Keto Diet for Beginners
Keto diet has gained lots of popularity in recent years. Testimonies of successful weight loss without the dreaded yoyo effect are all over the Internet. Perhaps you even personally know someone who has dropped ten, twenty, or more pounds simply by sticking to Keto principles. Here’s everything you should know about this diet.
Keto diet basics
You probably wonder where the name «Keto» comes from. It is short for «ketogenic», and its main goal is to restrict carbohydrate intake to a minimum in order to take your body into the state of so-called «ketosis».
What is ketosis?
Ketosis is a metabolic state in which your body burns fat for energy instead of glucose.
When you follow a typical diet, the main energy source for your organism is sugar (specifically glucose) obtained from carbs (bread, cereals, pasta, rice, noodles, fruit, legumes, and dairy).
This fuel is very easy to obtain as carbohydrates break down to glucose quite quickly. Unfortunately, letting your body run on glucose will not help to get rid of that stubborn belly fat or make your thighs more slender!
However, if you replace carbs with healthy fats, your body will have to find an alternative energy source. Instead of glucose, it will now be fueled by fatty acids.
Your liver will start producing ketones that represent a more steady stream of energy for your internal organs to work properly. And yes, after a few weeks of carb restriction, you will finally see those fat rolls go away!
Eat more fat to burn more fat? Exactly, even though at first it might sound a little counter-intuitive!
Keto diet basics – What fat and how much of it should I eat?
“Restrict your carbs and consume more fats” doesn’t sound very specific, does it? If you are just starting your adventure with Keto, you probably wonder how much carbs and how much fat you should ingest.
To reach and stay in ketosis, you need to get around 55-60% of your daily calorie intake from fat. For a person who consumes 2,000 calories per day, that means approximately 130 grams of fat on a daily basis.
Keep in mind, however, that Keto is not about eating any fat. Be careful about your choices and stick to those fats that are nutritionally healthy for you.
What fats to choose when on the Keto diet? Here are the top options:
- avocados and avocado oil
- nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews, macadamias, Brazil nuts, pistachios, or pecans)
- seeds (pumpkin, flax, chia, hemp)
- nut and seed butter (without any sugar or salt added)
- fresh coconuts and unrefined coconut oil
- olives and olive oil (make sure it is cold-pressed)
- cacao nibs
- Greek yogurt (pick the full-fat version)
- fatty fish (especially salmon, anchovies, sardines, and tuna)
- eggs (both the yolk and the white)
The foods mentioned in the list above are not only rich in healthy, unsaturated fats but they have plenty of other vital nutrients as well. Some – like avocados – are rich in fiber, vitamin D, and E; others (nuts and seeds) are a good source of vegetable protein, calcium, and potassium.
Cacao nibs contain polyphenols known for their anti-inflammatory and mood-boosting properties, and Greek yogurt is a fantastic source of calcium to keep your bones strong.
Whether you are 100% on Keto or just trying to stay healthy – adding those foods to your diet will surely bring you many benefits.
Keto diet foods for beginners – Which fatty foods to avoid
You probably know that by now, but let’s just say it out loud: not all fats are good, and there are some you should keep away from, even when you follow the Keto diet.
The fats that are best to be avoided are artificial trans fats (refined oils), which sometimes hide under the name of «partially hydrogenated oils» or «shortening». You’ll find them mostly in cookies, cakes, pastries, crackers, and other ultra-processed foods.
Another common source of trans fats is processed meat (sausages, hot dogs, deli meat, pastrami, salami, baloney, as well as smoked and cured meats). Most deep-fried foods such as french fries, onion rings, chicken strips or nuggets, buffalo wings, cheese sticks, and cornbread are packed with trans fats as well.
4 reasons NOT to include trans fats in your Keto diet:
- They increase «the bad» cholesterol levels and can lead to coronary artery disease and heart failure.
- They cause inflammation (especially in people struggling with obesity).
- They may drive insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
- They may cause breast cancer, especially after menopause.
