You’ve probably heard about the low carb, high fat diet that’s so popular among actors and models, and with good reason: low carb diets offer proper nourishment with whole foods, while keeping your body burning fat for fuel. This is a great way to be, as it makes fat loss largely effortless! But where does this “ketogenic” word fit into the picture?
Understanding which foods to eat may seem like the most difficult and time-consuming task for most individuals adopting a keto diet for beginners. However, you will soon realize that many of your favorite foods can still be enjoyed without the carbohydrate load. To start, it should be noted that it is critical to eliminate sugar or any fast-digesting carbohydrates. These include, but are not limited to: cookies, chocolate, cakes, crackers, ice cream, cereal, pretzels, pastries, baked goods, fruit juice, soft drinks, honey, candy, chips, bread, and white potatoes. However, there are ways to still enjoy some of these foods as long as they are prepared differently by using ketogenic-friendly ingredients. Check here for more recipes and try these tips:
Urine Strips: When tested in urine, these strips will elicit a color change based on the level of ketones, namely acetoacetate, which is present in the urine. It is important to note that acetoacetate is different than the ketones present in the blood, namely, beta-hydroxybutyrate (βHB). Due to its nature, urine ketone testing may be a sufficient initial method to test ketone production; however, it is not the ideal method for determining the utilization of these ketone bodies, especially once “keto-adapted.”
No matter what your diet has been before now, keto will be a big change. If you're coming from a standard American diet (SAD), your carbs will go way down, your protein may either go up or down, and your fat will go way up. If you're coming from a bodybuilding-style diet, your fat intake will jump to alarming levels, and your protein will likely drop significantly.
While macros will differ a little from person to person, the general rule of thumb for keto is to keep carbohydrates under 5% of your daily caloric intake. As long as you avoid the foods mentioned above, you should be fine. Google “TDEE calculator” if you need some additional guidance on how many calories to eat. I’ve had success following this way of eating as it allows me to eat foods that taste great. There are tons of resources online as well if you need additional guidance. A quick google search should turn up a ton of resources. Hope this helps!
On a ketogenic diet, you’re generally eating a diet that’s high in fat (roughly 70 percent of your total calories come from fat), moderate in protein (about 20 percent of your calories), and low in carbohydrate (about 5 percent of calories). By limiting carbohydrates (to usually less than 45 grams for the average person), your body lacks the glucose (from carbs) that it normally uses for energy, so it eventually switches over to burning fat as its primary fuel source instead; through a metabolic process called ketosis, the liver converts the fat into fragments of fatty acids called ketones, which power the brain and other organs and tissues.
"You can find a lot of "fat bomb" recipes on the Internet," Wittrock says. "These are very good at satisfying your sweet tooth, and are a great way to increase fat consumption without going over on protein. Also, I'm a huge fan of salted pumpkin seeds and salted sunflower seed kernels. Believe it or not, pork rinds are also a very good keto snack."
Meat products make up a big part of the keto diet, but experts stress the importance of choosing quality. "Since the keto diet is based a lot on animal proteins, it's important to buy organic poultry and grass-fed, organic beef," says Aimee Aristotelous, RD. "Not only do organic selections help with limiting environmental toxins, but grass-fed options of red meats even change the composition of fats." The result, she explains, is that your body is able to better absorb those healthy fats.
If you’ve decided to move forward in trying the keto diet, you will want to stick to the parameters of the eating plan. Roughly 60 to 80 percent of your calories will come from fats. That means you’ll eat meats, fats, and oils, and a very limited amount of nonstarchy vegetables, she says. (This is different from a traditional low-carb diet, as even fewer carbs are allowed on the keto diet.)
Carbohydrate-restricted ketosis: This type of ketosis mimics the same biological alterations seen during lengthy fasts, but without the complete restriction of food. Carbohydrate-restricted ketosis is achieved primarily through a very low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet. This restriction, in turn, results in reductions of insulin and blood glucose levels similar to that of fasting, which again increases blood ketone levels. For most individuals, nutritional ketosis is much more sustainable than fasting or starvation ketosis. Fasting can still have its place in a keto diet for beginners. Many individuals following a ketogenic diet like to implement a regular fasting protocol such as intermittent fasting (IF) (12–20 hours daily) or every-other-day fasts (EOD), depending on their goals. This practice is not critical for success on a ketogenic diet, but it can enhance the level of ketone production, and thus magnify the benefits.
