Keto for Dummies – 101 Ketogenic Diet Complete Guide

keto 101 for dummies

Everyday many people make the active decision to start dieting. However, that is the easiest part, making that choice. That choice soon becomes a battle in a world where unhealthy and highly processed foods are made readily available to us, making it seemingly impossible to change our eating habits.  I know all too well because I myself have been there and I am here to reassure you that with some discipline, determination and the proper diet, all of your dreams can be realised, just like mine.  I actively struggled with weight loss issues for years, until I discovered the Ketogenic Diet which literally changed my life for the better after countless shortcomings.  Therefore, I am delighted to share in detail with you this complete guide on a Keto diet so that you too can accomplish your weight loss dreams.

What is a Ketogenic Diet? There are many different ways that a keto diet may be explained.  However, the most common definition is that it is a high-fat, low-carb, low-to-moderate protein diet.  The keto diet is generally 60% to 75% fat, 15% to 30% protein and 5% to 10% net carbohydrates.

Keto involves significantly reducing carb consumption and substituting it with fat. This reduction in carbs puts your body into a metabolic state known as ketosis.  Ketosis is the main objective of the keto diet plan. Once this occurs your body becomes extremely efficient at burning fat for energy, instead of carbohydrates.  It becomes easier to access the fat in your body in order to burn it off.   Signs of ketosis range from enhanced energy and focus, decreased appetite, and changes in smell of breath or urine.  Normally, it takes approximately 3 days after starting a ketogenic diet to enter ketosis, but it takes a few weeks before you are ‘fat adapted’ and burn fat efficiently.

A ketogenic diet also converts fat into ketones in the liver, which in turn supply energy for the brain.  In other words, your entire body adjusts its fuel content to run mainly on fat, burning fat 24/7. A keto diet can cause major reductions in blood sugar and insulin levels. A keto diet has several advantages similar to fasting, however, with keto you can burn fat effectively without having to fast at all.  Not to mention, this diet, combined with the increased ketones has numerous health benefits.  Many have already reaped its proven benefit of weight loss, health and performance. 

How to Start a Keto Diet?

In recent times the keto diet has been increasing in popularity, primarily because it is straightforward and the results are significant.  Whether your goal is to lose fat, increase energy, enhance brain health, improve your blood sugar levels, or improve general health, keto may be the ideal diet for you.

The major point to start a keto diet plan is:

drink water during keto diet
  • Drink Plenty of Water: When on a keto diet it is imperative to ensure that you stay hydrated at all times.  This is primarily because when you eat carbs, your body stores the excess as ‘glycogen’ in the liver, where they are bound to water molecules and eating low carbs diminishes this glycogen, which aids in burning fat at the expense of you storing less water.  This makes you susceptible to dehydration.  Therefore, it is recommended that you try to drink about 16 cups of water daily to stay hydrated.
  • Get Enough Sleep: For most people it is important to get, on average, at least 7 hours of sleep per night while on keto which helps keep stress under control.  Lack of sleep and stress hormones elevate blood sugar levels, slowing ketosis and weight loss to some extent.
  • Limit Carbohydrates: This is extremely critical if you are to achieve any kind of success via keto.  Ideally, carbs should be restricted to less than 20g daily.  In some cases just restricting carbs to very low levels can result in ketosis. 
  • Restrict Protein Intake: A keto diet is not a high protein diet.  Apart from causing strain on the kidneys, a high protein diet, changes extra protein into glucose, which in turn reduces ketosis.  Therefore, whilst on a keto diet you should only consume the protein that you need and no more than that. 
  • Use Fat as a Lever: Keto is a high fat diet and in this instance it is a basis of energy as well as satiety.  In the keto diet the carbs and protein remain persistent, whereas the fat will be the one you use more of or less of (hence the term ‘lever’) in order to gain or lose weight.  So ultimately, if you are on a keto diet to lose weight you can consume ample fat to be satisfied, but there is no need to use additional fats.  If you feel hungry all the time whilst on keto you can consider adding more fat to your meals such as more butter, more olive oil, etc.   
  • Keep Up Electrolytes: The main electrolytes in our bodies are sodium, potassium and magnesium.  Since a keto diet depletes the amount of water the body stores, it can flush out electrolytes and make you feel ill.  This is usually referred to as ‘keto flu’.  Keto flu is short-term; however, you can avert it by using a generous amount of salt on your food, drinking broth and eating pickled vegetables.
  • Eat Only When You Are Hungry: It is unnecessary to overeat when on a keto diet, since doing so could affect weight loss.  Overeating reduces ketosis and slows down weight loss.  So simply eat only when you are hungry and not otherwise.  Once you are consuming fewer carbs this task will become much more manageable since this will naturally subdue your appetite.    
  • Focus on Whole Foods: Although eating natural or whole foods is technically not 100% necessary in order to restrict carbohydrates, eating processed foods will not help you eliminate the cravings, not to mention it is not good for your body.
  • Exercise: This is not necessarily mandatory whilst on a keto diet, however, it is suggested, mainly because you will feel better, it will improve your health and ultimately help you to achieve your weight loss goals quicker.  Adding any kind of physical activity while on keto can moderately increase ketone levels and may be helpful in achieving ketosis.

