there are great alternatives. And we have some great drink recipes on Keto or Sugar Free.

Staying hydrated is an important part of your nutritional plan, and there’s no doubt water is by far the most crucial part of what to drink while on a ketogenic diet or any diet for that matter.

Water: Glorious life nectar we call H2O is a must.

Naturally Flavored Water: You can flavor your water with slices of lemon, lime, cucumber or try including a sprig of mint.

Coffee: That’s right, you don’t have to give up coffee. What a relief. Bullet Proof coffee is a famous keto drink. Yes, we have a link to the recipe, but you can also drink hot coffee, iced coffee, and cold-brews. Americano is my go-to for keto coffee. And since I’m a coffee addict, I have some great and easy recipes.

Keto tip: I love adding Emulsified MCT oil to my iced coffee each day which blends easily to hot or cold drinks and has lots of fat-burning benefits too.

Tea: Herbal teas, green, oolong, black, mostly any non-sweetened tea flavor you love to drink hot or cold. Try tea mixed with a bit of coconut or almond milk for a twist on regular tea.

Sparkling Water: I know we’re avoiding artificial sweeteners, but Stevia has some great flavored drops you can add to sparkling water. And sometimes I cheat and have a little Mio in my sparkling water.

Alcohol: That’s right, you can still have a drink with friends. Michelob Ultra Lite only has 2 carbs, liquors like vodka, gin, and tequila have zero carbs. I like to enjoy a club soda with vodka on occasion, and I’ll flavor it with Stevia drops.

 

STEP 3: Foods to Avoid.

Sugar: need I say more?

Grains: Anything made from wheat including whole grains like wheat, barley, rye, quinoa, and buckwheat should be avoided altogether. Foods made from grains like bread, rolls, hamburger buns, bagels, tortillas, pitas, crackers, chips, cereal, pasta, corn, rice, donuts, cookies, cakes, pies, pastries, and beer (other than low carb beers).

Starch: Avoid starchy carb dense vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, peas, yucca, and corn.

Fruit: Avoid medium to large sized fruits like oranges, apples, bananas, and tropical fruit like pineapples, guava, and mangos as they’re very high in sugar.

Low-fat Foods: That’s right. The science has changed. Or has it? But you’re now eating high fat, low carb, so avoid anything low fat.

Trans Fats: Margarine and spreadable butter replacements typically contain trans fats which raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Not only do these increase your risk heart disease and stroke, but real butter tastes better.

Fake Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners

See? I told you we’d get to this. Our goal on keto is to get back to eating whole REAL foods, and artificial sweeteners are mostly chemically produced. These types of sweeteners are known to increase cravings.

If you are going to use sweeteners, I suggest using naturally occurring options like Stevia or Erythritol which don’t cause insulin or blood sugar spikes.

Artificial sweeteners to avoid:

Acesulfame
Aspartame
Equal
Saccharin
Splenda
Sucralose

water

STEP 4: Drink Water

Water is key to success. Most common problems like keto flu, headache, and constipation with keto come from lack of dehydration.

The changes in the way our body uses energy going from glycogen to ketones, we can become dehydrated. Carbs are stockpiled with water in your system. That’s why you’ll pee a LOT during the first days of keto. You’ll be losing water along with burning fat. To keep your kidneys happy, you need to increase your water intake.

The other reason is that high carb diets cause increased insulin levels and excess water retention by hindering sodium elimination. The keto diet lowers insulin levels and allows excess water to be released.

Therefore, it’s so important to drink lots of water, salt your foods, and supplement electrolytes if needed.

STEP 5: Electrolytes

General electrolyte guidelines:

3,000 – 5,000 mg of sodium a day
1,000-2,000 mg of potassium for healthy adults
400mg of magnesium a day (helps prevent muscle cramps)

Good electrolyte food sources:

Pink Himalayan Sea Salt (sodium)
Bone Broth or bouillon (sodium)
Avocados (potassium approximately 800 mg cooked)
Dark leafy greens (potassium approximately 1,000 mg)
Salmon (potassium approximately 800 mg per serving)
Nuts (magnesium 75 mg per 1 oz of almonds)
Cacao powder or dark chocolate (magnesium 80 mg per 1 tbsp)
Fish (magnesium 60 mg per serving)

STEP 6: Don’t Wait, Get Started Today!

Your quick start to ketosis!

  1. Limit your carbohydrate intake. Try to stay below 20g net carbs each day.
  2. Limit protein consumption. Too much protein can cause your body to limit fat burning and slow ketosis.
  3. Increase your fat intake. It’s simple! Remember, fat is now our friend.
  4. Drink more water.
  5. Incorporate Intermittent fasting. Try limiting your window of eating. Try not eating after dinner and don’t eat again until lunch the following day. Fasting will boost your ketone levels and help burn fat.
  6. Exercise helps. Exercise is great for your body and your mind. It will burn more calories and assist with ketosis. Not to mention it makes you feel great!

You’ve got this.

The most important thing is to just get started!

How to Know if You’re in Ketosis

There are a couple of different ways to see if you’re in ketosis.

One way is to test with ketone test strips. They aren’t made for testing ketosis, but let you know your body’s ketones levels.

Another method is by using a blood glucose monitor. This is an expensive method, but if you don’t want to pee on a strip, it’s an alternative.

You can also keep an eye on these symptoms:

  • Increased Urination: Keto is a natural diuretic, and find yourself going to the bathroom more than usual. Acetoacetate is excreted through the urine so this is another cause for more frequent bathroom breaks.
  • Dry Mouth: The more fluids your body releases, the more you may experience dry mouth. This is your body telling you that you need more electrolytes. This is why we add electrolytes via Mio to our water. And salt isn’t the enemy anymore. Eat a few dill pickles to keep your electrolyte levels up.
  • Bad Breath: Acetone is a ketone that is partially excreted through your breath. It doesn’t have the most pleasant smell but thankfully this side effect doesn’t last long.
  • Reduced Hunger and Increased Energy: Best of all, you’ll find you don’t get hungry as often and you can go longer without food because you have more energy.

Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet

Weight Loss

Many people see low carb/keto as a fad, but it’s a sustainable lifestyle. Keto is one of the most effective ways to lose weight. I lost 20 pounds in one month and never once felt hungry or deprived. Sure I had to change the way I saw food, but if I was hungry, I ate.

The ketogenic diet makes your body use fat as an energy source, so you’ll burn that fat and lose weight quickly. Sure the weight loss will slow after a few months, but I have tips to get you kickstarted again.

On keto, your insulin (the fat storing hormone) levels drop which allows your fat cells to travel to the liver and get converted into ketones.

Your body effectively becomes a fat burning machine.

Control Blood Sugar

Sadly, diabetes has become an epidemic in our country. Diabetes is caused by your body’s inability to control insulin. Keto naturally lowers blood sugar, because you’ve lowered your carb intake, so your body doesn’t produce glucose.

Keto diet has been shown to have significant benefits for pre-diabetic or Type II diabetes.

With consistent blood sugar levels, you won’t have spikes and dips.

Mental Focus

Who can’t use better mental focus? Keto offers this benefit as well. Too many carbs can cloud your thinking and until you wean yourself from them, you’ll never realize how much they affect your thinking.

When on the ketogenic diet you can experience increased mental performance.

The reason why you experience an increase in mental performance is that ketones are a great fuel source for your brain and increase in fatty acids has a huge impact in brain function.

Increase in Energy

You’ve already learned keto helps your body turn fat into energy. But, did you know this helps increase your energy levels? Your body can only store so much glucose, when it runs out your body has run out of fuel and it needs more.

Carbs cause spikes in blood sugar levels and when those drop you crash.

Keto helps to provide your body with a more reliable energy source allowing you to feel more energized throughout the day.

Better Appetite Control

Carbs make you crave carbs, and you never quite feel satisfied. You’re hungry soon after consuming a meal. Fats are naturally more satisfying and keep you feeling fuller longer. After settling into ketosis, you’ll have few, if any, cravings. And say goodbye to carb crashes.

Cholesterol & Blood Pressure

The ketogenic diet has been shown to improve triglyceride levels and cholesterol levels meaning ess toxic buildup in the arteries allowing blood to flow throughout your body as it should.

Low carb, high fat diets show a dramatic increase in HDL (good cholesterol) and a decrease in LDL (bad cholesterol).

Studies have shown that low-carb diets show better improvement in blood pressure over other diets.

Because some blood pressure issues are associated with excess weight, the keto diet is an obvious warrior against these issues due to its natural weight loss.

Insulin Resistance

You’ve heard of Type II diabetes. This is insulin resistant diabetes. Once you lower your carb intake, your insulin levels out, and so does your blood sugar. If you’re pre-diabetic, you should see significant changes at your next doctor appointment.

Acne

This was a kicker for me. I never had many problems with my skin, then in my 40’s I developed acne after surgery. Keto cleaned up my skin. Of course, at the time, I didn’t realize my diet had helped my skin.

Not only did my acne disappear, but my skin looked younger and more elastic because I’d cut the sugar from my diet. With the keto diet you’ll experience better skin.

Exercise on Keto

If you already exercise, great. You might feel a little exhausted after your workouts initially, but your body will adjust. Eventually, it won’t compromise your aerobic capacity or muscle mass.

Dangers of a Keto Diet

If your body is producing too many ketones it enters ketoacidosis.

It is highly unlikely this would occur under normal circumstances, but is something to be aware of.

Keto Flu

Keto flu is a common experience some people go through when transitioning to keto. It’s short term, but you can combat keto flu from the start.

Keto flu isn’t really a flu, but you’ll have flu-like symptoms: fatigue, headache, nausea, cramps, maybe even diarrhea.

Why do people get keto flu?

  • Keto is a diuretic.You’re losing electrolytes and water. To be sure you don’t lose too many electrolytes, add Mio with Electrolytes to your water, or make a beef or chicken broth and sip it.
  • You’re transitioning. Your body has been trained to convert carbs into glycogen so when you transition over to keto, your body needs time to adjust.
  • Eating less than 20g of net carbs a day will get you on track for ketosis within a matter of days.
  • If you pay attention to the signs, you can combat keto flu by being proactive with electrolytes and supplements.

Continue to monitor your electrolyte intake along with how much water you are drinking.

Common Side Effects on a Keto Diet

You’re making significant changes to your diet, so there will be side effect. But you can ward them off.

Cramps

Remember keto is a diuretic. Increasing your water and sodium intake will help, along with taking a magnesium supplement.

Constipation

Constipation is due to dehydration, and you can help prevent it by increasing the amount of water you drink every day.

Eating plenty of high-fiber vegetables will keep you from getting constipated.

Heart Palpitations

Your heart may begin to beat faster and harder when transitioning over to keto.

If the problem persists over a long period of time you need to make sure you’re drinking enough water and eating enough salt.

If the problem continues you may need to add a potassium supplement.

Reduced Physical Performance

As your body shifts to using fat for energy, you’ll find all your strength and endurance will return to normal.

 

Are you ready? Let’s do this.

Start our Keto Weekly Meal Plan for free. You’ll get a 7-day free trial.

We make it easy by taking away the hassle of searching for recipes and planning meals. We do it all for you and deliver it straight to your email inbox, along with a grocery list.