What is the Keto Diet? A Beginner’s Guide

This beginners guide to the Ketogenic diet will give you the knowledge you need to get started on the keto diet and start losing weight.


What Is A Low Carb Diet?

 

A low carb diet is when you eat mostly high fat, moderate protein also lower carbohydrates.

 

You will also hear people count or track their “net carbs” when it comes to low carb diets

 

Net carbs are carbs minus fiber and non-digestible sugar alcohols [2].

 

Net carbs = carbs – (fiber + non-digestible sugar alcohols)

 

Take an avocado as an example. If a small avocado has 9g total carbs, and 7 grams of fiber and 0 sugar alcohols – the net carbs would be only 2g (9g-7g-0g=2g). Which is makes avocados a Keto staple food!

 


Many people also often ask: “how many carbs in a low carb diet”. While the exact carb allowance will differ person to person(keep reading below on how to calculate carb allowance for your body), here are are some “general” total net carb amounts for different low carb diets [3].

 

Ketogenic diet: less than 20 grams of net carbs per day

 

Low carb diet: 20-50 grams of net carbs per day

 

Moderate low carb: 50-100 grams of net carbs per day

 

Next, we’ll dig deeper into the Ketogenic diet.


Why go Keto? The benefits:

This beginners guide to the Ketogenic diet will give you the knowledge you need to get started on the keto diet and start losing weight.


Weight Loss

This is the big one, why most of you are here. The Keto Diet is about turning your body into a fat burning machine.Dropping insulin levels by swapping carbs for fats stops your body from storing new fat, burning it instead.



It can be hard getting into full ketosis, but once there fat should come off steadily. Studies have found that low-carb diets can be more effective than low-fat diets, even over longer time periods

Mental Focus


Ketones are a brilliant, steady source of energy for your brain.

 


The mental clarity and consistent focus is one of the main reasons I like to follow a ketogenic diet. Lots of people choose the keto diet specifically for this reason.


With ketones fuelling your brain you avoid the highs and lows that come with sugar consumption and blood spikes.


Controlling Blood Sugar and Diabetes

 

The Ketogenic Diet can be a great way of controlling and preventing Type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that the keto diet can be more effective than a higher carb approach.

 


Keto lowers blood sugar levels and can help your body improve insulin sensitivity, with some people able to stop taking medication for their condition.

 

If you’re pre-diabetic or have type 2 diabetes a ketogenic diet could bring real benefits!


Control of Your Appetite and Energy Levels

 

With a more stable energy source to fuel them through the day, many people find that a ketosis diet takes away the regular hunger pangs many experience on a carb based diet.Your body can only store a limited amount of glucose, when it starts to run low it’ll let you know about it for sure!

 


Your body has a huge supply of fats though, even the skinniest of marathon runners will still have enough fat on them to last weeks! The steady energy levels are one of the most appealing reasons for starting a Keto diet for many people


Cholesterol and Blood Pressure

 

Ketogenic diets have been shown to improve Triglyceride levels and LDL cholesterol levels associated with arterial build up. Why is this a good thing?

 


Less buildup in your arteries allows better blood flow throughout the body. Low Carb, High Fat (LCHF) diets can also lead to significant reductions in LDL (bad cholesterol) and increases in HDL (good cholesterol)

 

The weight loss associated with keto diets also leads to improvements to cardiovascular issues associated with being overweight


What should I eat on a Ketogenic Diet?

 


The key to getting into Ketosis is to make sure your body is using fats for energy instead of carbohydrates. That pretty much sums up your main guideline for eating! You’re going to want to really cut out any sugars and starchy carbohydrates from your diet, and replace these calories with those from fats.

 

High numbers of carbs are found in plenty of foods, not only junk food. Fruit in particular is a tricky subject as they contain lots of sugars. Up your intake of green vegetables to replace some of the vital nutrients you might otherwise miss out on from these.

What to AvoidFood to avoid on keto

 


Refined Carbs – bread, pasta, cereals etc.

Grains – wheat, rice, oats, corn etc.

Sugars – honey, agave sugar, maple syrup, soda etc.

Fruits – apples, oranges bananas etc.

Legumes – lentils, beans, chickpeas

Tubers – potatos. yams etc.

 

What to Eat

 



Meats and Fish – pork, lamb, poultry, shellfish etc.