When looking for fat sources for keto, always choose products with the “trans-fat free” label.
How to start keto correctly – How many carbs are allowed?
«Reduce your carb intake to a minimum» doesn’t say much, does it? For someone who has never tried a carb-low diet, it might be hard to estimate the allowed amount.
In order for your body to get into ketosis, it will be necessary to restrict carbs to about 50 grams per day. Please note that:
- a single slice of white bread packs about 10 to 15 grams of carbs
- a piece of chocolate cake with frosting contains about 73 grams of carbs
- a 100 g portion (half cup) of white rice provides you with 28 calories
These portions don’t look very impressive, do they? Don’t worry. You are not going to feel hungry on keto. When you replace traditional carb sources with healthy fats, veggies, and low-sugar fruits, those same 50 grams of carbs (or less!) will look very different on your plate.
Basics of Keto diet – Can I eat any veggies I want?
Vegetables play an essential role in the Keto diet and will help you achieve the desired ketosis state. Not all veggies are the same, and their nutritional content varies considerably.
When choosing what to build your daily keto menu on, the rule of thumb is to pick the foods with the lowest carb content possible. That applies to veggies as well.
Generally speaking, green-leafed vegetables that you use for salad should be the number 1 choice as they hardly contain any carbohydrates at all. Starchy vegetables on the other hand should better be avoided.
The table below groups common vegetables according to how recommended they are in the keto diet.
Best Keto vegetables
spinach, kale, broccoli, watercress, arugula, swiss chard, lettuce, celery, cucumber, asparagus, garlic, mushrooms, olives, zucchini, bell peppers, artichoke, brussel sprouts, green beans, eggplants, cauliflower
Worst Keto vegetables
potatoes, corn, pumpkin, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, peas, parsnips, yams
Read more: Low-carb fruits & vegetables
Starting Keto – What fruits are allowed?
As you may already know, fruits contain various quantities of fructose, which is a type of sugary carb. Adding it to your daily Keto meal plan may prevent you from getting into ketosis, quickly take you out of it and hinder the whole purpose of the diet.
Fortunately, there are some exceptions that fruit lovers will surely appreciate:
- Avocado – 100 grams of this fruit contains only 1.5 g of net carbs. Feel free to use it for smoothies and salads or mash it for a keto-friendly dip or spread.
- Berries – a great option if you cannot give up fruits while on Keto. Not only are they low on carbs, but they are also packed with vitamins and antioxidants. Yummy strawberries or blueberries will make for a perfect keto dessert.
- Tomato – before you object, it is technically a fruit. As it provides only 5 grams of net carbs per 1-cup serving, feel free to include it in your keto recipes.
- Lemon – rich in fiber, low in carbs – this fruit is an excellent addition to the Keto diet, which will give it more flavor as well as healthy nutrients. Moreover, high pectin content gives lemon anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties.
A little higher on the net-carb content per serving, you’ll find watermelon, peaches, cherries, cantaloupe, and star fruit. As long as you eat them in moderate quantities, they can become a part of your Keto meals.
On the other hand, as the Keto diet rules for beginners have it, it is better to stay away from bananas, mangos, apples, grapes, dates, raisins, pears, and pineapples.
Keto diet basics – what are my best protein options?
Apart from fats, the Keto diet relies also on a considerable protein intake. This macronutrient plays a critical role in your body, making sure all the systems work as they should.
Not sure where to look for protein sources? The staple keto protein is, of course, meat, fish, and poultry. Eggs, milk, and dairy are rich in this nutrient too.
Although animal sources offer the highest protein content per serving, you can obtain it from other foods as well: legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds, and spinach. Be careful, however, as some protein-rich vegetables have high carbohydrate levels.
Protein as a percentage of calories (total calories = 100)
Keto quick start – The recommended macronutrient ratio
For the ketogenic diet to be successful in body fat loss, specialists recommend keeping the macronutrient (macro) ratio at:
- 70% fats
- 25% protein
- 5% carbohydrates
Keep these numbers in mind when you first start Keto. As you gain more experience, you can try to adjust the standard ratio if you feel it will enhance your results. Free online Keto calculators are a very convenient tool to help with math.