In the first week, many people report headaches, mental fogginess, dizziness, and aggravation. Most of the time, this is the result of your electrolytes being flushed out, as ketosis has a diuretic effect. Make sure you drink plenty of water and keep your sodium intake up.6One of the fathers of keto, Dr. Phinney, shows that electrolyte levels (especially sodium) can become unbalanced with low carb intake.
Variations on the Johns Hopkins protocol are common. The initiation can be performed using outpatient clinics rather than requiring a stay in hospital. Often, no initial fast is used (fasting increases the risk of acidosis, hypoglycaemia, and weight loss). Rather than increasing meal sizes over the three-day initiation, some institutions maintain meal size, but alter the ketogenic ratio from 2:1 to 4:1.
A Cochrane systematic review in 2018 found and analysed eleven randomized controlled trials of ketogenic diet in people with epilepsy for whom drugs failed to control their seizures. Six of the trials compared a group assigned to a ketogenic diet with a group not assigned to one. The other trials compared types of diets or ways of introducing them to make them more tolerable. In the largest trial of the ketogenic diet with a non-diet control, nearly 38% of the children and young people had half or fewer seizures with the diet compared 6% with the group not assigned to the diet. Two large trials of the Modified Atkins Diet compared to a non-diet control had similar results, with over 50% of children having half or fewer seizures with the diet compared to around 10% in the control group.
When dietary carbohydrate is broken down into the energy substrate glucose, thereby raising blood glucose levels, the pancreas is stimulated to secrete insulin (the hormone that stores fat and inhibits ketone production). However, when carbohydrate intake is restricted, insulin remains suppressed, and the body’s primary fuel source shifts from glucose to fat, priming the body to enter a state of ketosis. When fat oxidation/breakdown is increased to a certain extent, ketones are made in the liver through a process known as ketogenesis (i.e., keto + genesis = ketone formation). When carbohydrate intake is restricted, blood glucose and insulin levels decrease, which allows fat stores to be broken down rapidly for energy. Most cells in the body can utilize either fatty acids or ketones for fuel, including the brain, which has shown to be more efficient in the presence of ketones rather than glucose.
One thing many people love about keto diet plans is that tracking your food is optional. "One of the biggest benefits of the ketogenic diet is that there's no need to meticulously track your calories as you may in other diets," notes Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of DrAxe.com, best-selling author of Eat Dirt, and cofounder of Ancient Nutrition. "Because you're filling up on fat and protein, you're more likely to feel satisfied and energized all day long, which causes you to naturally eat less." This isn't to say that food tracking on a keto meal plan is discouraged. "Some people may find calorie counting a useful tool to be more mindful and aware of what they're eating, but it's not necessary on the ketogenic diet," says Dr. Axe, but there's no need to get too stressed about hitting a certain caloric goal, especially if you're not trying to lose weight. (Related: The #1 Reason to Stop Counting Calories)
You’ll quickly find that eggs are a staple for breakfast in low carb diets. Eggies are a simple solution for days of healthy breakfasts. Simply beat 8 eggs in a bowl, add in cheese and vegetables, and pour into muffin tins that have been lined with a strip of bacon. Cook at 350 for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean. Store in baggies for breakfast for up to 5 days.
On the ketogenic diet, carbohydrates are restricted and so cannot provide for all the metabolic needs of the body. Instead, fatty acids are used as the major source of fuel. These are used through fatty-acid oxidation in the cell's mitochondria (the energy-producing parts of the cell). Humans can convert some amino acids into glucose by a process called gluconeogenesis, but cannot do this by using fatty acids. Since amino acids are needed to make proteins, which are essential for growth and repair of body tissues, these cannot be used only to produce glucose. This could pose a problem for the brain, since it is normally fuelled solely by glucose, and most fatty acids do not cross the blood–brain barrier. However, the liver can use long-chain fatty acids to synthesise the three ketone bodies β-hydroxybutyrate, acetoacetate and acetone. These ketone bodies enter the brain and partially substitute for blood glucose as a source of energy.
Because some cancer cells are inefficient in processing ketone bodies for energy, the ketogenic diet has also been suggested as a treatment for cancer. A 2018 review looked at the evidence from preclinical and clinical studies of ketogenic diets in cancer therapy. The clinical studies in humans are typically very small, with some providing weak evidence for anti-tumour effect, particularly for glioblastoma, but in other cancers and studies, no anti-tumour effect was seen. Taken together, results from preclinical studies, albeit sometimes contradictory, tend to support an anti-tumor effect rather than a pro-tumor effect of the KD for most solid cancers.
