The ketogenic diet (or keto diet) has been practiced for more than nine decades (since the 1920s) and is based on a solid understanding of physiology and nutrition science.
The keto diet works for such a high percentage of people because it addresses several keys, underlying causes of weight gain, such as hormonal imbalances, particularly insulin resistance combined with high blood sugar levels, and the cycle of dieting and “bingeing” on empty calories due to hunger, which so many dieters struggle with. In fact, these are some of the keto diet’s direct benefits.
Rather than relying on calorie counting, portion control, extreme exercise, or willpower, this low-carb diet takes a completely different approach to weight loss and health improvement. It works because it shifts the body’s “fuel source” from glucose (or sugar) to dietary fat, thanks to keto diet recipes and keto diet food list items such as high-fat, low-carb foods.
Making that switch will put your body into “ketosis,” a state in which your body becomes a fat burner rather than a sugar burner. If you’re new to this type of eating plan, a keto diet for beginners, also known as keto basics, is surprisingly simple to follow. Here’s how you do the keto diet:
- Reduce one’s carbohydrate intake.
- Increase your intake of healthy fats, which aid in satiety.
- In the absence of glucose, your body is now forced to burn fat and produce ketones.
- When your blood levels of ketones reach a certain level, you have officially entered ketosis.
- This state causes your body to lose weight steadily and quickly until it reaches a healthy and stable weight.
What Exactly Is the Keto Diet?
What exactly is the ketogenic diet? The classic ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet plan developed in the 1920s by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Center for patients with epilepsy. Researchers discovered that fasting — avoiding all foods for a short period of time (such as with intermittent fasting), including carbohydrates — helped reduce the number of seizures patients experienced, as well as having other positive effects on body fat, blood sugar, cholesterol, and hunger levels.
Because long-term fasting is not an option for more than a few days, the keto diet was created to mimic the same beneficial effects of fasting. The keto diet for beginners works by “tricking” the body into acting as if it is fasting (while reaping the benefits of intermittent fasting) through a strict elimination of glucose found in carbohydrate foods. The standard keto diet is now known by several names, including the “low-carbohydrate” or “very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet.”
At the heart of the classic keto diet is a strict restriction on all or most sugar and starch-containing foods (carbohydrates). When we eat these foods, they are broken down into sugar (insulin and glucose) in our blood, and if these levels rise too high, extra calories are much more easily stored as body fat, resulting in unwanted weight gain. When glucose levels are reduced due to a low-carb diet, the body begins to burn fat instead, producing ketones that can be measured in the blood (using urine strips, for example).
Ketogenic diets, like most low-carb diets, work by eliminating glucose. Because most people consume a high carbohydrate diet, our bodies normally rely on glucose (or sugar) for energy. We are unable to produce glucose and have only about 24 hours’ worth stored in our muscle tissue and liver. When glucose is no longer available from food sources, we start burning stored fat or fat from our food.
As a result, when you follow a ketogenic diet plan for beginners, your body burns fat for energy rather than carbohydrates, and most people lose weight and excess body fat quickly, even when they consume plenty of fat and calories on a daily basis. Another significant advantage of the keto diet is that there is no need to count calories, feel hungry, or try to burn off a lot of calories through hours of intense exercise.
It’s similar in some ways to the Atkins diet, which boosts the body’s fat-burning abilities by eating only low-carb foods and avoiding foods high in carbs and sugar. When glucose is removed from carbohydrate foods, the body will burn fat for energy instead. The main distinction between the classic keto and Atkins diets is that the former emphasizes healthier keto fats, less overall protein, and no processed meat (such as bacon), while the latter has more research to back up its efficacy.
In fact, the differences with Atkins highlight some of the most common keto diet myths, such as it being another high-protein plan, recommending any type of fat, and having little scientific evidence to back up the benefits. Simply put, these are nutrition deceptions.
So, is the keto diet good for you? If it did the Atkins way? No. But what if you rely on healthy fats, greens, and organic meats? Yes, absolutely.
What Exactly Is Ketosis?
What exactly does “keto” mean? Keto is an abbreviation for ketosis, which is the result of following the standard ketogenic diet, and is also known as “the ketosis diet” or “ketosis diet plan.”
Following a ketogenic diet induces “ketosis,” a metabolic state in which the majority of the body’s energy comes from ketone bodies in the blood rather than glucose from carbohydrate foods (like grains, all sources of sugar or fruit, for example). In contrast, in a glycolytic state, blood glucose (sugar) provides the majority of the body’s fuel (or energy).
This state can also be achieved by fasting for several days, but it is not sustainable beyond a few days. (This is why some beginner keto diet plans combine intermittent fasting with keto for greater weight loss effects.)
Although dietary fat (especially saturated fat) has a bad reputation for causing weight gain and heart disease, it is also your body’s second preferred source of energy when carbohydrates are unavailable.
How Do You Enter Ketosis?