If your goal is to consume 2,000 calories per day, the keto macro ratio should be broken down in the following way:
70% of 2000 calories = 1400 calories obtained from fats
given that 1g of fat contains 9 calories, you are allowed to eat 156g of fats
25% of 2000 calories = 500 calories obtained from protein
given that 1g of protein contains 4 calories, you are allowed to eat 125g of protein
5% of 2000 calories = 100 calories obtained from carbs
given that 1g of carbs contains 4 calories, you are allowed to eat 25g of carbs
The picture below shows the plate breakdown according to the keto macro ratio.
How to begin the Keto diet – 10 top questions from beginners
When starting Keto for the first time, it’s only natural that you’ll have lots of questions and doubts. You might worry about the side effects of starting Keto, Keto benefits timeline, and search for tips for starting Keto.
We have gathered here some of the most frequent questions regarding this low-carb diet and the proper way to start it.
Is keto a diet for everyone?
Generally speaking, any healthy individual can start the ketogenic diet without any problems or risks in order to lose extra weight.
As a matter of fact, Keto has also proven beneficial for certain health conditions. Specialists recommend it for people struggling with:
- polycystic ovary syndrome
- respiratory problems
- epilepsy – as an anticonvulsant therapy to help reduce the frequency of seizures
- type 2 diabetes
- obesity and high cholesterol
- bipolar disorder — as an aid in maintaining mood stability
The ketogenic diet is considered risky for people who have conditions involving their pancreas, liver, thyroid or gallbladder.
If you suffer from any of these, check with your doctor if taking your body into ketosis is safe for you.
Basics of the keto diet – What to expect when starting Keto?
Another common concern you might have when going on Keto is any potential side effects and unpleasant reactions related to such a drastic change in your eating habits. “When do keto flu symptoms start?”, “Will I suffer from a headache starting Keto,” or “How to start a Keto diet to keep the side effects at bay” are among the most googled questions from beginners.
Let’s admit it: the first 10 days of the Keto diet might be quite challenging (days 3 and 4 being the hardest).
Most Keto start guides mention the following timeline for the “getting into ketosis” transition:
You’ll probably feel just fine as it is still too early for any symptoms to develop. Your biggest challenge will probably be figuring out the right macro ratio and seeing so much fat in your diet.
When does Keto flu start? You might start experiencing its first symptoms on this day. It is also called the “carb flu,” as it is the result of your body’s reaction to being starved of carbs. When starting Keto, get ready for some headaches, muscle aches, general fatigue, nausea, brain fog, and irritability.
According to the most typical Keto flu timeline, this is when your symptoms will probably be at their worst. Your organism will resist having to break down fats for fuel instead of the easy carbs, so heading towards ketosis can feel brutal.
Stay strong – these symptoms will soon be gone.
Most of your symptoms should start improving by now. Your energy levels will increase, and the sickening flu feeling will ease down.
With Keto flu and headache mostly over, you should start feeling like your old self again. After almost a week of eating keto-based meals, you will probably get a good grasp of what to put on your plate.
Keep in mind that the ketosis timeline varies from one individual to another. Not everyone gets into ketosis during the first week, so don’t get anxious if you don’t, and be cool about checking your ketone levels.
You will most likely hit ketosis by now and start enjoying the benefits of the low-carb diet:
Remember to drink plenty of water as ketosis tends to be dehydrating!
A good piece of advice: if you want the side effects to peak on the weekend rather than a weekday, the best way to start Keto is to schedule it for a Thursday so that the carb flu hits you on a Saturday when you are in the comfort of your house.
Another important thing to mention – every beginner’s guide to a Keto diet should include this information: be prepared for possible gastrointestinal issues when going on Keto. Reducing the amount of fiber in your diet can lead to constipation. On the other hand, increased fat consumption may bring diarrhea, acid reflux, and heartburn.