What Are the Benefits of a Keto Diet?

A keto diet has been proven to have several health benefits.  Initially, a keto diet was used as a means to treating neurological diseases such as epilepsy.  Overtime, various researchers have concluded that keto has a vast number of benefits in general and also for several health conditions such as:

  • Heart Disease: The ketogenic diet can reduce risk factors like body fat, HDL cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: A keto diet helps regulate blood sugar levels.  It has proven to be superb in managing type 2 diabetes, at times, even leading to total reversal of the disease.
  • Cancer: The keto diet is currently being used to treat numerous types of cancer and slow the progression of tumour growth.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease: The keto diet may reduce indications of Alzheimer’s disease and slow its development.
  • Epilepsy: Research has revealed that the ketogenic diet can cause substantial reductions in seizures in epileptic children.  Keto has been used frequently as an effective medical therapy for epilepsy since the 1920s.  Although it was used mainly for children, in recent times adults would have benefitted from it as well.  Some people take reduced or no anti-epileptic drugs, while possibly still staying seizure free.
  • Parkinson’s Disease: A study conducted found that the keto diet helped improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: The ketogenic diet can help decrease insulin levels, which may play a key role in polycystic ovary syndrome.
  • Brain Injuries – An animal study discovered that the diet can reduce concussions and assist recovery after brain damage.
  • Energy and Mental Performance: Some people utilise keto diets solely for its ability to enhance mental performance.  When on keto the brain does not require dietary carbs since it is constantly powered by ketones (an effective brain fuel).  This steady flow of ketones to the brain helps evade problems caused by large blood sugar swings.  At times this may result in better focus and concentration, and resolution of brain fog, and subsequently, improved mental clearness.  
  • Increased Physical Endurance: Theoretically speaking, keto diets can increase your physical endurance by improving your access to the immense volumes of energy in your fat stores.  Typically, the body’s supply of stored carbs (glycogen) generally lasts for a couple of hours (or less) of intense exercise.  However, your fat stores carry adequate energy to possibly last for weeks.  Also, the reduction in body fat percentage whilst on a keto diet can be an asset for persons in competitive sports, primarily endurance sports.
  • Acne: The lower insulin levels and consuming less sugar or processed foods whilst on a keto diet may help improve acne.
  • A Calmer Stomach: A keto diet can result in a calmer stomach, less gas, less cramps and pains, frequently resulting in improvements in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms.

What Should I Eat On a Keto Diet?

An advantage of the keto diet is that it is very flexible and manageable in terms of what you can eat.  The diet plan can be straightforward and you do not have to feel disadvantaged, bored or limited.  Once making the decision to try a keto diet, you should base the bulk of your meals around these foods: 

egg low carb
  • Meat and Poultry: Like beef, pork, steak, ham, sausage, bacon, chicken and turkey.
  • Fatty Fish: Such as salmon, shellfish, trout, tuna and mackerel.
  • Eggs: Look for pastured or omega-3 whole eggs.
  • Butter and Cream: Butter (look for grass-fed when possible) and heavy cream.
  • Cheese: Unprocessed cheese (cheddar, goat, cream, blue or mozzarella).
  • Nuts and Seeds: Walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, etc.
  • Healthy Oils: Primarily extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil.
  • Avocados: Whole avocados or freshly made guacamole.
  • Low-carb Veggies: Mainly veggies that grow above the ground, such as tomatoes, onions, peppers, zucchini, cauliflower, asparagus, etc.
  • Leafy Greens: Look for lettuce, spinach and kale.
  • Sugar-free Beverages: For instance, water, coffee and tea.
  • Low-carb Condiments, Herbs and Spices: You can use salt, pepper, mayo, hot sauce, mustard and various healthy herbs and spices, such as, basil, dill and cinnamon. 

Altogether, you can base the majority of your keto diet around meat, fish, eggs, butter, nuts, healthy oils, avocados and plenty of low-carb vegetables.

In addition, there are some other foods that you can take part in on a keto diet; however, these foods must be eaten in moderation:

  • Low-carb Fruit: Raspberries and coconuts.
  • Sugar-free Sweeteners: Erythritol, monk fruit and stevia.
  • Low-carb Flours: Almond flour, coconut flour and flax seed meal. 
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, macadamia nuts and sunflower seeds.

