What is a Keto Diet? This is a great question. If you’ve been searching the inter webs for information, you’ve probably noticed there is a TON of stuff to learn when it comes to keto weight loss such as what to eat on keto, how to calculate macros and so on! Yikes, I know… it’s a lot to take in.
No worries, I’ve got you covered. I’ll take you through the Standard Ketogenic Diet in a simple way so you can learn the keto basics and get started asap!
Chapter 1: What is a Keto Diet? The Ketogenic Diet for Beginners
If you’re wanting to lose weight on a Ketogenic Diet (aka keto diet), the good news is that it’s wonderful way of eating for weight loss not to mention a whole slew of extra health benefits you may experience with a keto diet.
If you’ve been researching the keto diet you may notice a lot of noise out there – it can be overwhelming, confusing and a bit complex.
I’ll take you through the steps of what a ketogenic diet is, how to get started and best practical tips to see results.
Table of Contents
A Ketogenic Diet is a diet consisting of low carbohydrates, high healthy fat, and moderate protein intake.
The idea of a keto diet is to avoid high-glycemic index foods, including starchy vegetables and all forms of sugar. Eating foods that spike your blood sugar levels and cause your body to raise insulin production is not healthy for you.
Combine a low-carb diet with moderate protein and high fat will give you many health benefits, including weight loss.
There are many reasons why you’d want to try a keto diet – it was originally created in the 1920’s to treat epilepsy. It’s still used today for various treatments of neurological disorders, cancer as well as a tool for weight loss.
Many who start a ketogenic diet, especially for weight loss, end up establishing a life-long keto way of eating. It’s no longer a “diet”, but a lifestyle.
What is a keto diet and how many variations are there? Well, there are three different types of a Ketogenic Diet:
Standard Ketogenic Diet – this is the classic keto diet that most people use for weight loss.
Targeted Ketogenic Diet – this follows the standard keto diet, but you ingest a small amount of fast-digesting carbs before a workout.
Cyclical Ketogenic Diet – used mostly by bodybuilders. During this diet you have one day per week where you carb up to resupply your glycogen stores (body’s way of storing glucose for future use).
Here at Simply Keto Diet, we focus solely on the Standard Ketogenic Diet and our main goal is to help you understand how the standard keto diet works so you can lose weight and be healthy without getting a headache from all of the scientific stuff!
We try to keep things simple around here as learning about the standard keto diet can be overwhelming, somewhat complex, and confusing… at least at first.
But once you get the hang of it, you’ll be an old pro! OK, maybe not old, but you know what I mean!
The ultimate goal of the Standard Ketogenic Diet is to get into a state of ketosis.
I’ll explain a bit further down what this means exactly. But in a nutshell, ketosis is when your body starts using its fat for energy instead of glucose (sugar, carbs, etc). And when your body uses fat, you lose fat (thereby losing weight and inches!).
Chapter 2: What is a Keto Diet? Ketosis and the Keto Diet
What is a keto diet and why is ketosis so important? As I mentioned earlier, the entire goal of the keto diet is to reach ketosis.
What is Ketosis?
Ketosis is when there is a breakdown of fats in the liver and ketones are produced. Ketones become your body’s main source for energy.
To get a bit more scientific, your body produces three types of ketone bodies that are released into your bloodstream. These three types are acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate and acetone.
When you first start a keto diet, you’ll feed your body high amounts of healthy fats for a few reasons.
One reason is to keep you satiated so you eat less, and the other reason is to fuel your body with fat so the fat is used as a source of fuel until your body becomes what’s known as “fat adapted”. Once your body adapts, it will use fat reserves for fuel.
Sugar vs. Fat for Energy
Glucose is the easiest molecule for the body to use as energy. You’ll notice when you eat a bowl of pasta or some ice cream, you’ll get a burst of energy like no other!
Carbs and sugar are metabolised pretty quickly in the body and is used for energy. You may feel like you can run around the block a few times after eating a high-carb meal.
If you consume a high amount of carbohydrates or sugary foods, your body uses these carbohydrates first for energy.
If you have an excess of glucose in your body that hasn’t been used for energy, your body converts these to fat.
