Keto diet guide – benefits, safety, side effects, plan and more
Keto diet is short for ketogenic diet. This refers to ketosis, which is a metabolic process that occurs in everyone’s body.
Many of you have probably heard of the keto (ketogenic) diet and wondered about trying it but held back due to a lack of information. You may have scanned the internet but found most of the articles too lengthy or complex to read.
We can help you!
We have pulled together all the information from the internet and compiled our very own precis version of the ketogenic diet. It will look at, ‘what to eat on the keto diet’ as well as ‘the keto diet explained’. Read on for the full A-Z on the keto diet and how it can work for you.
Keto is short for ketogenic. This refers to ketosis, which is a metabolic process that occurs in everyone’s body. When the body is lacking in glucose for energy, it burns fat. This causes acids called ketones to build up. By eating a keto diet, or low carbs, you can boost ketosis. A keto low carb diet creates ketones in the liver. These are then used as energy. (1) (2) (3)
In the opposite way, when you eat something high carb, the body produces insulin and glucose. In this case, the body will use the glucose for energy. It is the easiest of molecules for the body to convert. Insulin processes the glucose in your blood by carrying it around the body. (4)
When glucose is being used as an energy source, fats are not needed so the body stores them. Most standard diets are a mix of high carbohydrates, so the norm is for the body to use glucose for energy. By lowering carbs, you can push the body into a state of ketosis, forcing it to ‘eat-up’ the fat in the body. (5)
If we don’t have enough food, ketosis is a natural state that the body goes into. Helping us to survive, it will feed off our fat resources, producing ketones. These are made as the fat is broken up in the liver. When people use the keto diet to lose fat, they reduce their intake of carbohydrates.
Our bodies are very clever so when you take away the carbs, it will begin burning ketones. This can result in weight loss as well as other physical and mental benefits. You should find your energy levels improving when you switch to a low carb, high fat keto diet.
Your insulin levels will drop as your body burns fat. Research has shown that scientifically, the ketogenic diet results are better than those of low fat and high carb diet. (6)
Blood sugar levels will naturally be lowered
This is due to the type of foods you are eating. The keto diet can even be used to prevent and manage diabetes, being more effective than a low-calorie diet. If you have type II diabetes or are on the verge of being diabetic, this diet could be a good idea. (7)
Mental focus can be improved
Ketones provide fuel for the brain. Also, by lowering carb intake, you avoid highs and lows with blood sugar. As a result, focus and concentration are far more even. Research has even shown that including more fatty acids in your diet can benefit the function of the brain. (8) (9)
Energy is increased
Because your body has an improved energy source, energy will level out and improve. Fats provide a super source of fuel. Because fat is more satisfying, you don’t feel so hungry. (10)
Epilepsy can be controlled
Since the 1900s, the ketogenic diet has been used to treat epilepsy. Today it is used to treat children and adults who have uncontrolled epilepsy. Because it controls epilepsy well, less medication is required. (11) (12)
High cholesterol and blood pressure can be lowered
The keto diet improves cholesterol and triglyceride levels, thus reducing build-up in the arteries. Low carb diets such as this one can also improve blood pressure readings. Blood pressure may rise due to excess weight and the ketogenic diet causes the weight to drop. (13) (14) (15)
Help with insulin resistance
See your skin improve
If you suffer from acne, studies show this can improve with a low carb diet. (17)
You do this by making your diet ketogenic. People make this sound complex, but it really isn’t. Follow these simple rules to reach ketosis:
- Cut back on the carbohydrates
- Restrict proteins
- Get used to eating fat
- Drink plenty of water
- Try not to snack as this can cause an insulin spike
- Try fasting
- Get plenty of exercises, at least 30 minutes each day
- Feel free to use supplements such as MCT oil
Don’t feel forced to take any magic pills that are marketed out there. By following this diet, you will achieve ketosis.
Once you hit ketosis, you should notice the following changes in your body:
- Urinating a lot more as the keto diet acts as a diuretic. (18)
- Feeling thirsty with a dry mouth. Drink loads of water and keep your electrolytes up.
- Bad breath – you will have an acetone smell on your breath from the ketones. It should fade with time. (19)
- Feeling less hungry and more energetic.