What Foods Should I Avoid on a Keto Diet?

Any food that is high in carbs should be restricted.  This is probably the biggest obstacle that persons commencing a keto diet must overcome, since the average person is accustomed to consuming carbs at every meal. 

Here is a list of foods that need to be reduced or eliminated whilst on a keto diet:

  • Sugary Foods: Soda, fruit juice, smoothies, cake, pastries, chocolate, maple syrup, honey, ice cream, candy, table sugar etc.
  • Grains or Starches: Wheat-based products, bread, oats, corn, rice, pasta, cereal, etc.
  • High-sugar Fruits: Bananas, pineapple, oranges, apples, grapes, etc. (small portions of berries like strawberries can be used).
  • Beans or Legumes: Peas, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc. (peanuts can be used in moderation).
  • Root Vegetables and Tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, etc.
  • Low-fat Dairy and Milk: All cow’s milk, (excluding heavy cream), low-fat cheese, etc. 
  • Seed and Vegetable Oils: Especially margarine,canola oil, corn oil, grapeseed oil and soybean oil.
  • Some Condiments or Sauces: These often contain sugar and unhealthy fat.
  • Unhealthy Fats: Mayonnaise, etc.
  • Alcohol: Due to their carb content, many alcoholic beverages can throw you out of ketosis.
  • Sugar-free Diet Foods: These are often high in sugar alcohols, which can affect ketone levels in some cases. These foods also tend to be highly processed and often high in carbs.
  • Processed ‘Low Carb’ Foods: This is dependent on the ingredients, so read the contents on the label for concealed sugar, starch and artificial ingredients.

What Healthy Keto Snacks Can I Eat?

There are several options that you can have at your disposal to snack on between meals whilst on a keto diet:

strawberry for keto
  • Fatty meat or fish
  • Cheese
  • A handful of nuts or seeds
  • Cheese with olives
  • 1-2 hard boiled eggs
  • 90% dark chocolate
  • A low-carb milkshake with almond milk, cocoa powder and nut butter
  • Full-fat yogurt mixed with nut butter and cocoa powder
  • Strawberries and cream
  • Celery with salsa and guacamole
  • Smaller servings of leftover meals

What Are the Signs You Have Reached Ketosis?

After starting a keto diet there are several ways for you to determine whether or not your body is actually in ketosis, which are:

  • Dry Mouth and Increased Thirst: In cases where you do not consume ample liquids and get adequate electrolytes, like salt, you may experience dry mouth, coupled with a metallic taste in your mouth.
  • Increased Urination: A ketone body, acetoacetate, may end up in the urine. This makes it possible to test for ketosis by means of urine strips. When first commencing keto it may result in more frequent trips to go to the bathroom.  These frequent trips can also play a part in the increased thirst mentioned above.  
  • Keto Breath: This is because of a ketone body called acetone escaping via our breath. This can make a person’s breath smell ‘fruity’ or it may smell like nail polish remover.  This smell can sometimes be present from a person’s sweat.  It is often brief.  To combat this you can try drinking naturally flavoured water or chewing sugar-free gum.
  • Reduced Hunger: Due to the body’s increased capacity to be fuelled by its fat stores, many persons may experience significant reductions in hunger. As a result, numerous people feel wonderful when they just eat once or twice daily and may inadvertently end up fasting intermittently.
  • Possibly Increased Energy: After the ‘keto flu’ subsides, many people report that they experience a significant increase in their levels of energy.  This can also be referred to as clear thinking, an absence of ‘brain fog’ or in some instances a sense of euphoria.

What are the Different Types of Keto Diets?

There are many different varieties of the keto diet which include the following:

  • Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD): This is a very low-carb, moderate-protein and high-fat diet.  It characteristically comprises 75% fat, 20% protein and only 5% carbs.
  • Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD): This diet involves periods of higher-carb refeeds, such as 5 ketogenic days followed by 2 high-carb days.
  • Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD): This diet allows you to add carbs around workouts.
  • High-protein Ketogenic Diet: This is similar to a standard ketogenic diet, but includes more protein. The ratio is often 60% fat, 35% protein and 5% carbs.

It must be noted that the standard and high-protein keto diets are the ones that have studied thoroughly, whereas the cyclical or targeted keto diets are more advanced approaches which are generally used by bodybuilders or athletes.  The focus in this article is primarily on the standard ketogenic diet.