When fats are not needed for energy because your body has already used what it needs from glucose, your body stores fat and therefore you gain weight (or don’t lose any depending on your caloric intake).
Remember, it’s easier for your body to use glucose for energy and as long as you’re feeding your body high-carb foods, it will always use these first for energy.
In order to train your body to use fat rather than glucose for energy, you need to get your body into a state of ketosis.
How to Get into Ketosis
What is a keto diet without getting into ketosis? Probably not a very effective keto diet. Remember, the number one goal of a keto diet is to get into a state of ketosis where your body is uses fat reserves for energy. There are many ways to get into ketosis, but here are the two main ways:
1. Restrict your carbohydrate intake to 20 grams of “net carbs” over a few days via a keto diet; or
2. Fast for a few days (eat no food, but drink plenty of water).
Once in ketosis, your body is forced to use fat instead of glucose for energy. This is the main goal of ketosis so you can start burning fat!
Remember, when glucose is reduced in the body, your body burns fat and produces ketones. This is a great thing!
Once ketones rise to a certain level in your bloodstream, you’ve entered ketosis.
The Importance of Net Carbs for a Keto Diet
I see a lot of people get tripped up here. Especially with all the tracking apps doing their own thing to calculate your carbohydrate intake.
When on a keto diet, you’ll keep track of “net carbs”, not total carbs. In a standard keto diet, you’re typically going to keep your “net carbs” 20 grams or less per day. This is key!
Don’t worry! I’ll show you a bit further down how to calculate your net carbs along with a few other important things you’ll need to know.
How to Know if You’re in Ketosis
If you pay close attention to physical symptoms of ketosis, here’s what you’ll find:
- Increased urination (Keto Diet acts as a diuretic) – ketone bodies are excreted through urine, so you usually have to go to the bathroom more than usual.
- Dry mouth – when you release more water, your mouth dries out.
- Bad Breath – Acetone is a ketone that is partially excreted through your breath. This is usually temporary.
- Reduced hunger and increased energy.
With any diet, I think it’s very important to learn to pay attention to what your body is telling you.
Chapter 3: Keto Macros
What is a keto diet with macros? You’ve likely read about these things called “macros” when studying the keto diet. No worries, I’ll break it down in simple terms so you can get started with your weight loss journey right away.
Macronutrients or otherwise known as “macros” are the nutritional components of the diet that include fat, protein and carbohydrates and make up the calories we consume.
Let’s talk about these three macronutrients in a bit more detail as they’ll play a vital role in your keto diet.
As you work through your keto diet, you’ll understand very quickly that carbohydrates play a big role. When you restrict your carb intake, your body will be able to enter into ketosis, therefore burning fat for energy.
As I mentioned earlier, you’ll want to keep your “net carbs” 20 grams or less per day to ensure you enter ketosis. You can go as high as 50 grams of net carbs and probably get into ketosis, but best to stick with 20 to 30 to start.
Contrary to popular belief, carbohydrates are NOT essential for human survival. You’ll hear people say, “Oh, but you need carbs to have energy”. Um, no. Your body much prefers to use fat for energy, and once you’re on the keto diet for a few weeks, you’ll notice you’ll have plenty of energy even when your carb intake has been reduced.
Probably one of the most difficult things to learn about nutrition is what foods contain a high amount of carbohydrates. Many foods contain carbs, but we’re looking at examples of those types of foods that will greatly affect your glucose blood level and most likely kick you out of ketosis.
Here are a few examples of high-carbohydrate foods:
- Fruit Juice
Yes, even fruit has carbohydrates. Most foods, for that matter, contain carbohydrates. Some more than others and fiber plays a big role. We’ll go over those details in a bit.
Protein is an essential macronutrient. Your body is comprised of thousands of different proteins and their building blocks consist of amino acids.
There are 20 amino acids, but your body only produces 11 of these. The remaining 9 must come from diet and they are essential for the body.
Protein helps the body with several things:
- Helps with digestion of carbohydrates
- Protein collagen provides structure to teeth and other bones
- Helps transport other nutrients in body
- Helps your immune system
- Helps rebuild and maintain lean muscle mass
With a keto diet, you consume protein to help preserve lean muscle mass. You definitely don’t want your body consuming muscle for energy, so during a keto diet, you’ll definitely want moderate amount of protein.