Keep your macros balanced. The term ‘macro’ simply refers to macronutrients i.e. the main three nutrients: fat, carbohydrate, and protein.
Ketone production in the body should never become too high (Ketoacidosis) if you follow a normal diet. Generally, there is a lot of negative hype about low carb dieting that is incorrect. Research has shown that eating more fat and fewer carbs are beneficial. (20) (21) (22) (23)
Maybe this is because people confuse it with a diet of high fat and high carbs, which is disastrous. Mixing fatty food with lots of sugar and carbs is terribly unhealthy. If you have been thinking of dieting via a low-fat menu, the keto diet has been shown to be more effective.
Those people that insist on mixing carbs and fat end up with the body using the carbs for energy; therefore, the fats are stored. This way, weight goes up. This does not happen with the keto diet.
The keto diet for diabetics
However, if you are on medication for an existing condition or breastfeeding, do consult with your doctor. If you are a type I diabetic and insulin levels drop too much, high ketone levels can cause insulin secretion. For this reason, always have a medical check if you are considering a keto diet and are a type I diabetic or have gall bladder problems.
How long should you stay on the keto diet?
It’s best to think of the keto diet as a lifestyle choice rather than a fad or short-term habit. If you wish, you can drop keto once you hit your ideal weight. Otherwise, you can stay on the keto diet long-term.
Just remember that if you go back to eating badly, your weight will increase. Occasionally weight can rise due to glycogen stores refilling. The key thing is if the ketogenic diet makes you feel good, stick with it.
Is Keto diet good or bad?
Is the Ketogenic diet good or bad? When you switch to keto and begin eating more fat, low carbs, and a medium amount of protein, this can have a very positive impact on your health. A few of the benefits include:
- Lowering weight, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar
- Raising energy levels and elevating your mood
One of the things to remember is that it can be a little hard at the beginning. However, the keto diet is not as tough as you may be led to believe. If you are prepared for a transition phase, you should do well. Nowadays clean eating is very much in vogue which makes it easier to find suitable foods that are low carb.
Your body has been used to breaking down carbs for energy and storing fat. When you switch to the keto diet, it will notice that there is more fat and less glucose. As your body heads towards a ketogenic state, the remaining glucose will be used up. Your body will then react to the depletion of glycogen in the muscles, sometimes causing a lack of energy and tiredness. (24)
In the first week, you may also notice headaches, feeling mentally foggy, and dizzy. Often due to the electrolytes being flushed out of the body via the diuretic effect, you must drink plenty of water. Also, keep your sodium intake up as this aids water retention. You can do this by adding salt to food.
Some people call these feelings of grogginess ‘keto flu’. They will pass and are only temporary and not dangerous so don’t panic if you have these symptoms. You can also minimize or even remove them during this transition period by paying attention to your salt and water intake.
Because the keto diet has a diuretic effect on the body, you will be peeing a lot more, leaving your body low on water. Low sugar energy drinks will help to correct this as well as heaps of water.
It’s all about adding back the depleted electrolytes.
Be patient and realize that your body will adapt but it will take several days or weeks. If your symptoms are severe, lessen your carbs slowly. Expect a temporary drop in strength until your body begins using fat for energy.
We have already talked about some of the side effects of keto. These will vary from person to person and are often due to dehydration or lack of vitamins. Here are some of the most common side effects.
Usually noticed more often morning and night, this can indicate a low level of minerals such as magnesium in the body. Cure this with lots of fluids and salt. If you are particularly susceptible to this, increase your magnesium intake. (25) (26)
This is not dangerous and will abate, so don’t be concerned. Again, treat with plenty of water and added salt. (30)
If you are worried about any side effects or they persist, do consult with a keto diet doctor.
Less common side effects of keto
Loss of hair
Most often temporary, add multivitamins to your diet. Don’t cut back on calories too much and get at least 8 hrs to sleep each night.
This should be due to the good cholesterol (HDL) which lowers your chance of heart disease. This will normalize as your body adjusts. (31)
If you have a gallstone problem, this should lessen or disappear altogether. You may have discomfort, to begin with, but this should disappear, resulting in a huge improvement. Try increasing your fat gradually so that your system gets used to it slowly. You can even do the ketogenic diet if you have had your gallbladder removed!
