The Complete Keto Diet Guide For Beginners
Ketogenic Diet Basics
What Is The Keto Diet
On the keto diet, your body enters a metabolic state called ketosis. While in ketosis your body is using ketone bodies for energy instead of glucose. Ketone bodies are derived from fat and are a much more stable, steady source of energy than glucose, which is derived from carbohydrates.
Entering ketosis usually takes anywhere from 3 days to a week. Once you’re in ketosis, you’ll be using fat for energy, instead of carbs. This includes the fat you eat and stored body fat.
Testing For Ketosis
You can test yourself to see whether you’ve entered ketosis just a few days after you’ve begun the keto diet! Simply use a ketone test strip and it will tell you the level of ketone bodies in your urine. If the concentration is high enough, you’ve successfully entered ketosis! There are other ways of telling you’re in ketosis, though – look for changes in your mood and alertness, as well as a stronger smell in your breath and urine. Many people also report better sleep and decreased appetite when they’re in ketosis.
The Truth About Fat
You may be thinking, “but eating a lot of fat is bad!” The truth is, dozens of studies and meta studies with over 900,000 subjects have arrived at similar conclusions: eating saturated and monounsaturated fats has no effects on heart disease risks7,8.
Most fats are good and are essential to our health. Fats (fatty acids) and protein (amino acids) are essential for survival.
Fats are the most efficient form of energy and each gram contains about 9 calories, compared to 4 calories per gram of protein and carbohydrates.
There is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate.
The keto diet promotes eating fresh, whole foods like meat, fish, veggies, and healthy fats and oils as well as greatly reducing processed and chemically treated foods the Standard American Diet (SAD) has so long encouraged.
It’s a diet that you can sustain long-term and enjoy. What’s not to enjoy about bacon and eggs in the morning?
Calories & Macronutrients
How Calories Work
A calorie is a unit of energy. When something contains 100 calories, it describes how much energy your body could get from consuming it. Calorie consumption dictates weight gain/loss.
If you burn an average of 1,800 calories and eat 2,000 calories per day, you will gain weight.
If you do light exercise that burns an extra 300 calories per day, you’ll burn 2,100 calories per day, putting you at a deficit of 100 calories. Simply by eating at a deficit, you will lose weight because your body will tap into stored resources for the remaining energy it needs.
That being said, it’s important to get the right balance of macronutrients every day so your body has the energy it needs.
What Are Macronutrients?
Macronutrients (macros) are molecules that our bodies use to create energy for themselves – primarily fat, protein and carbs. They are found in all food and are measured in grams (g) on nutrition labels.
- Fat provides 9 calories per gram
- Protein provides 4 calories per gram
- Carbs provide 4 calories per gram
Read our full What Are Macros guide for more information about macronutrients and how they affect your body and health.
Many low carb recipes/websites will write “net carbs” when displaying their macros. Net carbs are total carbs minus dietary fiber and sugar alcohols. Our bodies can’t break down fiber and sugar alcohol into glucose so they generally don’t raise blood sugar. For this reason, many people don’t count them toward their total carb count.
Note: Dietary fiber is sometimes listed as soluble or insoluble.
How Much Should You Eat?
You can use our Keto Calculator to figure out exactly how many calories and which macros you should be eating every day!
It asks you for basic info like your weight, activity levels and goals and instantly tells you how many grams of fat, protein and carbs you should be eating each day.
A Nutritional Revolution
Carbs: What Exactly Are They?
Carbohydrates (carbs) are a macronutrient found in things like starches, grains and foods high in sugar. This includes, but isn’t limited to, bread, flour, rice, pasta, beans, potatoes, sugar, syrup, cereals, fruits, bagels and soda.
Carbs are broken down into glucose (a type of sugar) in our bodies for energy. Eating any kinds of carbs spikes blood sugar levels. The spike may happen faster or slower depending on the type of carb (simple or complex), but the spike will still happen.
Blood sugar spikes cause strong insulin releases to combat the spikes. Constant insulin releases result in fat storage and insulin resistance. After many years, this cycle commonly leads to prediabetes, metabolic syndrome and even type 2 diabetes9.
In a world full of sugar, cereal, pasta, burgers, French fries and large sodas, you can see how carbs can easily be overconsumed.
Where We Are Today
According to the 2014 report by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. (86 million people) have prediabetes, a condition in which blood glucose is always high and commonly leads to type 2 diabetes and many other medical problems10.