How much protein do you need? Well, here are a few ideas to get you started:
- 0.6 – 0.8 grams per pound of lean body mass to preserve muscle mass
- 0.8 to 1.2 grams per pound of lean body mass to gain muscle mass
If you eat too much protein, your body will convert the excess protein into glucose and can damage your kidneys. So consuming the correct amount is key!
Here are some examples of protein sources:
- Red meat
This is not an exhaustive list, and like carbohydrates, most foods have some amount of protein in them.
Let’s talk about fat – our favorite subject of a ketogenic diet. Fat is an essential macronutrient that is often under used.
Fat has many benefits when it comes to your body and brain function. Here are just a few:
- Helps body absorb vitamins
- Helps keep you satiated
- Helps with brain function
- Normally it’s an energy reserve (after glucose)
In a keto diet, consuming fat is essential and is the main source of fuel for your body. You’ll use fat as a tool to keep you fuller longer, therefore you’re able to eat less so you lose weight.
Here are a few examples of sources of fat:
- Olive Oil
- Coconut Oil
- MCT Oil
- Some nuts and seeds
Like carbohydrates and protein, many foods contain some portion of fat. The examples above will be the most common sources you’ll consume in your keto diet.
Now that we understand what macronutrients are (carbohydrates, protein and fat), here’s a quick breakdown of how many calories are in each macro (these are the same numbers you see on nutrition labels on processed foods):
- Fat – 9 calories per gram
- Protein – 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates – 4 calories per gram
Keto Macro Ratio
What is a keto diet macro ratio you ask? If you’re doing a ton of research online for the Standard Ketogenic Diet, you’ll likely come across many different numbers when it comes to what your macro ratio should be.
You’ll likely need to play around with your macro numbers a bit to optimize it for your own body. Here is the range:
Healthy fats – 70-80% of daily calories should come from fats.
If you don’t hit your fat macros by the end of the day, and you’re not hungry, then don’t worry about consuming more fat just for the sake of hitting this macro.
Think of your fat macros as a tool to keep you satiated. It’s not necessary to hit this target every day, especially if you’re not hungry.
Protein – 15-25% of daily calories come from protein.
Calculate anywhere from .7 to 1.1 grams of protein per pound that you currently weigh. It will be different for everyone, so there’s not a one-size fits all.
Carbohydrates – 5% of daily calories come from net carbohydrates.
It’s important to realize that most foods, including vegetables, contain carbohydrates. Remember, you’ll be using “net carbs” and not “total carbs” when calculating your macros.
If you’re looking to lose weight with a keto diet, you’ll probably want to start with 20 grams of net carbs per day as a baseline.
To get started with your macros, most use a baseline of 70/25/5 – this translates to 70% of calories from fat, 25% from protein and 5% from carbohydrates.
One of the most important numbers will be your carbohydrate grams. Try to aim for no more than 20 grams per day. This number may adjust your percentage of 5% a bit.
If you don’t see results, adjust your numbers a tad and see how it goes. Remember, everyone is different and numbers will fluctuate from person to person.
Keto Macro Calculator
There’s a long calculation of different numbers in order to determine what your macros should be in order to optimize for losing weight. Rather than focus on the math, you can use this nifty keto macro calculator to find your personal optimal macros.
Total Carbs vs. Net Carbs
I’ve been hinting at this “net carb” rule for a while, so let’s explain. When you’re on a Ketogenic Diet, you will use “net carbs” rather than total carbs. The two main reasons are fiber and sugar alcohols and their low impact on blood glucose levels.
When you have fiber in food, some fiber doesn’t digest and isn’t absorbed into the bloodstream. Other types of fiber take a while to digest and slow down the metabolism of sugar in your body. Because of the low impact fiber has on blood glucose levels, you’ll subtract fiber from total carbs
When sugar alcohols are present in food, depending on which type of sugar alcohol it is (such as Erythritol), there is low impact on blood glucose levels. Depending on which sugar alcohol is present you’ll either subtract all or half the amount from total carbs.