Heartburn and indigestion
The keto diet should remove this but, could make it worse, to begin with. Increase your fat consumption over a two-week period rather than doing it quickly. (32)
The success of the keto diet will depend on your metabolism and how much exercise you do and what you eat. Do expect a decrease in weight due to the diuretic effect at the beginning. Some people lose many pounds in just a few days, but this is mainly due to water. (33)
But don’t be disheartened that you are not losing fat; this means that your body is starting to adjust and will eventually burn away all that horrible excess body fat. Try out different recipes and keep them varied so that you don’t get bored.
It may take up some time in the beginning but as you get used to the type of foods that you can and cannot eat, it will become much easier. And you don’t have to go out and buy expensive cookbooks. It should not be hard to keep your ketogenic diet healthy.
Keeping track of your carbohydrate intake on the keto diet
You don’t have to keep a detailed account of the carbs that you are eating on the keto diet. If you follow the food guide, you should begin to see your body changing in a few days. However, for those that want to track carbohydrate intake, there are several apps that can help you with this.
If you go online and simply do a search for ‘carbohydrate tracker’ you should get several results. One of the most popular is MyFitnessPal. By logging the food that you eat, it will work out roughly how many carbs and how much fiber you are taking in each day.
If you want to know a net carb figure, just take your fiber figure away from your carb one. Take your time to find an app that you like and that you feel comfortable with. There are many free ones online, including MyFitnessPal.
Weight loss problems with keto diet
Losing weight does not happen in a formulated linear way. You may lose lots and then find weight loss slows. If you are not losing weight, even after a few weeks, check out a few things. Are you following the diet correctly? Are you getting enough sleep? How are your stress levels? Have you been unwell?
You also need to exercise regularly to help with weight loss. All these things impact weight levels, as well as water retention. The average you can expect to lose is between one and two pounds per week, but everyone is different. (34) (35)
This also doesn’t mean that this will be a consistent loss. As well as weight, track your body measurements. You may change size but not lose much weight. Drinking lots of water is important as it is not eating too much dairy. Expect to have weight loss plateaus so that when they happen, you won’t worry.
Not only should your weight naturally decrease but you should find yourself feeling far more alert and energetic as the excesses of sugar and carbs gradually disappear from your body.
We are all about what we eat. By taking the time to buy the correct keto diet food, you can benefit both your mind and body. All you need to remember is the magic mix of high fat, moderate protein, and low carbs. Get used to putting together the right ratios and soon cooking in accordance with a keto diet will not only become second-nature but actually enjoyable.
Before shopping for keto diet food, did you do your homework? If you did, keeping to the keto diet long term should not be difficult. After all, it’s quite a simple regime to keep to:
- High fat
- Moderate protein
- Low carbs
Once you get it right, you should not feel continually hungry or be craving carbs. However, you do have to eat healthy fats. It’s no good cramming your tummy full of fatty bacon and greasy burgers and then wondering why you don’t feel good. If you focus only on getting rid of the carbs and not ingesting the right fats, your keto diet food will not be on target.
Always remember that correctly formulated keto diet food is predominantly plant-based. When you go shopping, you should be filling your basket with green leafy and high-fiber based veg and then adding your fat on top. This is good news for vegetarians of course but you don’t have to give up meat to go keto.
One good tip to remember to make sure you eat right on keto is to ‘feed your brain’. When you feed your brain, your body gets fed too. But what does this mean in terms of putting together your keto diet food list?
Keto diet – how many carbs?
The fewer carbs you eat each day, the faster you will hit a state of ketosis. Your carbs should come from nuts, vegetables, and dairy. Refined carbohydrates are out. This means wheat (bread, cereals, pasta), starch (potatoes, legumes, beans), and fruit. However, you can eat star fruit, avocado, and berries in limited quantities. Sugar is also a no-no.
You should make your net carb intake per day 20 grams. This will mean avoiding things like quinoa, pulses, etc. Also, avoid low-fat dairy products and starchy fruit and vegetables. On the keto diet, the fruit is restricted.
Your diet for ketosis should be made up of the following:
- Meat, poultry, keto diet eggs, and fish
- Leafy greens
- Vegetables grown above ground
- High-fat dairy
- Nuts and seeds
- Avocado and berries
- Other fats i.e. coconut oil, MCT oil
The good ratio
All you need to keep in mind is that the keto diet is high in fat, low in carbs, and medium in protein. A good ratio is 70% fat, 25% protein, and 5% carbs. When you calculate your keto diet food list, take this into account.