Those issues can be part of what's known as the “keto flu,” Warren says. Other side effects of the keto diet, all of which are tied to carb withdrawal, can include lightheadedness, nausea, mental fog, cramps, and headaches, in addition to tiredness. Luckily, the keto flu doesn't usually last more than a week—which is coincidentally about when people start to see the number on the scale go down, says Warren.
It seems strange that a diet that calls for more fat can raise “good” cholesterol and lower “bad” cholesterol, but ketogenic diets are linked to just that. It may be because the lower levels of insulin that result from these diets can stop your body from making more cholesterol. That means you’re less likely to have high blood pressure, hardened arteries, heart failure, and other heart conditions. It's unclear, however; how long these effects last.
The confusion between ketosis and ketoacidosis is a prominent reason why many individuals, particularly doctors, steer clear of the keto diet for beginners. It’s important to understand that these are two very DIFFERENT metabolic states. Ketoacidosis may occur in uncontrolled type 1 diabetics (DKA; diabetic ketoacidosis) due to insulin deficiencies. DKA is associated with both elevated blood glucose and ketone levels; due to little to no insulin production, blood glucose cannot enter insulin-dependent cells to be used for energy, and as such, cells become hungry, resulting in uncontrolled ketone production. In turn, a highly acidic environment is created that can have detrimental effects on an individual’s health, possibly resulting in death. It must be echoed that the ketogenic diet, which induces “nutritional” ketosis, is vastly different and should never be confused with DKA. To put this in perspective, a normal state of ketosis, as achieved via the keto diet for beginners may elevate ketones anywhere from 0.3–5mM, while DKA results in ketone levels of about 15mM or higher.
A computer program such as KetoCalculator may be used to help generate recipes. The meals often have four components: heavy whipping cream, a protein-rich food (typically meat), a fruit or vegetable and a fat such as butter, vegetable oil, or mayonnaise. Only low-carbohydrate fruits and vegetables are allowed, which excludes bananas, potatoes, peas, and corn. Suitable fruits are divided into two groups based on the amount of carbohydrate they contain, and vegetables are similarly divided into two groups. Foods within each of these four groups may be freely substituted to allow for variation without needing to recalculate portion sizes. For example, cooked broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and green beans are all equivalent. Fresh, canned, or frozen foods are equivalent, but raw and cooked vegetables differ, and processed foods are an additional complication. Parents are required to be precise when measuring food quantities on an electronic scale accurate to 1 g. The child must eat the whole meal and cannot have extra portions; any snacks must be incorporated into the meal plan. A small amount of MCT oil may be used to help with constipation or to increase ketosis.
About 20% of children on the ketogenic diet achieve freedom from seizures, and many are able to reduce the use of anticonvulsant drugs or eliminate them altogether. Commonly, at around two years on the diet, or after six months of being seizure-free, the diet may be gradually discontinued over two or three months. This is done by lowering the ketogenic ratio until urinary ketosis is no longer detected, and then lifting all calorie restrictions. This timing and method of discontinuation mimics that of anticonvulsant drug therapy in children, where the child has become seizure-free. When the diet is required to treat certain metabolic diseases, the duration will be longer. The total diet duration is up to the treating ketogenic diet team and parents; durations up to 12 years have been studied and found beneficial.
When in the hospital, glucose levels are checked several times daily and the patient is monitored for signs of symptomatic ketosis (which can be treated with a small quantity of orange juice). Lack of energy and lethargy are common, but disappear within two weeks. The parents attend classes over the first three full days, which cover nutrition, managing the diet, preparing meals, avoiding sugar, and handling illness. The level of parental education and commitment required is higher than with medication.
It usually takes three to four days for your body to go into ketosis because you have to use up your body's stores of glucose, i.e., sugar first, Keatley says. Any major diet change can give you some, uh, issues, and Keatley says he often sees patients who complain of IBS-like symptoms and feeling wiped out at the beginning of the diet. (The tiredness happens because you have less access to carbs, which give you quick energy, he explains.)
There’s also some evidence that it might help with type 2 diabetes. “An emerging body of research is finding that a keto plan may have some real benefits thanks to its ability to improve the body’s ability to use insulin and also help control appetite, which can result in easier weight loss,” says Karen Ansel, R.D.N., co-author of Healthy in a Hurry.
Restricting your calories may be important for some individuals depending on their goals. Additionally, it may aid in the initiation of ketosis; however, not everyone will require calorie tracking to maintain a deficit. It is not uncommon for caloric-restriction to occur inadvertently as a ketogenic diet tends to be satiating, leaving individuals satisfied with fewer calories.
