Comprehensive Guide to the Ketogenic Diet

Understanding the Ketogenic Diet

Ketogenic diets pertain to the conversion of fats for energy when the body is depleted of its primary source of fuel (carbs). When fatty acids are broken down in the liver, they create molecules known as ketones, which is the substance that is actually utilized for energy. The keto diet, low carb diet, and low-carb high-fat diet are all synonymous names for the ketogenic diet.

When you consume foods that contain carbs, both glucose and insulin are produced as it is processed and converted.

  • Glucose is a derivative of carbohydrates, and acts as the body’s primary source of energy. It is the easiest molecule to be used and converted.
  • Insulin is created by the body in order to efficiently process glucose.

Since the fats that you eat in tandem with carbs are not used for energy (as they are secondary) they are stored instead. Ketosis only occurs when glucose levels are depleted (due to lack of carbs) so fats can then be used for energy.

The term Ketosis describes the process in which the body transitions to the utilization of fats for energy. This process is metabolically natural, and necessary for survivability when food resources are low. The production of ketones provides the body with a secondary form of energy to maintain the functions of the body.

The only way to successfully reach a state of ketosis is by limiting carb intake. This does not necessarily mean starving your body of nutrients. In order to have energy while in ketosis, you still need to eat healthy fats.

Adaptability is the human body’s forte, and this is especially true in regards to diet. When you replace carbs with fats, the transition to ketosis is almost immediate and natural. There are actually several health benefits that can be derived from ketosis as well.

Keto doesn’t have to be difficult. Simplify the process by following our 30 Day Meal Plan.

Ketogenic Diet Benefits

Weight loss, increased energy levels, and bolstered mental performance are just a few of the benefits that have been found in individuals who have switched to keto. In addition to this, ketogenic diets are virtually risk-free, and most individuals can transition without any harm to their health.

Weight Loss

Weight loss is rapid due to the fact that fats are being used for energy, rather than being stored in the body. Insulin levels also drop during low-carb diets, and since insulin is a fat-storing hormone, it becomes much easier to burn fat in general.

Keto has also been shown to have better results (both short-term and long-term) compared to diets that are conversely high in carbs and low in fats.

If weight loss is a priority, MTC oil can also be used in tandem with a ketogenic diet. This oil boosts ketone production resulting in rapid weight loss. Ketoproof coffee is one example of a keto recipe which incorporates MTC oil.

Blood Sugar Control

The types of foods that are eaten while on a ketogenic diet naturally lower blood sugar. In short, the less carbs that are eaten, the more normalized your blood sugar levels will be. Other types of low-calorie diets have not been shown to work as effectively as keto in regards to preventing and managing diabetes.

Those who already have diabetes or pre-diabetic symptoms can still benefit from keto. Blood sugar levels are much easier to control while adhering to low-carb diets.

Mental Focus

Keto’s ability to naturally boost mental performance has made it an attractive dietary option for many individuals.

Keto is mentally beneficial because ketones are a quality energy source for the brain. Less blood sugar spikes, which happen when eating high-carb foods, are also helpful for focus and concentration.

There have been studies that conclude that brain function is benefited by increased consumption of fatty acids as well.

Increased Energy & Normalized Hunger

Although secondary, ketones are a more reliable, consistent source of energy compared to carbohydrates. Even though fats have a more complex conversion process, they are optimal for burning as energy for the body.

In addition to this, carbohydrates are not as satiating as fats. When you consume foods that are high in fat, they will allow you to feel full for a longer period of time.

Epilepsy

Ketogenic diets have been used to treat epilepsy since the early 1900’s. It has become a very commonly used form of therapy for people with this condition, especially children. Through keto, less medications are required in order to control the effects of epilepsy.

Not only children benefit from this. Recent studies have concluded that adults with epilepsy have successful results when introduced to keto.