To give you some idea of what a keto meal looks like, this would be protein, vegetables, and fat. This could be chicken cooked in olive oil with cheese and broccoli. Or even steak fried in butter with spinach that has been stir-fried in olive or coconut oil.
Eat up to 3 servings of low carb ketogenic diet vegetables twice daily
Here are a few examples:
- Brussels sprouts
Make sure you add plenty of healthy vegetables to your keto diet list.
Too much protein = weight gain and premature aging
Don’t make the mistake of adding too much protein to your keto diet food. Once you begin to increase your protein consumption, it can begin to feel so satisfying that you begin to crave more. (36)
The problem here is that excess consumption of protein is insulinemic, in exactly the same way that carbs are.
This means that your insulin levels will rise as the excess protein converts into glucose. As insulin levels rise, fat storage also increases with the glucose attacking the liver, muscles, and, of course, fat cells in the body. If you stick to your keto diet correctly, it may even help control diabetes. (37)
Worse of all, when we consume too much protein, we activate the mTOR pathway which regulates a variety of cellular processes. It is a pathway that is linked to cancer, aging, and even the dysregulation of brain cells. (38)
Why put your body at risk of all of these things, including the production of more cancer cells, when you don’t have to? As the mTOR pathway increases cell division and proliferation, it reduces autophagy.
‘Autophagy’ is a natural process that should take place within the body. It cleans up, getting rid of damaged and mutated cellular debris that occurs during the process of natural metabolism. (39)
The average daily consumption of protein for males is 57-92 grams and for females – 47-76. This will vary according to your weight, age, and activity levels. Calculating at 1.2 grams of protein for each kg of your weight is a good idea.
You can get these proteins from:
- Greek yogurt
- hemp seeds
- keto diet cheese (cottage cheese, hard/semi-hard cheese, soft cheese)
- peanut butter
Vegetables also provide a small amount of protein. Try to use real food rather than protein shakes, bars or powders.
The relationship between your gut and resistant starches
You should not feel hungry all of the time as long as you have plenty of resistant starches included in your keto diet food list.
- green banana flour
This is because they are able to resist being digested.
Resistant starches are your friend when on a keto diet. They take away hunger pangs and, when you eat carbs, blunt the rise of your blood glucose levels. They also do a great job of feeding your gut microbiota. (40) (41)
At the same time, as they feed on the resistant starch, they create short-chain fatty acids. One of these is butyrate which has many positive effects, including decreasing gut permeability. (42)
When the gut is too permeable, we can find ourselves with food intolerances and allergies and an unhappy immune system. Associated health conditions include heart disease, fatty liver, and a mix of autoimmune conditions.
So you can see that making the gutless permeable and allowing it to heal is a very good thing. The gut also has its very own nervous system (enteric). This communicates with the brain and the overall central nervous system. It is easy to see why producing butyrate is as essential as it not only helps heal the gut but also affects the health of the brain. (43)
So what should you include in your keto diet food list?
Once you begin to think about what the food you are eating is doing to your body, it becomes much easier to eat healthily and to stick to a keto diet. As a keto diet follower, you should always be conscious of the number of fats and protein on your plate, bulking them up with plenty of ‘plant’ products.
As you shop, think: Plants – fats – protein. This will get you into the habit of buying keto diet foods correctly. The majority of your dinner plate should be covered with foods of plant origin.
Think about an item like spinach and the number of vitamins and minerals contained within it and eating it will become pleasurable. All you have to do is add a touch of vinegar and olive oil and off you go. Vegetarians and vegans love the keto diet because of this.
Once you understand the mechanics of the keto diet and why you are eating in such a way, shopping for healthy keto foods will come naturally.
If you still feel a little unclear as to what should be included in your keto diet food shopping list, here is a basic overview:
Food that is OK to eat on a keto diet
Go for low-carb food such as eggs, meat, and fish. Include plenty of vegetables and natural fats. Aim for food with less than 5% carbs.
Eat plenty of keto diet vegetables
Think of the vegetables on your plate as the main course and the rest of the food tasty accompaniments. Leafy green vegetables tick every box when it comes to keto diet food.