Today, almost 1 in 10 people in the U.S. have type 2 diabetes compared to almost 1 in 40 in 1980. Fat has been blamed as the bad guy and companies have been creating low-fat and fat-free, chemically-laden alternatives of nearly every type of food in existence, yet obesity, diabetes and heart disease rates are still increasing.
Nearly 1 in 10 adults in the U.S. has type 2 diabetes, almost 4 times more than 30 years ago.
Fat is Making a Comeback
We’re starting to understand that carbs in large quantities are much more harmful than previously thought, while most fats are healthy and essential.
The nutritional landscape is changing. Keto/low carb and similar dietary groups are growing and a nutritional revolution is beginning. We are starting to realize the detrimental effects of our relationship with excess sugar and carbs.
Benefits of the Keto Diet
Studies consistently show that those who eat a low carb, high fat diet rather than a high carb, low fat diet:
- Lose more weight and body fat11-17
- Have better levels of good cholesterol (HDL and large LDL)18,19
- Have reduced blood sugar and insulin resistance (commonly reversing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes)20,21
- Experience a decrease in appetite22
- Have reduced triglyceride levels (fat molecules in the blood that cause heart disease)19,23
- Have significant reductions in blood pressure, leading to a reduction in heart disease and stroke24
Eating a keto/low carb diet helps you lose more weight than eating low fat.
The keto diet doesn’t only provide long-term benefits! When you’re on keto, you can expect to:
- Lose body fat
- Have consistent energy levels during the day
- Stay satiated after meals longer, with less snacking and overeating
Longer satiation and consistent energy levels are due to the majority of calories coming from fat, which is slower to digest and calorically denser.
Eating low carb also eliminates blood glucose spikes and crashes. You won’t have sudden blood sugar drops leaving you feeling weak and disoriented.
The keto diet’s main goal is to keep you in nutritional ketosis all the time. If you’re just getting started with your keto diet, you should eat up to 25 grams of carbs per day.
Once you’re in ketosis for long enough (about 4 to 8 weeks), you become keto-adapted, or fat-adapted. This is when your glycogen decreases (the glucose stored in muscles and liver), you carry less water weight, muscle endurance increases and your overall energy levels are higher.
Another benefit of being keto-adapted is that you can eat ~50 grams of net carbs a day to maintain ketosis.
Type 1 Diabetes & Ketoacidosis
If you have type 1 diabetes, consult with your doctor before starting a keto diet. Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a dangerous condition that can occur if you have type 1 diabetes due to a shortage of insulin.
Avoiding The Keto Flu
What is the Keto Flu?
The keto flu happens commonly to keto dieters due to low levels of sodium and electrolytes and has flu-like symptoms including:
It’s important to note that this isn’t the real flu! It’s called keto flu due to similar symptoms but it is not at all contagious and doesn’t actually involve a virus.
Why Does It Happen?
The main cause for keto flu is your body lacking electrolytes, especially sodium. When starting keto, you cut out lots of processed foods and eat more whole, natural foods. Although this is great, it causes a sudden drop in sodium intake.
In addition, reducing carbs reduces insulin levels, which reduces sodium stored by kidneys25.
Between your reduced sodium intake and stored sodium flushed by your kidneys, you end up being low on sodium and other electrolytes.
The keto flu can be avoided by consuming enough electrolytes, especially sodium.
Ending the Keto Flu
The best way to avoid (or end) the keto flu is to add more sodium and electrolytes to your diet. Here are the most effective (and tasty) ways to get more sodium:
- Adding more salt to your food
- Drinking soup broth
- Eating plenty of salty foods like bacon and pickled vegetables
Try to eat more sodium as you start keto to prevent the keto flu entirely. If you do catch it, just remember that it’ll go away quickly and you’ll emerge a fat-burning machine!
Read our Full Guide to the Keto Flu for more information on how to prevent it or feel better immediately if you already have it.
Starting Your Keto Diet
Part 1: Out With The Old
If you aren’t living alone, make sure to discuss with your family or housemates before throwing anything out. If some items are simply not yours to throw out, try to compromise and agree on a special location so you can keep them out of sight.
Starches and Grains
Get rid of all cereal, pasta, bread, rice, potatoes, corn, oats, quinoa, flour, bagels, rolls, croissants and wraps.
All Sugary Things
Throw away and forget all refined sugar, fruit juices, desserts, fountain drinks, milk chocolate, pastries, candy bars, etc.