Cholesterol & Blood Pressure

Triglycerides and cholesterol levels (both of which can lead to arterial buildup) can be controlled and improved via low-carb diets. Low carb, high fat diets are able to increase HDL particle concentration (which is good cholesterol), while simultaneously decreasing LDL (bad cholesterol).

Other diets have not been found to improve cholesterol levels as well as diets that emphasize high fats and low carbs.

Since weight loss also leads to improved blood pressure, keto can help in this regard as well.

Insulin Resistance

Type II diabetes can be spurred on by insulin resistance, but keto diets can help mitigate this issue. A low-carb diet is able to normalize insulin levels, and bring them down to a healthy range.

Ketoers who are athletic may already have healthy insulin levels, but omega-3 fatty acids can further optimize insulin control.

Acne

Studies have shown that skin issues, such inflammation and lesions, improve when on a ketogenic diet. High-carb intake is generally associated with increased acne, so it is possible that keto can help with this problem as well.

If skin health and clarity is important to you, reducing your intake of dairy and sticking to a proper skin care routine will also help in tandem with a ketogenic diet.

What to Eat on Keto

Switching to a ketogenic diet is not too difficult, but it can become cumbersome and confusing if you do not plan properly. Guiding your body into a state of ketosis is primarily based on the types of foods you are eating, so creating a meal plan is vital. Note that if you want if you want to quickly see the effects of ketosis, you need to limit your carbs as much as possible (strive for less than 15g of carbs per day).

Veggies, dairy, and nuts are the foods that you should derive your carbs from. Chips, candy, pasta, and bread contain refined carbs, and should be avoided. Even starchy foods and fruit are not ideal, and need to be eaten with moderation in mind.

Avoid Eating

A percentage breakdown of your nutrition will look something like this: 25% protein, 70% fats, and 5% carbohydrates. Keto diets are always going to emphasize fats with a low amount of carbs and a moderate amount of protein. You can increase your protein amounts as needed (for example, you will require more protein if you are working out regularly).

A standard diet generally suggests 20-30g of net carbs, but as previously mentioned, you should strive for 15g or less if you want to truly reap the benefits of ketosis. If weight loss is your goal, you need to be meticulously tracking your carb intake daily (both net and total).

If you do not know, a net carb is calculated by subtracting the amount of fiber by the amount of dietary carbs in a food. You should try to keep your net carb intake below the 25g mark.

Even though fats do satiate you longer, hunger can be an initial problem when starting the keto diet. Nuts, seeds, cheese, peanut butter, and other similar foods can help curb hunger without compromising your carb levels. Generally speaking, snacking should be avoided since it can put you over your caloric goals. Try to stick with full meals when you do start feeling hungry.

Vegetables on a Ketogenic Diet

A typical ketogenic meal will consist of one serving of protein (such as fish or chicken), a side of vegetables, and a serving of fatty foods. The best vegetables to stick with while on keto are green, leafy vegetables, such as the ones listed below.

Here is a real-world example of net carbs if the concept is still confusing to you. In one cup of broccoli, you will find 6g of total carbs and 2g of fiber. The net carbs are calculated when you subtract the 6g of carbs from 2g of fiber, translating to 4g of net carbs in one cup of broccoli.

Here is a comprehensive list of net carb amounts for common keto-friendly vegetables:

Vegetable
Spinach (Raw) 1/2 Cup 0.1
Bok Choi (Raw) 1/2 Cup 0.2
Lettuce (Romaine) 1/2 Cup 0.2
Cauliflower (Steamed) 1/2 Cup 0.9
Cabbage (Green Raw) 1/2 Cup 1.1
Cauliflower (Raw) 1/2 Cup 1.4
Broccoli (Florets) 1/2 Cup 2
Collard Greens 1/2 Cup 2
Kale (Steamed) 1/2 Cup 2.1
Green Beans (Steamed) 1/2 Cup 2.9

Note: If you are a vegan or vegetarian, your diet is going to be a bit more restricted on keto than the average person. Be sure to understand these restrictions, and adjust your meal plan to fit your needs (especially in regards to nutrition).