How to Calculate Net Carbs
It’s super easy to calculate net carbs. You’re basically subtracting any fiber from the total carbohydrates in order to get net carbs like this:
Total carbs – fiber = net carbs
Sugar alcohols (Erythritol) – When a processed food contains sugar alcohol, and if the only sugar alcohol is Erythritol on the ingredient list, then you subtract the entire amount of sugar alcohol grams from your total carbs (in addition to fiber) like this:
Total carbs – fiber – sugar alcohol (Erythritol) = net carbs
Other Sugar Alcohols – If the nutrition label lists other sugar alcohols in addition to Erythritol, or if the label does not contain Erythritol at all, or if you can’t tell which sugar alcohols the product contains, and if it contains more than 5 grams of sugar alcohols, then you subtract half the amount of the sugar alcohol grams from the total carbs like this:
Total carbs – fiber – ½ of sugar alcohol if more than 5 grams (in addition to or does not contain Erythritol) = net carbs
Net Carbs and Vegetables
When it comes to low-carb vegetables (think leafy greens, broccoli, etc), there will always be some amount of carbohydrates in them. These vegetables contain a lot of fiber, so the rule of thumb is to NOT count the net carbs from these types of vegetables. You’ll want to load up on low-starch vegetables because they have so many health benefits to them!
Chapter 4: Keto Diet Food List
Now that we’ve briefly gone over the basics of a keto diet, plus how macros work, let’s talk about the food!
Remember, the idea of a keto diet is high fat, moderate protein and low carbohydrates. Eating whole foods as much as possible is ideal. However, you may find it easier or less expensive to eat some processed foods, so it’s important to always read your nutrition labels for any hidden sugars or unnecessary artificial ingredients!
You can check out a full keto diet food list for a complete rundown of specific foods that are best for the diet.
What to Eat on Keto Diet
Here’s a brief overview of the types of foods you’ll want to eat while on a keto diet:
- High amounts of healthy fats such as olive or coconut oil, avocado, butter, some nuts and seeds
- All types of non-starchy vegetables that grow above the ground such as leafy greens including spinach, kale and others, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts and other cruciferous and non-starchy vegetables.
- Moderate amount of foods that are high in protein and low in net carbs such as meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and some full-fat dairy.
Keto Foods to Limit
Here is a brief overview of the types of foods you want to limit while on a keto diet as they can push you over your carb macro and possibly kick you out of ketosis. Everyone responds differently to these foods, so adjust up or down as necessary.
Here are a few foods to limit:
- Full-fat dairy – try to use unsweetened almond or coconut milk instead and opt for hard cheeses as they have less net carbs.
- Semi-starchy vegetables – such as sweet peas, carrots, onions.
- Legumes and beans
- Nuts and seeds
If you notice your weight loss has stalled and you’ve been consuming some of these food items a bit too much, eliminate or reduce the amount you’re eating to see if this helps break the plateau.
Keto Foods to Avoid
These are foods you should avoid all together when on a keto diet as they will prevent you from getting into ketosis:
- Sugar (such as honey, agave, maple syrup, etc)
- Grains (such as wheat, corn, rice, cereal, etc)
- High sugar fruits (such as bananas, apples, oranges, etc)
- Tuber vegetables (such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, etc)
- Anything made with flour (such as breads, bagels, pasta, crackers, etc)
- All processed foods (such as crackers, cereals, chips, etc)
- Any type of sweetened drinks (such as coffee, tea, soda, etc)
Keto Diet Vegetables
What is a keto diet without vegetables? Probably not a very good way of eating. No worries, the keto diet is all about getting your greens in.
Nearly all vegetables contain carbohydrates. However, they also contain fiber. Stick to vegetables that grow above ground such as leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower and other types of low-carb vegetables, and you’ll do just fine.
Make sure you avoid any type of vegetable that grows beneath the ground as they are very starchy and will likely kick you out of ketosis.
Here is a list of some of the common low-carb vegetables you’re able to eat on your keto diet:
|Cabbage (Green Raw)
|Green Beans (Steamed)
Chapter 5: The Keto Diet Meal Plan
Now that you have an idea of what you should and should not eat on a keto diet, it’s time to come up with a meal plan.