High Fat Dairy -cheese, butter, cream etc.

Nuts and Seeds – walnuts, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds

Leafy Greens – spinach, kale

Cruciferous’ Vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, arugula

Avocados and berries (in moderation) – raspberries, blackberries etc.

Sweeteners – erythritol, stevia

Other fats – olive oil, coconut oil, eggs etc.

 

Most of your meals should consist of a moderate amount of protein, ideally some green vegetables and plenty of fat!

 

It’s a good idea to stock up on keto friendly foods at the start of your keto journey, check out this list of keto friendly store cupboard snacks.


Know your Macros

 

What is a macro? They’re the 3 main parts of your diet – Fats, Carbohydrates and Protein. Getting the right balance between these three is the key to getting into Ketosis.

 

The ratio you will be aiming for is 70% Fats, 25% Protein and 5% Carbohydrates. It’s important to remember these are the ratio of Calories you want to consume, not the weight! As fats contain more calories that the other two macros the 70% figure is less scary than it might seem at first.

 

It’s also important to keep an eye on your protein consumption whilst on keto. Your body is pretty clever at finding easier ways to get energy, and eating too much protein can lead to ‘Gluconeogenesis’. This is where your body starts turning that excess protein into glucose! This can push some people out of ketosis, slowing down fat loss.

 


The usual recommendation when you first start out with Ketosis is to limit your ‘Net Carbs’ to a max of 20 grams. This forces your body to start using the fats for fuel quickly.

 

What is a Net Carb? Well, sugar is a carbohydrate, but technically so is fibre, which unlike sugar doesn’t affect your blood glucose. When you read a food label and see total carbs listed that includes fibre, to find the net carbs you just need to subtract the fibre figure from the total carbs figure.

 

Eg: If you see “Total Carbs = 20g, Fibre = 5g” then the net carb count would be 20 – 5 = 15 net carbs.

 

This can make a huge difference to figuring out what you’re eating as many people who don’t understand this point restrict themselves too much avoiding all carbs. Fibre is really important for your bowels so don’t try to cut this out too much.


How to Get Into Ketosis

 

Getting into Ketosis doesn’t need to be complicated. The first few days will be the hardest as you adapt so it’s best not to try to do too much at once. Follow the below steps, listed in order of importance.

 

If you don’t feel up to exercising in the first week for instance don’t worry about it. Energy levels will bounce back to new heights once you’re fully in Ketosis. For further tips on starting the keto diet check out these 7 research backed tips for starting keto

 

1.Cut out your carbohydrates.

 

This is by far the most important move as your body won’t shift to Ketosis whilst there’s carbs coming in. In the first days try to limit net carbs to under 20g. This really isn’t a lot and can be a shock at first. If you need a few days to ease down to this number that’s fine, that sugar really can be addictive!

 

2.Increase your Fat intake.

This is your main energy source from now on, so make sure you’re getting enough! Many people cut their carbs but forget to add enough fat back in, this isn’t supposed to be a starvation diet!

 

3.Monitor your Protein Intake.

 

Too much protein can inhibit Ketosis so you want to be aware of how much you’re eating. If you’re aiming for weight loss try for 0.6g – 0.8g of protein per pound of lean body mass. This is an important distinction for people coming from an Atkins Diet with no protein limits.

 

4. Drink A LOT of water.

 

Ketosis is a diuretic process so you’re going to be making a lot of bathroom breaks in the first few days. Try to drink a gallon of water a day (3-4 litres), spread out, to keep hydrated

 

5. Consider Fasting.

Fasting can be extremely effective for quickly getting into ketosis. Fasting has a whole host of other benefits, but is a great tool especially after days where you’ve given into temptation!

 

We have a really in depth guide to intermittent fasting you should definitely check out. This really is a great weight loss tool that goes really well with the keto diet.

 

6.Introduce Exercise.

 

Start off easy in your first weeks of eating a ketogenic diet, as your body won’t be ready for intense exercise immediately. Make sure you’re walking at least 30 minutes a day to control sugar levels. If you want to start increasing you workouts down the line you’ll need to look at your macros more carefully before and after workouts, perhaps introducing more protein and carbs.

 

Check out our guide to exercise on the keto diet here.

 

7.Extra supplementation?

 

This isn’t strictly necessary with a ketogenic diet, but there are products to boost your ketosis and weight loss.