Discard or donate any beans, peas, and lentils.
Vegetable & Seed Oils
Stop using any vegetable oils and seed oils like sunflower, safflower, soybean, canola, corn and grapeseed oil. Get rid of trans fats like margarine.
Read Nutrition Labels
Always check the serving sizes against the carb counts. Manufacturers can sometimes recommend inconceivably small serving sizes to seemingly reduce calorie and carb numbers.
At first glance, something may be low in carbs, but a quick comparison to the serving size can reveal the product is mostly sugar. Be diligent!
Part 2: In With The New!
General Products to Have
With these basics in your home, you’ll always be ready to make healthy, keto-friendly meals.
Meat, Fish & Eggs
Just about every type of fresh meat and fish is good for keto including beef, chicken, lamb, pork, salmon, tuna, etc. Eat grass-fed and/or organic meat and wild-caught fish whenever possible.
Eat as many eggs as you like, preferably organic from free-range chickens.
Eat plenty of non-starchy veggies including asparagus, mushrooms, broccoli, cucumber, lettuce, onions, peppers, cauliflower, tomatoes, garlic, Brussels sprouts and zucchini.
You can eat full-fat dairy like sour cream, heavy (whipping) cream, butter, cheeses and unsweetened yogurt.
Stay away from regular milk, skim milk and sweetened yogurts because they contain a lot of sugar. Avoid all fat-free and low-fat dairy products.
Oils and Fats
Berries like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc. are allowed in small amounts. Avocados are great because they’re low carb and very high in fat!
14 Delicious Days!
To get you started with your diet, we’ve created a 14-Day Keto Meal Plan with delicious recipes for you to enjoy every single day!
Using a meal plan when you start the keto diet can greatly help you succeed. If you know what’s coming up next, you’re much less likely to give up and order food from your favorite takeout restaurant.
We’ve also included macronutrient and calorie counts as well as leftovers to take the guesswork out and make the start of your keto diet a breeze!
Customizing Your Meal Plan
The daily caloric goal in the meal plan is about 1600 calories, +/- 100 calories.
If you need to eat more or fewer calories per day, you can adjust accordingly by simply taking out or adding a bit more of the ingredients already included in a recipe. For example, adding/removing a tablespoon of olive oil or butter will add/remove about 100 calories. If you like or dislike certain recipes, feel free to shift things around. Make sure to keep an eye on the calories so you’re still falling within an acceptable range of your daily goal.
Although the meal plan is for two weeks, you can easily extend and reuse it as many times as you like. Staple recipes are critical for success in your keto diet!
Our hopes are that you like a few recipes so much they become staples in your diet. Staples are critical for success because they’re something you can get really excited about multiple times a week!
You should continue to try new recipes every week. You’ll get more familiar with ingredients, your own taste buds and will be surprised by just how good some things are! Soon enough, you’ll be trying to convince your friends and family to try what you’re eating because they’re missing out on how delicious your lifestyle has become!
Life After Meal Plan
Try making any of our hundreds of recipes available on the site. We make sure each and every recipe is delicious, nutritious and will keep you under your daily carb limit, even if you go for seconds. In addition, we provide step-by-step instructions to make the process as easy as possible. If you ever run into any issues or have any questions, be sure to leave a comment or contact us directly! We’re always happy to help.
Do you have something specific in mind? Use the search below:
Get our Keto in Five cookbooks!
We believe that the key to success is simplicity and satisfaction with your diet. That’s why we created our Keto in Five ecookbook series which includes Breakfast in Five, Lunch in Five and Dinner in Five. Each book contains 30 recipes. Every recipe is made with just 5 ingredients and has up to 5 grams of net carbs. That means you can have seconds of any meal and you’ll still be within your daily carb limit!
Learn More About The Keto Diet
Discover even more about the keto diet through our in-depth, science-backed articles. You’ll be surprised how many benefits you get from living a low carb lifestyle. Be sure to read our low carb food list for a complete list of foods you should eat and which you should avoid.
- Aude, Y., A. S, Agatston, F. Lopez-Jimenez, et al. “The National Cholesterol Education Program Diet vs a Diet Lower in Carbohydrates and Higher in Protein and Monounsaturated Fat: A Randomized Trial.” JAMA Internal Medicine 164, no. 19 (2004): 2141–46. doi: 10.1001/archinte.164.19.2141. jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/artic le-abstract/217514.