You’ll have the best success if you plan ahead for at least your first week. After you calculate your keto macros, decide how you’ll partition these out during your day.
Most people find it easier by having a majority of their fats during breakfast. So this could look like a bulletproof coffee (a combination of coffee with high-fat cream, MTC oil, butter/ghee mixed together), or it could be a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and a half an avocado.
When you start your day with a high-fat meal, you’ll have plenty of brain power to get through your morning, you’ll be satiated well into lunch, and you’ll eat less (creating a caloric deficit that will allow you to lose weight).
For lunch, opt for protein such as chicken (the size of your palm is a great starting point) and either plenty of low-carb vegetables or a leafy green salad with a homemade vinaigrette dressing.
By dinner time, you’ll have likely consumed most of your fats for the day, so keep it simple like you did with your lunch – moderate size of protein and plenty of veggies and leafy greens.
So let’s talk a bit more about how to get started.
Standard Keto Diet
As a baseline, stick to 70/25/5 to get started – this means that 70% of your calories come from fat, 25% come from protein and 5% come from carbohydrates.
Stick to mostly plant-based fats as your main source of fat if you can. These include olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado.
Use some animal fat such as butter when cooking. You’ll also count the fat in animal protein (such as bacon, steak, chicken), but you don’t want your main source of fat to come from animal protein.
Remember, protein is moderate in a keto diet. There will be a balance of getting in enough fat while keeping your protein moderate.
You should get most of your carbohydrates from your vegetables, nuts and low-sugar berries.
Starting the Keto Diet
As I mentioned above, starting with the baseline macro ratio of 70/25/5 is what most people use when getting started with a standard ketogenic diet.
Strict vs. Modified Keto Diet
If you’re not sure how your body may react to starting off with a super high fat and low carb macro ratio, then consider using a modified keto diet for the first few weeks to help with transition to a more strict keto diet long term.
It does take your body some adjusting, so it’s perfectly okay to ease into it.
You can certainly get your body into a state of ketosis by reducing your carbohydrate intake to 30 grams per day, and even as high as 50 grams per day in some people. Obviously the less carbs you consume, the easier it will be to lose weight.
If you start with a modified keto diet at first, use the following to help you calculate your macros:
- Healthy fats – 40-50% of daily calories come from fats
- Protein – 30% of daily calories come from protein
- Carbohydrates – 20-30% of daily calories come from net carbohydrates
If you want to ease into it even more than a modified keto diet, then consider taking the first few weeks to reduce your carbohydrate intake without calculating your macros, or keeping track of every single thing you eat.
Getting your body used to a reduction in carbohydrates will greatly reduce the chance of experiencing side effects (also known as the Keto Flu – more on that below).
As always, if you want to jump right into the the strict version of a standard ketogenic diet, use the baseline of 70/25/5 (70% of calories from fat, 25% from protein and 5% from carbohydrates), and see how it goes. Adjust as necessary!
Remember, you get to choose how you want to incorporate the keto diet into your weight loss plan. Do what works best for you.
Keep Track of Macros
What is a keto diet with tracking your macros, at least in the long term?
If you’re the type of person who needs to keep track of every single macro you consume, then at least for a 7 day period, create menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Know the macros for each serving for each meal and adjust as necessary throughout your day.
Make sure you log your daily food consumption into a spreadsheet or an app (like MyFitnessPal or Carb Manager). Remember when you set up your macros inside an app, some apps will calculate on total carbs and others will use net (or they’ll give you a choice). Make sure all settings are correct before you begin.
Most on a keto diet use their breakfast to get in most of their fats for the day. It’s easier to keep track of your fat intake early on. If you don’t hit your fat macro for the day, and you’re not hungry, no need to consume more fat just to make your macro.
Remember, fat is a tool you’ll use to keep yourself full and not necessarily a goal that has to be met.
However, keep a close eye on both protein and carbohydrate grams per day – these are the two most important macros you’ll want to track. Try to keep your protein at target (don’t go over and don’t fall short) and your carbohydrate macro is your limit, so don’t go over, but you can always stay under if you’re not hungry!