Altogether, a ketogenic diet can be ideal for people who are overweight, diabetic or looking to improve their metabolic health.  It may be less suitable for elite athletes or those wishing to add large amounts of muscle or weight.  And, as with any diet, it will only work if you are consistent and stick with it in the long term.  That being said, few things are as well proven in nutrition as the powerful health and weight loss benefits of a ketogenic diet.

What are the Side Effects of a Keto Diet?

Generally speaking, the keto diet is extremely safe for healthy people.  The major side effect is ‘keto flu’ which occurs when now commencing the keto diet as your body attempts to adjust to increased fat burning.  This is not major since it usually subsides in a few days.  When experiencing keto flu you typically exhibit low energy levels and mental function, increased appetite, sleep issues, nausea, digestive discomfort and decreased exercise performance.  Some persons also experience headaches, fatigue, dizziness, difficulty focusing (‘brain fog’), lack of motivation and irritability.    

In order to minimise this side effect, it is recommended that you try a standard low-carb diet for the first few weeks before attempting the keto diet.  This may give your body time to adapt by teaching your body to burn more fat before you totally eliminate the carbs from your diet. 

A keto diet can alter the water and mineral stability of your body, so adding extra salt to your meals or taking mineral supplements can be beneficial. 

When commencing the keto diet it is imperative to eat until you are full so at avoid restricting calories too much.  Typically, a keto diet causes weight loss without premeditated calorie restriction.

Although the keto diet has its side effects, they can easily be limited.

What Supplements Can I Take Whilst on a Keto Diet?

Taking supplements whilst on a keto diet is not mandatory; however, it can be helpful. Some examples are:

  • MCT Oil: This oil generates energy and aids in increasing ketone levels. It can be added to drinks or to yogurt.
  • Minerals: Additional salt and other minerals can be vital when now starting keto because of the changes in water and mineral balance.
  • Caffeine: This can be useful for energy, fat loss and performance.
  • Exogenous Ketones: This may assist in increasing the ketone levels in the body.
  • Creatine: This provides several benefits for health and performance. It can be most effective if you are merging a keto diet with exercise.
  • Whey: A half scoop of whey protein can be used in shakes or yogurt in order to increase your daily protein consumption.

How Much Weight Will I Lose on a Keto Diet?

low carb maros weight

The amount of weight that a person loses while on keto varies from person to person. On average most people lose about 2-4 pounds during the first week. This is primarily water weight. After that period it is normal to lose approximately 1 pound of excess fat weight a week. When you reach your normal body weight, the weight loss will slow down. Once you eat only when you are hungry, you will ultimately stabilize your weight even if you decide to remain on a keto diet.

What Happens After I Reach My Health and Weight Goals on a Keto Diet?

Once you reach your goals you can either keep eating keto (to sustain the effect), or you can attempt increasing your carb intake.  In the latter case, the effect of the keto diet will be somewhat weaker, and it is a possibility that you may or may not regain some weight.  If you completely revert to your old habits, you will gradually return to the weight and health situation you had before.  It is similar to exercising – if you stop doing it, you will slowly lose the benefits.  As you may expect, a keto diet, like exercise, only works when you do it.

Related Questions:

Can I Ever Eat Carbs Again? Yes you can eat carbs again.  But it is important to substantially reduce your carb intake at first.  Then after the first 2–3 months, you can eat carbs on special occasions — just return to the diet immediately after.

Will I Lose Muscle? There is a possibility that you may lose some muscle while on a keto diet.  However, the high protein intake and high ketone levels may help minimize muscle loss, particularly if you lift weights.

Can I Build Muscle on a Keto Diet? Yes you can build muscle on a keto diet, but it may not work as well as on a moderate-carb diet.

Do I Need to Refeed or Carb Load? No, this is not necessary.  However, a few higher-calorie days may be beneficial occasionally.

What If I Am Constantly Tired, Weak or Fatigued?  If this occurs you may not be in full ketosis, or you may not be utilizing fats and ketones efficiently. To counter this, you can lower your carb intake and re-visit the points mentioned previously.  A supplement like MCT oil or ketones may also help.

I Heard Ketosis Is Extremely Dangerous. Is This True?  People often confuse ketosis with ketoacidosis.  The former is natural, while the latter only occurs in uncontrolled diabetes.  Ketoacidosis is dangerous, but the ketosis on a ketogenic diet is perfectly normal and healthy.

I Have Digestion Issues and Diarrhea. What Can I Do?  This common side effect usually passes after 3–4 weeks.  If it persists, try eating more high-fibre veggies.  Magnesium supplements can also help with constipation.

Ahmed Matar

Not just food lover, I also like to write about foods and diets, especially keto! Finding low-carb food is fun for me regardless of how others find it difficult. Besides having an interest in foods & diets I also like exercising and walking long distance regularly :)

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