Sample Diet Plans

The Keto Academy offers pre-made meal plans and shopping lists if you wish to start keto with minimal confusion and time-investment. This all-inclusive program is designed to ensure a successful diet in an easy and comprehensive manner.

How to Reach Ketosis

Since ketosis is a naturally occurring state, it is not very difficult to achieve. There are no special supplements or equipment required. It can, however, become a confusing subject due to the amounts of literature and information that pertain to it. Regardless of the extraneous details, these are the basic steps you need to take in order to reach (and maintain) ketosis:

  • Restrict your carb intake as much as possible. The only way that fats will be used for energy is if there are no other options. When you reduce your carbs, you are forcing your body into ketosis.
  • Don’t stress about fat intake. Many people have incorrectly labeled fats as unhealthy. This is not the case, especially in the context of ketogenic diets. You must ensure that you eat enough fats during keto, as this will be your main source of energy.
  • Drink a lot of water. Hydration is a key component of keto. Water helps to curb your hunger, and is important for all functions of the body. Try to drink around one gallon of water in a daily basis when adhering to a low carb, high fat diet.
  • Try not to snack. When you snack, you unnecessarily cause insulin spikes, which can slow weight loss. Stick to full meals to avoid this problem.
  • Fast intermittently. Restricting food entirely for short periods of time can help with the production of ketones, and can further aid in weight loss.
  • It is recommended that you get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day no matter what diet you are on. When on keto, however, exercise can help bolster the effects of ketosis—from weight loss to controlling your blood sugar.
  • Supplement when you need to. If you find that you aren’t getting enough of a particular nutrient, there is nothing wrong with fixing the issue via supplements.  

It is important to note that some foods might contain carbs even if the packaging states otherwise. When buying pre-packaged food (even those marketed as “keto-friendly”) always check the label. Unknowingly ingesting hidden carbs can slow the effects of ketosis.

Ketosis and Macros

A strict diet is all you need in order to maintain ketosis and optimize ketone levels. Record what you eat, be sure you meet your nutrient requirements, and emphasize the limitation of carbs. Gimmicks and tricks should be avoided—your attention should be focused on what you are putting into your body.

How to tell if you are in Ketosis

There are a few medical products (like blood and urine strips) that can tell you if you are in ketosis, but they are not very accurate, and in some cases, can be expensive. Instead, here are a few natural indications of ketosis that you can check for if you are unsure. When in a state of ketosis, you will often see:

  • Increased Urination. There is a ketone body known as Acetoacetate which is excreted through urine that causes a diuretic effect. If you find that you are using the bathroom more after you switch to keto, you are probably on track.
  • Dry Mouth and Dehydration. You will probably experience both of these symptoms due to increased urination. This is why hydration is key. You will be losing a lot of electrolytes because of this as well, so it is important to replenish them as needed.
  • Bad Breath. This side-effect is only temporary, but if you experience it, you are mostly likely in a state of ketosis. Bad breath can occur from another ketone body known as Acetone, and the smell is usually sharp (like nail polish remover).
  • Increase of Energy. Most individuals will find that their energy increases as they transition into a state of ketosis. This is due to the fact that the body has acclimated to burning fats as the primary source of energy.

Most of your attention should be on your diet. Spending time focusing on specifics such as ketone levels should not be your main priority. The most important aspect of keto is ensuring you are getting proper nutrition, limiting carbs, and remaining at, or slightly below, your daily caloric goal.

What Are Macros?

“Macros,” or macronutrients, pertain to the triad of fats, protein, and carbs. It is important to calculate your macronutrients to ensure that you are getting enough of each. A lack of protein, for example, can cause problems with muscle growth/repair. Not getting enough fats while on keto can lead to fatigue and lack of energy.

Below is a list of questions that can roughly calculate your macronutrient requirements. If you want to see exactly how these numbers are calculated, you can use the full-featured keto calculator instead.