- De Lau, L. M., M. Bornebroek, J. C. Witteman, A. Hofman, P. J. Koudstaal, and M. M. Breteler. “Dietary Fatty Acids and the Risk of Parkinson Disease: The Rotterdam Study.” Neurology 64, no. 12 (June 2005): 2040–5. doi:10.1212/01.WNL.0000166038.67153.9F. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15985568/.
- Freeman, J. M., E. P. Vining, D. J. Pillas, P. L. Pyzik, J. C. Casey, and L M. Kelly. “The Efficacy of the Ketogenic Diet-1998: A Prospective Evaluation of Intervention in 150 Children.” Pediatrics 102, no. 6 (December 1998): 1358–63. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9832569/.
- Hemingway, C, J. M. Freeman, D. J. Pillas, and P. L. Pyzik. “The Ketogenic Diet: A 3- to 6-Year Follow-up of 150 Children Enrolled Prospectively. Pediatrics 108, no. 4 (October 2001): 898–905. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11581442/.
- Henderson, S. T. “High Carbohydrate Diets and Alzheimer’s Disease.” Medical Hypotheses 62, no. 5 (2014): 689 –700. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2003.11.028. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15082091.
- Neal, E.G., H. Chaffe, R. H. Schwartz, M. S. Lawson, N. Edwards, G. Fitzsimmons, A. Whitney, and J. H. Cross. “The Ketogenic Diet for the Treatmen t of Childhood Epilepsy: A Randomised Controlled Trial.” Lancet Neurology 7, no. 6 (June 2008): 500–506. doi:10.1016/S1474-4422(08)70092-9. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18456557.
- Chowdhury, R., S. Warnakula, S. Kunutsor, F. Crowe, H. A. Ward, L. Johnson, et al. “Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids with Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Annals of Internal Medicine 160 (2014): 398–406. doi:10.7326/M13-1788. annals.org/article.aspx?art icleid=1846638.
- Siri-Tarino, P. W., Q. Sun, F. B. Hu, and R. M. Krauss. “Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies Evaluating the Association of Saturated Fat with Cardiovascular Disease.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 91, no. 3 (March 2010): 535–46. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.27725. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20071648.
- “Prediabetes and Insulin Resistance,” The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/healthinformation/diabetes/types/prediabetes-insulin-resistance.
- “National Diabetes Statistics Report,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/statsreport14/national-diabetes-reportweb.pdf.
- Dyson, P. A., Beatty, S. and Matthews, D. R. “A low-carbohydrate diet is more effective in reducing body weight than healthy eating in both diabetic and non-diabetic subjects.” Diabetic Medicine. 2007. 24: 1430–1435. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1464-5491.2007.02290.x/full.
- Christopher D. Gardner, PhD; Alexandre Kiazand, MD; Sofiya Alhassan, PhD; Soowon Kim, PhD; Randall S. Stafford, MD, PhD; Raymond R. Balise, PhD; Helena C. Kraemer, PhD; Abby C. King, PhD, “Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN Diets for Change in Weight and Related Risk Factors Among Overweight Premenopausal Women,” JAMA. 2007;297(9):969-977. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/art icle.aspx?articleid=205916.
- Gary D. Foster, Ph.D., Holly R. Wyatt, M.D., James O. Hill, Ph.D., Brian G. McGuckin, Ed.M., Carrie Brill, B.S., B. Selma Mohammed, M.D., Ph.D., Philippe O. Szapary, M.D., Daniel J. Rader, M.D., Joel S. Edman, D.Sc., and Samuel Klein, M.D., “A Randomized Trial of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet for Obesity — NEJM,” N Engl J Med 2003; 348:2082- 2090. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa022207.
- JS Volek, MJ Sharman, AL Gómez, DA Judelson, MR Rubin, G Watson, B Sokmen, R Silvestre, DN French, and WJ Kraemer, “Comparison of Energy-restricted Very Lowcarbohydrate and Low-fat Diets on Weight Loss and Body Composition in Overweight Men and Women,” Nutr Metab (Lond). 2004; 1: 13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC538279/.
- Y. Wady Aude, MD; Arthur S. Agatston, MD; Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, MD, MSc; Eric H. Lieberman, MD; Marie Almon, MS, RD; Melinda Hansen, ARNP; Gerardo Rojas, MD; Gervasio A. Lamas, MD; Charles H. Hennekens, MD, DrPH, “The National Cholesterol Education Program Diet vs a Diet Lower in Carbohydrates and Higher in Protein and Monounsaturated Fat,” Arch Intern Med. 2004;164(19):2141-2146. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=217514.