Whichever of these symptoms hit you – rest assured that they will be short-lived, and your GI tract will adjust eventually.
I’m starting a Keto diet. What essential groceries should I buy?
A Keto diet foods list for beginners will be indispensable if you want to stick to the recommended macro ratio and ensure you’re not eating too many carbs.
The final list you are going to use will, of course, depend on where you live, what your grocery budget is as well as the availability of certain foods. However, it is important that you keep in mind the following staple Keto foods:
Keto diet essential food list for beginners
Keto diet shopping list for beginners – 10 tips for best results
- When buying meat and poultry, include fatty cuts as well.
- Check the carb content of your favorite veggies – you might find that some of them are not allowed.
- Try to buy less fruit – your sugar cravings will soon go away.
- Focus on fresh whole foods with one ingredient only and limit packaged and processed foods.
- Don’t let yourself be fooled by labels. “Low-carb” cookies or pasta often contain starch and sweeteners that will hinder your progress.
- Go easy on nut butter if your goal is to lose weight.
- If you are on a limited budget, skip the ready Keto foods. You can easily prepare your Keto meal plan without them.
- Buy full-fat dairy. Products promoted as low-fat usually have added sugar.
- Read the nutritional label and focus on the net carbs per serving. Be aware that when eating more than the recommended serving, the net carbs will also increase.
- Watch out for disguised sugars and learn the alternative names manufacturers hide under them.
All this information may sound a little overwhelming at the beginning, but don’t worry. You’ll quickly become an expert on keto food.
Keto basics for beginners – How can I tell if I am in ketosis?
Checking your ketones count through a blood test is the easiest and most accurate way to confirm that your body has entered ketosis.
Once your ketone levels get to 0.5 mmol/l or higher, you’ve reached your goal – your organism is officially in ketosis and will start burning fat for fuel.
What if a blood test is not available? Can you still say you’ve entered ketosis? Yes. Paying close attention to your symptoms may help you with this task.
Common ketosis signs include:
- Smelly breath – when starting this low-carb diet, you may get an unpleasant «keto breath». It results from the production of acetoacetate (ketone by-product) and will most likely resolve in time. Keto breath is often accompanied by a metallic taste in your mouth.
- Body weight loss – for most of us who choose the Keto diet, this is the ultimate goal. Once you see yourself dropping those excessive kilos, you can be sure your body is in ketosis.
- Fatigue and muscle cramps – as your body transitions from burning carbs to burning fat, your insulin levels get affected, and you become easily dehydrated, hence the initial feeling of overpowering tiredness and painful muscle cramps. Make sure to increase your water intake and try adding a pinch of Himalayan salt to every glass – it’ll help balance your electrolytes.
- Improved cognitive performance – the initial brain fog you might have felt as part of the Keto flu will lift as you enter ketosis. You will most likely feel more focused, with better mental clarity and concentration. You’ll also feel calmer, and your mood will improve.
- Insomnia – when getting into ketosis, brace yourself for several sleepless nights. However, this unpleasant symptom during Keto adaptation is rather short-lived, and things should resolve within a couple of weeks.
When do you start losing weight on Keto?
As someone who is entering the keto-diet world hoping to get your weight under control, you probably wonder how long it will take for your body to start losing weight.
As you hopefully understand, weight loss is a very individual subject, and so many factors need to be considered. This is why it is impossible to give you an accurate weight-loss timeline.
Important weight-loss facts to consider in keto
- To start losing weight, you need a caloric deficit of approximately 500 calories per day.
- At this rate, an important weight loss should be noticeable after 10 to 21 days of starting the keto diet.
- Your body will most likely shed water weight first (for every gram of stored carbs, you store 3 grams of water).
- If you don’t stick to the keto macro ratio and eat too many carbs, you will quickly see the lost weight pile up again.
Basics of a Keto diet – Can I stay on keto long-term?
Many beginners look for information on how to start keto and whether they can stay on it long-term. Is a low-carb diet advisable for extended periods of time? Will eating mostly fats affect your health?