Types of Ketogenic Diets

If muscle building is not a priority of yours, feel free to skip over this section. If you think you might begin strength training later on (or if you already do weight training), then it is important to keep the following information in mind.

Carbs are not required to build muscle, which means that keto is still a perfectly fine diet to be on when strength training. However, you must pay close attention to your protein levels. In general, you should strive for about 1g of protein per pound of body mass. If you are 160 pounds, for example, you will require about 160g of protein per day. Insufficient protein can cause problems with muscle repair.

Putting on mass can be more difficult to achieve while on keto since fat is being burned rather than stored.

Here three of the most common types of keto diets:

  • Standard Ketogenic Diets (SKD): This is the foundational keto diet which will pertain to most individuals. All of the information provided on this guide is geared toward SKD.
  • Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD): This is essentially the same as SKD, but you are allowed to eat a small amount of carbs before working out in order to provide your body with a boost of energy.
  • Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD): If gaining mass is one of your goals, this variation of the keto diet is best suited for you. CKD allows one day per week to eat a large amount of carbs in order to restore your glycogen supplies.

TKD or CKD is the best option for those of you who are going to be involved in intense workout routines.

Exercise on Keto

In the long-run, keto is not going to affect your performance. In fact, in most individuals will actually experience having more energy after transitioning to keto. There is a chance that your energy levels will feel lower at the beginning, but this is simply a sign that your body is adapting. As long as you stay consistent, stay hydrated, and adhere strictly to your diet, your energy levels should gradually increase.

One specific study was conducted on cyclists in regards to keto’s effect on their aerobic endurance. Each cyclist switched to a ketogenic diet for four weeks, and by the end of the study, it was found that there was no compromise to their physical performance. Even their muscle mass remained the same throughout the study. Since fat became the primary source of energy for their bodies, they had successfully transitioned (and adapted) to ketosis.

A similar study was done on gymnasts, and the results were virtually the same. After consuming a diet that was high in fats and low in carbs for a period of time, there was no negative change in their performance. This concludes that cardio workouts (even for long durations of time) are not effected by ketogenic diets.

High intensity exercises are the only time in which you might experience a significant difference in energy levels. To mitigate this difference, you can always stock your body with carbs (generally 25-30g) prior to working out. (This is essentially the basis of TKD).

Dangers of a Keto Diet

Ketoacidosis is a condition that can occur when the body reaches abnormally high ketone levels, but is generally not a threat. For most people, keeping their ketone levels high is a challenge, so this is not a common problem.

The exception in this case is those who have type 1 diabetes. Ketoacidosis can effect these individuals because it can occur when insulin levels are very low. When ketone levels are higher than normal, insulin levels actually increase in the body.

There are several negative preconceptions about ketogenic diets that turn many people away from them, but recent studies have disproved them. Over the last thirty years, it has been proven that low-carb, high-fat diets are physiologically beneficial in comparison to the converse.

High fat, high carb diets are not ketogenic, and should be avoided due to their detrimental effects. Since the body is unable to efficiently process both carbs and fats simultaneously, these diets can lead to weight gain, high blood-sugar levels, and high blood pressure.

Low-fat only diets are actually less effective than keto diets. This is an important consideration to make if keto is still of interest to you.

When starting keto, it is vital to be self-aware of your health. If you have pre-existing conditions, take medication, or are simply concerned about the transitional period of ketosis, you should consult a physician before making the switch. Keto is a safe diet, but there are some variables that can pose anomalous risks to one’s health. As a side note, if you are breastfeeding, additional carbs may be required for the sake of milk production.

What is the Keto Flu?

Right now, your body is adapted to your current diet and eating habits. When you switch to keto, this routine will change, thus requiring your body to acclimate. A different set of enzymes will need to be produced in order to manage the process of breaking down fats for energy. If your body’s main source of energy is carbs, only a few of these enzymes exist already.

As the body transitions, the glucose that remains in your body will be used in its entirety until completely depleted. The initial feelings of lethargy are due to the depletion of glycogen in the muscles.