Chapter 6: The Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet
There are many healthy benefits to a keto diet. The Ketogenic way of eating was originally created in the 1920’s to help those with epilepsy. Studies have shown many benefits besides weight loss, so here are a few of the key benefits:
Ketogenic Diet & Weight Loss
Weight loss is substantial and may happen at a rapid pace when on a keto diet. When your body converts to burning fat rather than sugar, and your body is in a state of constant ketosis, then the real magic happens.
As you reduce your carbohydrate intake and burn more fat, your body releases less insulin and so therefore less fat is stored. Your appetite is reduced and you lose weight!
Ketogenic Diet & Type II Diabetes
Many who enjoy a keto diet way of eating have helped reduce the risk of Type II Diabetes. As mentioned before, less insulin is released when you reduce your carbohydrate intake, and your blood sugar level normalizes.
Ketogenic Diet & Heart Disease
A keto diet way of eating has been known to reduce the risk of heart disease. Many report high cholesterol levels when they first begin a keto diet. However, within a few months your body adapts and many experience lowered levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides, as well as increase levels of good cholesterol (HDL).
Ketogenic Diet & Cancer
A keto diet can also help protect against cancer. Many patients who are diagnosed with cancer are prescribed a keto diet by their physician.
High sugar levels feed cancer cells and when you reduce carbohydrates and sugar consumption, you’re essentially “starving” the cancer cells.
Ketogenic Diet & Brain Disease & Neurological Disorders
As mentioned earlier, the Ketogenic Diet was created in the 1920’s to treat epilepsy and is still used to this day for that same purpose. A keto diet helps fight all types of brain disease and neurological disorders, helps improve mitochondrial function and yields a neuroprotective effect.
Ketogenic Diet & Long Life Span
Studies are now showing that those who partake in a keto diet live longer. Many who eat a ketogenic diet are not associated with major diseases and the diet helps fight against stroke.
Chapter 7: Keto Diet Side Effects
What is a keto diet with side effects? There are good and bad side effects when eating a keto diet way of life. Aside from the many health benefits I mentioned above, along with the weight loss you will likely experience, you may also experience the negative – what’s known as the keto flu.
What is a keto diet flu? Some people who are on a keto diet may experience symptoms of a flu and it may last a few days up to a few weeks.
As you enter ketosis, you will urinate more, and with that process, you’ll lose electrolytes, so you’ll experience issues if you don’t take early precautions.
When you decrease carbohydrates as much as you do on a keto diet, your body may need some time to adjust.
Some of the symptoms of a keto flu may include:
- Bad breath
- Fatigue/lack of energy
- Muscle weakness or pains
- Poor sleep
- Constipation, nausea or upset stomach
- Brain fog
- No libido
You can take some precautions to either avoid experiencing the Keto Flu or to treat it if it sneaks up on you:
- Make sure you’re drinking enough water
- Make sure you have enough sodium intake
- Eat more foods that have electrolytes in them such as nuts, salmon, avocado, mushrooms, etc.
- Increase your fat intake a bit, especially if you’re hungry
- Add bone broth to your diet
- Drink pickle juice
Chapter 8: Keto Lifestyle
Many who try a keto diet for weight loss usually adopt this diet as their new lifestyle. After you experience the positive effects of a keto diet, such as weight loss and increase in energy, it might become your new lifestyle.
Keto Diet Tips For You
As you get started with your keto diet, if you stick to common sense you’ll be just fine! Remember a few key things:
- Whole foods are best when possible
- Drink plenty of water
- Stay away from sugar as much as possible
- Keep net carbs at 20 grams or less per day
- Always aim at meeting your protein goal no matter what
- Use fat for fuel to keep you full, as needed
- Make sure your fat macros are higher than your protein macros
- Don’t eat more fat for the sake of hitting your fat macro, especially if you’re not hungry
At the end of the day, you’re improving your health. You’re doing something very special for you and your family. Know that you’ll likely have bad days here and there, and that’s perfectly okay. Go easy on yourself and learn to really soak it in and enjoy your keto journey!
What’s your number 1 goal for the keto diet? I’d love to hear from you!