Good examples are:
Rich in insoluble fiber and phytonutrients, the fiber paves the way to becoming ketogenic. Fiber does not break down in the gut nor dissolve in water. Imagine it passing through your body, soaking up excess debris and hormones, and cleaning the gut.
At the same time, it will not bump up your blood sugar levels so it has no negative impact upon insulin levels.
Keto diet drinks
You can drink water plus tea and coffee without sugar and little milk.
Foods to avoid on a keto diet
Keep away from:
- fizzy drinks
Basically you are avoiding foods high in sugar and starch. Keto diet fast foods are definitely a no-go area.
Keto diet alcohol – definitely a no-no due to the high sugar content so keep this to a minimum.
Let’s take a look at each of these keto diet foods in more detail
Keto diet meat
Aim for organic if possible and don’t consume too much as your keto diet should be low in protein. Avoid all processed meats such as sausage, meatballs, and pre-packed sliced meats.
Keto diet fish
All are good, particularly salmon. Avoid fish with breadcrumbs and batter.
Keto diet eggs
You can eat eggs any way you like. Again, go for free-range and organic.
Keto diet fats
Most of your calories should come from fats. Feel free to use good fats when cooking such as butter or coconut oil. Add olive oil to salads. When you are following a keto diet, you need to get used to eating healthy fats.
Keto diet vegetables
Opt for those that grow above ground. They can be fresh or frozen. Avocado, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach are all good. Fry them in butter and even blend them into smoothies.
Keto diet fruit
Go easy on fruit as it is full of natural starches and sugars. Keep it minimal.
Keto diet cheese and dairy
All high-fat dairy foods are good including butter, cheese, yogurt, and cream. Don’t go too heavy on the milk in your drinks as the sugar in the milk soon adds up to too many carbs.
Keto diet nuts
Don’t go too mad on the nuts. Cashews are high carb. Opt for pecan or macadamia instead.
Keto diet berries
Good in moderation. Add a helping of whipped cream and you have a delicious keto diet food dessert.
This, of course, is only a guide to your keto diet food. The more you get used to eating the keto diet, the easier it will become to know exactly what you can and can’t eat. There are also delicious keto recipes available, either online or via popular cookbooks.
Most of all don’t be afraid to experiment. It may seem odd to begin with, eating more fat and vegetables and far less protein but you will see your body change as you get used to it.
You can take a look at the following infographic:
Use healthy oils for salads and cooking
Opt for the healthiest types of oils rather than vegetable and seed oils which are highly processed. Healthy oils can be ghee, coconut oil, butter, olive, and avocado oil plus MCT oil.
MCT oil and the keto diet
If you decide to try the keto diet, you may wish to include MCT into your food intake. It helps increase the production of ketone and thereby can boost fat loss. It is a supplement that can be added to all types of food including smoothies, coffee, and dressings for salads. (46) (47)
MCT oil (medium-chain triglyceride) contains chains of fats referred to as triglycerides. Because they are medium length, they are more easily digested. Most of the time, the oil comes from coconut oil, but you can also find them in dairy products. (48)
Keep your food tasty with seasoning
Use not only salt and pepper but plenty of fresh herbs and spices.
Because you are not eating legumes or grains, your level of micronutrients may drop. If so, add supplements to your diet to increase your levels of omega-3 fatty acids, iron, calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, zinc, potassium, and magnesium.
Buying food for the keto diet and your budget
Some people wishing to begin the ketogenic diet don’t, thinking it will be too expensive. However, this is a common fallacy as the keto diet foods should not cost more. If you look at the food you were buying on a regular basis, you will understand that you have merely substituted items.
Whereas before your shopping trolley may have been heavy with high sugar and carb foods, now they have changed. Instead, you will have more protein, fresh vegetables, and fats/oils. Eating healthy doesn’t have to cost more. If you plan menus ahead and don’t waste food, budgeting is easy.
Looks for deals and special offers. Grow your own vegetables where possible. Buying in bulk with friends and sharing can save a lot of money. Meat, fish, and poultry can be purchased from wholesalers and frozen. With the keto diet, cooking food at home is best. It is cheaper, more convenient, and more accurate. All you need to do is make a keto diet grocery list.