In addition to reduced energy, side-effects such as dizziness, brain fog, and mood changes have been noted in individuals who have just started the keto diet (and generally last about one week). This isn’t due to the diet itself, but rather its diuretic effects. All of these side-effects are caused by the flushing of electrolytes, so it is crucial to keep up your sodium and water intake. In fact, it is actually recommended to increase your salt intake, as it can help you retain water.

Grogginess is the most common side effect experienced by those who are new to keto, but there are a few others that should be mentioned as well. The culmination of these effects is known as “keto flu.”

Keto Flu

Keto flu is relatively common, but it is nothing to be particularly worried about. Not only are its effects short-lived (only a few days), but the symptoms generally do not occur simultaneously. If you are staying hydrated, eating well, and keeping up your electrolyte levels, then you may avoid the keto flu altogether.

Remember, the primary causes of these side-effects are the fact that:

  • Keto is a diuretic. The more you use the bathroom, the faster you will lose the sodium and electrolytes in your body. You can circumvent this by increasing your salt intake, and ensuring you are properly hydrated throughout the day.
  • You’re transitioning. Any type of change to your body’s regular routine is going to result in effects that can be negative. As your body adapts to ketosis and your dietary habits change, you might experience fatigue, brain fogginess, etc. These will go away as your body gets used to ketosis.

Five days is about the amount of time it will take for your body to adjust to keto. As long as you are maintaining your hydration levels and replacing lost electrolytes, the transition period should be smooth, and the effects of keto flu will most likely go unnoticed. To speed up the process, continue to limit your carb intake to 15g or less.

Since your body is initially unable to use fat efficiently as a source of energy, overall endurance and strength might be noticeably reduced. This is especially true if you are doing intense, explosive exercises. As soon as the body is adjusted to breaking down fats, your energy levels will normalize.

Side Effects of a Ketogenic Diet

If you begin to notice these side-effects, or if they are persistent even after the one-week transitional period, be sure you are adhering to the following. Are you:

  • Staying hydrated and replenishing electrolytes?
  • Meeting your daily caloric needs?
  • Eating foods that are rich in nutrients and vitamins?
  • Getting the recommended daily amount of exercise (between 20-30 minutes)?

If you are neglecting any of these points, then you may continue to feel the effects of keto flu. You should be aware of the following side-effects, but remember that they can be avoided if you are getting the proper amounts of micronutrients and continuously hydrating.

Cramps

This is a relatively minor issue, but it can be uncomfortable. Cramps, especially in the legs, are common for individuals who have switched to keto. If you do experience cramps, it may be due to a lack of magnesium in the body.

You can increase your magnesium levels via salt and proper hydration. Magnesium supplements can also be used if the problem is persistent.

Constipation

There are a few easy remedies for keto-induced constipation, but if you begin to notice this issue, you should first ensure that you are drinking enough water. One gallon per day should be your basis while on a ketogenic diet.

If your fiber levels are low, try increasing your vegetable consumption. If you are still having trouble, you can incorporate a probiotic into your diet. Psyllium husk powder is also known to mitigate constipation.

Heart Palpitations

If your heart is beating harder or quicker than normal, it can be worrying at first. Fortunately, this is a common side effect that should not be of concern to you.

Potassium supplements can help alleviate heart palpitations, but hydration and proper sodium levels will prevent them from happening in the first place.

Reduced Physical Performance

As previously mentioned, as the body adapts to ketosis, you might experience a slight reduction in your physical performance and energy. When you are fully acclimated to keto, your energy levels will return to normal.

Carb cycling, as seen in the Targeted Ketogenic Diet method, can help boost your energy levels before an intense workout.

Breastfeeding

Humans require carbohydrates in order to produce milk, so if you are breastfeeding while on keto, you should increase your daily carb amounts by 30 to 50 grams. These carbs should come from fruits. In addition to this, you might need to consume more overall calories from fat as well (between 300 and 500 calories).

