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The ketogenic (keto) diet is a low-carb eating plan that’s gone through a surge in popularity over the past couple of years. The main reason behind this rise in popularity is that keto works better than other dietary interventions for quick weight loss. Another reason is that the keto diet can improve many aspects of health. If you’re interested in trying out this diet, you’re probably wondering how to get started on this diet. This article is a quick guide to getting started on keto. But first, let’s understand what the keto diet is.
About the Keto Diet
The ketogenic diet is a very-low-carb, high-fat, and adequate protein diet. The diet is based around a macronutrient ratio that looks roughly like this:
- 5-10% carbohydrates
- 20-25% protein
- 60-75% fat
Eating within this macronutrient ratio puts the body in ketosis – the main goal of the keto diet. Ketosis is a metabolic state in which water-soluble molecules called ketones provide much of your body’s energy. Typically, glucose from carbohydrates fuels the body. But when carbohydrates are not available, the body starts burning fat and converting a portion of it into ketones.
The keto diet was originally designed in the 1920s to treat epilepsy. This happened after researchers discovered that ketosis helps reduce seizures. But because nobody can fast indefinitely, researchers had to come up with an alternative way to induce ketosis and the keto diet came to be.
Benefits of the Keto Diet
Ever since the keto diet was developed almost a century ago, researchers have been studying the potential benefits of this diet. So far, we know that the diet can help with the following:
The strongest evidence for keto is as an epilepsy treatment. Studies show the keto diet can reduce seizure frequency by up to 60% in just three months. The diet is believed to work mainly by improving energy metabolism in the brain with the help of ketones.
2. Weight loss
Low-carb diets like keto tend to be more effective for weight loss than low-fat diets. These diets upregulate fat burning, which can help shed excess fat without affecting muscle mass. Low-carb diets also have a favorable effect on blood glucose and insulin, which helps curb hunger.
Pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes can also be managed with a keto diet. Switching to a mostly carb-free diet helps lower blood glucose and insulin levels, helping you rely less on diabetes medication. The diet also helps with weight loss and can treat insulin resistance – both important in diabetes management.
4. Brain health
Many keto dieters notice their mental energy, focus, and mood improve on a keto diet. This could likely be due to the fact that ketones have a positive impact on brain cells. More specifically, they reduce oxidative stress in the brain, they increase mitochondria number and size, and they provide more energy per unit of oxygen than glucose.
5. Cardiovascular health
Despite being a high-fat diet, keto actually has a positive impact on the cardiovascular system. The diet helps lower triglycerides through carb restriction and weight loss. It also lowers total blood cholesterol while increasing HDL and lowering LDL cholesterol.
How to Get Started on the Keto Diet
Starting a low-carb diet involves much more than limiting carb intake. There’s a whole lot of researching, food tracking, meal planning, and measuring involved in successful keto dieting. To help get you started, follow the simple steps outlined below:
1. Learn about it first
The more you know, the fewer mistakes you’ll make. From learning about the importance of the keto macronutrient ratio to the signs and symptoms of ketosis and ways to deal with possible side effects, there’s a lot you can learn about switching to a keto lifestyle. Ways to learn about keto include through blogs, websites, guides, and books.
2. Do a Kitchen Overhaul
The keto diet comes with a list of foods to eat and foods to avoid. This helps keep carbohydrate intake to a minimum while also providing adequate nutrition.
Foods to eat:
- Butter and other high-fat dairy products
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Fatty cuts of meat
- Fatty fish
- Nuts and seeds
- Low-carb vegetables
Foods to avoid
- Cereal grains and pseudocereals
- High-carb and starchy vegetables
- Most fruit
- Sugar, honey, and other sweeteners
However, this is only a small sample of what your keto diet should consist of. The diet, although seemingly restrictive, actually allows for a wide choice of foods. You can find more comprehensive lists of keto-friendly foods online.
3. Plan your meals
Many keto dieters find that they are able to eat intuitively after being on the diet for a while. But when you’re a beginner, it’s a good idea to plan all your daily meals ahead. You can do so either by creating your own weekly meal plans and writing them down on paper or using apps like Pinterest. Alternatively, you can search for ready-made weekly keto meal plans online. This will help you stay on track on your diet and prevent you from making mistakes.
4. Start eating keto
When you start eating keto, you may find the transition a bit difficult at first. Many keto dieters, for example, make the mistake of not eating enough fat from foods like butter and extra virgin olive oil for fear of this macronutrient. Some may also avoid snacking on this diet, thinking that this will prevent their weight loss. Keep in mind that weight loss on a keto diet comes seamlessly and that your focus should be to get enough nutrients from well-planned meals. The fat you’re eating will support ketone production, while adequate protein intake will spare your muscles.
5. Prepare for keto flu
The keto flu refers to a range of flu-like symptoms people experience within the first week of the keto diet. These symptoms are a result of electrolyte imbalances. The reason electrolyte imbalances happen during keto transition is that your glycogen (stored glucose) gets flushed out of your system together with the water. With increased water loss comes an imbalance in key electrolytes. For this reason, keto dieters are advised to drink plenty of fluids and take 3-5g of sodium, 3-4g of potassium, and 400mg of magnesium from food and supplements during the early stages of the keto diet.
6. Check for ketosis
Since ketosis is the main goal of the keto diet, you want to check if you’re in this metabolic state to see if your diet is effective. One way to do so is by using ketone urine test strips. These test for ketone levels in urine. Another way is using a blood ketone meter; however, these devices tend to be more expensive. Finally, you can check for signs and symptoms of ketosis:
A fruity-smelling breath
Known as “keto breath,” a fruity breath that may even resemble the smell of nail polish remover is a sign that your body is releasing ketones via the lungs. The breath is completely normal, albeit a bit embarrassing. But don’t worry, it tends to go away on its own after a couple of weeks of being on the diet.
Fruity smelling urine
Similarly, a sweet smell to urine is a good indicator of being in ketosis. Since you’ll be urinating more frequently during the first week of the keto diet (due to glycogen depletion), chances are you won’t miss this smell.
Fatigue followed by bursts of energy
Initially, the keto diet will leave you feeling rundown. This happens as a result of your body trying to adjust to ketosis and using ketones for energy. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances may also contribute to fatigue. But by week two and three, you should notice your energy levels go up.
Initially, ketosis leads to rapid weight loss caused by fluid loss. By week two and onwards, you should notice a steady drop in weight, which is a good sign your body is burning fat to make ketones.
Starting the keto diet takes a bit of planning and preparing. But once you’re familiarized with this diet and its effects on the body, you’ll see that transitioning to a low-carb lifestyle isn’t as difficult as it may seem at first. The diet allows for plenty of butter, olive oil, fatty fish, and nuts and seeds – all ingredients with known health benefits. It also helps exclude refined carbohydrates, which are often linked to chronic disease states. And by putting the body in what is essentially fat-burning mode (ketosis), weight loss comes easy on this diet. If you want to start keto yourself, consider the steps outlined here and see if the diet works for you.
About the Author: Driven, dedicated and team-oriented professional with more than 6 years of experience providing wellness and nutritional support in various capacities. After Sofia learned about “food deserts” as a kid, she became determined to devote her life to making healthy foods accessible to everyone, regardless of income or location. Sofia has traveled around the world, teaching nutrition to communities in extreme poverty.