Problems with eating out on the keto diet
Some people find they fall off the food regime when it comes to the keto diet and fast food. This can occur if they eat out or go to a party or celebration. When this happens, you don’t need to worry. You may notice no difference at all or your weight may rise a little.
If you do weigh yourself and see a difference, this is normal. If you had lots of sugar and carbs, you may have a few cravings. Drink plenty of water to keep these at bay. This way, you will soon be back on track.
- If you are just starting the keto diet and wish to lose body fat, here are the key takeaways:
- Keep it simple. Don’t make your menus too complex.
- Be strict. Keep to the diet plan and restrict your carbs.
- Deal with sugar cravings. Eliminate sweets and artificial sweeteners. Eventually, your sugar cravings will subside.
- Drink water. Don’t get dehydrated.
- Supplement electrolytes. Salt your food well and take multivitamins. Add electrolyte supplements if necessary.
- Track your food. Keeping a record of what you eat is a great help. Apps like MyFitnessPal can help. Particularly don’t eat too many carbs. Look out for hidden carbs in food.
As with any diet, it is best to plan and create a keto plan that you can follow. Try this simple 7-day keto diet eating plan, which we have put together for you.
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with avocado and green salad
- Lunch: Tuna salad, made with mayonnaise and celery
- Afternoon breakfast: Macadamia
- Dinner: Meatballs with zucchini and pesto
- Breakfast: Smoothie with three raw quail eggs, whey protein powder, and berries
- Lunch: White chicken meat, parmesan, and tomato salad
- Afternoon breakfast: A cup of raw organic cow yogurt
- Dinner: Grass-fed pork steak with kale salad (richly flavored with olive oil and apple cider vinegar)
- Breakfast: Omelette with forest mushrooms
- Lunch: A Beef burger made with grass-fed beef meat, whole grain bread, kale, and cheddar cheese
- Afternoon breakfast: A cup of organic strawberries
- Dinner: Grilled wild trout with sautéed broccoli
- Breakfast: Coffee with coconut oil and three hardboiled quail eggs for a side dish
- Lunch: Grass-fed pork steak with organic sauerkraut
- Afternoon breakfast: A cup of hazelnuts
- Dinner: Pan-seared wild salmon and sautéed spinach
- Breakfast: Chia pudding, made with coconut milk, raw organic honey, and walnuts
- Lunch: Stewed grass-fed pork meat with cucumber salad and avocado
- Afternoon breakfast: 2 grapefruits
- Dinner: Grilled white chicken meat with asparagus and wild forest mushrooms
- Breakfast: Keto pancakes (made with organic coconut flour, organic almond milk, organic chicken eggs, vanilla extract, and cold-pressed avocado oil), tahini and berries
- Lunch: Grilled yellow cheese with arugula salad
- Afternoon breakfast: A cup of hazelnuts
- Dinner: Grilled wild salmon with sautéed broccoli
- Breakfast: Keto waffles (made with almond and coconut flour, grass-fed organic butter, vanilla extract, gluten-free baking powder, kosher salt and xylitol instead of sugar)
- Lunch: Stewed beef with peas
- Afternoon breakfast: A cup of raw organic goat yogurt
- Dinner: Zucchini stuffed with grass-fed minced meat and parmesan
You may wish to make a ketogenic diet food list and keep it available to check against, at least until you get used to what you should and shouldn’t be eating. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, you can still go with the keto diet by following our recommendations.
Be patient when expecting keto diet results and allow your body time to adjust. Look at other people’s keto diet success stories. Some followers of the regime ask, ‘Is the keto diet safe’. If this worries you, see your doctor. All research shows that the ketogenic diet is safe if followed carefully and correctly. Some patients also follow the keto diet for cancer to aid treatment.
Keep yourself motivated by taking body measurements on the keto diet before and after. Don’t rely on your weight shown on the scales only. Sometimes you can lose fat and your weight may not change too much. This is more accurately shown by taking key measurements such as those of chest, waist, hips, ankles, and upper arms.
So, get started today! With the ketogenic diet, you have so much to gain. All it takes is a little effort and focus. Make your keto shopping list today, get some healthy foods into the fridge and freezer, and get cooking.
Make it fun and before you know it, you will have a new body shape as well as feeling more energized and happier.
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