No current research suggests that breastfeeding while on keto is harmful, but if you have any concerns, you can always seek advice form a medical professional.

Hair Loss

This problem is very rare, but it can occur anytime during the initial five months of starting a ketogenic diet. If this does happen, it is very likely that your body is lacking nutrients, vitamins, or water. Ensure you are maintaining your diet correctly if you do begin to see signs of hair loss.

Also be sure that you are meeting your caloric goals. Consistent, quality sleep can also reduce the chances of hair loss.

Increased Cholesterol

Both types of cholesterol can increase while on keto, but it is actually the good kind (HDL) that is raised the most. LDL is only raised in a very small percentage of people, but even so, the amounts are insignificant from a health standpoint.

For those who lose weight on keto, there may be a temporary increase of triglycerides in the body as well. As soon as the body fully adjusts to ketosis, they will return back to normal levels.

Gallstones

Ketogenic diets might actually benefit you if you struggle with gallstones. There have been several studies conducted that show a correlation between improvements in gallstone issues and keto.

Low-carb diets are still safe if you have had your gallbladder removed.

It should be noted that a gradual increase in fats is better for the body in order to help it transition to the dietary change. Too much fat at once, especially when the body is not acclimated to converting it to energy, can cause discomfort.

Indigestion

Keto can actually prevent indigestion and heartburn, but both of these symptoms may arise during the initial transition period.

In order to avoid this from happening, you should increase your fat intake in gradual amounts over a period of two weeks.

Keto Rash

Although there is not a definite scientific explanation for this side-effect, it is possible that acetone (excreted from sweat) can cause the skin to itch.

Showering regularly and wearing sweat-wicking clothes can remove the acetone from your skin, thus preventing this problem.

If this does not help, you can also slightly increase your carb intake to minimize the production of acetone in the first place.

Budgeting on Keto

Eating a clean ketogenic diet does not have to take a toll on your wallet. Keto may be a bit more expensive than a conventional diet, but there are several ways you can reduce your weekly costs.

  • Search for deals. Purchasing discounted food, and utilizing coupons found in the paper or online, can cut down your grocery costs.
  • Buy in bulk. Cook in bulk. Wholesale foods (like those found at Costco) are generally cheaper than buying foods in smaller amounts. When you buy bulk, you can also use the extra food to prep meals for later in the week, saving you time as well.
  • Homemade is cheaper than store-bought. Pre-made, pre-packaged, and pre-cooked foods are almost always more expensive than making them yourself. In most cases, homemade food is also the healthier option. Try making as much food as you can at home to reduce your grocery bill.

Takeaway

There are several health benefits that can be derived from diets that are high in fats and low in carbohydrates. If you are interested in losing weight, controlling blood sugar/pressure, or increasing your mental and physical performance, a ketogenic diet may be the perfect option for you!

As low-carb, high-fat diets increase in popularity, so does the amount of beneficial information and food options. Transitioning to keto is becoming easier to do year after year. If you are new to this lifestyle, it might be difficult at first, but it is more than worth it as you begin to experience the positive changes it can provide.

If weight loss is your primary interest, keto can help you immensely. Here is a re-cap of the steps you can take to ensure rapid weight loss via ketogenic diets:

  • Your diet needs to be strict.If you want to maintain proper ketone levels, you need to avoid foods that contain carbs. Limit snacking, adhere to your meal plan, and stay within your caloric goals.
  • Drink water and supplement electrolytes.Proper hydration will prevent keto flu symptoms and keep your body functioning properly. Replace your electrolytes as they are depleted, drink lots of water, and keep up your sodium intake.
  • Track your food consumption.If you aren’t paying attention to the foods you are eating, you could be postponing the effects of ketosis or even gaining weight as a result. Be meticulous with your calories and micronutrients in order to bolster weight loss, and fully reap the benefits of ketosis.
Get FREE keto resources, recipes, and strategies from
the best keto blog on the internet.