 

For more information on how to get into an optimal state of ketosis, try these six steps for optimal ketosis and weight loss.


Am I in Ketosis? Ways to find out

 

There are a few different ways to find out if you’re in Ketosis. When first starting out your body may give you some signals that it’s metabolism is changing:

 

Dry Mouth:

 

Your body will be expelling a lot more water than usual, which can lead to mild dehydration and dry mouth. This is your body asking for more water and electrolytes. Make sure you drink at least 2 litres (65 Oz) of water a day, preferably more, and salt your food well.

 

Bad Breath:

 

Great right? This is partly due to the dry mouth but also due to the production of Acetone. This is a type of ketone being produced by your body, some of which will get excreted in your breath. This goes away in the long run, so chew some gum for now.

 

Increased Urination:

 

If you find yourself taking more toilet breaks than usual that’s a great sign of ketosis taking place. Your body produces the ketone Acetoacetate from the fats in your body, which is excreeted in the urine. Drink plenty of water when starting out on keto!

 

Reduced Hunger and Increased Energy:

 

It may take a few days when first starting out, but a notable reduction in hunger is one of the best indicators of being in a keto state. Once your body stops relying on glucose your reserves of fat come into play, and suddenly the feeling of hunger falls away.

 

There are plenty of other ways of checking whether you’re in ketosis for sure if you want to measure further. These include urine strips and blood test strips, but can be expensive, though some people really enjoy tracking the data side of things. For more detail on the signs and symptoms of ketosis and how to check, read our detailed guide to ketosis symptoms.


What’s going on inside my body?

 

Up until now chances are your body is a sugar burner. It’s always been a sugar burner and has adapted to be really really good at using glucose for energy. Your body has built up enzymes and gut bacteria etc for dealing with sugar, and very few for dealing with fats.

 

When you switch to a Ketogenic Diet your body suddenly finds itself badly equipped for the task, and needs time to adapt. This means building up the correct enzymes to process the new energy source.

 

The problem is, until your body is fat adapted, it won’t be able to get all the energy it needs from the fats you eat, and will soon use up any remaining glucose in your system.

 

It’s this transition period that people find most difficult, and where most of the side effects associated with a keto diet appear. People often report headaches, mental fog, dizziness and bad moods in these first few days. These are all symptoms often associated with low blood sugar, as well as dehydration, this is the infamous Keto Flu!

 

Making sure you drink plenty of water, and replace electrolytes in these first days is key to minimising these side effects. Add salt wherever you can these first few days to help with water retention.

 

Fortunately these side effects should all subside quickly once your body reaches a keto state (though keep up drinking plenty of water for general health). In fact, once adapted people find there energy levels, mental clarity and mood all improve beyond their old sugar adapted selves.


Side Effects with the Keto Diet

 

Listed below are some other common side effects to be aware of, most of which occur during the transition phase at the start of your keto journey. Drinking plenty of water, approximately a gallon (3.7l) a day, and ensuring you’re getting a healthy range of minerals and vitamins in your diet (lots of green veg!) should deal with most of these. Please speak to your doctor if you are concerned about any side effects you’re experiencing, especially if they are persistent.

 

Constipation

 

This is usually due to the combination of dehydration, and a reduction of fibre in your diet. Drinking the recommended gallon (3-4l) a day and eating plenty of green vegetables should help with this. Getting enough fiber is really important on this diet so consider trying some Psyllium Husk powder and probiotics if  constipation continues.

 

We’ve got an in depth guide here on eating more fiber on the keto diet and high fiber keto foods.

 

Heart Palpitations

 

This sounds more scary than it may be. Some people do notice their heart beating harder and faster than normal. If this persists ensure you are drinking enough water and consuming enough salt. It may be worth taking a potassium supplement daily to alleviate this too.

 

Cramps

 

Leg cramps in particular are fairly common when starting a keto diet. They’re generally a sign of mineral deficiency as a result of losing electrolytes and salts. Drink plenty of water and get electrolytes in your diet using salt or an electrolyte supplement.

 

Magnesium in particular can be the cause for this so if this persists consider a magnesium supplement.

 

The Keto Flu

 

This sounds scary, but is basically a feeling of tiredness/sluggishness amongst other things. The good news is this is totally preventable if you take the right measures. Check out our detailed keto flu guide for more info.

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