The ketogenic diet — a high-fat and very low carb eating plan — can be tough to start. After all, it’s likely a radical departure from the way you’re eating now (a typical standard American diet is high in carbohydrates and processed foods). But many people are trying the keto diet, which puts your body in a state of ketosis. That's what happens when your body’s carb-burning switch flips to a fat-burning one, a change that can cause weight loss and has even been credited with controlling type 2 diabetes, a small past study suggests. (1)
The brain is composed of a network of neurons that transmit signals by propagating nerve impulses. The propagation of this impulse from one neuron to another is typically controlled by neurotransmitters, though there are also electrical pathways between some neurons. Neurotransmitters can inhibit impulse firing (primarily done by γ-aminobutyric acid, or GABA) or they can excite the neuron into firing (primarily done by glutamate). A neuron that releases inhibitory neurotransmitters from its terminals is called an inhibitory neuron, while one that releases excitatory neurotransmitters is an excitatory neuron. When the normal balance between inhibition and excitation is significantly disrupted in all or part of the brain, a seizure can occur. The GABA system is an important target for anticonvulsant drugs, since seizures may be discouraged by increasing GABA synthesis, decreasing its breakdown, or enhancing its effect on neurons.
Normal dietary fat contains mostly long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are more ketogenic than LCTs because they generate more ketones per unit of energy when metabolised. Their use allows for a diet with a lower proportion of fat and a greater proportion of protein and carbohydrate, leading to more food choices and larger portion sizes. The original MCT diet developed by Peter Huttenlocher in the 1970s derived 60% of its calories from MCT oil. Consuming that quantity of MCT oil caused abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting in some children. A figure of 45% is regarded as a balance between achieving good ketosis and minimising gastrointestinal complaints. The classical and modified MCT ketogenic diets are equally effective and differences in tolerability are not statistically significant. The MCT diet is less popular in the United States; MCT oil is more expensive than other dietary fats and is not covered by insurance companies.
The best part of low carb eating is that you can still have rich, savory foods – dieting isn’t really a part of the lifestyle. Your body regulates your hunger naturally, so keeping your carbs low is the main concern. Being able to do that while still enjoying roast, fish, and big, healthy salads is what makes low carb so easy to stick with, and keep the weight off for good.
Because the ketogenic diet alters the body's metabolism, it is a first-line therapy in children with certain congenital metabolic diseases such as pyruvate dehydrogenase (E1) deficiency and glucose transporter 1 deficiency syndrome, which prevent the body from using carbohydrates as fuel, leading to a dependency on ketone bodies. The ketogenic diet is beneficial in treating the seizures and some other symptoms in these diseases and is an absolute indication. However, it is absolutely contraindicated in the treatment of other diseases such as pyruvate carboxylase deficiency, porphyria, and other rare genetic disorders of fat metabolism. Persons with a disorder of fatty acid oxidation are unable to metabolise fatty acids, which replace carbohydrates as the major energy source on the diet. On the ketogenic diet, their bodies would consume their own protein stores for fuel, leading to ketoacidosis, and eventually coma and death.
Run by the Charlie Foundation, this calculator can be helpful when you’re using keto as a therapy to help manage a medical condition. The calculator helps estimate calorie needs based on weight, assists in determining a macro ratio and macros needed per meal, and can calculate macro numbers on the basis of meals and snacks you enter into the system. Also takes into account fluids, supplements, and medications.
Thank you so much for the wonderful recipes on your site. I have visited in the past and have happened upon it again. I noticed you put in the post that if anyone had questions that we could ask and so I have a big one that I need advice on if you don’t mind. I have been living low carb for about 2 years now. My weight has fluctuated from 130 to about 118. I am 5’4″ and female, 45 years old and mom to 5 children. My weight went up to 134 which is very uncomfortable to me because I have struggled with an eating disorder and so I really went low carb in an attempt to drop some weight. Well I have, but the problem is that I am restricting too many calories now. I have gotten down to 108 but know that 800 calories Is not enough. My question is about balance. I would not mind gaining some back but have a fear of gaining too much again. I don’t want to go back there. I hiit train most days for about 25 mins. I use to do way too much. Do you have a plan that would balance my calories out so I can incorporate more Low carb options/keto and start eating normal again. I like your ideas and thought process behind all you post so I would appreciate any feed back you could give to me. Thank ML