- Bonnie J. Brehm, Randy J. Seeley, Stephen R. Daniels, and David A. D’Alessio, “A Randomized Trial Comparing a Very Low Carbohydrate Diet and a Calorie-Restricted Low Fat Diet on Body Weight and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Healthy Women,” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism: Vol 88, No 4; January 14, 2009. http://press.endocrine.org/doi/full/10.1210/jc.2002-021480.
- M. E. Daly, R. Paisey, R. Paisey, B. A. Millward, C. Eccles, K. Williams, S. Hammersley, K. M. MacLeod, T. J. Gale, “Short-term Effects of Severe Dietary Carbohydraterestriction Advice in Type 2 Diabetes—a Randomized Controlled Trial,” Diabetic Medicine, 2006; 23: 15–20. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1464-5491.2005.01760.x/abstract.
- Stephen B. Sondike, MD, Nancy Copperman, MS, RD, Marc S. Jacobson, MD, “Effects Of A Low-Carbohydrate Diet On Weight Loss And Cardiovascular Risk Factor In Overweight Adolescents,” The Journal of Pediatrics: Vol 142, Issue 3: 253-258; March 2003. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022347602402065.
- William S. Yancy Jr., MD, MHS; Maren K. Olsen, PhD; John R. Guyton, MD; Ronna P. Bakst, RD; and Eric C. Westman, MD, MHS, “A Low-Carbohydrate, Ketogenic Diet versus a Low-Fat Diet To Treat Obesity and Hyperlipidemia: A Randomized, Controlled Trial,” Ann Intern Med. 2004;140(10):769-777. http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=717451.
- Grant D Brinkworth, Manny Noakes, Jonathan D Buckley, Jennifer B Keogh, and Peter M Clifton, “Long-term Effects of a Very-low-carbohydrate Weight Loss Diet Compared with an Isocaloric Low-fat Diet after 12 Mo,” Am J Clin Nutr July 2009 vol. 90 no. 1 23-32. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/90/1/23.long.
- H. Guldbrand, B. Dizdar, B. Bunjaku, T. Lindström, M. Bachrach-Lindström, M. Fredrikson, C. J. Östgren, F. H. Nystrom, “In Type 2 Diabetes, Randomisation to Advice to Follow a Low-carbohydrate Diet Transiently Improves Glycaemic Control Compared with Advice to Follow a Low-fat Diet Producing a Similar Weight Loss,” Diabetologia (2012) 55: 2118. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00125-012-2567-4.
- Sharon M. Nickols-Richardson, PhD, RD, , Mary Dean Coleman, PhD, RD, Joanne J. Volpe, Kathy W. Hosig, PhD, MPH, RD, “Perceived Hunger Is Lower and Weight Loss Is Greater in Overweight Premenopausal Women Consuming a Low-Carbohydrate/High-Protein vs High-Carbohydrate/Low-Fat Diet,” The Journal of Pediatrics: Vol 105, Issue 9: 1433–1437; September 2005. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000282230501151X.
- Frederick F. Samaha, M.D., Nayyar Iqbal, M.D., Prakash Seshadri, M.D., Kathryn L. Chicano, C.R.N.P., Denise A. Daily, R.D., Joyce McGrory, C.R.N.P., Terrence Williams, B.S., Monica Williams, B.S., Edward J. Gracely, Ph.D., and Linda Stern, M.D., “A Low-Carbohydrate as Compared with a Low-Fat Diet in Severe Obesity,” N Engl J Med 2003; 348:2074-2081. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa022637.
- Yancy WS Jr, Westman EC, McDuffie JR, Grambow SC, Jeffreys AS, Bolton J, Chalecki A, Oddone EZ, “A randomized trial of a low-carbohydrate diet vs orlistat plus a lowfat diet for weight loss,” Arch Intern Med. 2010 Jan 25;170(2):136-45. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20101008?itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum&ordinalpos=2.
- Swasti Tiwari, Shahla Riazi, and Carolyn A. Ecelbarger, “Insulin’s Impact on Renal Sodium Transport and Blood Pressure in Health, Obesity, and Diabetes,” American Journal of Physiology vol. 293, no. 4 (October 2, 2007): 974–984, http://ajprenal.physiology.org/content/293/4/F974.full.