These are all very valid questions. The truth is that for most people, Keto is a somewhat restrictive, short-term diet. There is still little information on its possible long-term effects. Some studies suggest however that carb restriction may lead to heart rhythm disorders.
KEEP IN MIND: The long-term effect of carbohydrate restriction is still controversial, especially with regard to its influence on cardiovascular disease.
Is it possible to go keto as a vegetarian?
Can a keto vegetarian get enough protein? Absolutely! The keto diet is vegetarian-friendly and can be easily adapted to avoid meat.
Replacing meat with vegetarian options does require some planning to make sure all your nutritional needs are met (especially regarding vitamins B12 and D, iron, zinc, calcium, and omega 3).
The biggest challenge when making your vegetarian keto meal plan is finding healthy protein sources that are not rich in carbs. Unfortunately, you’ll have to rule out legumes as their high carbohydrate content makes them unsuitable for Keto.
Where to look for vegetarian protein, then?
Best protein sources for vegetarian keto diet
- soybeans and soy products (including tofu, tempeh, seitan, and other low-carb meat substitutes)
- spinach and other dark-green leafy vegetables
- milk and dairy
- nuts (especially almond and macadamia)
- nutritional yeast
- high-quality protein powder
Can I have a cheat day on keto?
Dieting is a tricky business, which is why you have to be strong-willed to succeed.
The ketogenic diet, being so restrictive on carb intake, is particularly hard, as it makes you give up your favorite comfort food and treats. Maybe if you could have a donut or a candy bar once in a while, it would be easier to persist.
Unfortunately, cheating is not recommended in keto, as breaking the macro ratio and consuming too many carbs will take your body out of ketosis. This, in consequence, will disrupt the whole weight loss process, and it will take several days to put you back on track.
However, if you absolutely cannot resist that piece of birthday cake or a plate of delicious homemade pasta – go and eat them, and don’t beat yourself up afterward. Psychological comfort is an important part of dieting, and in the long run, having a keto cheat day once in a while might actually help you persevere.
Cheating when on keto – A piece of advice
When breaking the keto rules, try to keep your daily calorie intake at a reasonable level. In this way, you’ll escape the dreaded yo-yo effect.
Also, make sure to keep your cheat days apart – this way, the temptation of going back to old habits will not be so strong, and you will not feel like a failure.
Where can I find easy Keto diet recipes for beginners?
How do I start a keto diet if I am not even a decent cook? Where can I get quick and easy keto meal ideas? Is there any keto diet plan for beginners?
Relax. You don’t need to be a professional chef to prepare tasty and healthy keto meals. Boil, stir-fry, or grill your veggies, cook your meat and your eggs the way you most like it and add lots of salads with nuts and healthy oils – all this requires only basic kitchen skills.
Plus, at LowCarbCrave we have a lot of easy recipes and keto diet plans for beginners.
You might also want to invest in a keto cookbook. Here are some of our favorites:
- The Complete Ketogenic Diet for Beginners by Amy Ramos
- Keto Cookbook For Beginners: 1000 Recipes For Quick & Easy Low-Carb Homemade Cooking by Gerald Hubbell
- The Easy 5-Ingredient Ketogenic Diet Cookbook by Jen Fisch
Can I drink alcohol on keto?
Yes, you can. Alcohol won’t kick you out of ketosis, but you have to choose it wisely with its carb content in mind.
The most keto-friendly alcohol is:
Gin, tequila, whiskey, vodka, rum, brandy
0g of carbs
0.4g of carbs per 1 cocktail
1.2g of carbs per 4.1 fl oz.
2g of carbs per 3.5 fl oz.
Wine (white or red)
3.8g of carbs per 5 fl oz.
On the other hand, stay away from beer, dessert wine, amaretto, hard cider, and margaritas, as their carb content is much higher (15-22g of carbs per serving).
Another thing to keep in mind is that the keto hangover is supposed to be worse than the regular hangover. Also, drinking alcohol might make it harder for you to resist the non-keto temptation.