Many people wonder if the keto diet works. Of course, but only if you can induce ketosis in your body. In a keto diet for beginners, here’s how to get your body into ketosis and start burning body fat for fuel. The amount of glucose consumed from carbohydrate foods — grains, starchy vegetables, fruit, and so on — is drastically reduced. This forces your body to use fat as an alternative fuel source (think avocados, coconut oil, and salmon). In the meantime, in the absence of glucose, the body begins to burn fat and produces ketones. Ketosis occurs when ketone levels in the blood reach a certain threshold. High ketone levels cause rapid and consistent weight loss until you reach a healthy, stable body weight.
Do you want to know how many carbs you can eat while remaining “in ketosis”? The traditional ketogenic diet, developed for people with epilepsy, consisted of getting approximately 75% of calories from fat sources (such as oils or fattier cuts of meat), 5% from carbohydrates, and 20% from protein. A less strict version (what I call a “modified keto diet”) can still help promote weight loss in a safe and often very fast way for most people.
Aiming for 30-50 net grams of total carbs, to begin with, is typically recommended in order to transition and maintain this state. This is a more moderate or flexible approach, but it can be less overwhelming at first. Once you’ve gotten used to “eating keto,” you can reduce carbs even further if you want (perhaps only occasionally), down to about 20 grams of net carbs per day. This is the standard, “strict” amount that many keto dieters aim to follow for the best results, but keep in mind that everyone is different.
The Keto Diet Has 6 Major Advantages
- Weight Loss
- Lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Lower your risk of heart disease.
- Aid in Cancer Prevention
- Struggle Against Brain Disease and Neurological Disorders
- Live a Longer Life
How to Begin a Keto Diet Plan
The precise ratio of recommended macronutrients (or “macros”) in your daily regimen (grams of carbs vs. fat vs. protein) will vary according to your specific goals and current state of health. Your age, gender, level of activity, and current body composition can all influence your carbohydrate versus fat intake.
Traditionally, a targeted keto diet involves restricting carbohydrate intake to 20-30 net grams per day. “Net carbs” are the carbs that remain after the dietary fiber is removed. Because fiber is indigestible once consumed, most people do not include grams of fiber in their daily carbohydrate allowance.
In other words, total carbs minus fiber grams = net carbs. It is the carb counts that are most important. On a “strict” (standard) keto diet, fats typically account for 70% to 80% of total daily calories, protein for 15% to 20%, and carbohydrates for less than 5%. A more “moderate” approach to the keto diet, on the other hand, is a good option for many people because it allows for an easier transition into very low-carb eating and more flexibility (more on these types of plans below).
What foods are allowed on a keto diet? Here are some good keto rules to follow regardless of the plan you choose:
- Avoid protein loading.
The keto diet is distinct from other low-carb diets in that it does not “protein-load.” Protein is not as important as fat in the keto diet. Because the body can convert protein to glucose in small amounts, eating too much of it, especially in the beginning stages, will slow down your body’s transition into ketosis.
Protein consumption should range between one and 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight. Divide your ideal weight in pounds by 2.2 to convert to kilograms. A woman weighing 150 pounds (68 kilograms), for example, should consume 68-102 grams of protein per day.
- Keep track of your macros
Your “macros” are your grams of fat, protein, and net carbs (this is not the same as calorie counting!). Tracking your macros and net carbs can be difficult, so I recommend downloading a keto app with a keto diet calculator. It will assist you in staying on track.
- For greater success, consider using keto supplements.
Exogenous ketones (also known as “keto diet pills”) are a popular keto supplement that may help you achieve and maintain results faster. (Do not confuse exogenous ketones with raspberry ketones, which do not raise ketone levels in the body or mimic endogenous ketones, so you would not use raspberry ketones in your regimen.)
Consider supplementing with leucine, which can be converted directly into acetyl-CoA, making it one of the most important ketogenic amino acids in the body. While most amino acids are converted into glucose, leucine’s acetyl-CoA can be used to create ketone bodies. It can also be found in keto-friendly foods such as eggs and cottage cheese.
- Drink plenty of water!
It’s also critical to drink plenty of water, which is the most important of all keto drinks. Getting enough water keeps you from feeling tired, aids digestion, and aids in hunger suppression. It is also essential for detoxification. Aim for 10-12 eight-ounce glasses of water per day.
- Do not try to CHEAT
Finally, there are no cheat days or cheat meals on the keto diet! Why?! Because eating too many carbs will knock you out of ketosis and send you back to square one.
Ketogenic diets were originally developed to help improve symptoms of epilepsy (particularly in children who did not respond to other treatments), but today very low-carb diets are used to help adults as well, including those suffering from obesity, cancer, and diabetes.
Is the keto diet effective? Yes! Due to lower insulin levels and the body being forced to burn stored body fat for energy, even a keto for beginners diet will result in rapid and consistent weight loss.
That being said, if you do succumb and indulge in a cheat meal, expect some of the keto flu symptoms to return… Be comforted, however, by the knowledge that if you’ve previously achieved ketosis, your body will be able to return soon, if not sooner.